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 Colehour Bondera, Democratic candidate for State House District 5, which includes Naalehu, Ocean View, Captain Cook, Kealakekua and Kailua-Kona. The other Democratic candidate is Jeanne Kapela.
Candidate for State House District 5
Community organizations/prior offices held
President, Board of Kona Coffee Farmers Association; board member, Kona Farm Bureau and Beyond Pesticides.
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 believe the decision to require a 14-day quarantine for all air and sea arrivals to Hawaii, including visitors and residents, was critically important and difficult, but necessary, despite the devastating economic impact that has resulted. However, state leaders have failed in that they have not taken action to create and implement a plan to “restart” the economy, nor to initiate discussions and plans for diversifying and recreating Hawaii’s economy.
The state could begin to re-emerge and re-start by putting into place required universal precautions against infections for individuals and business together with a public education campaign, and regulatory oversight. This would need to happen in conjunction with ubiquitous testing for active infections and COVID-19 antibodies.
A system for aggressive contact tracing and quarantining should have been put into place yesterday. In the short term, the state should immediately seek funding from both the public and private sector for the stockpiling of personal protective equipment for our health-care facilities. In the long term, capital investment should be sought to build manufacturing facilities to produce PPE.
2. The state budget is facing record shortfalls. How would you balance the budget? What would you cut? What would you protect?
Clearly, the state cannot deal with the severe and sudden economic recession in which we now find ourselves without funding support on the same scale of federal support as for the investor class of our nation. The state and its representatives in Congress must do all that they can to obtain federal funding, or face an economic downward spiral in which jobs are lost along with tax revenues, which in turn cause more job losses and loss of tax revenues.
The general excise tax is based upon economic activity, and provides almost 50 percent of state revenues. It remains to be seen how much the federal funding legislation that has already passed, the Cares Act and the Paycheck Protection Program, will translate into economic activity generating GET. Closing state corporate tax loopholes and incentives while restructuring corporate and higher income tax law to provide for less expenditures, and additional revenues would be something most citizens would support.
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 key to economic diversity is a strong domestic economy. My extensive international experience in agriculture will help me to draft legislation to create the same true food independence Hawaii had only 60 years ago. It’s already been done, so we just need to get there again. I will endeavor to identify those products and goods which can be manufactured and produced in the state of Hawaii to decrease our dependence upon imports while creating jobs with livable wages.
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?
It was a move in the right direction when the state passed legislation designed to pay the massive amount of unfunded pension and health benefits over the next two decades. However, the legislation did not make provisions for an economic downturn on the scale we are seeing today with the COVID-19 pandemic. The negative economic impacts have affected essentially every business and citizen.
Hawaii already ranks in the top 10 of states with the highest per capita debt. As such, this issue is going to have to be a part of the larger discussion of how our state recovers from the economic impacts of this pandemic while achieving a balanced budget. We must come together and share the difficulties and opportunities this historic time presents. While there are proposals currently being presented in Congress for as much as $500 billion in aid to state and local governments, if the federal government does not come through with funding to offset the economic impacts of the pandemic, it is likely that some sacrifices must be made in order to save state jobs.
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 will implement a policy for transparency and communication with my district, the governor, and my fellow members of the Legislature. I will educate and encourage my constituents on proposed legislation, and advocate for their involvement in that legislation so they have a horse in the race, so to speak.
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?
Public health, safety and welfare is an essential issue for our state with law enforcement being an important part. The fact that a disproportionate percentage of the state’s prison population is Native Hawaiian is a clear indication that there is a disparity in law enforcement.
I support House Bill 285 that was introduced into the House by Rep. Nishimoto in 2019 and will be coming before the Legislature again. HB 285 “requires county police departments to disclose to the Legislature the identity of an officer upon an officer’s suspension or discharge beginning with the annual report of 2021. Amends the Uniform Information Practices Act to allow for public access to information about suspended officers when the suspension occurs after March 1, 2020.” This legislation covers many reforms.
Ultimately, policing is a county responsibility. The County of Hawaii has a Police Commission responsible for police disciplinary actions, appointed by the mayor and confirmed by the County Council. The Hawaii Police Department has begun outfitting its police officers with body cameras, the last county to do so. Nevertheless, I will endeavor to assist the community with the Police Department to create a culture that understands and values the importance of peer support and intervention.
7. Hawaii is the only Western state without a statewide citizens initiative process. Do you support such a process?
Yes, I strongly support legislation to create the process for statewide citizens’ initiatives. The value and power of such initiatives was recently demonstrated in Florida where a citizens’ initiative to allow for felons who’ve served their time to register to vote, restoring the rights of millions of citizens to vote.
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?
With state offices being closed, I understand the inherent difficulty that faced state workers in producing public records in a timely fashion. How could public records be produced without being in the office with files and/or have access to agency files? What internal controls could be put into place if state workers were given access to state data files while working at home?
Our state and local governments are learning to adjust to the new working environment using on-line communication technologies. Civil Beat’s open government records victory in the Hawaii Supreme Court in 2018 provided additional access to records that government agencies had illegally withheld with the excuse the records were part of a “deliberative process.” With state offices reopening, the governor should reinstate open government laws as soon as possible.
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 of Hawaii should begin to legislate and implement laws that compel the identification of at-risk coastal areas and determine what development can occur within these. At some point, liability and risk for losses within the areas must be assumed by the landowners. I will support rapid development of alternative energy generation and distribution systems.
10. What do you see as the most pressing issue facing your district? What will you do about it?
The loss of jobs is the most pressing issue facing District 5. Government support to individuals and businesses has been inconsistent and has not been designed to preserve jobs and businesses, unlike other nations around the world which has been designed to protect both. The loss of household income will become an increasing problem for more and more ohana.
Using my agricultural education, knowledge and experience, I will draft and/or support legislation for rapid development of a sustainable state food industry that provides our local communities with food security. In addition, I will prepare and/or support legislation to identify essential goods and products that can be manufactured and produced in-state with sufficient public and private investment.
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.
Local produce can and should be supported and supplied to residents through coordinated and operational food hubs, which are locations that neutrally operate to be the bases for food distribution. Food hubs exist in various forms, from cooperatives to non-profits, to private business structures, with the critical component being to work in association with one another.
From Hawaii island, where a majority of farms are located, this will include serving as a distribution center to other islands (Oahu and perhaps Maui, especially) of produce which especially smaller-scale farms cannot ship on their own. State laws should be in place setting requirements and parameters for such food hubs to be in place based on geography and population needs throughout the state. We can and must shift significantly in order to once again establish Hawaii food self-sufficiency within this decade.