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 Philip Aiona, candidate for Hawaii County Council District 9 representing Mauna Lani Resort, Waikoloa Village, Puako, Waikii, portion of Waimea, Kamuela, Puukapu Farms, Puukapu Homesteads, Puukapu Village House Lots, Lualai, Puuopelu, Lalamilo, Waiaka, Kawaihae, Kohala Ranch, Mahukona, Hawi, Kapaau and Halaula. The other candidates are Ranae Keane and Tim Richards.
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?
Diversification of our economy should always be at the forefront of our economic future. The recent pandemic displayed the significant role of the tourism industry and in the next few months we should do all we can to get our residents back to work.
I agree with Lt. Gov. Josh Green’s proposal to test visitors before they arrive and continue our vigilance of contact tracing. However, once we stabilize the tourism industry and hence our economy, we should continue our research into the diversification of other industries. Hawaii island can and should be the shining example of sustainability for our Hawaii. With our vast lands, energy sources, educational institutions and political will, Hawaii County has an array of possible economic industries. We just need the political will to do it.
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?
Cutting government expenses should be our last resort and I don’t feel we’re there yet. The federal government has many programs, and funding, to assist all states during this pandemic as well as the council’s recent decision to add a “luxury” tax as an option if needed to patch the holes in the budget.
We need fighters on the council who will get the most money from state and federal resources. I don’t want to “cut the pie,” I’d rather “make the pie bigger.” I believe we will truly start feeling the full effects of this virus on our budget next year.
An area of potential revenue is the construction industry and economic development. We must work with state leaders to streamline the permit process, get tax breaks for development and increase speed of shovel-ready projects as well as create affordable housing in an expeditious manner.
3. What would you have done differently to handle the coronavirus crisis on the Big Island?
Communication and transparency would go a long way whether it’s coronavirus or daily events happening at the county level. For example, people were asking the governor to shut down the airports and he didn’t. What we should have been told is that only the federal government can shut down the airports. A simple statement would have quieted a lot of fear from residents. As far as government is concerned, this coronavirus has taught us that we must engage our community at all levels at all times.
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?
Even though the TMT is a state issue I believe our county can and should have played a bigger role other than law enforcement. It pains me that we got to a point where kupuna were sitting in the middle of the road in the cold, frigid air to get their point across. Something went wrong in the process and the blame is squarely a matter of leadership. The governor, OHA, University of Hawaii, DLNR and DHHL failed our citizens. Their voices were not being heard until our kupuna sat down for justice.
I agree we should have telescopes and continue to learn about the solar system. I believe our ancestors would have wanted that. But not at the expense of desecrating a sacred mountain. The authorities knew there would be protest, they knew there were strong objections yet they went ahead with the approval of permits anyway.
Engaging the community is paramount when making community decisions. TMT taught us a valuable lesson – you must listen. Going forward I am convinced we can and will come to a mutual understanding on the future of the TMT. We just need the right people in office to listen to the community.
5. Homelessness remains a problem statewide, including on Hawaii island. What would you do to come to grips on this persistent problem?
Build affordable housing. Saying it is easy, but doing it takes political will. We learned from Oahu’s mistake that we must hold developers’ feet to the fire and not have affordable housing with a mix of market value homes.
Land is the key and I would like to work with developers to offer county lands in exchange for truly affordable homes. We also must engage with our faith-based organizations and Hope Services to work on this growing issue.
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 believe defunding the police departments is the right answer. However, I look forward as a council member to meeting with our chief of police and other police personnel to review the recruitment, training process and procedures in dealing with the public not only with arrests but with community outreach as well.
I am proud to live in Hawaii County and proud of our police department and community.
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 did not agree with his actions and would make sure the public records law maintains transparency for our residents.
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?
The answer to this question is very complex and is going to take everyone’s coordination and sacrifices. The obvious solutions will be for the ounty to start investing in clean energy. The state Legislature passed a bill stating that Hawaii will be using 100% renewable energy by 2045. Under the state’s Clean Energy Initiative, Hawaii could generate “clean” energy from hydroelectric, biomass, geothermal, hydrogen fuel cells, ocean wave and tidal action, wind, solar and other energy sources.
Our biggest challenge will be simplifying the permitting process so that these new businesses can be possible. Clean energy will also need to be supplemented with smart political policy in every field from agriculture to construction and everything in-between. We need to always have climate change on our mind during every decision we make from here on out.
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 pandemic the unemployment insurance office’s mainframe was exposed as outdated to the detriment of thousands of statewide workers. However, prior to the pandemic I heard no mention of the outdated system. People were understandably upset but no one knew of the problem or protested until they needed the system to work.
This begs the question about how many other systems are outdated and no one is talking about it until they will need it. It’s a question of leadership. As the director of the department within the state or County of Hawaii, it is your responsibility to sound the alarm for any outdated processes or procedures. One big idea I have for the county which may seem unimportant now (as did the upgrade of the UI mainframe six months ago) is storm shelters. We truly need to start being proactive and not reactive when it comes to the safety and health of our people.
10. What do you see as the most pressing issue facing your district? What will you do about it?
We have many pressing issues right now in our district, obviously. However, while all of our elected officials are talking about diversifying the economy (which is very important) the immediate issue for many in our district is hunger. We are feeding hundreds of people a week who are in need through my restaurants right now and it’s not even close to enough.
Addressing this issue, we need to have short- and long-term solutions. The short term is going to be partnering up with the amazing organizations in our district that are already feeding people and find them the proper funding and grants that they need.
For the long term we need to look into community gardens and kitchens, something I think could be extremely beneficial to our community. Give people the opportunity to cultivate their own food and pick up produce boxes to help feed their families. These are not the only solutions available obviously, with coronavirus many people are going to need help and our county has to make sure that it is there to answer the call.