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 Neil Azevedo, candidate for Hawaii County mayor. Other candidates include Paul Bryant, Bob Fitzgerald, Michael Glendon, Robert Greenwell, Stacy Higa, Wendell Ka’ehu’ae’a, Yumi Kawano, Harry Kim, Ikaika Marzo, Mitch Roth, Mike Ruggles, 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?
Since tourism got hit hard because of COVID-19, the tourism industry has taken a huge dive in revenue. Moving forward we need to promote inter-state tourism with promotions to drive locals’ businesses. We should also look more into agriculture.
Farmers are available to provide different goods for locals and possible export of products. Construction is another section to look at since we can provide jobs and some affordable homes for our families here in Hawaii County.
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?
To cut anything would be a last resort. By cutting items, we cut people out which is what we donʻt want to do. We will need to work with the Finance Department to look for areas where we can make adjustments. We would like to concentrate on making the permitting process more efficient so more building projects can get started, which will increase county revenue and provide more jobs.
3. What would you have done differently to handle the coronavirus crisis on the Big Island?
We would have worked to build a team of professionals in different fields so we could make informed decisions based on the CDC’s recommendations. We need to make common sense choices to ensure the safety of the people of Hawaii County and enforce measures for the protection of our citizens.
Clear communication is important to keep people in the know. By building this team of experts we would have come up with a plan for recovery.
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 donʻt support the building of the TMT on Mauna Kea. What I do support is the safety of all people of Hawaii County. Being that it’s the stateʻs decision to go through with this, we need to make sure that things are being done the right way and following protocol.
What I can do is to hold the governor accountable for this decision to build and work toward a solution.
5. Homelessness remains a problem statewide, including on Hawaii island. What would you do to come to grips on this persistent problem?
I would like to partner with non-profit- and faith-based groups to provide shelter, health services and education. We also need to work together with those groups on affordable housing options in different communities. Build a community where they can contribute and learn a trade, like farming. Let them know they are important and deserve a better way of life.
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?
Oversight of the police department should definitely be strengthened or reformed. Officers are supposed to be held in high regards. The faith and safety of the public rely on them to enforce rules and policies to protect and serve the public. When we lose faith in that, chaos can emerge.
What we don’t want to happen is a situation similar to what is happening in other parts of the U.S. We live on an island and need to know that our families are safe. As mayor, I am prepared to make sure that happens.
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?
Public records are meant to be available to the public. Not allowing access to those documents raises questions and leaves the public doubting the government. To ensure public access, we need to work on policies that allow for access that is not restricted and done in a timely manner.
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 actions I will take involve working with qualified specialists in the field of climate change to identify the threats and work together on solutions. Being able to adapt to climate change is important for our future.
We will work with the existing climate adaption plan, since it was made to make sure that we budget and plan for the impact climate change has on our way of life. This can prevent additional cost increase in the future.
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.
We need to devise a better system of screening at ports of entry to Hawaii. This will serve as a process to minimize the threat to our local ecosystem and population as well. We currently have a system of quarantine for animals and protocol for agriculture. We should also look into a type of health screening for visitors, potential residents, and returning locals to protect the people of Hawaii’s well-being.
10. What do you see as the most pressing issue facing the Big Island? What will you do about it?
Currently, the most pressing issue facing our island is regarding missing children and human trafficking. The amount of children gone missing is alarming and needs to be addressed. I am dedicated to bringing awareness to this situation and will work with law enforcement to develop a plan.
This will strengthen our presence as we work on further training options for specialized law enforcement and businesses where these types of situations tend to occur. This will also allow for those involved to recognize key signs of trafficking.
We need to do better for our keiki. They are our future and need to be protected.