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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 Kukana Kama-Toth, Republican candidate for state House District 51, which includes Kailua and Waimanalo. The other Republican candidate is Doni Chong.
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?
The requirements for testing really made it difficult in the beginning, limiting the ability of the state and city to collect accurate information. It was quite puzzling to not have our experienced health provider and Lt. Gov. Josh Green in the leadership seat along with the director of the Health Department. Instead he was placed on the task force to advocate, giving him only an advising role instead of a decision making role.
The lieutenant governor’s understanding in the public health arena and government would have encouraged a quicker response time regarding tests, encouraging less confusion and a more clarified approach. He did all the things necessary to keep supplies well stocked for our state.
As for the governor’s stay-at-home order, it was a good call and for the most part it kept our numbers low and our communities safer but the poor response to the implementation of the 14-day quarantine and tracking for all travelers to Hawaii could have been improved from the start.
The community of Waimanalo and other advocates highlighted the need to follow up with visitor’s paperwork confirming length and location of stay to enable proper tracking to take place after our own experience with Aarona Lopez, which encouraged the state and cities’ improvements to their process.
If these things were in place efficiently our stay-at-home order could have ended sooner. If more focus was given to the reopening and strengthening of our local economy, our small businesses could have opened their doors sooner through a series of soft openings.
2. The state budget is facing record shortfalls. How would you balance the budget? What would you cut? What would you protect?
We can’t just cut budgets without first looking at other measures of stimulating the economy. This takes a team approach and cannot be decided alone. Individually I would protect the interests of our state workers including their benefits and pensions.
3. What do you think should be done to diversify the economy? What would you do as an elected official to make that happen?
We do way too much outsourcing of services. With weather like ours we should be capitalizing on agriculture and focusing on a sustainability approach. The state needs to reinvest into itself, and the solution for that is creating state departments to house our own recycling, poultry, dairy and slaughterhouse facilities.
Having a department to recycle and create recyclable building materials could create Hawaii resident jobs, and encourage state money reinvestment eliminating the need to ship overseas for processing. Creating our own state slaughterhouses, poultry and dairy outlets would not only provide more jobs for our residents but it would encourage more reinvestment. This pandemic has taught us how dependent we really are on imports and the lack of current sustainability practices.
Introduction of scratch cards could help boost the economy while considering other options like the lottery or maybe even casinos. I’m currently leaning more toward scratch cards but open to discussing other options in this area.
Legalizing recreational marijuana, and commodifying and taxing it, should be considered to help boost our economy. The taxes alone could help offset the state’s current deficit.
With more enlightenment and through a team approach I would encourage tax deductions and state agricultural support for resident farmers, ranchers, current poultry and dairy companies.
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?
Why are the people of Hawaii always the ones getting stuck with the deficits? I will not support reductions in benefits for our public employees. Instead, we need to reprioritize and that begins with a state audit across all departments.
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 would encourage Hawaii’s government officials and top executives to practice transparency. Trust is a virtue and Hawaii’s people deserve to have transparency from their elected officials. They deserve to be advocated for regardless of legislative party affiliations.
Collaboration among Hawaii’s government officials and top executives needs to take place now more than ever and their differences/personal feelings need to be placed aside. I will be an advocate for not only my district but for all of Hawaii and through these actions we may potentially ensure public confidence.
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 think the question that needs to be asked is, “What is currently being done to improve policing and police accountability throughout the state?” We do live in a world that can be discriminatory, even here in Hawaii. We need to know what is working and what isn’t working. Having a better understanding of where we currently are functioning will drive the solutions needed to fill the gaps.
As public servants shouldn’t there be a mandatory disclosure of misconduct records by police agencies? We all need to be held accountable. As candidates we need to report all monies donated to our campaigns along with expenditures. If an individual is a sex offender, it is mandatory for it to be reported to the public.
