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 Yumi Kawano, 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, 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?
The coronavirus pandemic has caused us all to relook at our priorities. No single industry can be relied upon as a sole economic vitality, including tourism. The concrete steps that I would bring include rethinking tourism as to how it could contribute to making our islands a showcase of being a self-sustainable green community.
How about ecotourism? Ecotourism is a type of tourism with the tourists giving and learning about the place they are visiting. They could be involved in restoring a rare Hawaiian rainforest or cleaning up and learning about how to restore dying coral reefs. Hawaii should be showing off its green capacity as solar energy, wind energy, and experimenting with alternative energy sources. Sustainable Hawaii agriculture will be key to building our economy, first to ourselves, then to others.
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?
The key will be “mottanai,” no waste in government spending and accountability starting with tax revenues, FEMA monies and more. The county budget must be on line in greater detail including receipts of what government. is spending on. There will be a citizen participation budget committee. If FEMA is requiring 3 years of receipts for homeowners for grants, it should be even longer for the county government.
Since I’ve been a citizen on the Puna CDP Action Committee, no one in goverment has given me an adequate accounting of how budgets work! The new revenue comes from FEMA monies. Let us make sure it gets spent properly. Citizen CDP Action Committees exist by federal law so the people have a say in community development and they should be treated as such but are not. As mayor, I will be in good communication with all Town Center CDP Action Committees.
3. What would you have done differently to handle the coronavirus crisis on the Big Island?
Stop all visitor incoming flights until a vaccine is discovered. Local businesses could have resumed because we would have been one of the few places where people would still be working because people’s goods and services would’ve been met locally. If anyone has capacity to do this it is Hawaii island. Yes we must bring back some of “the good all days” of trading and buying from one another.
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?
No I do not support construction. I support the scientific community cleaning and repairing the 13 telescopes that are presently there. If they are not workable telescopes they must remove or repair these and clean up the mountain as that is disrespectful to all of us on Hawaii island. This would prove some responsibility as a scientific community. What kind of testimony are they showing as they trash the side of Mauna Kea?
According to the Sept. 13, 2007, United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples, which the U.S. has agreed to, we “Recognizing the Urgent need to respect and promote inherit rights of indigenous peoples … Especially the rights to the lands, territories, and resources … promote the rights … affirmed in treaties, agreements and with other constructive arrangements with States.” I would make sure that the scientific community has lived up to their prior agreements with the Hawaiian community and if not, ask that they do so to start with.
5. Homelessness remains a problem statewide, including on Hawaii island. What would you do to come to grips on this persistent problem?
Homelessness is a societal problem in which all of us are affected and we have failed to remedy this. A “Beautify the Hawaii Island Project” would be launched. Rehabilitation homeless work camps with medical and mental health services would be provided for homeless workers. What we do for illegal citizens crossing our borders, we should be at least willing to do this for our citizens, but even better. No more excuses.
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?
Yes, look at the amount of people of color (Polynesians and others) in our overcrowded prison! There must be intervention for these folks because the mental health services and medications are deprived which is worsening the jail problem!
The oversight of the police department should be put upon the citizens that are being governed and protected by the police. Citizen accountability is in order, especially when recent sickening corruption was revealed in the Oahu prosecutor’s office. There is and has been evidence of corruption existing in the Hawaii Island Police Department relating to drug cases and missing evidence. I respect many of our HPD officers, many former veterans, but no one is above the laws to protect the public.
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?
As a CDP Action Committee member I have seen meetings canceled for no good reasons by the Planning Department and now we no longer have public meetings. We are one of the few citizen committees. The plans put together by the people of Puna have been essentially ignored and this is the will of the people that has been ignored. I have been in touch with other CDP members of town centers such as Hilo, and they report the same problems with permitting problems taking a long time and being ignored too.
I will put a public relations specialist in every department and each will report to me directly. Communication is key to running a fair democratic government that is true to the people it governs. As mayor, I will attend CDP meetings monthly and/or my staff will be at each meeting, so that we are in touch with the needs of each town center. Having an open government will be evident as soon as I take office and if not, let me know!
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?
All buildings and homes will eventually be taken off the shorelines as damage occurs and as the disasters increase. It is evident that natural disasters are increasing in frequency and in severity. Lands near the ocean could be agricultural lands using alternative wave motion to irrigate. Lands near the ocean which are subjected to lava flows such as the lower Puna district must become agricultural lands so that no inhabitants will have any loss and we will sustain ourselves food-wise as a few generations ago did.
We need to look at sustainable mass transportation with biodiesel or other means. Incentives for those whom buy electric cars. There are a number of things we can do to encourage health and wellness to find the balance of living on the island. I brought the Natural Resource Conservation Service funding to the CDP Action committee to restore these exquisite rare rainforests to protect our watersheds, endangered species and to keep our forests intact.
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.
For one, each town center must become self-sufficient for energy, food and affordable housing. Each town center must produce its own food, energy and affordable housing. To be disaster-ready and not depending upon Civil Defense, each town center, each subdivision needs to be able to meet the needs of one another.
I envision each town center having a battery storage unit for the whole town if there is damage to their solar and alternative sources. Each household should strive to be self-sufficient, as far as food, water, energy and the home being affordable. Community is missing because we forgot as a people how important it is to get our needs met locally, rather than letting corporations run our lives. We have learned a hefty and hard lesson of how important it is that we become small communities within this island community.
10. What do you see as the most pressing issue facing the Big Island? What will you do about it?
The most pressing issues that we face is that the world will not function as it has in the past, because of this new pandemic. It is a new landscape and we have new norms. We will become self-sufficient because we have to and because we need to. We will build communities like never before.
Look at how we communicate with electronic meetings. You could say COVID-19 is like a war and it is our enemy. We must come together to stay safe. We must learn to build trusting alliances and become the community we all long for.
I, as your mayor, will do my best to be open and honest and to set the example of building strong trusting alliances and to help us become the island community we so long to become. We must learn to take care of each other like never before. We must drop our prejudices and our judgments and see the possibilities, the endless possibilities of what we can become together. We will finally begin to take care of and steward the earth as we should’ve many years ago, and we will have something amazing to leave to future generations.