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 Rory Parker, 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, Jakki Nelson, Wally Nishimura, 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?
The model by which we currently rely on tourism creates a feast-or-famine scenario in which the famine is near-literal while the feast remains lean. The fact that a temporary cessation of tourism lead to near-immediate desperation proves that the tourism industry exists in a parasitic relationship with most residents.
COVID did not create the struggle. It exposed it.
We need not worry about encouraging tourism. Kauai is a magical place; full of kind, genuine and welcoming people. Visitors will resume flocking to these shores the moment our doors reopen. Kauai will always be a highly-sought vacation destination.
Kauai must position itself to more fully profit from tourism upon its return. More money must flow into county budgets rather than private hands. The draw of Kauai is our shared resources. It is wrong to force residents to bear the burden of maintenance while profits continue to flow offshore.
The County Council must also do everything within its power to stop hotels from hiring non-union employees and encourage further unionization. “Essential workers” cannot again be considered “at-will” the moment this crisis has passed.
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?
I would endeavor to avoid cutting funding. Instead I would seek to shore up budgetary shortfalls by dramatically increasing taxes and fees associated with tourism while looking to find new ways to transfer money from visitors to the community coffers.
We must force tourism to work for Kauai, rather than vice-versa. Transient accommodations taxes, along with vehicle registration fees for rental cars, should be significantly increased. Tax loopholes on low-cost TVRs must be closed. Higher taxes will increase county income, or create an economic incentive to rent to residents rather than visitors and help alleviate our housing shortage.
I am totally unconcerned with keeping Kauai a relatively low-cost tourist destination. It’s not an affordable place to live, why should it be an affordable vacation? Residents should not be forced to work multiple jobs in order to survive while visitors treat the island as a playground.
If forced to reduce county spending I would first look trim waste from the police department and the Office of the Prosecuting Attorney. I would endeavor to reallocate money to departments and programs that seek to treat the root causes of crime, such as poverty, addiction and mental health.
3. What would you have done differently to handle the coronavirus crisis on Kauai?
I applaud the actions Mayor Kawakami has taken in protecting Kauai from COVID-19. In times of crisis it’s important to have leaders who are willing to make quick, tough and sometimes unpopular decisions to safeguard the health and well-being of residents.
The economic damage was unavoidable and significant.
But the temporary restrictions imposed upon us as individuals are worth bearing to protect our friends and neighbors. Masks may be uncomfortable. They may make our faces sweat. We may want to have parties and gather in groups at the beach and celebrate special occasions together.
But it takes a truly selfish person to decry mild discomfort that is meant to protect those who are most at risk during the COVID pandemic. I’m very proud of the overwhelming support for the policies our leadership enacted.
The only disheartening choices I witnessed from our leadership were certain instances of public sniping and second-guessing of the mayor’s policies. It’s important that, during moments of duress, island leadership present a united front in their effort to protect the public.
4. Homelessness remains a problem statewide, including on Kauai. What would you do to come to grips on this persistent problem?
The first step of addressing homelessness is to approach it from a place of compassion and understanding, coupled with a “Housing First” approach.
Increased access to addiction treatment and mental health services are absolutely necessary. Those struggling with addiction and mental illness are the most difficult to help due to the differing assistance that each person requires. We must always remain willing to put forth the effort that will always be required by those in need.
The problem of transitional homelessness, those who find themselves in need due to an unforeseen life change or catastrophic event, can be more easily solved.
Low wages, high cost of living and lack of affordable housing are the major drivers of transitional homelessness. Cost of living is the unavoidable result of living on a very remote island. I support unionization in the quest for higher wages.
Kauai desperately needs more affordable housing, either provided by the county, or created via economic incentives that force TVRs onto the long-term market. I am willing to consider a change to zoning laws for new developments that are truly affordable. Slightly-less-expensive, as is often the case, would be unacceptable.
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 can’t speak to whether KPD has a problem with discrimination against people of color. Anecdotally, I’m not aware of any instances. But, as a fairly privileged haole, I’m aware that I probably wouldn’t be.
Regardless of my own perception, I believe that it is of the utmost importance that police disciplinary records be made public immediately. The nature, good or bad, of respective police forces is irrelevant. It should be default policy.
We entrust our police with the ability to carry arms and employ violence. To serve as a police officer should be considered an honor. Public oversight and access to records are in no way, shape, or form, undue burdens.
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 disagree with Ige’s decision to suspend open government laws. I also accept that uncertain times lead to difficult choices and can accept bad decisions when made in good faith.
I am, in principle, firmly opposed to closed meetings. I make an exception for those recently closed due to COVID. I lack the imagination to improve upon the current system, but would support any propositions that did.
Accessing public records is a laborious task for the public during the best of times. But, honestly, I haven’t the faintest idea how you’d go about overhauling a bureaucracy.
If I were in office I’d recommend residents call me and ask for what they needed. If I have access to the information, I’ll give it to you. At the beach before I surf, at the harbor when I’m done fishing, at Rob’s over drinks, wherever. Public records belong to us all.
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?
I support changes to current permitting laws that require new construction to conform to requirements that will appear as our sea levels rise. We need to prepare, not react.
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.
I love Hawaii and don’t see a reason to make any major changes. I’ve been welcomed with open arms since I moved here. The culture, the land and the people are the reason I’ve made it my home. I feel as though I’m part of a community, something I’d never experienced before moving here.
I’d be scared to reinvent Hawaii. There’s no way of knowing what “improvements” would be for the better and which would strip away the ineffable qualities that make this place so unique and special. I lack the hubris necessary to believe I could conceive of One Big Idea that couldn’t possibly go horribly awry.
But I want to answer the question so … given unlimited funds and ignoring the difficulties presented by our environment … I would install islandwide high-speed municipal internet. An investment in free access for all residents would be an investment in the future.
9. What do you see as the most pressing issue facing Kauai? What will you do about it?
A talking point I often encounter in situations where local residents push back against the tourism industry is, “Hawaii will die without tourism. You need us. What else are you going to do?”
These are the words of an abuser. The wants of off-island investors, multinational corporations and soon-to-be-sunburned sightseers must never take precedence over local needs.
There are bad actors who would exploit Kauai’s resources and flout its regulations in the name of their own self interests. Corporations that facilitate illegal TVRs are no more than online criminal syndicates. The county needs to come down on illegal TVRs hard.
To that end I would improve access to the existing database of legal TVRs and develop a citizen reporting system for violators. I would use all my abilities to push for maximum fines until violators are forced to sell or fall in line.
Tourism should work for Kauai, not the other way around. This island is not a playground. It is a home.