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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 Tina Wildberger, Democratic candidate for state House District 11, which includes Kihei, Wailea and Makena. The other Democratic candidate is Don Couch.
1. Hawaii has been deeply affected by the coronavirus pandemic. Perhaps the biggest impact is to the economy and the tourism industry, which has been Hawaii’s biggest economic driver. Do you think state leaders have handled the response to the virus effectively, including the approach to testing and health care as well as the stay-at-home orders that have caused serious economic harm? What would you have done differently?
Given this event is unprecedented, I would like to give the leadership the benefit of the doubt in handling the response. I have a variety of opinions depending on the area of kuleana involved. The unemployment fiasco was inexcusable, with some 70,000 or so folks who still have not realized any fiscal relief. Antiquated IT systems hamstrung the efforts of volunteers trying to ameliorate the situation. The PUA and plus up funding from the federal government would have been better distributed by the tax department, in my opinion.
While I was looking for more concrete shut down action in February, I am glad that the governor did shut down and prevent our health care system and communities form having the challenges that New York and Italy faced.
I am concerned that our state Department of Health is not up to the task of staffing up for testing, contact tracing and isolation programs to respond to blooms of infection when we open back up. They have pushed back on calls for 600 contact tracers statewide. The estimated requirement is 30/100,000 residents, then add to that tourists who can act like super-spreaders island-hopping asymptomatically, we don’t want to have our efforts and economic sacrifice to have been for nothing and end up with crippling transmission rates when we open back up.
2. The state budget is facing record shortfalls. How would you balance the budget? What would you cut? What would you protect?
It’s important to protect as many jobs as we possibly can as we move through this protracted economic catastrophe. I am glad the Finance Committee is looking at municipal liquidity lending options to continue to provide services by borrowing from the federal government. It will be important as we go forward to make sure that people have food, shelter, that our keiki have access to educational services and whatever needs (hardware and internet) distance learning might present.
I’d like to see a state job corps program offer employment for Green New Deal-style climate crisis projects. We must see this crisis as an opportunity to re-set and keep our climate crisis in mind because the pandemic didn’t cancel our other impending issues.
3. What do you think should be done to diversify the economy? What would you do as an elected official to make that happen?
The obvious and untapped sector is agriculture. Without much help from anyone, farmers and advocates are pivoting to get their products distributed to retail markets from a wholesale model. Our house of cards food systems have demonstrated our vulnerability. A three-day supply of food at any given time is unacceptable.
We need to be promoting regenerative, diversified agriculture and discouraging pesticide-prone models of producing food. I would impose taxes on import of chemicals that poison our aina. I would offer tax breaks for food grown by sustainable practices. This crisis has shown the lack of sustainability of big-ag models on the mainland. Farming is a tough business and the state could go a long way to provide support to those that are growing food we can consume in-state and improve our food security.
We should be managing our fisheries in a more sustainable manner as well. The unmitigated take model threatens our fisheries globally. Hawaii could impose conservation mandates and take limits on fish coming through our harbors.
4. Are you satisfied with the current plans to pay for the state’s unfunded liabilities? If not, how would you propose to meet pension and health obligations for public workers? Would you support reductions in benefits including in pension contributions for public employees in light of virus-related budget shortfalls?
The state should consider Rep. Cochola’s HB1462, which calls for a study, but we should skip the study and execute a state self-insured model for both the state’s employer health care plans and our Quest benefits plans. HMSA is extracting millions every year from our state budget. The Hawaii Health Authority needs to be funded and its plans for uniform physician compensation implemented.
Other states are already realizing millions in annual savings with this model. Corporations in Hawaii like HR Symphony and ProService are self-insuring their workers compensation coverage. This model is proven. It’s time to wean the insurance industry from state coffers.
5. The state’s virus response effort has exposed deep rifts within the top levels of government, including between the Legislature and Gov. David Ige. He will be in office two more years, so what would you do to ensure public confidence in Hawaii’s government officials and top executives?
The silo operating model of our state departments has been revealed as yet another area of vulnerability. Leadership and the governor’s staff should be meeting off-camera and discussing challenges, developing agreed upon strategy, and putting a united message forward to the people of Hawaii. In the same manner that the counties and state governments don’t cooperate, coordinate or collaborate, so too don’t the departments and the Legislature. These systematic shortcomings have all been exacerbated by this crisis.
