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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 Ted Shaneyfelt, 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, Mike Ruggles, 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?
Of course the tourism industry should be allowed to return to prevent existing hotels from becoming abandoned and trashed. That can be done by reducing burdensome costs and regulations.
At the same time, we need to diversify with clean industry. The cost of shipping goods or supplies to produce them limits our choices. Software is one clean industry where no physical parts need to be imported nor physical goods shipped, and what we offer is a desirable place to live.
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?
My father lived through the Great Depression and instilled in all his children a sense of frugality that is rare in today’s society. When traveling on business while working for Hughes, for example, my colleagues would have expense reports that would run into thousands of dollars when mine might be under a hundred. I would avoid hotel fees by visiting relatives when traveling and not splurge on big dinners like my coworkers. While teaching at universities, I saw many times people would frantically look for something to spend the remaining budget on so that it would be reallocated the following year.
What we need to do is reward departments for reducing their budget rather than spending it all. If money is saved one year through sacrifice, it should be made available to the department the following year. Reward frugality. Promote those who practice it rather than those who enlarge their department size.
Finally, some have been concerned about furloughs for county workers. I would recommend a program whereby they would be encouraged to voluntarily leave for higher education to qualify for advancement, being reassured that their old jobs would be here when they return, and by that time we would have a better budget.
3. What would you have done differently to handle the coronavirus crisis on the Big Island?
First, we should recognize that it was the governor’s office that had the biggest effect on our island in response to the pandemic. Mayor Kim is not the one responsible for travel limitations, but he was proactive in sanitizing our island from very early on.
I think that Kim did an excellent job handling the virus. It was a big improvement over his handling of the eruption, where people were prevented at gunpoint from saving their possessions or animals for weeks before they ultimately were destroyed.
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?
From the beginning we should have looked to the Law of the Splintered Paddle — the legacy of King Kamehameha the Great. All people, regardless of their standing in society should be able to go along the road or sit alongside it without fear of harm. That allows remaining in protest along the side of the road, but also allows passage along the road.
At the same time, we should realize that this sort of protest is completely foreign to Hawaiian culture. None would have been tolerated under the historical rule of Hawaii’s alii or monarchs. It is only possible because of the rights guaranteed by U.S. law. And along with those rights are the rights to due process and equal protection under the law. If we are America with the right to assemble and protest, we also have no choice but to allow TMT to proceed if they have followed due process of the law.
5. Homelessness remains a problem statewide, including on Hawaii island. What would you do to come to grips on this persistent problem?
Recognize that people are individuals, and each is different. Some prefer to be on the street and work hard at it. Many don’t want anything to do with government programs that we might offer. California’s “Operation RoomKey” provided hotel rooms for homeless people, but most who were given a key did not stay in their rooms.
For those who want to make their way out of homelessness, they need a place where they can help themselves at their own rate without being hassled by excessive regulation. In the ’70s I’ve seen reformed hippies who started living off the land and living under a sheet of tin with a barrel to collect rainwater. As they realized a little work could make their lives more easier and more comfortable, they became carpenters, and some went on to become contractors while others went into nursing programs.
If we can provide bare necessities of a small place with public restrooms surrounded by small plots where the homeless can create their own start in life away from the city, it could benefit everyone. It will also be helpful if we remove building code requirements from remote areas where building codes are not generally enforced anyways.
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 again need to recognize that people are individuals, not just members of groups all being alike. Hawaii has historically been free of such black vs white divisiveness and we should not seek to bring those issues here. If anyone was discriminated against here when I was growing up, it was haoles like me but today it’s best to drop any resentment and move forward.
I’ve seen reports of a statue of General Grant being toppled in all of this uprising, and whomever did that must have been more interested in excuses for creating disturbances and unrestrained destruction, as General Grant literally led the war against slavery.
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?
While I do not agree with Gov. Ige on this issue, it seems to be a state matter out of the jurisdiction of the county.
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?
Our responsibility is the same regardless of whether or not our actions will cause climate change and rising sea levels. Even people who disagree with that should recognize our best path forward is one of good stewardship of our environment that keeps our air clean and healthy for all. I use solar energy from my rooftop to power most of my home power needs as well as my electric car. Alternatives to fossil fuel typically suggested include solar and wind.
The problem with wind energy is that windmills are notorious for killing flying wildlife, land is stripped and fenced off to put up the machines, and they have a short working.
While I am in favor of rooftop solar, I do not think we should promote solar farms for grid scale harvesting of energy because even today HELCO limits selling them the rooftop solar energy already available.
What is our best option? Geothermal has a natural competitive advantage over fossil fuels. Furthermore, fossil fuels burn leaving carcinogens in the air, but geothermal does not. Some people have criticized geothermal for using pentane, but they fail to realize what it is. Gasoline is primarily pentane, but it also contains dangerous carcinogens like benzene, whereas pentane is much safer. The pentane used in geothermal operation is in a closed system just like the gas in your refrigerator so it does not get burned and does not contain such dangerous carcinogens. Geothermal is an improvement over the fossil fuel that we have relied on for so many years, and the logical solution meeting our energy needs without burning fossil fuels.
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.
While we were committing economic suicide to rid our island completely of the virus, it was not more than a couple of weeks before we reopened and let it back in. Before commencing on such an extreme measure we should decide firmly if it should be permanent or not. If not, then reopening wasted much of the effort and the opportunity that it had created.
Had we remained closed and fully utilized our unique virus-free situation, we might become the place where all at-risk patients want to come, and we could open the hotels as elderly care facilities for people from around the world who wish to isolate themselves from the virus, having to go through multiple levels of quarantine to arrive and be counted safe.
But since we made the decision to reopen, we’ve pretty much shut the door on that opportunity and that was bought at the cost of our tourism industry. I could paint a rosy picture, but in reality we will have a difficult time with the revenue lost and tourism businesses will have to work harder than ever to recover their former profitability.
10. What do you see as the most pressing issue facing the Big Island? What will you do about it?
I see overregulation as the biggest issue. Whether it’s people trying to build a yurt-style house and being delayed for months or maybe years over permits for it, or homeless people being able to build a simple structure somewhere off-grid, the problem is the same. We need our government offices to live by the same hippocratic oath as doctors: first do no harm.
If there are federal dollars available, the regulations and invasiveness that come with them may not always be worth the assault on our people’s life, liberty and pursuit of happiness. If there are disasters, getting in the way of evacuees is unconscionable.
That is why I’m running. If not elected, I hope other candidates will at least steal my ideas and make this a better place. Concentrate on the basics. It shouldn’t take two hours for police to arrive anywhere on the island, or more than two months to get a permit for a house.