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 Ka’apuni Aiwohi, Democratic candidate for state House District 8, which includes Kahakuloa, Waihee, Waiehu, Puuohala, Wailuku and Waikapu. The other Democratic candidates are Troy Hashimoto and Robert Hill.
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 state leaders have failed us, which is evidenced by the too many currently unemployed. Too little, too late. This crisis is no accident. The state has continued to push and fund unsustainable industries and now we reap that bounty.
Our quarantine process for out-of-state travelers is still an embarrassment. We could open to our local economy if we appropriately protected them from out-of-state visitors.
2. The state budget is facing record shortfalls. How would you balance the budget? What would you cut? What would you protect?
Our budget should match our vision. This new crisis gave us time to figure out what future we really expect. The strength of our community is our people and we need to ensure that we continue to invest there and in sustainable industries. I will protect our aina and our keiki and I will cut from places that take a majority of wealth earned in Hawaii to out-of-state locations.
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 have so much power in our state that is left unused every day. Is it too much to ask for our state to feed itself? We have done it before for generations with a lot less technology and a lot more aloha. What we need to do is regulate those that take the most, and balance our power across all of our residents. Kanaka were also very interested in technology. I would love to see foundations built for a responsible technology sector.
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?
Unfunded liabilities are the elephant in the room. A lot of promises were made in the past that the future needs to pick up the slack. This is not an easy answer for anyone but the state needs to look at what is realistic and what is best for everyone. A point will come where the bottom will fall out and we are going to need a backup plan even if that is uncomfortable.
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?
Is it my kuleana to ensure the public has confidence in incompetent people? Or is it my kuleana to expose it? We have enough “yes” people, which is exactly why there are different branches of government, for accountability.
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?
Reform is not something people should be scared of. As a society, we need to continuously update the ways we do this to evolve for all different industries. The question is, if we reform our police, how will it benefit the greater good of our state?
I support building a stronger mental health sector to help police. We rely on the police to do too much that is out of their scope. If a majority of incarcerated are Kanaka Maoli, how do we adapt our police departments to better address that concern?
7. Hawaii is the only Western state without a statewide citizens initiative process. Do you support such a process?
Any way we can give more power to people instead of self-serving career politicians is a high priority for me. The process is not perfect but, we will not move closer to progress if we don’t step in the right direction.
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 purpose of suspending those laws are for efficiency but, the more we learn, people are noticing that it is being used to exclude the public. The public deserves leaders who will call out this injustice without fear. This is a much bigger problem than what people see.
Progress is not an excuse for injustice. My mother and father told me if you are going to do it, do it right.
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?
I am aina. After we are gone, aina will remain. We have a kuleana to malama this place. There are so many actions that people can take as individuals to attack these threats but the bigger kuleana falls on the leaders. This is not a sexy topic for our state so no one talks about it, and those who do are ignored.
On Day 1, I will look to use my power to balance our aina. Our state can not even stop negative sunscreen from entering the ocean even when there is mountains of evidence. We need people to speak up.
10. What do you see as the most pressing issue facing your district? What will you do about it?
My district has an impressive population of Native Hawaiians. This means that our district is lower in test scores, household income, but higher in death rates and incarceration rates. If no one prioritizes our community then our homesteads will continue to decline and it is our children who will end up suffering the most.
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 created 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.
Here is an innovative idea for our current state leaders. Raise the minimum wage to a point where people can survive without government help. Our Hawaii can return to an era in history where we are protective, sustaining and innovative. When we can ensure that even the least heard can contribute to the greater society, then we will return to paradise.