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 Jakki Nelson, candidate for Kauai County Council. Other candidates include Jade Battad, Addison Bulosan, Donovan Cabebe, Bernard Carvalho, Mason Chock, Felicia Cowden, Mike Dandurand, Billy DeCosta, Debralynn Desilvacarveiro, Luke Evslin, Victoria Franks, Richard Fukushima, Ed Justus, Arryl Kaneshiro, KipuKai Kuali’i, Wally Nishimura, Rory Parker, Shirley Simbre-Medeiros, Naomi Taniguchi and Clint Yago.
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 can diversify our tourism industry with more sustainable tourism, like ag-tourism. Farm tours of biodynamic, organic, permaculture farms will bring in tourism dollars while still contributing to the needs of Kauai residents. Tourists will come to tour unique farming models if we grow and process interesting and useful goods, like hemp, chocolate, coffee and hardwoods.They will come to tour other Kauai-made product facilities like breweries, juice companies, farm-to-table eateries, soap or cloth manufacturing as well.
If we are seen as a “safe’ tourist destination post-COVID, I believe tourism will come back strong. We need to create a friendly business environment and create jobs that, while existing in the tourism industry, also contribute goods and services required and desired by Kauai residents.
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?
Reduce taxes and regulations on our local businesses, even our locally placed corporate businesses. Farmers need easy access to water and the ability to house some of their workers. Residents need to know that if they are able to buy a business (or home ) on Kauai, they will also be able to afford the taxes and maintenance.
Currently Kauai County and the State of Hawaii are ranked in the bottom 10% of places to do business. Look up any survey. They all say the same. We need a business-friendly environment that rewards productivity and nurtures innovation. The best ideas and best practices to move Kauai’s economy forward are not going to come from government hand-outs. They are going to come from Kauai’s business leaders, with the encouragement and support of our local government.
3. What would you have done differently to handle the coronavirus crisis on Kauai?
Kauai-owned businesses should have been allowed to remain open just as corporate businesses like Costco and Wal-Mart were allowed to remain open to serve Kauai residents. The sick and at-risk community could still have been allowed to shelter in place and receive benefits. But the healthy residents who were low-risk for contracting COVID should not have been forced to abandon their livelihoods.
It will take years of innovation to recover from the financial hole we have dug ourselves into. I am ready to get my hands dirty!
4. Homelessness remains a problem statewide, including on Kauai. What would you do to come to grips on this persistent problem?
Homelessness on Kauai is a diverse problem. We need to address it in parts;
Many residents are just houseless. Their only problem is they don’t make enough money to maintain a home consistently. We need to make working more advantageous than collecting welfare. In my years in the hospitality industry, I employed a lot of minimum wage earners, some who I wanted to train up and promote. Most of them told me they would rather remain at minimum wage and minimum hours so that they could still qualify for government assistance! These were talented people and we stripped them of ambition. It’s very sad.
Some of our homeless community came to it through drug use. We do not have adequate facilities on Kauai to address drug abuse. We spent a lot of money on an in-patient facility which would have been a step forward, before locking down details on how it would operate. Now, this building is going to become part of our county prosecutor’s offices? How did we allow this to happen? We do not have the money to try this again and we will not have the money for a long time. I propose that we stick to the original plan.
Another sector of our homeless population is homeless due to mental health issues. We have limited mental health facilities on Kauai. Improving and expanding these would be money well spent.
5. 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 Kauai County? What should be done to improve policing and police accountability on Kauai? Should oversight of the police department be strengthened or reformed?
I do not see racism as a problem on Kauai. I do not see racism as a problem within our police force. We are lucky. That does not mean that there shouldn’t be oversight and accountability of the KPD. But the police will serve our community better if they receive thorough training and good pay.
I also encourage visibility and access in the community. Your first interaction with local police should be positive, when you are young. We need community outreach to put us closer to police officers during school and local functions. Citizens should know how our police department functions.
Citizens should also be educated not to dial 911 unless there is imminent danger to life or property. In studying some of the disturbing recent police brutality cases from the mainland, I determined that most resulted from 911 calls when there was not an emergency. A guy passed out in his car in a fast food drive-through is not an emergency. I’ve had this happen in parking lots of restaurants and bars I’ve worked at dozens of times. You find out if anyone knows him, wake him up, call a friend or relative to come get him (or her), push the car into a safe place, if necessary take his keys and let him sleep till closing time if you can’t get ahold of anyone.
6. 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 with the Sunshine Law. We deserve transparency from our elected leaders. They work for us. Denying us access to government and citing COVID as the reason is not right. It is cowardly. It creates distrust.
7. What more should Kauai County be doing to prepare for the effects of climate change, including sea level rise and threats to the reefs?
We should be building and moving our infrastructure inland. Kauai needs a viable road system that is not in the tsunami zone so that our citizens are not cut off from food or health care in case of natural disaster. We should be building masonry homes, even for low-income housing. This will pay off in the long term in maintenance.
We should think “old school” when building also — taking advantage of tradewinds to keep us cool — blocking late afternoon sun also. We banned plastic bags. Why are we still selling sun block that is not reef safe? Most tourists don’t travel here with sunblock because they need more than 4 ounces during their stay. And they use a ton of it when they get here. We should only sell reef-friendly on Kauai.
8. 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.
Outdated structures and systems were exposed before the pandemic. And it is not hard to adapt to new technology. COVID may be drawing some attention to economic disparity. I hope so because we can improve in this area quickly and easily.
We need to stop punishing people who work and produce. We need to stop accepting and even rewarding laziness and underachievement. If we continue to give hand-outs to members of our community who are smart and able to achieve and thrive on their own, that number will grow. The result being that we will never be able to support the truly needy and disabled members of our community.
Just lowering the tax burden and rolling back regulations would be two big steps in the right direction. Follow up by engaging our local businesses. Ask them what they need from local government to succeed. Government cannot lift its citizenry out of poverty permanently, only industry and innovation can do that.
9. What do you see as the most pressing issue facing Kauai? What will you do about it?
If you had asked me a year ago, I would have said “traffic.” We cannot decrease the bottleneck through Kapaa Town without widening Kuhio Highway, which would kill that business community, so I say “no no no” to that. Improving the Power Line Trail is the only alternative. Building this road would create jobs and generate tax revenue. It could be funded with a toll.
But , since we are in the midst of a pandemic shutdown now, I’d say traffic is a distant second to reopening our Kauai economy. That’s the most pressing issue facing the east side, where I live, and also the rest of the island. Priority No. 1 needs to be a safe and sustainable reopening. We need to listen to the needs of our local businesses and create a business-friendly atmosphere for them to reopen. Our residents need to get back to work.
We need to cut taxes and not inflict stifling regulations on our local business community. They are the ones who will be able to pull us out from under the mountain of debt we have been accumulating since March.
I am excited for the future of Kauai and I look forward to celebrating our successes as we reopen.