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 Vickie Kam, Democratic candidate for state House District 42, which includes Kapolei and Makakilo. The other Democratic candidate is Sharon Har.
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?
As we have never faced a challenge such as this pandemic, I believe that state leaders did what they felt was prudent with the information at hand. The stay-at-home order kept our citizens safe and kept the number of cases flatlined. COVID-19 testing options were a little late in the game, I do feel more people would have taken advantage of the opportunity to monitor their families health, especially if testing centers were nearby. The opportunity for state leaders to take what we have learned from this pandemic response will be valuable to begin the process of building support systems in case of future scenarios.
We need fresh ideas to create our preferred future. As long as Hawaii continues to over-rely on tourism to drive our economy, we are at economic risk. Investing now in training programs that include green energy jobs, expanded technology development and increased small business ventures could be part of a larger plan that incorporates ecotourism as well. Now is the time to make decisions on diversifying our economic opportunities statewide.
2. The state budget is facing record shortfalls. How would you balance the budget? What would you cut? What would you protect?
The recently released guide from the Hawaii Budget and Policy Center offered new options to generate revenue that would roll back some of the tax breaks currently benefiting corporations and the top 1% earners. Hawaii has ignored opportunities up to now that would increase revenue through real estate investment trusts (REITs). These could be a valuable revenue source that would allow for addressing the current shortfall, as well as supply income to create a balanced budget for our future.
Finding a way to increase revenue while supporting Hawaii’s working families and not adding to their financial burden should be a priority. I would protect the income of state workers, as that money will be spent and help to drive economic recovery. Taking away resources from our working families does not make sense when it would be reinvested into local businesses. I also support, with urgency, maintaining funding for education so our keiki are prepared for the future. Now is the time to begin reviewing the contracts and expenses within every department budget which could offer additional funds. Rebuilding the budget to adjust for shortfalls will take determination on the part of all state departments.
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 now is the time to diversify into sustainable jobs in the renewable resource industry. As an island state, we are dependent on outside energy sources for much of our daily needs. By increasing opportunities in the renewable energy field, as have Washington and California, we would also be on track to meet the Hawaii Clean Energy Initiative stated goals of reaching 100% renewable energy by 2045.
Another potential area for growth is within technology industries as they have successfully implemented in Massachusetts, this could include film, media graphics and expanded job opportunities for local students to allow for them to obtain high-paying jobs so they can afford to stay in Hawaii and thrive. Additionally, we import about 90% of the food we consume yet we live in a state with a perfect growing climate.Reviving farming and agricultural options will allow for increased food security as well. There is also an untapped opportunity for hemp production, a crop which can be utilized to support our renewable resource options.
When elected, I would like to partner with stakeholders in discussing, designing and creating legislation that will support the growth of training options for the above. This will allow us to have a workforce that is stable and reverse Hawaii’s dependence on imports for basic survival.
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?
I am satisfied with the current plan and feel that ensuring that pensions are secure is a high priority. Over the past few years we have seen other states backpedal on their promise to workers, which creates a whole series of problems itself. The state must honor its obligations to state employees who have provided for us.
This is the direction I believe will benefit valued local workers who deserve to receive the promised pensions and health care. I do not support cutting benefits to reduce the shortfall, I do support reviewing department budgets to cut spending waste and planning now for our future projected needs so we are not caught unaware during the next emergency.
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?
Identifying areas of strength and how that impacted citizens should be a first step. Confidence in our elected officials needs to be restored by acknowledging the areas of disconnect and working out issues to regain a functioning relationship. I feel that during this stressful pandemic, our state leaders were caught off guard. Without a workable emergency plan in place, they may not have had a realistic overview. For citizens, communication was confusing as expectations and directives changed rapidly. Providing a clearinghouse of information as a resource for future emergency situations will be key to building public confidence in the system.
All our lawmakers and public officials have the opportunity to examine past practice and develop new and innovative ways to work together and keep the citizens and community at large in mind.
Problem solving will need to involve all stakeholders, it can’t be a closed door affair.
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 outcry for safe policing practice and against systematic bias has opened the door to examining how to reform our police department to support our communities, in which our officers live and work. Reform is needed to increase police training and accountability of our officers in the field. The current climate nationwide toward defunding the police can not be discussed without acknowledging the lack of mental health care and access to social services throughout our state. The police department has a responsibility to train their officers to de-escalate situations but also to recognize when they need support from a social service agency to deal with a suspect.
Additionally, we need to have a stronger police oversight commission that monitors and reports on trends, findings and issues that are being addressed within the department. In respect to mandatory disclosure of misconduct records, I would hope that due process is followed and if an officer is justly charged, then reporting that to the public should be required. Now may be the time to reconsider the minimum requirements to become a police officer in order to build leadership capacity and strengthen public trust.
7. Hawaii is the only Western state without a statewide citizens initiative process. Do you support such a process?
Hawaii has many large investors and deep pocket corporations that could make use of the citizens initiative process without the necessary community input, research and environmental impact statements that would normally be part of the planning and development. I fear that such a process could open up the possibility of special interest groups bypassing the checks and balances that protect our citizens. At this time, I do not support this process.
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 with the suspension of public access to open meetings and records. While COVID-19 required new ways of allowing access, denying such access is not optimal. Planning for participation online for meetings and hearings should be part of any future plan to ensure transparency in government.
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?
My concern regarding the overwhelming impact of climate change on Hawaii is one of the issues that caused me to run for office. We can not afford to wait to address the need to protect our oceans, native plants and animals, our freshwater supply, and the need for green energy production. Rising sea levels are already eroding shorelines and will soon threaten infrastructure.
According to NOAA, sea temperature and acidification due to carbon emissions are endangering our reefs. Lowering our emissions by use of green technologies will be a solid first step to protecting our coastal waters. Legislation to strengthen energy efficiency standards and/or tax credits coupled with partnerships for education campaigns, research and development that will allow rapid implementation will be a focus for me.
10. What do you see as the most pressing issue facing your district? What will you do about it?
Without a doubt, the key issue is the cost of housing. With median home prices in the mid-six figures, it is a struggle for working families, small business owners and young professionals to afford market prices. Even considering rentals in the Makakilo/Kapolei district, data from bestplaces.net shows that rent is high for all forms of housing, studios through four-bedrooms. While the area boasts of developments with affordable housing, I believe we need to review how we are defining “affordable.”
I am more than willing to do the research, have the hard conversations and work to create opportunities for our children to afford homes here, where they were born and raised. Homes that actually are affordable working one full-time job a week. Additionally, I will champion first-time homeowner opportunities such as the Hawaii Affordable Resale Program and Mortgage credit certification options. Gathering resources to offer learning opportunities about these programs and others, should be part of a plan to assist Hawaii homebuyers throughout the state.
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.
The need to restore economic balance in all areas of life in Hawaii is at critical mass. Taking what we have learned from the current crisis and designing systems that include increased job opportunities through technology and sustainable green energy will assist in the reinvention of our community structure.
Offering legislation that addresses the loopholes that benefit business and profit over people and society has the potential to increase revenue for state budgeting and create a more secure future for Hawaii residents. Now is the time to work together and bring forward fresh ideas to create our preferred future.