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 Adrian Tam, Democratic candidate for state House District 22, which includes Waikiki and Ala Moana. The other Democratic candidate is Tom Brower.
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?
Public awareness remains key to slowing the spread and flattening the curve. I believe that the state’s numerous press conferences were effective in this regard. However, communication between departments was poor. We saw discord when Gov. Ige forced Lt. Gov. Green to take a back seat, there was fighting between the legislators and the executive branch, and plenty of miscommunication between city and state officials, which led to confusion.
Testing has not been as efficient as it could have been — less than 4% of our population has been tested, but we have exceeded most states in our testing, and that, coupled with relatively strict stay-at-home orders and mandatory two-week quarantine for visitors, helped to keep our numbers low, our recoveries high, and our hospitals functioning at high capacity.
Unfortunately, from this experience, we learned that the state has an outdated unemployment system, and those years of negligence left thousands of newly unemployed individuals without any kind of income or security. Many are still struggling to receive their benefits to this day. We knew back in March that the UI department would be overwhelmed, we should have poured resources into that system months earlier.
2. The state budget is facing record shortfalls. How would you balance the budget? What would you cut? What would you protect?
Hawaii must look into ways we can create revenue-generating legislation that would not be regressive and come from the pockets of taxpayers. I support the idea of a visitor’s tax and the taxation of real estate investment trusts (REITS). I also support the legalization/taxation/regulation of responsible, adult-use cannabis. There are dozens of ways we can generate revenue to rebuild our budget without taxing our residents.
While we propose revenue generating legislation, we will have to face the fact that we need to cut various areas of the budget. We should cut vacant non-civil service positions, and reduce wasteful spending in all departments. I will protect the Education Department from cuts because I believe it’s wrong to balance the budget on the backs of our students and teachers.
3. What do you think should be done to diversify the economy? What would you do as an elected official to make that happen?
I believe we need to invest in new industries to keep our economy growing. If there is one thing we have learned for certain from the coronavirus, it is that we are completely over-dependent on tourism.
In my opinion, the industry with the most potential to diversify our economy, create good-paying jobs, and benefit our environment is green technology. One idea would be for Hawaii to invest heavily into green technology research at the University of Hawaii, and allow businesses to use that research to expand, on the condition that they operate out of Hawaii and staff their business with at least 50% local workers. This is a fast-growing industry that will provide multiple long-term solutions economically and environmentally for our state.
We will need to heavily fund STEM education in our schools in order to ensure that our young people entering this new field are prepared and competitive with their mainland and international peers, and we will need to begin the work now if we hope to make Hawaii a leader in global green technology and meet our clean energy goals by 2045.
Hawaii is in a unique situation because our climate and ecosystem is perfect for attracting green technology businesses looking to expand and invest.
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?
I am not satisfied with the current plans to pay for the state’s unfunded liabilities. I absolutely would not support cutting benefits for public employees.
This could easily be avoided if we capitalized on the areas where we are not generating revenue. Visitor fees and taxing real estate investment trusts (REITs) are easy, low-hanging fruit. A modest $5 entry fee could easily raise over $50 million in revenue annually once we get back to normal tourism levels, and taxing REITS is projected to bring in $60 million per year.
These are just two additional sources of revenue that could help us meet our obligations.
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?
Unfortunately, it appears some of our elected officials continue to choose politics and special interests over the pressing needs of their constituents. It is especially distressing to see this play out in the midst of a crisis while so many local people are suffering economically and their financial futures hang in limbo. My campaign slogan is “People Over Politics,” and I mean this wholeheartedly. As an elected official, I will work with all engaged parties on every issue to the benefit of the community I represent and to the people of the State of Hawaii.
If our elected leaders fought harder for the people, maybe they would have more confidence in us. It will be very difficult to earn back public trust. The only way to accomplish this is to demonstrate, over and over, that we are prioritizing their needs over politics and self interest.
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?
The events in Minneapolis, Louisville and, most recently, Atlanta, are tragic and unacceptable, and much, much too commonplace. When someone dies at the hands of a police officer, that officer should stand trial. The first and most important step towards justice is eliminating qualified immunity for law enforcement.
Additionally, I support efforts in community policing.
One such initiative that has proven highly successful is the HPD, HHHRC, and DPS-Sheriff Division’s collaboration known as the LEAD program (Law Enforcement Assisted Diversion Program). This initiative emphasizes harm reduction and non-coercive and non-punitive approaches to minor illegal activities that can be better addressed outside the criminal justice system.
