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 Bethany Morrison, candidate for Hawaii County Council District 1 representing Puueo, Wainaku, Kaiwiki, Paukaa, Papaikou, Onomea, Pepeekeo, Honomu, Wailea, Hakalau, Ninole, Papaaloa, Laupahoehoe, Waipunalei, Ookala, Paauilo, Paauhau, Honokaa, Kukuihaele, Waipio, Ahualoa, portion of Kamuela, Pleasant Acres, Nani Waimea, Kamuela Highlands, Kamuela Lakeland, Kamuela Meadows and Kamuela Havens. The other candidates are Elroy Juan, Heather Kimball, Jaerick Medeiros-Garcia, Jaclyn Moore, Dominic Yagong and Monique Perreira.
1. Hawaii’s economy has been hard hit with the outbreak of the coronavirus and measures to prevent its spread, mainly because of the collapse of the tourism industry. Should we continue to rely largely on the visitor industry for economic vitality? What concrete steps would you take to bring tourism back? What else would you do to diversify the island’s economy?
We should not continue to rely predominantly on the tourism industry. However, it will always be an economic sector for Hawaii. By diversifying the economy by investing in emerging sectors such as science and technology and health and wellness, we can provide job opportunities for our children while also attracting a different kind of tourism that is less extractive.
The county needs to provide infrastructure and land uses to encourage these sectors to thrive. We also need to update our codes to remove any zoning or building code barriers to these economic sectors. But the priority should be on growing and creating economic stability in our agricultural industry. This is one of our greatest assets and can help us achieve self-sufficiency.
This will require government support and subsidizing of adequate water supply and community scale processing facilities that can be readily accessible to our farmers. This also requires looking at ways to help with transportation and marketing. We also need to be sure our tax structure and codes are updated to provide incentives and remove barriers for agricultural uses.
2. As the economy struggles, the county may have to cut expenses and seek new revenue sources. What would you cut? And what is an area where you see potential new revenue?
There are opportunities to look at automated systems that can increase government efficiencies without impacting county worker positions. Our county fee structure needs to be audited and updated on a regular basis.
We also need to review our real property tax classes and structure to be sure we are offering help to those most vulnerable but adequately assessing tax amounts based on the cost to provide county services and infrastructure.
Finally, we need to be sure we are taking advantage of any low or interest-free federal loans for infrastructure. These much-needed projects can create revenue and jobs while increasing our quality of life for our residents.
3. What would you have done differently to handle the coronavirus crisis on the Big Island?
Communication is the key to getting people accurate and timely information. There were a lot of confusing and contradictory messages being delivered from the governor’s office and the mayor’s office.
I would have ensured that the county and state were on the same page before delivering communications. Also, I would have worked with the governor’s office to better define essential services.
4. State and county residents, government officials and developers have been split over efforts to build the Thirty Meter Telescope on Mauna Kea. Do you support construction of the TMT? Do you support the protesters? What would you have done differently in the past year to resolve the issue?
My position on TMT is multifaceted. As a county planner, I am very familiar with the land use and permitting requirements. The TMT site is within the state jurisdiction and not under the purview of the county.
However, the project followed the state’s environmental and permitting review process and received approvals. It should be allowed to move forward with construction as long as those permit conditions are complied with. In general, I do think our permitting processes can be improved regarding Native Hawaiian community and lineal descendant consultation about impacts of projects on cultural resources. I do support the protestors that have brought these issues to light, so that they can be addressed.
However, that should not preclude TMT from moving forward as approved. I support TMT being constructed as approved.
5. Homelessness remains a problem statewide, including on Hawaii island. What would you do to come to grips on this persistent problem?
We need to be addressing our housing issue comprehensively by providing transitional units, affordable housing developments, and encouraging more affordable units be made available for private rentals.
This requires us to support our non-profits that are already providing supporting services, to provide adequate infrastructure for these housing developments and to review our real property tax rates to incentivize affordable rentals.
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. Do you see this issue as a problem in Hawaii County? What should be done to improve policing and police accountability on the Big Island? Should oversight of the police department be strengthened or reformed?
I don’t see this as a huge issue for our island. I think because we are so connected to each other in our communities, we are able to ensure legal and peaceful protests remain that way and that our police officers are safe to do their jobs. The demonstrations on Mauna Kea are a great example of that.
However, there is always room for improvement and reform. We need to be working with our police chief and police commission to ensure adequate safety protocols and regular training and training facilities are provided. We need to be sure that police complaints are heard by an objective body. We need to be sure that we are able to have the appropriate police ratios in our communities, especially given our rural island. Finally, we need to be sure that our police officers have adequate and reliable equipment.
7. 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 agree that we needed to keep decision making bodies functioning and meeting during this important economic time. We need to look at a way to modernize our government while still ensuring fair and equitable access.
It is great to provide online access to our meetings, to allow for more people to attend them without having to travel to the county facilities. However, we need to be sure that those that do not have access to internet have an equal opportunity to participate. This requires us to ensure that items are agendized properly and that people understand the various ways they can attend and provide input. I do not believe that requests for public records should have been impacted, unless the government agency was completely shut down.
8. What more should Hawaii County be doing to prepare for the effects of climate change, including sea level rise and threats to the reefs?
We need to be sure our county codes incorporate sea level rise into the regulations in the special management area. We also need to ensure that resource management, such as water supply, is conservative and ensuring adequate supplies for future generations. Finally, we need to be investing in renewable energy supply for our county facilities and mass transit agency.
9. 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.
During this time, we have had to rely on high speed internet for school, work and to attend various virtual meetings. Many of our communities lack coverage. This means that some students could not attend Zoom classes or they needed to rely on their cellular network and service, in many cases with limited data plans. This exacerbates the economic disparities we have.
We should consider internet connectivity as a critical facility, similar to electricity. I would support exploring opportunities for government subsidized free internet hubs to be installed at each county facility on our island. In addition, the county should also invest in technology that can provide free internet on our mass transit buses.
10. What do you see as the most pressing issue facing your district? What will you do about it?
Many of our families are on limited and/or fixed incomes and are not self-sufficient. We have to provide opportunities for high-quality job growth and access to local food within our district.
In order to accomplish this we need to invest in our agricultural industry with adequate infrastructure and services. We need to subsidize water supply and community scale processing and packing facilities. We also need to be sure our tax structure and codes are updated to provide incentives and remove barriers for agricultural uses.
Finally, we need to provide market opportunities and use our Department of Research and Development to explore niche food crops that can feed our communities but also be exported.