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 Kevin McDonald, Democratic candidate for State Senate District 13, which includes Liliha, Palama, Iwilei, Kalihi, Nuʻuanu, Pacific Heights, Pauoa, Lower Tantalus and Downtown Honolulu. The other Democratic candidate is Karl Rhoads.
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’s leaders have failed in the handling of this emergency. They shut down too strictly, we haven’t accommodated those who are the most vulnerable, and we have been far too slow in opening back up. They unnecessarily devoted resources to strict enforcement, while neglecting more important issues.
As we approach what we hope will be the end of this emergency, we have also been too overbearing. We should’ve been opening much swifter. Remember; our mission was to “flatten the curve,” which we did better than any other state. But our leaders kept us in lockdown as though they might eradicate the disease, knowing full well that that was not the goal they sold to us, and that the disease will inevitably return.
Worst of all, is our treatment of our blue-collar labor force and small businesses. These are the most vulnerable and require specific relief. I strongly favor rent and mortgage relief for these groups. They completely stripped these people’s ability to earn their living. If we’re going to do that, we must do the same to those who make money directly off those earnings! Rent, mortgage and some other expenses must be forgiven during this emergency!
2. The state budget is facing record shortfalls. How would you balance the budget? What would you cut? What would you protect?
This is going to be a big problem. We must attack it from many directions.
First: I will not make cuts to teachers or first responders’ salaries, period. Hawaii already pays them less than almost every other state, and we have the highest cost of living. Also, I will not raise taxes on our citizens or small businesses, we already have the highest burdens in the country.
I’d start with freezes on new spending (seriously, no new programs), and cuts and defunding to all non-essential programs. I think outsourcing and private sponsorships could also solve some issues. Let some private corporations and individuals take over the maintenance of some parks and other expenses.
It’s time to legalize marijuana for recreational use. Marijuana is everywhere in Hawaii. It’s sold on every street corner, and used on every block. It’s a huge source of revenue that I cannot figure out why our government hasn’t tapped into. Two side benefits are: we can better monitor the industry, and we can market Hawaii as a cannabis friendly state, increasing tourism revenues by as much as 25 percent. These are just a few of my ideas, I have (and we will need) many more.
3. What do you think should be done to diversify the economy? What would you do as an elected official to make that happen?
Hawaii is very dependent on its two main industries, tourism and military. While it is important that we diversify, these industries are our bread and butter. Our priority must be to give them every opportunity to return to their former glory. This is our quickest and most efficient path to recovery.
But our islands are an incredibly special part of the world, we must actively seek out new industries that might thrive in our unique environment. We can encourage research and development industries, agriculture, energy and many others, including new industries that might complement some of the industries that already enjoy a certain amount of success in our islands.
I have said earlier, that I also believe the cannabis industry could become a huge windfall for us, it is a huge industry already and is growing quickly, we should not miss out on this opportunity. Make no mistake, our economy is going to be hurting, and likely for an extended period. It will also be especially important that we create a welcoming environment here if we are going to try and attract large investors to help diversify our economy.
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?
These are promises that our government has an obligation to fulfill. While I did not make these promises, we must follow through on them. In the future however, we may want to be a bit more careful in making similar promises.
In an earlier question I mentioned that I have several ideas for new sources of revenue including legalization of marijuana, a possible lottery and perhaps other forms of limited gambling, but most important will be the need to offer as much encouragement as we can to have a thriving business community. When the economy is robust these problems become much more easily solved.
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?
This is a great question, and I am grateful for the opportunity to give the following answer: nothing! Hawaii should have zero confidence in almost every current leader!
Our leadership has let us down in almost every possible area, we should have no confidence in any of them and begin replacing them at every earliest opportunity. We have the highest tax burden/cost of living of any state. Our businesses also pay the highest tax rates in the country, causing Hawaii to be named “The worst state in the country to open a business.”
What do we get in return for the incredibly high burden our citizens must bare? Nothing!
