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 Derek Turbin, Democratic candidate for state House District 20, which includes St. Louis Heights, Palolo, Maunalani Heights, Wilhelmina Rise and Kaimuki. The other Democratic candidates are Becky Gardner, Jay Ishibashi and Jackson Sayama.
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?
State leaders did many things right in response to the virus. The implementation of the two-week quarantine for travelers, and early shelter-in-place were both appropriate to limit community spread of the virus. These actions also prevented cases on our islands from overwhelming our medical system.
On the other hand, while we were flattening the curve, we could have done more to develop contact tracing, and access to mass testing. Contact tracing, and mass testing for visitors, would have enabled us to reopen our economy sooner.
Lastly, we should be working more expeditiously to open our tourist economy to visitors from low-risk countries such as Japan, South Korea, Taiwan, New Zealand and Australia.
2. The state budget is facing record shortfalls. How would you balance the budget? What would you cut? What would you protect?
To balance the budget, I would recommend the following actions:
• Tap into our “rainy day funds.”
• Obtain federal funding.
• Due to the state’s good credit score, obtain bonds from the federal government, and the private market.
• Examine a 2 percent to 3 percent “airfare fee” or “airport fee” from visitors traveling to Hawaii.
If the above actions are taken, cutting essential services or pay, should not be necessary.
3. What do you think should be done to diversify the economy? What would you do as an elected official to make that happen?
First, I recommend securing federal funds to grow our local farming and agriculture industry. This federal funding could be secured through a federal job corps program being discussed by Congress.
Second, I recommend growing our television and film industry. In order to grow our television and film industry, we would need to remove the cap on tax credits for film and television productions brought to Hawaii, which I would support due to the large amount of jobs the film industry would bring to our economy.
Third, I recommend growing our clean energy market such as the solar and wind energy industry through tax credits to local companies developing clean energy options.
Fourth, tech, IT and data analytics are remote industries. With a low COVID-19 infection rate, Hawaii is one of the safest places on Earth. As a result, we should explore bringing tech, IT and data companies to Hawaii.
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?
Reducing pensions cannot be an option. State employees have paid into the system in good faith for years to have earned a comfortable retirement. The current plan is to raise contributions from 17 percent of payroll in 2017 to 24 percent in 2021 to pay for the state’s unfunded liabilities, which will help to address some of the shortfall. At the same time, we must carefully monitor the ERS investment portfolio to ensure it minimizes risky investments, and make certain that it is able to continue to grow as the global economy recovers from the pandemic.
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?
Although there are rifts within the top levels of government, moving forward we need to let go of any grudges and enact legislation that serves the best interest of our state. The best way to ensure public confidence is to legislate effectively and keep open lines of communications between the government and public.
I personally have a strong relationship with Lt. Gov. Josh Green, who recently endorsed me, and I hope to use that relationship to ensure that our district’s needs are met. If the top levels of government can help our economy recover, and legislates in the public’s best interests, then Hawaii’s government will regain public trust.
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?
With the recent protests across the country, Hawaii needs to address how its criminal justice system disproportionally impacts minority groups. To address these issues, Hawaii should start moving away from mass incarceration as well as its cash bail system. Through cash bail, we often find our state detaining individuals who committed minor offenses for years at a time as they await trial or sentencing. This system disproportionately affects minority groups and leads to mass incarceration. Instead of offering cash bail, pre-trial incarceration should be based on whether the individual is a risk to public safety, or a flight risk.
Next, Hawaii should focus its efforts on rehabilitation or probation when an individual commits a minor offense. By focusing on rehabilitation and probation for first time non-violent offenders, we would reduce the recidivism rate and the criminal justice system can focus its efforts on serious and violent offenses. We currently have the HOPE Court and Mental Health Court in place, which focus on rehabilitation and probation. I recommend expanding access to these courts, which will make Hawaii a safer place and reduce recidivism.
7. Hawaii is the only Western state without a statewide citizens initiative process. Do you support such a process?
I am reluctant to move toward a statewide citizens initiative process in Hawaii, as ballot initiatives are often influenced by big money interest groups and turn into million-dollar campaigns. For example, in 2018 over $1 billion was spent on citizen initiatives across the country. Citizen initiatives tend to pull more money into the political process and lead to greater influence from big money interest groups.
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?
I disagree with the decision to suspend the open government laws during the pandemic. Although there are emergency circumstances where urgent decisions must be made, minutes from emergency meetings should be made public in a timely matter, and the public should be given the opportunity to comment and participate in subsequent meetings.
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?
Climate change is the biggest threat to my generation and future generations, and it must be addressed immediately. To address climate change, Hawaii needs to reduce carbon emissions and invest in clean energy such as solar and wind energy. Moreover, we need to specifically combat the rising sea levels.
To reduce carbon emissions, I would support House Bill 1675, which allocates a portion of funds from gasoline sales to an environmental preservation fund. Moreover, to combat rising sea levels I would support HB 1621, which establishes the Honolulu Shoreline Climate Protection Pilot Project.
10. What do you see as the most pressing issue facing your district? What will you do about it?
One of the biggest issues facing District 20 is the need to save our local businesses. As a result, I would advocate for a grant program for the local businesses to assist them with rent and paycheck relief. In addition, I would support delaying the resurfacing of the parking lot on Waialae and 12th to give local businesses time to recover before reducing access to those businesses.
Another pressing issue is to provide relief to families laid off or furloughed due to COVID-19. We need to update our unemployment system to increase efficiency and the ability to process and pay unemployment benefits in a timely manner.
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.
Moving forward our state needs greater contribution from our non-residents who own valuable residential property in Hawaii. There is a long list of billionaires who own residential property in Hawaii, and they rarely set foot in the state and contribute very little to our economy.
First, I would like to push these billionaires into investing their private dollars into our state. For example, many of them are tech entrepreneurs. Therefore, we could use their assistance in developing our tech industry here in Hawaii. We could also use their assistance to privately fund public school facilities, and public parks and gyms.
Lastly, I understand that this is a county issue, but we should also balance our county budgets by increasing the property taxes of these non-resident property owners.