I think it comes down to transparency and accessibility to information, especially if you are a public servant who has had a history of misconduct. I do believe that context needs to be included with that disclosure for better understanding of the record for not only the officer’s defense but for the sake of truth. Educational qualification requirements for hire could be revisited, and ongoing training for our police agencies could encourage conscious growth of our officers.
7. Hawaii is the only Western state without a statewide citizens initiative process. Do you support such a process?
Yes, I support such a process. This gives the people power through their voice and efforts, eliminating the need for a legislative referral. Currently this power is one-sided. This 2020 election process is an example of this. We are participating in a complete mail-in voting process that was decided by Legislature not by the residents of Hawaii.
Do any of you recall voting for a complete mail in system for election? ACT 136 created in 2019 by state legislation implemented all elections be conducted by mail. If Hawaii had a statewide citizens initiative process the people could petition the request for a proposed constitutional amendment and put it to a vote on the ballot.
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 governor’s decision to suspend the open government laws under the emergency order during the pandemic was a complete injustice for our people. There was nothing transparent about it. Trust is gained through transparency.
With the rise of advanced technology there really is no excuse for eliminating the public’s accessibility to pertinent information.
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?
We definitely need to hui (gather) organizations and experts in climate change from the scientific world and the Hawaii-centric world view to gain a better understanding toward a successful approach. We are currently dealing with sea level rise and threats to the reefs by pesticide run-off and poor freshwater flow. We need to talk about this more and be realistic when it comes to the needs of our home (Hawaii).
During the state shutdown due to the pandemic we began to see the healing of our land and sea when it wasn’t being overly abused. We need to operate in a reciprocal relationship with our environment and make it a priority.
10. What do you see as the most pressing issue facing your district? What will you do about it?
Waimanalo and Kailua have their similarities but are particularly different when it comes to pressing issues. Kailua had a robust night life before the pandemic, filled with entertainment choices from the movie theater, to the bowling alley, eateries, gyms, fight clubs, bars and shops. These businesses are in need of monetary support to be able to open up successfully, especially with the social distancing regulations, and many are still trying to adjust. More adequate precautions are needed to take place creating more cost, more work and less revenue because a decrease in customers is the reality due to social distancing.
In Waimanalo our community-owned eateries shut down while community-owned grocery stores and the feed supply store adjusted to meet new regulations allowing their businesses to stay open and their customers to have options available to them within their home community. Nonprofits stepped up to bat for the community, filling the need when it came to food distributions in the forms of hot meal deliveries, hot and cold meal distribution, and produce, meats, milk and canned goods giveaways.
The pressing issues these two areas of my district have in common is the need for monetary support to be able to adjust to the social distancing regulations and nonprofit support for continued community enhancement through resource connections and accessibility to food resources.
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 had a pretty good system in place at one point in its history. Literacy was one of the highest in the world and our natural resources managed in ways that kept it plentiful. Hawaii is paradise but everything “Hawaii” has been slipping through the cracks. Coconut tops, grass skirts and tikis have become the standardized affiliation with the Hawaii way.
The fictionalization of Hawaii’s culture dominates the mainstream views of our home. Let’s admit it, we haven’t been representing and caring for Hawaii the way it deserves.
We have an opportunity to reintroduce Hawaii to the world and it has already started through the protections of sacred spaces. Hawaii’s people have showcased the strength of aloha through the protective measures in which they stand. Why not continue this aloha through the reinventing of the implementation of a new approach to tourism? Educate our visitors. Teach them about the importance of the respects needed to care for the space they are in or the importance of not standing on the reef or even the significance of not turning your back to the ocean.
Visitors are no longer intrigued by the commercialized luau. They want real meaningful experiences. They want to do restoration work and spend time among real Hawaiians having real Hawaiian experiences. Our visitors want to understand the significance of the things Hawaii’s people love and stand to protect. We can take advantage of an eco-friendly approach to tourism. The cookie cutter Waikiki experience is a thing of the past that some may still enjoy, but we can provide the true value of aloha.