We are in the bottom three states for schools, roads, infrastructure, water treatment, almost everything our leaders spend the highest tax rates in the country on, ranks among the worst in the country. We also have the lowest paid teachers, and first responders.
What are our leaders doing with our money? And how come every year they need to raise even more?
And then there’s the rail. Our leaders are the worst. We shouldn’t have confidence in any of them.
If elected I will do better.
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?
Some may find this answer controversial, but I do not think we have a problem with “systemic” racism in our law enforcement community and particularly not in Hawaii’s police force. Yes, racism does exist and occasionally there is a tragic result that stems from it. When these tragedies occur the officers involved should be prosecuted to the fullest extent of the law. But I personally do not believe these statistically rare incidents indicate a “systemic” problem. I feel money spent on trying to solve HPD’s undefined racism issues might be wasteful and that money might be better put toward more urgent needs.
With that being said, there is always room for improvement. Our police should regularly undergo modern sensitivity training programs, we should disclose misconduct records, they should have working body and dashboard cameras and there should be some organized oversight to insure abuses of any kind are kept to a minimum.
7. Hawaii is the only Western state without a statewide citizens initiative process. Do you support such a process?
Yes, I absolutely support a citizens initiative process. I have always believed that the citizens should be more involved in their governance, this is one of many ways I would like to see the people participate more in the legislative process. I support most any method the people might embrace that would increase their ability to help their elected officials better understand their positions on whatever issues may be at hand.
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 strongly disagree with the governor’s suspension of these open government laws. I understand there are rare occasions when the government must have closed door meetings, usually involving national or local security. The shutdown of the entire state’s economy over a pandemic emergency is not one of those occasions. In fact, it is quite the opposite. An emergency situation such as the COVID-19 pandemic requires that our government be as transparent as possible so as to gain the trust and cooperation of the people, anything less is suspect.
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?
Climate change is an interesting issue. We have established that it exists, but we really know little else about it. I support more research on this topic. We should be funding more research on how it occurs, what are the provable effects, how we can prevent it, and what kinds of research can help curb its existence, reverse its effects and better take care of the planet.
I am also a big believer in researching alternative forms of energy. Fossil fuels are not an efficient source of energy for the future, and we would do well to continue looking for better alternatives.
10. What do you see as the most pressing issue facing your district? What will you do about it?
Our district’s most pressing issue is neglect. We are overrun with homelessness and lawlessness that our city officials refuse to address. Additionally, property owners have little or no interest in renting out their spaces. The majority of them seem content to let them sit empty, and collect their profits from the ever-increasing property values.
The solution requires two efforts.
First, we must reduce the taxes, restrictions and other obstacles that make it difficult for businesses to start and thrive in the district. We must also allow developers to renovate our many neglected spaces to encourage people to want to live in the district.
Second, we must take a hard line on the homelessness and lawlessness that has overrun our district. Many consumers actively avoid our district due to the crime, homelessness and other unsavory activities that our district has become notorious for. The rights of the shop owners and residents are being trampled upon by a growing population of characters who have no respect for the law, the integrity of our community or themselves. These behaviors must not be allowed to continue with the reckless abandon that our current leadership has allowed.
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’m asked to share “one big idea” so I’ll answer with the idea that is the boldest. It also relates to the COVID-19 crisis.
It is time for Hawaii to legalize marijuana for recreational use.
Hawaii was in financial trouble before COVID-19. With many department budgets underfunded and our government claiming it had insufficient funds to provide some of the basic requirements we expect from them; our schools are run down and many have no air conditioning, our police are underfunded and understaffed, and our prisons are overcrowded causing some criminals to be set free. With the economic crash from COVID-19 on our doorstep we are facing some hard decisions.
I cannot allow higher taxes, our citizens and businesses are already overburdened, and I cannot allow pay cuts and furloughs, our teachers and first responders are already underpaid and understaffed. We need a new source of revenue. Cannabis can supply a whole new industry. Legalization of cannabis would introduce a new industry to Hawaii, provide hundreds of new employment opportunities, allow us to market our tourism industry to a new demographic, and provide an abundant source of revenue for the state.