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 Erik Ho, Aloha Aina Party candidate for state House District 51, which includes Kailua and Waimanalo.
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 do not think that state officials handled this pandemic effectively in regards to the prolonged shuttering of businesses. The 14-day quarantine for new arrivals into the state is an excellent measure to prevent new cases from developing. However I think the stay-at-home orders should be more highly encouraged rather than an order.
Government should do its best to minimize outbreaks, but residents should not be so restricted in their movement throughout the day.
2. The state budget is facing record shortfalls. How would you balance the budget? What would you cut? What would you protect?
I would balance the budget by cutting funding for any money earmarked for tourism. The amount of visitors we’ve had in the past would no doubt send our state into deeper uncertainty if we have large breakouts of COVID-19 cases across the state. The state would also need to come together with unions to renegotiate contracts to help with the long-term impacts we will face.
Increasing taxes to offset lost revenue would place an undue burden on taxpayers and should not be on the table. I would protect services that provide for our keiki and kupuna and those related to agriculture.
3. What do you think should be done to diversify the economy? What would you do as an elected official to make that happen?
I think we should look into other industries that do not require 8 million-plus visitors a year. Industries such as finance similar to that of Singapore, tech jobs like in Silicon Valley, a hemp industry to create textiles and other products, and agricultural jobs which would help to make us self sufficient and less reliant on imported goods.
If elected, I would bring together innovators within each of these industries from within the state to form master plans for these ventures.
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?
There is a large, untapped tax market that the state should look into utilizing during this time of economic downfall: real estate investment trusts. Collectively, REITs such as Ala Moana and Hilton Hawaiian Village, own $18 billion in real estate and the annual tax revenues would be in the tens of millions. It is fair to ask these corporate entities who have been sheltered from paying taxes on these trusts for so long to help out during this time.
As for reduction in benefits, I firmly oppose any measures. Our retired public employees spent their careers taking less wages than their private sector counterparts and deserve to receive the retirement they were promised. Anything less than that is a slap in the face to their service. At the same time, the state should look toward other avenues for retirement funding to lessen the financial burden of our taxpayers.
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?
If the public elects pono candidates to office, they can expect a governing legislative body to come together with the executive, bringing Hawaii forward and out of these uncertain times. Continued bickering and playing politics will only leave us stagnant and cause continued stress on our residents.
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?
I do not see these situations being an issue here in Hawaii. However, that doesn’t mean we should not be proactive in bringing meaningful change. I do think police reform does need to happen and we should begin the conversation of what would be the best approaches to bring forth reform, and what that reform should look like.
Hawaii could be a leader if we have some healthy discussion on how we could improve transparency and accountability from law enforcement.
7. Hawaii is the only Western state without a statewide citizens initiative process. Do you support such a process?
I fully support such a process. Citizens should be able to petition their government for recall, referendum or initiatives without having to rely on the legislative body. These processes also allow residents to be more engaged with their government, bringing forth issues to the electorate that may not make it on to the legislative agenda during session.
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 disagree. During this pandemic government must be more transparent than ever before. Gov. Ige should allow his administration to be scrutinized by the public so that there can be input for the direction that the state takes in making decisions.
If elected, I would make available online and through any streaming media any meetings that would be of interest to the residents of the state, followed by the immediate release of a prepared PDF statement with highlights of the meeting.
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 should be planning 10-, 20- and 50-year climate change models, with annual updates for more accurate potential scenarios and the responses for each scenario. This is a high priority for me as these changes could occur during my lifetime. The time to act to prevent intense changes in our climate has passed, it’s now time to prepare for these changes.
10. What do you see as the most pressing issue facing your district? What will you do about it?
I think the most pressing issue facing my district is the lack of meaningful employment. District 51 is a blend of rural, suburban, agriculture and military lands. Many of the employers are small or medium-sized operations with a good portion catering toward the tourist industry.
Due to the downturn of tourism and the availability of agricultural lands, it would be wise for us to invest in creating jobs to tend to vast tracts of land that could be used to farm native staple foods and provide nourishment for our community. This kind of employment will empower our residents to become resilient and provide for an invaluable skill set of being a farmer.
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.
I would make better use of technology including fiber optic networks, cloud sharing and video streaming services, so that we can be better connected across the islands. These upgrades would allow building satellite office locations so that we can continue to govern in times of crisis. These upgrades could also be used to connect our rural areas and expand the online marketplace.
The extended recess of our Legislature during the spring opened our eyes to the lack of planning for how government continues during a pandemic. I would like to create a continuity plan for times like these.