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 Val Okimoto, Republican candidate for state House District 36, which includes Mililani Mauka and Mililani.
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?
Without question, the most significant impact has been on our economy and industry. I believe our state leaders handled the response based on the resources they had when decisions were made. The stay-at-home orders were necessary to curtail the spread of the virus.
I would have imposed the quarantine earlier, enforced the mandated quarantine more strictly/effectively, and implemented a more robust screening and testing program sooner, rather than later.
2. The state budget is facing record shortfalls. How would you balance the budget? What would you cut? What would you protect?
We balanced the state budget in May to ensure essential programs and public workers’ pay were not cut. I will continue to support cutting funds from departments if they do not spend the money allocated to them, or if there are departments where funds are being mismanaged.
I will continue to fight for teachers and our first responders to ensure their pay is not cut.
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 state should embrace sustainable tourism to protect our natural resources. We should continue to expand the tax credit for movies, which helped our state economy recover after 9/11 and the recession in 2008. We should look toward the future and attract good-paying jobs in the technology and business sectors.
Not only should we take a look at our suffocating and abusive tax regime, but we need to look at our schools to ensure our children are competitive in a 21st century economy. Hawaii should further develop local agriculture to become less dependent on imported food from the mainland.
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?
No, I am not satisfied with the current plans to pay for the state’s unfunded liabilities. The Legislature should have done more during non-emergency periods to pay down unfunded liabilities instead of creating new programs that cost money to implement. I cannot support cutting benefits for current public employees because government and public worker unions agreed to the terms, and the terms are binding.
I would consider amending state law to provide revised pension and health options for future public employees, similar to what was implemented in 2012. I believe the state can maintain a balanced budget and fulfill its obligations utilizing the resources it currently has.
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?
I was taught never to criticize individuals in public, and to be humble. I am pleased to see that the governor and lieutenant governor repaired the rift that occurred a couple of months ago. I am hopeful that the governor will continue to be receptive to the lieutenant governor’s suggestions, as they both work together to reopen Hawaii safely.
I believe the executive branch should be more forthcoming with its plans on how our state economy is going to recover/reopen, and be more receptive to the invitations offered by the Senate’s COVID-19 committee to allow for more transparency.
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?
We are very fortunate that we have law enforcement agencies in Hawaii who serve and protect our citizens while embodying the spirit of aloha. What happened to Mr. Floyd in Minneapolis was an unnecessary tragedy.
Hawaii law enforcement officers come from a variety of ethnic and socio-economic backgrounds. They live and work within the communities that they grew up in, and have sworn to serve and protect. I think it would be prudent for mainland law enforcement agencies to seriously consider duplicating how police recruitment, training and work is performed in Hawaii.
While I am an advocate for transparency and accountability, I would be reluctant to support a blanket mandatory disclosure of misconduct records. Officers have the right to due process, and misconduct records should only be publicly disclosed based on the nature and severity of the offense committed, and/or if an officer is terminated from employment, as well as after all appeals have been exhausted. Oversight boards created by the Legislature should be provided adequate funding.
7. Hawaii is the only Western state without a statewide citizens initiative process. Do you support such a process?
Yes, I support a statewide citizens initiative process. It puts decision-making power into the hands of those who need it the most: the people.
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 believe that action was unnecessary. There is sufficient technology available for public boards and commissions, and even the Legislature, to properly “Sunshine” and hold participative public meetings and hearings online and in person.
Unfortunately, the Legislature does not have the technology infrastructure to handle the anticipated amount of participation online at this time. However, the Honolulu City Council and the Honolulu Board of Water Supply are perfect examples of deliberative bodies that allowed public access and participation. Current emergency laws were crafted during the Cold War, are not appropriate for certain types of pandemics, such as COVID-19, and should be amended to allow the public to participate securely.
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?
The state should maintain its commitment to the Hawaii Clean Energy Initiative (HCEI), which requires 100% renewable energy generation by 2045 and received bipartisan support in the Legislature. But do so with a fair, business-friendly and realistic approach.
The HCEI is Hawaii’s commitment to the rest of the world, the future of our state and to its keiki. The state should also continue long-term planning and investment to either maintain and protect or move critical infrastructure near our shorelines further inland. Finally, there are other things that affect our reefs and the critical habitats they sustain besides climate change. We must reduce unnecessary ground run-off into our oceans, and curtail the number of feral animals and their waste products which threaten our reefs and the ecosystems surrounding them.
10. What do you see as the most pressing issue facing your district? What will you do about it?
My constituents are concerned about the cost of living in Hawaii, and whether or not their keiki will be able to remain, work and thrive in Hawaii. They want to be able to maintain their own homes, while seeing their children being financially able to afford homes of their own. I will continue to support and introduce legislation which reduces the cost of living for Hawaii’s working families, encourages the development of affordable homes for local people, and promotes the creation of lucrative jobs to help keep our keiki home in our communities.
Since the inception of COVID-19, my constituents are also concerned with the state’s ability to reopen responsibly and expeditiously. They want to see the health and safety of our community from kupuna to keiki, ultimately allowing residents to return to work and be financially self-reliant once again.
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.
Hawaii is now on a path of economic collapse, the effects of COVID-19 and the resulting shutdown has exposed that Hawaii’s economy is flawed. We catered to the demands of a volatile market for too long and neglected to create our own market, a homegrown market, a local one.
There was never going to be a fully sustainable model built around the tourism industry while also having a bloated government workforce. As such, in times of crisis, we are forced to make cuts. To government workers, welfare and government-sponsored health care, departments whose purpose is the betterment of Hawaii and cutting programs that disproportionately affect low-income earners every time we are financially vulnerable.
One of the things I would do is foster a healthy, diverse and competitive private industry that is not tied to the whims of government spending but instead obligated to their communities and the betterment of a sustainable Hawaii.