The upcoming election, and the governor’s emergency proclamation powers, likely have had some effect on what has transpired. While it hasn’t been pretty, we did manage to prevent an initial outbreak. But, moving forward, leaders need to work together so that we are doing the right work to prevent second and third waves as we open up our economy and get people back to work.
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. How important do you see this as an issue for Hawaii? What should be done to improve policing and police accountability throughout the state? Do you support police reform efforts such as mandatory disclosure of misconduct records by police agencies and adequate funding for law enforcement oversight boards that have been established in recent years?
Yes, yes, yes! I do not understand how law enforcement is able to operate with impunity in so many various ways. The absurdity of news articles talking about cops legally engaging in solicitation of prostitutes shows where we are and how far we have to go. I support the demilitarization of our PDs and making sure officers have the appropriate psychological evaluations prior to hiring and the training tools in deescalation and cultural factors.
I would like to see more “cops on the beat” and community policing. What we have now is single officers in idling cars, running the AC, not engaging with their community members. I would also address the issue of responsiveness. For over a year MPD has not acted on a house near my district with detailed evidence of illicit activity that threatens the peace of that street. Why?
7. Hawaii is the only Western state without a statewide citizens initiative process. Do you support such a process?
Yes, Hawaii would benefit, particularly now, during this crisis, from the smart leaders in California and Washington. The California ballot is like a book with so many, maybe too many, initiatives on their ballots. But as it is now, it is too tough to get important issues out there for our citizenry to make decisions on. This process would take some of the power out of the hands of the monied few and put it in the hands of voters.
8. 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?
This feet dragging of transparency and accountability has gone on too long. With the U/I fiasco revealing the state’s apparently purposeful lack of investment to upgrade systems in every department, I support CARES Act funding be used to upgrade every single department.
All lists, data, reports from Ag, to DoH, to DLNR, all of their record keeping needs to be available, online, for the public to see and access. The excuse that “producing records is too costly” is a thin veil for corruption and status quo. Every single thing needs to be digitized and available for the asking. I have been waiting for records from the DoA for a year now.
9. What should Hawaii be doing to prepare for the effects of climate change, including sea level rise and threats to the reefs? How big of a priority is this for you?
Unfortunately, this pandemic doesn’t undo the climate crisis. We can and should use this employment crisis as an opportunity to develop jobs in doing efficiency upgrades in all of our buildings statewide. We can organize a job corps for tree planting on all islands. We should be working on projects to improve access to charging stations to facilitate switching to electric vehicles. We need to stop the aquarium collecting trade.
We must resist building sea walls and stop current shoreline development. We must manage our wastewater so that we aren’t injecting wastewater into our near shore reefs. We need to start planning alternatives for roads that will be under water in the near future, which does not include hardening the shoreline. Climate crisis (not change) is a hair-on-fire priority for me.
10. What do you see as the most pressing issue facing your district? What will you do about it?
South Maui faces 37 percent unemployment rate right now. Prior to the pandemic, I would have said getting our high school built would be No. 1. But now, making sure everyone has food and shelter has been the focus of mine as I work closely with Kelly King, my County Council counterpart. Together we are bridging the gaps in DoE meal distribution, so families without income have food for their keiki.
11. 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.
I am working with council vice chair Keani Rawlins-Fernandez to consult with travel and destination expert Doug Lansky, whose Ted Talk about managing tourism was life-changing. I sent this video to all of the decision-makers. It appeared to go unheard, except for Carl Bonham, who expressed interest in learning more.
The point that Doug Lansky makes is:
When it comes to tourism, more isn’t necessarily better. We can market and manage our visitor industry in a more holistic way. I’m just stunned to hear the linear “Japan bubble” plan. It’s as if there are no other targets. Kihei is the capitol of Canada every winter. We need our British Columbia travelers back this year. BC’s COVID-19 numbers are very low and well-managed.
Too many sacred and beautiful places were being stepped on prior to COVID-19. This opportunity to reset is priceless. It should be about quality over quantity. We should consider green fees, toll roads and reservation slots for high-use, high-demand destinations. We should limit rental vehicles, provide transportation alternatives like shuttle buses and commit to electric vehicles everywhere.