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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 Romy Cachola, Democratic candidate for state House District 30, which includes Kalihi Kai, Sand Island, Hickam, Pearl Harbor, Ford Island and Halawa Valley Estate. The other Democratic candidate is Ernesto Ganaden.
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?
I think the state has handled the pandemic crises well and could be considered one of the best in the nation considering the low number of cases and death in Hawaii. As for the working class, the state has reacted fast enough to provide the stimulus assistance program in a timely manner.
The only stickler is the processing of unemployment insurance benefits, which created a problem due to excessive claim applications. I think we should create a pandemic and disasters readiness program all year round. I hope also that hotels and resorts will reopen soon.
2. The state budget is facing record shortfalls. How would you balance the budget? What would you cut? What would you protect?
The governor and the Legislature are doing a good job in reducing the shortfall toward a $1.5 billion budget cut. What I would do is protect the taxpayers from economic hardship via my bill, House Bill 1462 HD1, (please refer to question No. 4 answer); this may help us rise above the aftermath of the pandemic through the savings which can help reduced the budget shortfall.
3. What do you think should be done to diversify the economy? What would you do as an elected official to make that happen?
Tourism being the No. 1 economic driver has dominated business movement in Hawaii
After the pandemic hit, it is now time to look into diversified agriculture, cottage industries, small business development aimed at local consumers and a low-cost affordable housing program. Most analysts agree that Hawaii currently imports 85 percent or more of its food from the U.S. mainland and from other countries. We should produce what we need locally instead of importing from other places.
While the tourists are slowly inching their way back to the islands, diversified products and businesses catering to the locals are needed to augment their food, clothing and shelter essentials. These would provide an economic alternative until we are back to normal.
Additionally, I have another related legislative remedy. Please refer to No. 4.
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?
My bill, House Bill 1462 HD1, unanimously passed in the House and now pending in the Senate, may be the answer. It addresses Hawaii’s over $12 billion health unfunded liability and could potentially save over $500 million per year without raising taxes or fees. It may help us rise above the aftermath of the pandemic.
If this measure passes this session, savings over $500 million a year can fund other state and county liabilities and services like:
• Collective bargaining agreements to include teachers’ pay;
• Public education programs that include teachers’ shortage;
• Affordable housing and homelessness;
• Address physician shortage;
• State and county road repairs and improvements, and;
• Other needs of the state and counties
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?
Encourage open dialogue between the legislative and executive leaders to avoid conflicts and uphold public confidence. I believe that every elected official should be transparent and be accountable on decisions and policies that they adopt. This way the public is better informed in assessing the state of state affairs.
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?
As a melting pot, Hawaii’s multiracial setup breeds discrimination and racism that makes them very important issues. I support mandatory disclosure of misconduct records and funding for law enforcement oversight boards, which have been in place in recent years.
I regret that two vocal critics on the Honolulu Police Commission have resigned, however, their replacements seem to have good credentials to enhance open-mindedness. I believe in revisiting the police reform policies and the commission’s increased participation in policymaking and administrative affairs.
7. Hawaii is the only Western state without a statewide citizens initiative process. Do you support such a process?
Although there isn’t a statewide citizens initiative process in Hawaii, Honolulu, Kauai, Maui County and the Big Island allow for citizen initiatives to create new ordinances or policies, with Kauai having a referendum process for changing or overturning existing laws. Citizens initiatives remain fairly rare. Much more common is for county councils to place charter amendments directly on the ballot for voter approval which I prefer at this time.
In order to determine what type of process may work for our state, it would be wise to examine other states’ processes in order to determine what types of parameters would work with our legislative system and unique multicultural community. As there are many sides of the arguments to be considered, I would always like to weigh the pros and cons before I make my final decision.
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?
Confronted with a possible major catastrophe, a leader must take action to avoid further loss of life and property. He must concentrate in resolving the problems at hand This was necessary for him to do.
Now that the curve has flattened, he must reinstate the open government laws and he needs to ensure that the public has access to open meetings and public records, whenever they need them.
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?
Hawaii needs to abate climate change immediately. We must reduce our consumption of fossil fuels, focus more on locally grown foods, build smart power grids, mandate improved energy and water efficiency in new and upgraded buildings, and make other environmental improvements.
Resilience and sustainability are top priorities for me. Without these climate change improvements, Hawaii’s coral reefs, sandy beaches and oceans, which are our major assets, as well as our major tourist attractions, will no longer be available for us to as a source for survival, or as an economic engine.
10. What do you see as the most pressing issue facing your district? What will you do about it?
• Address unfunded liability.
• Address teacher and physician shortage.
• Address climate change
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.
First, we should upgrade outdated technology and tighten the economic gap. As I have said earlier, Hawaii currently imports 85 percent or more of its food from the U.S. mainland and from other countries. We should focus on producing what we need in Hawaii and revitalize diversified agriculture, cottage industry and small business development.
Furthermore, we should venture into a cross-expansion program and invite businesses to come to Hawaii. Entice them by providing tax and other incentives. For big businesses other than agricultural, we may lend government lands for building and construction of labor-rich operations to create jobs and utilize skills of local talents.