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 Coby Chock, Democratic candidate for state House District 51, which includes Kailua and Waimanalo. The other Democratic candidates are Alan Akao, Scott Grimmer and Lisa Marten.
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?
State leaders did their best to address an unprecedented situation at the time, and in recognizing it as such, I would say they did a decent job. The actions they took protected our kupuna and flattened the curve so that our medical infrastructure could keep up with the ill effects of the pandemic.
That being said, I would have acted sooner in restricting international and domestic travel and requiring a mandatory 14-day quarantine to reduce the inflow of potentially infected visitors. By doing so, we would have limited the number of cases in Hawaii, avoided shutting down our local businesses, and prevented 40% of our locals from being unemployed.
In place of the “essential business only” phase, I would have allowed all businesses to operate with proper personal protective equipment, sanitization and social distancing measures. Furthermore, if there were to be a second wave, I would advocate for our state to not return to forcing local businesses to shut down completely again as long as they take the mandated precautions.
2. The state budget is facing record shortfalls. How would you balance the budget? What would you cut? What would you protect?
Our state’s tourism revenue will be down for the foreseeable future which is why I see it necessary to stimulate the economy while simultaneously working to diversify the economy to raise more tax revenue. In the near term, we need to use funds from the CARES Act to keep our small businesses in operation and to keep our working class employed. In doing so, this will stimulate our local economy while allowing families to afford necessities. Furthermore, I would support Gov. David Ige taking a federal loan that would allow our state to continue to operate and support our residents.
At this time of poor economic health, it would be unwise to cut any jobs, but rather use expansionary economic policy to help our economy recover quickly. For that reason, I strongly stand for the protection of all public workers’ wages and for the creation of new, easily accessible loans for small businesses.
3. What do you think should be done to diversify the economy? What would you do as an elected official to make that happen?
Although tourism has been the leading industry in Hawaii for years, this public health crisis has shown that it cannot be relied on as the sole source of revenue anymore. Due to the profound budget shortfall and the growing number of unfunded liabilities, we need to diversify our economy by developing our STEM fields and introducing more renewable energy initiatives. This will require intensive investment in infrastructure development and upgrades which I would work to secure in the state legislature.
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?
One of my top priorities is ensuring that the financial future of our working class and kupuna is maintained, especially in such a vital time like the one we are in now. Now is the time to press on and support our economy, not retract and let our working-class families take the brunt of the storm.
We need a comprehensive approach that includes, but is not limited to, improving the regulatory environment for local businesses to expand, and exploring the use of private-public partnerships in future projects throughout our state. By doing this in combination with responsible budgetary policymaking, we will be able to balance our state’s budget and fund our state’s current unfunded liabilities.
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?
In times of unprecedented disaster, I believe a government ought to be united as one to ensure the safety and security of its people. Thus, to ensure the confidence of the public, I will step up to the challenge of representing and leading our beloved state by respecting and working diligently with my colleagues. I believe that in these efforts we can pave a way for Hawaii out of this disaster and into a brighter future.
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?
The outcry that we are witnessing across this country shows that there is a systematic problem that needs addressing, and I intend on doing my part in the Hawaii Legislature. As such, I fully support police reform efforts to keep our police accountable to their actions. However, I believe it is equally important to recognize that we are lucky to live in a place where we do not have to fear our police, and most of us even know police officers personally.
Specifically, in the case of Hawaii, I believe that our police department is one of the best in the nation, and we need to make sure that we recognize this when addressing police reform. While we ought to be implementing policies to ensure the right people are put into these positions of authority and trust, we need to also support our local police department and protect their budget to ensure they can effectively protect our communities.
7. Hawaii is the only Western state without a statewide citizens initiative process. Do you support such a process?
Yes. As part of the United States, Hawaii is a proud democracy that allows the voices of each of its citizens to be heard. I support any way that we can increase the voice of our population and allow for broad-scale support to be actualized into policy serving the population.
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?
The public should always have access to public records and should have the opportunity to attend open meetings. Under no circumstance should public records not be made available to the public, especially since we live in a day and age where records can be posted online in a matter of seconds.
Furthermore, while Gov. Ige’s suspension of open meetings is understandable in the context of COVID-19, I believe they should have still remained open to a limited number of people as long as they were social distancing and were wearing proper PPE. That being said, going forward, I would support a bill that would require more government transparency, even in times of crisis.
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?
Growing up on the beautiful island of Oahu gave me an appreciation for nature. That is why when I set out to do my Eagle Scout project in high school, I tackled the issue of deforestation in the islands. I plan to continue this fight for the environment in the Hawaii Legislature and ensure that our beautiful aina is not forgotten.
With the looming threat of climate change, rising sea levels, and harm to our reefs, malama aina is a guiding principle that will direct my efforts in the Legislature. If we as Hawaiians take care of the land, the land will, in turn, take care of us. I will ensure this by improving the state of our sustainable energy infrastructure, protecting our reefs and addressing rising sea levels with impactful solutions. Paving a way toward an environmentally focused Hawaii is one of my immediate priorities.
10. What do you see as the most pressing issue facing your district? What will you do about it?
Growing up in Kailua gave me a strong appreciation for the authenticity of a small local town. This intrinsic beauty of my district is under threat of rapid and vast overdevelopment which harms the community as well as the environment.
This issue presses not only into Kailua but also Waimanalo where the country itself is threatened. It is an immediate concern of my campaign to keep Kailua, Kailua, and keep Waimanalo, country, by working with residents to make sure development is right for them.
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 technology failure was one of the biggest issues that slowed down the unemployment process for many people who were depending on it to sustain themselves through the shelter-in-place order.
As a representative, I will work to pass a resolution that would require state IT systems used to accommodate public resources to be updated every five to 10 years. This would ensure that in times of crisis, we have the capacity and capability to deal with an influx of users and ensure that working-class families make it through bad times.