The goal is to increase connections to service providers for low-level offenders instead of issuing citations or arrests. Officers who volunteer for the program are trained in harm reduction and de-escalation techniques. The results from the pilot program were incredibly positive. Oftentimes, when handling calls about petty crime, officers are confronted with individuals who are suffering some type of mental incapacitation. Without proper training, these encounters can escalate quickly. I would love to bring in more programs like LEAD, and make harm reduction and de-escalation training mandatory for all of our law enforcement officers.
To improve policing and accountability, each police commission should be open and transparent on the review of their police chiefs.The public should be made aware of misconduct by police officers, which is why it is critical to pass HB285. Residents should be aware of any misconduct by their law enforcement, and those officers should be held accountable for their actions.
7. Hawaii is the only Western state without a statewide citizens initiative process. Do you support such a process?
Yes, a citizens initiative process will excite the populous to get engaged with the political process to make meaningful change. Too often, the Legislature defers controversial legislation. A citizens initiative would be democracy in action and the issue would be put up to a vote by the public.
Unfortunately, the negative side to this would mean that the issue will be entrenched in the election circus and each side will pour millions of dollars to pass it or end it. However, I believe this is preferable to the current situation in which all issues are left to the whims of the Legislature and the decisions are made before the public even has a chance to testify.
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 disagreed with this action which eroded public trust in our leaders. I understand that there are tough decisions to be made and they can be interpreted in many ways where the public may not understand the situation fully. However, public trust and government accountability are essential to our democracy, especially during a crisis. I have yet to see any good reason to suspend open government laws.
Prior to the pandemic, the communication system at the State Capitol was outdated, and remote testimony was nearly impossible. Now, remote testimony should be considered paramount to public health and participation. The technology for remote testimony has existed for years, and many of our counties have proven that it is doable. We need to upgrade our system at the Capitol to accept remote testimony so everyone has fair and equal access.
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 a major priority of my campaign. House District 22 is a coastal district and will be the first hit from sea level rise. For Hawaii to prepare, we must start looking into land reclamation to protect against sea level rise and erosion. This is a short-term solution. We need a long-term shoreline retreat strategy, ASAP.
In order to have any chance of preserving our beaches, we must fully ban seawalls. We need to look at the hard data to most accurately predict where our shorelines will be with sea level rise and coastal erosion in the next 100 years and ban new development in what will be the affected areas. We also need to think about that impact to the thousands of people who will, unfortunately, lose their properties to the ocean, and how we can help ease their transition inland.
Climate change affects keiki the most. Ultimately, it is our keiki that will endure the harmful effects of climate change. Hawaii can lead the way and be a model for the rest of the world to follow. We can invest heavily in green technology, get ourselves off fossil fuels, and start heavily investing in environmentally conscious education in our schools.
10. What do you see as the most pressing issue facing your district? What will you do about it?
After speaking with many residents in the district, they’ve expressed to me that crime is among their top issues. Criminal activity is often higher in dense areas and House District 22 is one of the most dense districts in Hawaii.
I support community oriented policing, meaning law enforcement works with residents to make our streets safer. Community policing is having the same officers patrolling the community instead of moving them around the island. This allows for law enforcement to know each neighbor and be vested in the community.
At the same time, we must prioritize mental health, addiction treatment and job training in our prison system to fix the root causes of crime. By focusing on restorative justice, we can end the endless cycle of returning incarcerated persons.
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.
The pandemic has highlighted the need for a stimulus during economic downturns. Most Americans across this country received a $1,200 stimulus check this year, and there are talks about a second check coming on the horizon.
In Alaska, each citizen gets a dividend each year that comes out of the Alaska Permanent Fund (PFD). Hawaii should have its own PFD, funded by the tourism industry.
Hawaii’s PFD should have stronger restrictions. It would only go to residents that have resided in the state for two full calendar years (Jan. 1 – Dec. 31) and have not been convicted of a crime during that year and are not incarcerated. Additionally, to ensure that the money stays within Hawaii, it should come in the form of a prepaid debit card that can only be spent at locally owned and operated businesses. Therefore, the money stays within the state and cannot be put into a savings account.
The idea is to give our local economy a bump during times of economic hardship or prosperity while keeping the money here.