Editor’s note: For Hawaii’s Aug. 8 Primary Election, Civil Beat asked candidates to answer some questions about where they stand on various issues and what their priorities will be if elected.
The following came from Holeka Inaba, candidate for Hawaii County Council District 8, which includes Kailua View Estates, Malulani Gardens, Hualalai Farms, Keopu Mauka, Kona Heights, Kealakehe, Honokohau, Kaloko, Kohanaiki, Kalaoa, Keahole, Makalei, Makalawena, Puuanahulu and Waikoloa Beach Resort. The other candidate is Bo Kahui.
1. Hawaii’s economy has been hard hit with the outbreak of the coronavirus and measures to prevent its spread, mainly because of the collapse of the tourism industry. Should we continue to rely largely on the visitor industry for economic vitality? What concrete steps would you take to bring tourism back? What else would you do to diversify the island’s economy?
No, our economy is highly reliant on tourism and the outbreak has demonstrated that we must look to other sources for economic stability and success. I would like to see tourism return, however, not to previous levels where we are inundated with visitors across our islands. In addition, I would be open to new initiatives that collect small fees from incoming visitors that support our mission to counteract climate change here in Hawaiii.
Finally, I would like to see more initiatives that support the creation and growth of food producing small businesses across Hawaii. The county can support these small businesses through business incubators and mentorship programs. This type of initiative will not only ensure adequate food resources, but long-term non-tourism jobs as well.
2. As the economy struggles, the county may have to cut expenses and seek new revenue sources. What would you cut? And what is an area where you see potential new revenue?
In terms of cuts, as a county council, we would reach out to alakai of all departments listed in the county budget. In working with these directors, we could collaboratively make incremental cuts across the board that would not jeopardize the operations and services being provided by any of these departments. Most importantly, this would give these leaders the opportunity to take a close look at their own departments and contribute to a leaner budget in a way that works for their respective departments.
Regarding new sources of revenue, I believe we need to increase taxes on the second-home properties of non-residents in Hawaii. While our local community continues to struggle with the high price of living, second-home non-resident property owners should pay more for their luxury homes here in Hawaii. As previously mentioned, we must also look to creating a new fee structure that collects funds from tourists visiting Hawaii. These fees would be a new source of revenue that could provide flexibility in addressing Hawaii needs.
3. What would you have done differently to handle the coronavirus crisis on the Big Island?
If I was in office, I would have worked closely with my council colleagues to urge the mayor to make appropriate and decisive decisions. These decisions would include the implementation of curfews and restrictions that would reduce unnecessary and nonessential on-island travel, mandatory mask wearing, and support for safely opening businesses during the pandemic.
In addition, I would have reached out to local farmers and food sourcers who could have reallocated their products to local residents during the closing of their normal outlets such as restaurants and hotels. In doing so, these farmers could have been supported while also working to feed the greater community.
4. State and county residents, government officials and developers have been split over efforts to build the Thirty Meter Telescope on Mauna Kea. Do you support construction of the TMT? Do you support the protesters? What would you have done differently in the past year to resolve the issue?
I do not support the building of Thirty Meter Telescope on Mauna Kea due to the cultural significance and value of the summit. While I support the field of astronomy, I cannot support a project that disregards aina and its cultural significance. In addition, we must support projects that create longer term jobs for our communities.
I understand TMT’s legal right to build and the state’s right to uphold the law if it chooses, however, I strongly support the protectors of Mauna Kea in their duty to protect a cultural resource and symbol for generations to come.
Unfortunately, the county does not have jurisdiction over the project on state land, however, as a council member, I will support more transparency and accountability in the management of the mountain.
5. Homelessness remains a problem statewide, including on Hawaii island. What would you do to come to grips with this persistent problem?
I would support measures that seek to incarcerate or institutionalize individuals who are homeless and repeatedly breaking our laws. I would also support the creation of a county working group that seeks these individuals out and connects them with jobs in our communities. Finally, I would like to see the returning of non-resident, state-reliant homeless individuals to their home states so they do not burden our own state resources.
6. Recent deaths of citizens at the hands of police are igniting protests and calls for reform across the country, primarily aimed at preventing discrimination against people of color. Do you see this issue as a problem in Hawaii County? What should be done to improve policing and police accountability on the Big Island? Should oversight of the police department be strengthened or reformed?
We are fortunate to call Hawaii home and I do not believe we see discrimination occurring to the same levels they do elsewhere, however, we must use recent events as a catalyst to be proactive in strengthening potential weaknesses in our system. First, I want to thank our police for their service and commitment to safety even in the face of danger. Sadly, we have senselessly lost brothers and sisters in blue during the last few years.
To ensure mutual safety of both the police and the public, the public must know that violence will not be tolerated. At the same time, police must understand that the public has a right to protest without fear of violence from law enforcement. Working with law enforcement leaders, we must ensure that officers are properly trained and retrained in how to address peaceful protesters who stand against injustices in our communities. The department must make it clear that any behavior and action by officers that do not resemble the highest standard of policing will not be tolerated.
I trust in our Hawaii island officers and the existing oversight of the department, however, any reason to believe otherwise will result in action to correct and improve accountability.
7. Hawaii’s public records law mandates that public records be made available whenever possible. Gov. David Ige suspended the open government laws under an emergency order during the pandemic. Do you agree or disagree with his action? What would you do to ensure the public has access to open meetings and public records in a timely fashion?
I do not support the governor’s decisions to suspend open government laws during the pandemic. In a time of great uncertainty, we should expect transparency from government and its leaders. At the county level, I would ensure that county officials continue to upload meeting information and public records in the timely fashion that normally occurs.
8. What more should Hawaii County be doing to prepare for the effects of climate change, including sea level rise and threats to the reefs?
Hawaii County should work closely with local researchers who specialize in the effects of climate change and the measures that potentially counteract this change. The county could utilize the previously mentioned fees from tourism to support initiatives that aid in the reforestation of our aina, planting of coral, and improved public education on reefs and their importance. In addition, we can make sure that any new infrastructure is built well and safe from the sea level rise that has been predicted thus far.
9. The coronavirus pandemic has exposed numerous flaws in Hawaii’s structure and systems, from outdated technology to economic disparity. If you could take this moment to reinvent Hawaii, to build on what we’ve learned and create a better state, a better way of doing things, what would you do? Please share One Big Idea you have for Hawaii. Be innovative, but be specific.
If I could see one change at the state level, I would want to see Hawaii return to a set of islands that are self-sustainable and environmentally in tune. I would like to see stronger support of small businesses and local food producers so that they have the means to compete with big box stores and mass food importation to Hawaii.
If this means decreased taxes on small business, mentoring, forgivable/no interest loans, I am all for it. As public servants, we must be open to challenging the status quo and working with our constituents who have experience and expertise in areas that can transform the status quo into something progressive and forward thinking.
10. What do you see as the most pressing issue facing your district? What will you do about it?
One of the most pressing issues facing this district and the county as a whole is unemployment and the economic downfall from the COVID-19 pandemic.
I will work with the mayor’s administration to ensure that we can better support our small businesses in addressing their needs. As a result, we can create new jobs that keep money here in Hawaii and help to support our own basic needs.
Finally, I also look forward to the completion of the Kealakehe regional park since our keiki deserve to have satisfactory recreational facilities here on the Kona side.