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 James Logue, Democratic candidate for State House District 29, which includes Kalihi, Palama, Iwilei and Chinatown. The other Democratic candidate is Daniel Holt.
1. Hawaii has been deeply affected by the coronavirus pandemic. Perhaps the biggest impact is to the economy and the tourism industry, which has been Hawaii’s biggest economic driver. Do you think state leaders have handled the response to the virus effectively, including the approach to testing and health care as well as the stay-at-home orders that have caused serious economic harm? What would you have done differently?
It’s always easy to look back and say things should have been done differently, however when we look at our current numbers, I feel that the proper steps were taken. If anything, I would say that the stay-at-home order, as well as shutting down tourism, should have been done earlier that it was.
It’s unfortunate that our state relies mainly on tourism and we are feeling the impacts of this focus as the majority of jobs have disappeared. This means many workers and families will not have jobs to return to once things do open back up. As someone who works in the SNAP offices, I see the struggles of our residents on a daily basis and this crisis has only escalated the situation. It was already hard enough for residents working two or three jobs to get by. Now, many of them have zero jobs and with unemployment funds running out, and Congress not acting on the HEROs Act, the economic situation will only get worse.
2. The state budget is facing record shortfalls. How would you balance the budget? What would you cut? What would you protect?
I believe the state should heed the advice of our congressional delegation and economists and borrow money from the federal government. This will allow us to continue operating at the capacity we are. It will also allow us to protect the jobs and incomes of the thousands of public workers who work for the state. The last thing that needs to happen is for any more residents to lose, or have a decrease in, their income.
We have to protect the salaries and jobs of public workers, because they are the ones helping to provide services that keep our state operating and programs running. Everything from police dispatchers, nurses, education assistants, law enforcement officers, ocean safety, etc. All of these public workers are providing necessary and vital services each and everyday and this is why their positions and salaries must be protected.
Making cuts means impacting workers so I do not feel that making cuts would benefit our economy.
3. What do you think should be done to diversify the economy? What would you do as an elected official to make that happen?
I believe that Hawaii can capitalize on its uniqueness as being an island state. We should be implementing green jobs that push for renewable energies and environmental protection such as sun, wind, waves and geothermal.
Hawaii should legalize marijuana as this would allow local farms and entrepreneurs to start up businesses growing/selling our very own locally crafted products. This would create jobs, businesses and new tax revenue. A legal marijuana industry would also eliminate the need for police and the courts to spend time and tax dollars on marijuana crimes.
Hawaii could be a hub for the Hemp industry, but Gov. Ige vetoed the bill. The hemp industry in itself has a vast amount of possibilities from building materials, paper, to clothes and more. This also means new start-up businesses from our local residents, as well as new jobs and new revenues for the state.
Hawaii should legalize gambling and allow for cruise liners, hotels and airport terminals to host gambling machines, and other games. We could host an all new niche of high-spending tourists. Gambling would be limited to specially designated zones and create very good-paying jobs. Other options include selling scratch-off tickets and a lottery.
4. Are you satisfied with the current plans to pay for the state’s unfunded liabilities? If not, how would you propose to meet pension and health obligations for public workers? Would you support reductions in benefits including in pension contributions for public employees in light of virus-related budget shortfalls?
Disclaimer: I am a state director for HGEA and a public worker, but my responses are my own views and opinions. The state had been on track to cover the unfunded liabilities before COVID-19 struck. So, I can say that I was satisfied with how the state’s plan was working out. At this time, I am unaware as to how COVID-19 has impacted that plan. Once a new report is produced, we will all have a better view of what may need to change.
I do not support any reductions in benefits or pension contributions for public employees. These employees, to include myself, have earned the right to receive their full due benefits and pensions. I understand that some people have the mentality that “everyone must suffer because I am suffering” however, public workers took their jobs because of the benefits and protections that union representation provides. These workers have been showing up to work every day without personal protective equipment to continue to provide services to the state and our residents.
5. The state’s virus response effort has exposed deep rifts within the top levels of government, including between the Legislature and Gov. David Ige. He will be in office two more years, so what would you do to ensure public confidence in Hawaii’s government officials and top executives?
One thing should be noted and that is that the directors of our state departments are actually doing the best they can with the resources they have been given. This goes for before COVID-19 and currently. People get mad at the director of DLIR about the unemployment systems, however, those systems have been needing upgrades for the past two administrations. The system failures on top of the state’s lack of recruitment and retention of employees is a reflection of several governors not prioritizing state services.
