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 Mokihana Maldonado, Democratic candidate for state House District 41, which includes Ewa, Ewa Beach, Ewa Gentry, Ewa Villages, Hoakalei and Ocean Pointe. The other Democratic candidates are Matt LoPresti and Amanda Rathbun.
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?
Hawaii was hit hard because of the repercussions from the drop in tourism. The economy in Hawaii has dropped from being one of the healthiest in the nation to one where the unemployment rate is the highest in the nation. But there was no other responsible way to respond in the face of a global pandemic with so much uncertainty.
Our state leaders made the tough and unpopular calls to protect our people. It’s easy to Monday morning quarterback these decisions, but our state has done better than other places to keep people healthy. The issue of economic recovery is complex, and we cannot rebuild our economy until we have a handle on the health impacts and threats going forward – including the capacity to do widespread, rapid testing and robust contact tracing.
2. The state budget is facing record shortfalls. How would you balance the budget? What would you cut? What would you protect?
Let me start with the things that should never be cut: the services that keep our children, families and most vulnerable populations safe and healthy. We must never compromise our responsibility to care for the most vulnerable among us.
It is also worth protecting investments in revenue-generating activities, as well as spending that will pay environmental dividends.
With that in mind, there are many opportunities in state government to do more with less. Budget priority should be given to those departments that demonstrate prudent and effective use of funds, not those who lose funds in the bureaucracy along the way from the Legislature to the people. It is worth looking at state functions that are duplicated by county government, and figure out ways to deliver those services more economically.
We must also fully explore every avenue of federal funding available.
3. What do you think should be done to diversify the economy? What would you do as an elected official to make that happen?
There is no one magic solution that can diversify our economy, but one thing is for sure – we cannot go back to business as usual. We must look at prioritizing the needs of kamaaina, and keeping more of our money in Hawaii by growing industries that will displace imports.
We should focus our visitor industry marketing efforts on getting fewer but better visitors, invest in research and initiatives that will grow the kind of agriculture that feeds our community, and expand accessible, affordable education from preschool to college and beyond. In doing so, our Hawaii can become a world leader in not only environmental but also economic sustainability, showing the world how to care for our planet and each other with aloha.
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?
The promises made to generations of public workers must be kept. These burdens, however, should be an ever-present reminder of the true cost of growing the size of the state workforce. Any proposal to add positions to the state workforce should be accompanied by an analysis of the true cost of those positions into the future, which includes post-employment benefits.
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?
Transparency is the key, and the Legislature must lead by example. Government must be accountable to the people, and the people can only hold government accountable through measures to increase transparency. As a representative, I’ll advocate for a more open government, maintain an open door policy in my office, and return calls and emails.
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?
The national conversation on improving the relationship between police and the communities they serve is an important one. It is worth pointing out that Native Hawaiians are disproportionately overrepresented in the criminal justice system, and the first step in the criminal justice system is an interaction with police.
It is difficult to assess the magnitude of the problem, if any, in Hawaii due to the difficulties in accessing information related to police misconduct. Transparency is key to building trust and accountability. I do support the mandatory disclosure of misconduct records by police agencies and adequate funding for oversight, accountability and training initiatives.
7. Hawaii is the only Western state without a statewide citizens initiative process. Do you support such a process?
A statewide citizens initiative process is worth exploring, especially if it would increase civic engagement. If elected, I would advocate for more support for our existing initiatives: more outreach to build upon the excellent work of the Legislature’s Public Access Room to help citizens understand and access their important role in making policy, and more remote access for participation by citizens in rural and neighbor island communities.
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 disagree. Transparency is an essential government function, and in 2020, the technology exists to enable government to function openly even during a pandemic. The more live-streaming, the better.
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?
Our children deserve our best effort to take care of the planet they will inherit. There are many measures that Hawaii can take to both slow climate change and prepare for its effects: controlling population growth to reduce the impact of air pollution, traffic, polluted beaches and streams in addition to the over-utilization of resources (water, gas, electricity, highways), reforestation by planting trees, strengthening the management of coastal zones by implementing greater setbacks, investing in trained canines and other methods to detect various biosecurity threats to crops and native flora and fauna to protect our watersheds, and considering green fees to fund projects to slow climate change and prepare for its effects.
10. What do you see as the most pressing issue facing your district? What will you do about it?
The rising cost of living causes a number of issues that combine to pressure the residents of my district. The cost of housing requires Ewa residents to work long hours, in many cases multiple jobs. The long commutes to those jobs exacerbates West Oahu’s traffic issues.
Ensuring a robust availability of affordable or reasonably priced housing focused toward kamaaina, along with balanced, thoughtful development to offer employment opportunities, will stabilize the cost of living in Ewa.
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.
We know that climate change is real and happening. We know that we are far too reliant on imported food that we buy with imported money. My big idea is that we reinvent a segment of our economy by investing in a Hawaii Food & Conservation Corps, engaging unemployed people, students and those who would like to contribute in planting trees to restore our forests, and to plant food to build our food security.