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 Mike Ruggles, candidate for Hawaii County mayor. Other candidates include Neil Azevedo, Paul Bryant, Bob Fitzgerald, Michael Glendon, Robert Greenwell, Stacy Higa, Wendell Ka’ehu’ae’a, Yumi Kawano, Harry Kim, Ikaika Marzo, Mitch Roth, Ted Shaneyfelt, Tante Urban and Lahi Verschuur.
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, we should have never been relying on tourism, and it is the reason we are the second most vulnerable area in the union after Las Vegas, but unlike Las Vegas, we can build and grow our economy so that if and when tourism ever comes back, our island economy will be twice what it was before COVID-19.
I would take the money that other candidates would spend to bring back tourism, and invest it in sustainable agriculture and all the small businesses. We call it “trickle up” economics and that is how we got out of the great depression 1920s-30s (not the housing bubble of 2008). They called it the New Deal and we can do it again.
Small business and labor opportunities for everyone, not just the big guys. If we continue our elitist ways it is a recipe for disaster. All the top Hawaii economists say tourism will not be revived for four to five years at the minimum. We cannot and should not wait.
To diversify, first we are going to help grow local agriculture and the county will provide manned certified kitchens/food preparation areas available with someone educated on site to ensure the cleaning and preparation is adequate to ensure that local produce is safe.
The fishermen and small ranchers alike will be able to use the kitchens and processing areas as well for their products. Everyone makes money, the farmers, ranchers and fishermen keep more of of their money, and residents get fresher locally grown and processed food.
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?
Because we are going into the worst economic downturn of the last 100 years, I believe the most prudent path would be to reexamine all aspects of the budget and trim anything we can and immediately redirect that toward funding labor projects for the homeless and out of work in order to reduce desperation before it turns into crime.
Because once it turns into crime, it is $300 per day to incarcerate — and we get nothing, or $80 and we get whatever they make or whatever they do, then that $80 goes straight into the economy instead of some wealthy prison owner in Texas.
We should take advantage of recently passed federal hemp laws to let all ag workers use it as a cash crop to help make farming more sustainable. Let’s face it, farming is not that profitable, if we could bolster up ag with hemp, there is no logical reason not to. Farmers in Kentucky just used hemp to pull themselves out of a bad recession. They switched from tobacco to hemp and are doing quite well.
3. What would you have done differently to handle the coronavirus crisis on the Big Island?
The first thing I would have done is not confuse people by saying there was no confirmed cases when the truth was we have no confirmed way of testing. I believe we should restrict tourism access until we have a reliable way to test for the actual coronavirus.
When government officials can’t get a straight story and tell us to wear masks then don’t wear masks, then make us all wear them without proof of efficacy and restrict all small business, but allow big business to keep selling. In order to keep the trust of the people you never should lie to the public. I would have told the truth to the people and we work on it together. Sunshine is always the way, you should never lie to the people.
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?
Yes, build the TMT, but not in Hawaii. I absolutely support the protesters.
I wouldn’t have spent minimum $15 million to have the police force stand there for three months and do nothing. Man, I could have used that money to make my community farms to support the community, not fight it. As mayor I would never allow anyone to force a telescope on people’s land where they want a church, it’s their land, it’s their choice, not ours. I am behind and will fight for the people who own the land.
5. Homelessness remains a problem statewide, including on Hawaii island. What would you do to come to grips on this persistent problem?
Love the question, my community farms would fix not only this persistent problem, but could reduce crime by up to 90% and stimulate the economy. So the next time you see them, you will be happy because they will have money in their pocket and a place to stay and be on the road to stability and not have to steal from you for a living.
We really need rehab. It is five times cheaper for treatment than torture (up to five to a cell). We could start a meth program that will actually help with our epidemic with psychiatrists that can prescribe medicine that will alleviate the need to acquire it on the black market. They will line up at the clinic instead of ripping you off downtown.
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?
Great question, that is not really the problem over here, but we need criminal justice reform here on the Big Island as badly or worse than what is going on in the mainland. Hawaiians are disproportionately represented in jail here, just like Blacks are on the mainland, and we are packing them five to a cell. COVID-19 shows we can’t go back to that.
That is why the county needs me. We can put them in the community farms where they can help build their own home and learn a trade, and that will help make Hawaii independent and sustainable. We don’t need need to be waiting for containers to arrive with our essentials because we are making them here.
Not only the police, but every county employee should be held to a higher standard than a resident, because they work for you. Currently, because of the unions, county workers are held to a lower standard because we have no transparency and accountability. Without sunshine there will always be corruption, that is just human nature. It is an easy fix, but it’s gonna take someone strong to do it. Let’s do something new, let’s bring transparency and accountability to the Big Island!
The current police commission is the watchdog that doesn’t bark or bite. We can fix that and in fact, I recommend voting a police chief in, that way the people know who they are and they are accountable. Right now they are accountable to no one and it is not a good result, so let’s fix that.
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?
Totally disagree with the governor’s action. There are many reasons to not have transparency, but none of them is good. We should always have transparency, especially during an emergency. Without transparency there is no accountability. Without accountability there is corruption. The people are the fourth branch of government but they can’t do their job of oversight if they don’t know what the government is doin
Access to open meetings and public records is vital. It is one of the most important jobs a leader can do and I would certainly do it by keeping adequate records, using Zoom or other platforms to record all important department meetings and have them accessible 24/7 on user-friendly websites with documents easily available.
You should always know what your government is doing.
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?
The United Nations just came out with the No. 1 recommendation which is put the land back in the hands of the indigenous people. We can do that and give other residents access to county and state land. The No. 1 solution to climate change is get back to farming and forestry and it will help the economy as well. Tourism makes carbon emissions and global warming worse. Farming makes it better. A sustainable local economy is the No. 1 thing we can do to have resilient residents. Less ships mean less pollution. If the road keeps flooding you, we will deal with climate change as it happens.
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.
Currently the No. 1 obstacle to small business in the county of Hawaii is the county. We need to relax the restrictions on labor (the handyman law) and contractors and punitive draconian and antiquated contractor laws that are designed to protect the big guy. Instead of trickle down, we need to reverse that and trickle up.
Let’s become the first county in Hawaii and America that helps the little guy, not the big guy. Stop protecting the big guy at the expense of the little guy and start helping the little guy thrive. This will bring us back from the depression. Helping the big guys will not help us, it helps them.
10. What do you see as the most pressing issue facing the Big Island? What will you do about it?
The criminal justice system. Crime and meth use are at all times high and will only continue to soar as the economic depression sets in. This is a recipe for disaster. Unless we figure out a way to revive the economy and adequately and safely take care of prisoners, we are headed for disaster in the jails.
It’s all intertwined, homelessness, drug addiction, meth epidemic, mental health problems. We need to give economic incentives to doctors and health workers and quit wasting that money on torture ($300 a day in jail). Spend the money on prevention, a stitch in time saves nine.
If we can hire these challenged folks and give them shelter in the community farms, we can stop the downward spiral and fix the economy by stoping the stupid drug war and helping the people who need it.