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 Scott Grimmer, Democratic candidate for state House District 51, which includes Kailua and Waimanalo. The other Democratic candidates are Alan Akao, Coby Chock and Lisa Marten.

Go to Civil Beat’s Elections Guide for general information, and check out other candidates on the Primary Election Ballot.

Candidate for State House District 51

Scott Grimmer
Party Democrat
Age 33
Occupation Business owner
Residence Kailua

Website

Community organizations/prior offices held

None provided.

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?

Hawaii has done very well during this emergency medically with the lowest death rate per capita in the country, but financially we are reeling.

My tutu in Hilo always said an ounce of preparation is worth a pound of cure. The crisis has exposed generations of underinvestment in sectors of the economy other than tourism.

Previous generations of leaders have talked every election of my lifetime about the need to “diversify our economy,” but this downturn shows we are more dependent on tourism than ever. That’s detrimental to our economy today, our keiki’s future, and our environment.

The crisis also exposed underinvestment for years in our unemployment insurance system. We should have state of the art technology in that office, ready to respond to a surge in claims with contingency plans to hire temporary staff during emergencies. Instead we had green screens, 1980s mainframes, and checks that were delayed for weeks if they came at all.

If I’d been in office, I would have proposed that state legislators’ pay was delayed as long as unemployment checks were delayed.

2. The state budget is facing record shortfalls. How would you balance the budget? What would you cut? What would you protect?

At the same time as we face a record shortfall for the next budget covering 2021-2023, the state auditor, in successive reports to the legislature in May, found $75 million, $84 million, and $483 million dollars in accounts that either have more money than they need for the next year or have sat idle for years.

The shortfall should be addressed first with that money, then with money the federal government has given the state during the crisis. Finally, the state should borrow the rest of the money from the Federal Reserve’s Municipal Liquidity Facility, which was set up to lend to state’s temporarily at a low interest rate as a bridge back to economic growth.

The Great Recession of the late 2000s happened around the time I was getting my Economics degree, and we can learn many lessons from how governments responded.

Economies that adopted austerity measures of increasing taxes and cutting investment in government services did the worst. For instance, Greece’s per capita income is still below where it was in 2008. Economies that borrowed temporarily to keep the economies going did better. For instance, the U.S.’s per capita income is 35% higher than at the bottom of the Great Recession.

It will be tempting for the next Legislature to raise taxes or cut services for the next budget. That is short-term thinking that could lead to permanently lower economic activity.

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’d focus on our food supply and on technology and finance jobs.

Our food supply’s fragility was exposed by the pandemic. There is no reason Hawaii’s shelves should be empty. We can expand local, sustainable agriculture and aquaculture.

Too much of our agricultural land is being developed for residential uses. We need to offer tax credits to local farmers and guarantee them a big market by directing state agencies, including the Department of Education, to buy food locally. This would stimulate the sector and provide thousands of jobs that are recession-proof.

Similarly Hawaii consumers eat about 37 pounds per person of seafood annually. We have a huge market that could support expanded, sustainable aquaculture.

The high-paying jobs of the present and future will be in finance and technology, which is good for Hawaii. Our isolated location means we’ll never be a manufacturing hub, but we can compete online.

Hong Kong’s financial sector needs a new home as China cracks down on the city. Let’s attract the fleeing financial firms and become a new hub for Asia-Pacific finance.

Our limited road network and year-round good weather make Hawaii the perfect place for testing autonomous vehicles, which have the ability to make the streets of the future safer and more environmentally friendly. Let’s be at the forefront of this technology and the high-paying jobs it will provide.

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?

Hawaii’s combined unfunded pension and health obligations to public workers are $25.7 billion. That’s way more than the state’s annual $16 billion budget and works out to over $18,000 per man, woman, and child in Hawaii. And that was before the pandemic, which has surely increased the numbers.

Past political leaders who kicked the can down the road have put us in this hole. The only way out of it is for new leadership to find a way to fund the obligations without harming the workers who poured their lives into our communities or the taxpayers who did no wrong.

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 solution is more transparency and civic education.

It was a mistake by Gov. Ige to suspend state transparency laws during the pandemic.

Allowing public boards and commissions to meet without allowing the public to see what was happening on Zoom, allowing agencies to ignore requests for public records, and allowing contracts to be handed out without competitive and transparent bidding further eroded public confidence in our government.

In office, I’d go the opposite way. I’d have the most transparent and educational office in the state House, regularly communicating with constituents so that they know what the legislative process is, how laws are made that affect them, and where I stand on the issues.

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 peaceful marches and paddle-outs organized by Hawaii residents show that this issue clearly resonates here.

The vast majority of police officers who protect and serve their communities in the face of unimaginable risks are truly heroes, as are the peaceful protestors who are bringing to light police misconduct.

I support mandatory disclosure of misconduct records, civilian oversight of law enforcement, and a decoupling of the responsibilities we currently put on the police department.

The police should be adequately trained, funded, and equipped to protect us from crimes to people and property. But they aren’t mental health professionals. We need to send mental health professionals to non-violent 911 calls to connect houseless and other residents with social services that can keep them out of jail.

7. Hawaii is the only Western state without a statewide citizens initiative process. Do you support such a process?

I support a statewide citizens initiative process in the hopes it would lead to more civic engagement.

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 was a mistake by Gov. Ige to suspend state transparency laws during the pandemic.

Allowing public boards and commissions to meet without allowing the public to see what was happening on Zoom, allowing agencies to ignore requests for public records, and allowing contracts to be handed out without competitive and transparent bidding further eroded public confidence in our government.

In office, I’d go the opposite way. I’d have the most transparent and educational office in the state House, regularly communicating with constituents so that they know what the legislative process is, how laws are made that affect them, and where I stand on the issues.

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?

Right now, we have three big crises: unemployment, a pandemic and climate change. If sea levels rise 3-6 feet by 2100 as predicted, Hawaii will lose $12.9 billion worth of land and structures due to climate change.

We can do things that tackle all three problems by creating high-paying jobs that promote affordable public transit, increase our production of renewable energy and modernize our grid, improve our stock of low-income housing, incentivize electric vehicles, invest in disaster preparedness and clean up our hazardous waste sites.

10. What do you see as the most pressing issue facing your district? What will you do about it?

The most pressing issue in my district is houselessness. For too long, the city and state have moved the houseless population around instead of addressing the underlying problems. Now they live on our beaches, parks and under our bridges in conditions that are unsafe for them and the community.

There is no silver bullet to houselessness.

But there are things we can learn from other cities that have lowered their population of houseless residents. We need to treat each person as an individual and look at the unique factors that led to their houselessness. If those factors are economic, let’s give them temporary housing, job training and get them back on their feet. If the main factor is mental health, let’s get the person the treatment they need. If substance abuse is an issue, let’s treat the addiction.

Finally our congressional delegation needs to advocate for a federal law that bans municipalities from buying houseless people a one-way ticket to somewhere else. We are tired of being a dumping ground for other cities and states.

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 is a resilient place that has always come through crises. Just in my lifetime, we’ve weathered the bursting of the Japanese asset bubble, hurricanes and the Great Recession.

We will get through this pandemic too.

My Big Idea is to end the teacher shortage. Right now Hawaii public schools are 1,000 teachers short, which means on an average day 60,000 keiki are taught by a long-term sub or unqualified teacher.

We know that Hawaii residents stick around longer as teachers than mainland residents, so let’s make it easier for more of our own keiki to become teachers. I propose free tuition at Hawaii community colleges and the University of Hawaii for any Hawaii high school student who is willing to commit to five years of teaching in public schools after graduation.