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 Kanani Souza, Republican candidate for state House District 50, which includes Kailua and Kaneohe Bay.
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?
Many facets of the coronavirus pandemic could have been handled differently. Our government needs a major overhaul, from the way our government communicates with the community to finding creative ways to resolve community issues.
This pandemic exposed deep flaws in our system. We need clear communication from government officials regarding issues and any course of action measures.
2. The state budget is facing record shortfalls. How would you balance the budget? What would you cut? What would you protect?
I would protect necessities and cut luxuries. We should cut the salaries of our top-level officials in the executive branch and other areas of government.
For many positions, salaries in excess of six-figures are an unnecessary luxury when we have an unprecedented number of unemployed individuals in our state.
3. What do you think should be done to diversify the economy? What would you do as an elected official to make that happen?
To diversity the economy, elected officials must first identify industries that have immense potential for growth in the islands. This includes industries that currently do not exist in Hawaii, such as gambling, or industries that have not reached their full profit potential.
The most important industry we need to explore is the film industry. Local students would thrive in this capacity, because as our film industry grows, the more opportunities they would have to be a part of the production process. While I was an undergraduate at the University of Southern California, I minored in cinema/television (critical studies). I was able to immerse myself in the culture of the film industry in Los Angeles and a plethora of opportunities were available to me. Growth in this industry will not only boost our economy, but it will provide opportunities for film students here locally.
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 skeptical about the current plans to pay for the state’s unfunded liabilities. Overall, we need to decrease government spending and grow the economy to bolster revenue.
I do not support reductions in benefits, including contributions for public employees. Our public employees deserve better than to have their benefits reduced.
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?
The most interesting rift that we have seen in the top levels of government began with the obvious disconnect between the governor and the lieutenant governor. If the executive branch cannot even communicate effectively on both ends of the fifth floor of the State Capitol, then it’s no wonder a rift exists between Gov. David Ige and the Legislature.
As an elected official, in order to ensure public confidence in Hawaii’s government officials and top executives, I would work together with other legislators and our administration to take action and solve problems efficiently, purposefully, and with the community’s best interests always at the center of the mission. I am not interested in serving special interest groups and unions, or maintaining the status quo. Leading by example is extremely important as a legislator. Dismantling the old boy network is essential to changing the way our government works.
The composition of the Legislature after the 2020 election will inform how our government will operate for the next two years. We need balance at the Legislature, and this is an issue that should concern every voter in our state, whether Democrat, Republican or Independent. Our legislature is (arguably) the most lopsided legislature in the country. There is no balance in our Legislature, with Democrats dominating. Having a checks and balances system within the legislative branch is important. We need to have a balanced Legislature. This task starts with the voters in this upcoming election.
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?
This is a very important issue for Hawaii. I support our police officers. My grandfather was a police officer and retired from the Honolulu Police Department. Many of my family members and friends are police officers. However, I do believe reform is necessary.
As a former deputy prosecuting attorney for Hawaii County and the City and County of Honolulu, I experienced first-hand the inner-workings of the criminal justice system. I understand how proposed policies will work at a practical level and if it will make sense in its execution. Having this background is crucial to being able to effectively formulate policies that have a positive impact in our communities.
I support specific police reform efforts such as mandatory disclosure of misconduct records by police agencies and adequate funding for law enforcement oversight boards. However, we must also have a prosecuting attorney’s office that is vigilante when charging cases.
The State of Hawaii Organization of Police Officers (SHOPO) wants to limit disclosure of police misconduct records. A SHOPO endorsement for any candidate in this upcoming election essentially means that a candidate’s belief system aligns with our police union’s perspectives. Police unions across the country have been a safe haven for protecting police officers from facing discipline and a major obstacle in achieving reform.
As a former board member for the American Civil Liberties Union Hawaii and an advocate for police reform, I am committed to furthering transparency efforts and being a force for change to enhance police officer accountability.
7. Hawaii is the only Western state without a statewide citizens initiative process. Do you support such a process?
We need more processes in place to encourage public involvement in decision-making for our state. A statewide citizens initiative process will allow voters to make decisions regarding our Hawaii Constitution. I support such a process.
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?
It is my most sincere belief that transparency in government is the pillar of a government whose interest is in serving the people. Gaining the trust and confidence of the people of Hawaii should be the primary goal of our government.
By suspending the open government laws under an emergency order, our government is compromising transparency. I disagree with the governor’s action. When elected, I will introduce legislation to enhance the public’s ability to remain informed always.
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?
Our government needs to aggressively combat climate change. This is a key priority for me. I am completing a LL.M. degree in Environmental Law, Natural Resources Law and Energy Law, which has provided me with an in-depth understanding of how to create policy to increase sustainability efforts and help with climate change.
We need to creatively determine how to achieve sustainable solutions. In implementing sustainable solutions, we can save money on energy costs in the long run. We need to formulate more programs that have the same sentiment as the Hawaii Department of Education’s Ka Hei program started in 2014. This program was slated to integrate sustainability components in the current infrastructure of school buildings to reduce operational expenses. We can apply this principle to other government infrastructure. Generally, we need to constantly find ways to reduce carbon emissions and incentivize private businesses to increase sustainability efforts.
10. What do you see as the most pressing issue facing your district? What will you do about it?
The most pressing issue facing our district is the affordable housing project at 460 Kawainui St. I am opposed to this project in its current form. Opposing this project does not mean I am anti-development by any means. However, it is important to realize that we need sensible building solutions and construction projects that make sense from a practical and environmental perspective. We cannot build a massive structure in the middle of Kailua — it just does not make sense. Perhaps a reconfiguration of the plans and a more practical structure with adequate parking would be embraced. Problem-solving and solution-oriented approaches are necessary for progress.
I have already taken the most important step regarding this issue: taking a position on the issue. It would be a tremendous disservice to the community to skirt the issue, or dance around the topic and not take a position. We need more candid and forthright individuals in government, and less “politicians” in this regard.
Moreover, we need to generally find solutions to “affordable housing” itself. That term, along with the guidelines and rules that are associated with the term, is an archaic concept. We need to help individuals build wealth so they can thrive in Hawaii, not merely survive. Creating innovative housing solutions to replace “affordable housing” will provide fresh ways of getting individuals and families into homes while providing them a mechanism for growth and prosperity.
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.
We need to invite ideas from our community members and industry experts to tackle major issues. First, this includes holding more town halls and providing opportunities for the public to engage with public leaders. Listening to community concerns is important.
Second, we need to create competitions similar to the Los Angeles County Homeless Initiative’s Housing Innovation Challenge to bring all of our talented minds to the table to submit proposals to effectively resolve any given community issue.