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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 Deb Kaiwi, candidate for Maui County Council Kahului District. The other candidates are Tasha Kama and Carol Kamekona.
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?
Whereas 23% of Hawaii’s gross domestic product is based on tourism, in Maui it accounts for 40% of our island’s economy. Our unemployment is the highest in the state with every one out of three of our workers who have now lost their jobs. Economists estimate that it may take five to six years before tourism can return to pre-pandemic numbers.
Hawaii needs to implement a plan to restore virus-free tourism. Visitors must be screened for symptoms as well as temperature before being allowed to board flights. Anyone arriving without a recent negative COVID-19 test result should still be subjected to a one-day quarantine. We can then market Hawaii as a virus-free zone to tourists.
While it is a little late to attempt to diversify Maui’s economy to minimize the economic impact of the pandemic, we can assist any diversification that was already underway. In 2018, Alexander & Baldwin sold its sugar cane fields to a farming venture, Mahi Pono. The Valley Isle now has acres and acres planted with agricultural crops.
We can accelerate this diversification by organizing an agricultural product distribution pipeline to the other Hawaiian islands through a Maui County Department of Agriculture. Hawaii will no longer need to import its produce from the mainland. Maui can feed Hawaii! Maui can also create new industries with the diversified farming. Hemp is a crop that can provide endless possibilities.
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?
Maui is now facing a massive budget shortfall, but we cannot save the county by abandoning the people. We must not eliminate jobs. The new county budget for 2021-2022 has funded more social services for our community members, which is a step in the right direction.
Maui County should implement a hiring freeze allowing jobs that become vacant to remain unfilled. Maui should offer early retirement.
Any remaining budget shortfall should be funded by borrowing the money at historically low interest rates.
3. What would you have done differently to handle the coronavirus crisis on Maui?
It was grossly negligent of the Maui Memorial Hospital administration to refuse to allow staff to wear their own face masks. Numerous staff and patients were needlessly exposed to the virus and people died as a result. I would have encouraged the mayor to order the CEO of Maui Health Systems to require all staff and all patients to wear their own personal protective equipment until the hospital became more equipped.
4. Homelessness remains a problem statewide, including on Maui. What would you do to come to grips on this persistent problem?
I would deny anyone whose state or county sends them to Maui on a one-way ticket without full-time employment, a residence, and a contact person. I would also work with private landowners and philanthropists to discuss how collectively we can remodel abandoned buildings such as the Pu’unene Mill to create a monitored housing community with in-house programs that our community’s social services can facilitate and provide career training for the homeless.
Many homeless come with skills. Allow them to be part of the solution by teaching their skill to those who are interested. I would also ask MEO to add a bus stop at the mill to enable the homeless to independently meet their responsibilities .
If the problem persists, I would collaborate with my colleagues, community and our Maui House and Senate representatives for their solutions. The goal is to create a self-sustaining living community for the homeless population where they will be taxpaying contributors in our community.
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 Maui County? What should be done to improve policing and police accountability on Maui? Should oversight of the police department be strengthened or reformed?
Strengthened. As a former probation officer of 18 years and creator of the District Court probation office, I fully support our police department.
The diverse ethnic culture of Maui’s officers is more respectful than police on the mainland. Programs and trainings that help improve understanding between our police and our residents is a good idea.
In 2016, the Maui Police Department collaborated with the State Adult Mental Health and Children’s Justice Program. Today, the state departments assist in a recruit training program designed by forensic psychologist Dr. Dara Rampersad, who the police department sends for since he relocated to Phoenix.
Dr. Rampersad teaches the recruits how to identify and respond to people who are experiencing a mental/emotional episode when they respond to a call. This training teaches the recruits how to handle all types of people in our community in the most humane and least restrictive way. This program separates our MPD officers from the rest.
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?
Disagree. Laws are to be implemented for our safety, knowledge and participation. I would seek the legal opinion of the Attorney General’s office and share their opinion with my colleagues for their support and share the opinion with the governor. The purpose would be to maintain transparency in governance, to operate within the confines of the law that governs us, and to prevent avoidable lawsuits.
7. What more should Maui County be doing to prepare for the effects of climate change, including sea level rise and threats to the reefs?
We are changing the ocean’s acidity 50 times faster than ever before. If we want to prepare for the future and find solutions, we need to first understand how all these ocean stressors, like pollution, overfishing, development, acidification and climate change, will interact together. Because right now we face uncertainty.
We should start by paying the fines for the injection wells and alleviate the demands placed upon the wells by offering DOH-approved grey water filtration systems tax credits to homeowners, resorts, businesses, etc. A member of my team has a very viable low-cost solution that deserves attention.
Recently, a group planted oysters to clean the toxicity in the waters in the injection well runoff area. It is too early to see significant change in the area. I am supportive of these interventions to bring about balance in our ocean.
We should also continue the tax incentives for homeowners who purchase systems to lessen our carbon footprint and encourage lending institutions to offer low-bearing interest loans for green initiatives.
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.
The traditional tourism model is built on short-stay vacations in Hawaii, i.e., a week or two. We can attempt to replace some of the lost short-term tourists with remote workers and retirees from the mainland who would stay longer and spend more.
Many high-tech companies in California now require remote work from their employees. What better place to work remotely than Maui?
Many mainland retirees are terrified of catching COVID-19 now rapidly spreading in Florida, Texas, Arizona and California. What better place to be safe from the virus than Maui?
Maui can market itself as a long-stay destination to mainland companies and retirees. Developers can create construction projects to house them. Entrepreneurs can create businesses to serve them.
Maui is also at a pivotal point in its economy where we can create a new economy through diverse agriculture. Unlike any other part of the United States, Maui enjoys the year-round stable weather that is conducive to farming. With all the open fields now being managed by Mahi Pono, we have the opportunity to provide food and new industries for Hawaii.
9. What do you see as the most pressing issue facing your district? What will you do about it?
Homelessness is a pressing issue facing my Kahului District. Please see question No. 4 for my response.
I also see how many of the Maui Lani communities have been designed for investors by instructing their homeowners to plant ornamentals in their landscape design. I recently had a conversation with a Maui Lani manager who indicated that homeowners are able to plant a garden in their back yard as long as it can’t be seen from the roadway.
I will work with the developers to allow homeowners to install edible landscape designs in place of lawns in their covenants conditions and restrictions and homeowner association bylaws. We must empower our community to be self-sufficient and allow them to grow food for themselves.