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 Jay Ishibashi, 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, Jackson Sayama and Derek Turbin.
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?
The coronavirus pandemic was like nothing our government has faced before. The situation was constantly evolving and decisions were made based on the best data available at the time. I believe state leaders did the best they could with what they had. All things considered, the low virus counts and deaths in comparison to our mainland and even global counterparts has to be deemed a success. Although the case numbers have creeped up in June, I believe we now have better knowledge and experience to stem possible future case increases once we reopen the state to visitors again.
With the planned safety protocols about ready to be implemented at all levels, I believe opening the state to trans-Pacific travelers (bubble areas first) soon would be prudent and would help minimize the potential long-term effects of the economic crisis. The one area I would have liked to have seen better addressed during the pandemic was the communication to the public by the executive branches. The information and decisions at times did not appear to be coordinated between jurisdictions; even internally.
2. The state budget is facing record shortfalls. How would you balance the budget? What would you cut? What would you protect?
The money committees of the state Legislature have identified means (using the state’s emergency fund, departmental cuts including vacancies, using federal aid and borrowing, etc.) to cover the near-term budget shortfall projected by the Council on Revenues. Legislators during the next legislative session, would need to continue to take a hard look at the budget and identify duplicative or antiquated processes in anticipation of further weak economic number projections by the Council on Revenues in August.
This does not mean that I would cut state employee salaries or positions, which must be protected. I would look at opportunities to invest in actions that would result in long-term savings in areas such as technology and shift our resources, including employees, to support those. I would also explore other sources of funding, such as federal grants and public-private partnerships.
3. What do you think should be done to diversify the economy? What would you do as an elected official to make that happen?
With the fiscal crisis Hawaii is experiencing with its lead industry in shutdown, new cries for a more diversified economy have surfaced. Diversification will require an infusion of funds and will take some time to be fully realized, so it is imperative that we explore and implement plans now while we try to stabilize the existing crisis.
The pandemic has demonstrated how we can be creative in dealing with attacks on our economy. Just one example is the “Farm to Car” program initiated by the Hawaii Farm Bureau to help our agricultural community. This along with other initiatives such as a “food hub” could together lead to food sustenance and potentially increased export revenue. Other areas I would like to pursue and/or fortify legislatively to help diversify our economy include sports training facilities; high tech ”clean” industries; health-care research and resort facilities and film production, just to name a few.
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?
Yes. Through the enactment of previous legislative measures, the reduction of the state’s ERS unfunded liabilities has been aggressive. I would not support reductions in benefits for our public employees.
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?
Prior to the coronavirus pandemic, the Legislature and the administration introduced a first of its kind joint legislative package. We are not so far removed from that time that we cannot go back and I believe we will.
To help raise public confidence in Hawaii’s government officials and top executives, I would start by being open and accessible to my constituency. To establish trust, people need to feel heard. The only way the public will trust government officials is if we truly listen to them and have open and honest dialogue. Unfortunately, government cannot be all things to all people, but if we can clearly communicate the issues we’re facing and examine pros and cons of potential solutions together, everybody can have a small piece of a win.
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?
While I believe the problem in Hawaii is not as pronounced as in the continental United States, discrimination is present in some form at some level. Police cams are a start by showing responsibility and accountability on both sides of police encounters. There are multiple reasons for protections allotted to the accused in police investigations and their results.
7. Hawaii is the only Western state without a statewide citizens initiative process. Do you support such a process?
No. Our election process is adequate and an initiative process would not be far different from the current system in underlying influence, for example.
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 agree with the governor’s action because while the laws were made to protect the public and our public employees, the stay-at-home order made the mandates difficult and/or not possible (without risking the health and safety of our public employees) to fully comply, as many records still exist on paper and employees would need to physically be in the office to search for them.
This does not discount the need for open government, however. If anything, this has shown that meetings can still be held publicly and the Sunshine Law can be followed in a virtual manner. I would work with the Office of Information Practices to amend their laws to incorporate lessons learned during this time.
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?
One huge area that needs to be addressed soon is shoreline protection. With the Hawaii islands being surrounded by ocean, rising sea levels will continue to impact our shorelines. Studies on the future impacts of rising sea levels due to climate change on metropolises across the country have many current shorelines underwater in the not-too-distant future.
We must begin by enacting measures that would strengthen the planning process to account and prepare for the impacts on critical areas such as our airports, harbors, tourist destinations and commercial and residential properties. We must plan for impacts instead of resorting to our current reactionary, patchwork approach to the effects of climate change. While Hawaii has taken measures to reduce the toll on our environment, we cannot control what the rest of the world does or does not do with regard to protecting the environment.
10. What do you see as the most pressing issue facing your district? What will you do about it?
As a result of the coronavirus pandemic, I believe the most pressing issue facing my district, and every district in the state, is the economy. Long lines for food distribution, record number of citizens collecting unemployment, it is clear that people need help. I believe the best way to alleviate this is to invest in people. We need to protect public employees’ salaries so those monies can flow back into our local economy. Government needs to continue to pump money into capital improvement projects to provide a more immediate infusion of cash into the economy.
We need to look at federal entitlement programs to ensure that we’re maximizing available benefits. We need to effectively and efficiently utilize every dollar the state has to make sure our citizens can live. As legislators, we need to work in concert with the administration to help stabilize and grow Hawaii’s economy.
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.
As mentioned above, the pandemic has exposed critical flaws in Hawaii’s infrastructure. Infrastructure planning is a key need in helping to prepare for disasters (economic, physical etc.). If I were allowed to reinvent Hawaii, I would have done more to invest in continual infrastructure planning.
We cannot plan for everything. But, with help from experiences of past events, we can devise measures to lessen the impact of unforeseen crisis. While maybe not innovative, recognizing the importance of and implementing planning techniques to strengthen our preparation is critical to maintaining a semblance of the life we are accustomed to.