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 Laurent Zahnd, candidate for Maui County Council representing Makawao, Haiku and Paia. The other candidates are Aja Eyre and Mike Molina.

Go to Civil Beat’s Elections Guide for general information, and check out other candidates on the Primary Election Ballot.

Candidate for Maui Council Makawao-Haiku-Paia District

Laurent Zahnd
Party Nonpartisan
Age 36
Occupation Management and marketing consultant
Residence Haiku


Community organizations/prior offices held

Maui Community Emergency Response Team volunteer.

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?

Tourism will not come back like it was, at least most of it, and it is crucial we push for a new tourism strategy with testing visitors prior to boarding planes to Maui Nui. In my opinion, our best bet is to redefine our tourism strategy around a “safe luxury” branding, and do micro-testing on our online ads to identify the behavior of visitors and adapt our message to their rapidly evolving needs in a post-COVID world. For that, I would like to see the creation of a public-private task-force including government agencies, hospitality and activity partners, unions and community groups.

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?

I would start by cutting waste in the government’s administrative processes. We need to transition everything online and implement blockchain smart contracts to securely automate most of the repetitive administrative processes and make them transparent to the population, so every taxpayer dollar would be used wisely and consciously.

That way, the cost of government can be drastically reduced, while at the same time becoming much more efficient and transparent. I can see new revenues being generated from smartly investing in startup incubators for the local industries that have potential for our economic diversification efforts.

3. What would you have done differently to handle the coronavirus crisis on Maui?

Instead of only mentioning the sanitation of golf carts and golf courses in the emergency proclamation, I would have made sure that workers in hospitals and senior facilities would be equipped with mandatory and reusable respiratory protection that is certified against airborne viruses. And instead of shutting down businesses, I would have given them the strictest safety guidelines to implement if they wanted to remain open. I would also have authorized people to sit and lie on the beach if following physical distancing.

4. Homelessness remains a problem statewide, including on Maui. What would you do to come to grips with this persistent problem?

The current “Housing First” strategy doesn’t work, both in terms of success rate and budget efficiency. After extensive talks with homeless people, I find most of them dream to work! They just aren’t offered the opportunity to serve, and there’s a lot of stigmas that keep them in a vicious cycle, mostly due to judgments that homeless people are either disgusting, lazy, criminal, drug addicts, mentally ill or simply not to be trusted.

Starting with a “job first” approach can yield greater results, huge savings on social assistance funding, and restoration of the broken mutual trust. With providing homeless people the opportunity to do some simple paid work like farming or weed whacking three to four days per week, we could give them access to housing after a month of commitment, knowing that they are already making efforts and generating income, which would generate more support from the community for providing them affordable housing, and most of all; boost the homeless people’s self-worth, which is ultimately the fuel of their self-reliance.

5. 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 Maui County? What should be done to improve policing and police accountability on Maui? Should oversight of the police department be strengthened or reformed?

I don’t think we have a big police violence issue on Maui, but we do have a huge racial discrimination issue in our local justice system, and it has to stop. We incarcerate people before trial for literally hundreds of days, simply because they can’t afford bail. This is purposely targeting minorities and the poor, and it is not only unfair, but it also costs us tens of millions and doesn’t even make our community safer. These racist and discriminatory practices have to stop.

6. 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?

Just like for any business, I would only agree to close public records for a couple of days to implement strict safety measures to protect both visitors and staff. That being said, we are in 2020 and all our public records should be digitalized and made available online using safe blockchain technology, as well as automating repetitive tasks using smart contracts to gain efficiency and transparency, and massively reduce our insane administration costs.

7. What more should Maui County be doing to prepare for the effects of climate change, including sea level rise and threats to the reefs?

Projects like dune restoration and other natural ways to prevent erosion should start immediately in the biggest residential areas that will be impacted. For the other areas, we could support owners of primary residences, either to secure their land or to swap their land for an Upcountry one at a discount.

8. 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.

One solution to solve every single problem we have; it is the independence of Hawaii as a sovereign and prosperous neutral nation ruled by true aloha. Legally speaking, it is already the case, as the UN called the current US occupation of Hawaii illegal.

Being a neutral nation would enable us to close our borders if need be, and truly diversify our economy, with massive opportunities for international trade between Asia and America, as we could regulate our own taxes to attract all the business exchanges and offer a mediation platform for trade wars.

We could keep all the business for local companies, instead of having all the profits flying away, and we could forbid non-residents to own property, so housing issues would be solved and everyone could have free housing and free college! We could change the system and create direct democracy to truly create a paradise where we are in control of our community and our destiny, where we don’t need to work except for our passion and we wouldn’t have to worry about money or enemies anymore.

9. What do you see as the most pressing issue facing your district? What will you do about it?

There is an urgent need for more agricultural parks to create food security. That is my first priority, and I want to be very mindful of the water use and favor aquaponic farming above all, because it saves 90% of the water, and we need to give back the water for more Hawaiian farming on the East Side.

We also have a big homeless issue in Paia, and I would like to turn this into an opportunity for putting them to work in the ag park, and extending the Farm Apprentice Mentoring program both to them and the ag park and also creating a farm mentoring system for every citizen to be able to maximize their backyard food production with the help of professional farmers and locally available resources.