I will be honest that I believe a leader should accept their own criticism. I’m not going to try and make anyone confident in what I see as weak leadership. That would be very fake and irresponsible of me. If Hawaii’s government officials and top executives want the public’s confidence, then they need to earn it for once. Respect is earned, not given.
However, I can assure the people not only of my district, but of the state, that I am indeed here to serve their best interests and will work with any government official who I must in order to serve the public and the common good.
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. How important do you see this as an issue for Hawaii? What should be done to improve policing and police accountability throughout the state? Do you support police reform efforts such as mandatory disclosure of misconduct records by police agencies and adequate funding for law enforcement oversight boards that have been established in recent years?
As a former military police for the U.S. Army it amazes me at just how little oversight there are for civilian police officers. There has always been legislation to rein in police powers and instill more accountability, yet those bills have continuously died each legislative session.
This is indeed an important issue for Hawaii. I fully support accountability of police such as mandatory disclosure of misconduct records and fully funding oversight boards. We need these oversight boards to be comprised of members that are elected by citizens as we should not fully trust appointees by politicians. This can be done much in the same way as the neighborhood board elections.
7. Hawaii is the only Western state without a statewide citizens initiative process. Do you support such a process?
I do support a citizens initiative process. There are too many bills that the public comes out in strong support over only to see them get converted via “gut and replace,” or deferred, or even killed, each legislative session.
The best way to allow more of a direct democracy is to allow for a citizens initiative process. This way, when the lawmakers fail to hear the voices of the public, the public can take matters into their own hands.
8. 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 see no purpose to suspend all public records. There is a necessity to facilitate a faster process for emergency meetings and planning, which is understood. However, moving forward the state needs to look into implementing new technologies for public participation. The public should indeed have the ability to access open meetings and public records in a timely fashion.
9. What should Hawaii be doing to prepare for the effects of climate change, including sea level rise and threats to the reefs? How big of a priority is this for you?
This is a huge priority for me, because it is something that will transform Hawaii and we must be able to get in front of this issue now, instead of reacting to it after the fact, which tends to be how government works.
In 2014, while working as a legislative aide, I attended a briefing on behalf of the representative I was working for and this briefing was about the future impacts of climate change in Hawaii. Things such as sea level rise impacting shoreline properties and roadways. There is a need, now, to move Kamehameha Highway more inland and start planning new developments and properties to be more inland as opposed to being on the current shoreline.
This goes back to the previous question about diversifying the economy. There is a real potential to create new and well-paid jobs based on the green energy and climate change needs for Hawaii.
10. What do you see as the most pressing issue facing your district? What will you do about it?
I would argue the economic issue is the most pressing issue for my district. Lack of good-paying jobs, high rent, high housing costs, and lack of access to medical and dental care.
All of these issues are tied to an economy that is not built for the working-class. Kalihi-Palama faces many challenges from lack of affordable housing to being the dumping ground for stolen and abandoned vehicles. There are homeless living under the canal bridges, in abandoned properties, and camps along the sidewalks.
Iwilei has senior housing, but for seniors the rents continue to increase at rates higher than the increases in their social security each year.
Chinatown is burdened by homelessness, many who are mentally ill. These folks wander the streets all day and night yelling and harassing residents and businesses. This has driven away much of the foot traffic that our businesses rely on.
I want to work on legislation that address our needs such as raising wages, boosting medical and dental access, long-term care facilities for the mentally ill, rental assistance for low-income earners, use state lands for developing affordable housing units in partnership with developers to lower costs, and protect those on fixed incomes.
11. 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.
If we’ve learned anything from this pandemic, I hope we learned that tourism is not the answer and should not be the sole economic driver. Now is the time to be bold and move forward with new means of generating revenue from legalizing the marijuana industry to implementing a new green energy industry. We have to start putting the pieces in place today so that we can begin to build for a better tomorrow.
Hawaii has the potential to be the guiding light as green jobs for the United States and much of the world. We have several universities in our state with tons of great minds who will eventually leave the islands to take their knowledge and expertise elsewhere, but they shouldn’t have to. We can keep our families and friends here in Hawaii by opening up new job markets and new industries.
It seems like a no-brainer that Hawaii should move forward with green jobs as this new industry would allow local talent to stay here and it will put us on a path of lower carbon emissions. It will help protect our ecosystems, and will create new well-paying jobs for our residents.