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 Gabe Johnson, candidate for Maui County Council Lanai District. The other candidates are Alberta De Jetley and Matthew Mano.
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?
Now is the time to pivot from our dependency on tourism. We can work on our infrastructure while the tourism industry recovers. Maui County can create agricultural parks, community kitchens and all the things farmers and entrepreneurs will need to recover from the COVID-19 losses. I am also in strong support of creating a Green New Deal on a local level. Creating green jobs should be a priority for the county. Specifically, I would like to increase funding to the MISC (Maui Invasive Species Committee) and other conservation careers that will help create jobs and tackle the issue of climate change concurrently.
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?
Property taxes need to stay low for working families in this time of crisis. However I would like to look at a progressive tax model, one that the Maui County Council has been reviewing. Raising taxes on large landowners could be one way to increase revenue.
3. What would you have done differently to handle the coronavirus crisis on Maui?
On March 18, I was asking for the hotels on Lanai to close their doors. I took a lot of heat for that stance but I still believe it was the right stance. In hindsight, I would have organized better to exclude the large cruise ships from entering our ports and unloading so many tourists.
Moving forward I still think that West Maui should not have any cruise ships enter Lahaina Harbor. The COVID-19 testing was slow at the start of the pandemic and I would have pushed more for roadside testing.
4. Homelessness remains a problem statewide, including on Maui. What would you do to come to grips on this persistent problem?
Homelessness is a problem that needs to be addressed. First, build more housing! There are people who are simply houseless and just need some help to find an affordable place to live.
Second, we need to look at the root causes of homelessness. People who have suffered abuse need our help. Drug abuse, spousal abuse, sexual abuse and trauma in our high stakes, winner-take-all capitalistic system, end up costing our communities more by turning a blind eye to those in need. As a council member, I believe we should take on this issue with compassion and the desire to help those in need. I would like to work hand in hand with our faith-based institutions, farmers and volunteers to start a farm-to-table program for the homeless.
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?
I am happy to say I live in a safe community here on Lanai and our police officers are an important part of that equation. In order to keep our police legitimate to our community members we need to increase police transparency.
The public deserves the right to know how our police are doing. I refer to the numerous articles written by Civil Beat. The public should have access to police documents so that we may feel safe in our homes and communities.
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 100% disagree with Gov. Ige on this. This is a political will issue. The Freedom of Information Act allows the public access to records. It is the law. When I am elected to the County Council, I will make sure county documents will be available to the public. Period.
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?
A local version of a Green New Deal is key to Hawaii’s success. I support the creation of a Maui County department of agriculture. More farms mean less food imported, which in turn makes for less carbon gas emissions. Our buildings need strong codes that make them more energy efficient. Increasing our public bus system is a great way to lower gas emissions. I support more electric buses and shorter wait times for bus riders.
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.
Hawaii is the most isolated land mass in the world. In times of pandemic, that could be used as our strength. Simply put, buy local, keep your money here. My big idea is that the money that is made in our economy stays here in the Hawaii islands.
Much of the money that is made in the state is sucked out by large multinational corporations. Who owns Waikiki? Who owns Kaanapali? It sure isn’t local residents! The more we learn to spend our money here in the islands, support pono businesses, and use local credit unions instead of big banks, the more self-sufficient we can be.
9. What do you see as the most pressing issue facing your district? What will you do about it?
Over-tourism in the face of a pandemic. The problem we are facing is that COVID-19 isn’t going away soon, and our present tourism model requires big numbers to be successful. While our tourist numbers are down, we should pull back from the sheer number of tourists visiting our island state.
Instead of subsidizing large corporations in these hard times we should be focusing on families and their economic struggles. Instead of top-down “trickle down” economics, we need to be focused on a bottom-up economy. That is, we need to find a way to make our lives easier. The best way to have a healthy economy is to have a strong middle class. There are many ways to support our working folk, and now is the time to pivot to their needs instead of large businesses.