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 David Tarnas, Democratic candidate for state House District 7, which includes North Kona, North Kohala and South Kohala.
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?
While the administration has done well, it is time to unveil the plan to reopen quarantine-free out-of-state travel. It is time to rebuild our economy to be more resilient and self-reliant by diversifying the industries that provide most of our jobs and the things we need for daily life. Our economy is too dependent on tourism, which makes us very vulnerable to disruptions outside our control. We can keep a quarantine for all out-of-state travelers, but with a model like Alaska to allow quarantine-free travel with testing.
If we can keep our virus levels very low, then we can market ourselves to the international and mainland traveler as the healthy and safe place to vacation. This will help us open up the tourism industry, hotels, and legal short term vacation rentals. As Hawaii lifts quarantine restrictions for trans-Pacific travelers, tourism will re-establish at a scale suitable to meet the demand, and able to accommodate physical distancing, hand hygiene, mask wearing, screening and sanitation of commonly touched surfaces.
Tourism will still be important to our Hawaii island economy, but not as dominant. That’s why we need to diversify our island’s economy, so we are not so dependent on tourism.
2. The state budget is facing record shortfalls. How would you balance the budget? What would you cut? What would you protect?
My suggestion is to make a systemic cut in the state budget across all agencies and all programs. This would eliminate all vacant positions that are in all the different agency budgets. There are vacant positions in many different programs and parts of state government that can be eliminated and result in significant savings to the state budget.
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 advocate for legislation that supports economic development that provides meaningful employment and a healthy quality of life for local community members by strengthening the island’s core industries of agriculture, tourism, ocean recreation, astronomy, construction and military training; diversifying the island economy with new and emerging knowledge-based industries and resource-based industries, including renewable energy, large-scale distributed food and fuel production, forestry, aquaculture, marine biotechnology, information technology, ocean monitoring and energy technology R&D, and space technology R&D; and strengthening public education and workforce training offering lifelong learning for the community.
I will continue to support funding to help build these industries through programs at NELHA and PISCES, DOFAW and DBEDT. I will also continue to advocate for funding programs at DLNR and DOA to control alien invasive species that can devastate our agriculture and forests. The state needs a clear economic recovery plan to restart our tourism market, right-sized to fit the COVID era and protect public health. We also need to diversify our economy into sectors that build on our competitive advantages. I will add my ideas and enthusiasm to encourage businesses and investors that Hawaii is the place to come.
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?
Yes, before the COVID-19 economic crash, I think we were on track to pay our state’s unfunded liabilities. The payment schedule got pushed back because of declining tax revenues. But, we will need to work to recover our economy and then catch up on the payment schedule.
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?
I will continue to work well with other members of the House, Senate and the Ige administration. I will also continue to provide regular informative updates to my constituents via e-newsletters, responding to emails and phone calls, and participating in virtual town halls and other outreach programs.
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?
I suggest we pass House Bill 285, which requires county police departments to disclose to the Legislature the identity of an officer upon an officer’s suspension or discharge beginning with the annual report of 2021. The bill amends the Uniform Information Practices Act to allow for public access to information about suspended officers when the suspension occurs after March 1, 2020.
I also recommend we pass House Bill 933, which creates a crisis intervention and diversion program in the Department of health to divert those in need to appropriate health care and away from the criminal justice system.
7. Hawaii is the only Western state without a statewide citizens initiative process. Do you support such a 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 support timely public access to public records and open public meetings. I think it was reasonable to temporarily suspend the open government laws under the emergency order. But, this public access should be restored as soon as it is safe.
In the meantime, I advocate for open meetings, live-streaming hearings and meetings of government decision-making bodies.
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?
I believe it is a top priority for Hawaii to address the impacts of climate change and sea level rise. I sponsored House Bill 765, which requires incorporating sea level rise projections in all new plans and updates to existing state plans. I sponsored House Bill 2194 to reduce the number of seawalls and armored shoreline approved along our coastline. I also introduced HB 1459 and HB 2701 to convert fuel taxes to a carbon tax.
I will continue to support the 30X30 Marine Initiative, with the goal that by 2030, Hawaii will effectively manage at least 30% of our nearshore marine areas. In 2019, I led a successful legislative effort that secured additional funding to support DLNR Division of Aquatic Resources stakeholder consultation statewide as they develop a fisheries and marine resources management plan to implement this 30X30 Marine Initiative. This consultation ensures the involvement of fishermen, Native Hawaiian families with ancestral connections to these areas, divers, boaters and other stakeholders. The many other stressors to coral reefs also to be managed and mitigated, such as over-fishing; increased boating, diving and ocean recreation use; increased coral bleaching from rising sea temperatures; and increased coastal erosion causing more sedimentation.
10. What do you see as the most pressing issue facing your district? What will you do about it?
I support the Thirty Meter Telescope being built on Mauna Kea. Hawaii can host one of the last large-scale ground-based optical telescopes that will likely be built for a long time. I urge that the TMT project moves forward to be built and operated in a way that complies with the Conservation District Use Permit duly approved by the state.
My role is to advocate for protection of the environment, public safety and cultural and historic resources, and the safe and responsible construction and operation of the TMT. I support astronomy as a very important economic activity on our island. I also work to support our public schools through STEM education. I will advocate for a growth in industries to support TMT and the other observatories on Mauna Kea that can employ our future generations of Native Hawaiians and Hawaii residents.
I firmly believe that the future of Hawaii is brightest if we embrace TMT and astronomy as an appropriate use of Mauna Kea, and that we also create and implement a new management framework and governance of Mauna Kea with active engagement of the community, the observatories, along with the many other stakeholders of Mauna Kea. This would be a win-win for Mauna Kea.
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.
My top recommendation is to pass House Bill 2543 to support early childhood education. I sponsored and voted for HB 2543, which establishes the goal of providing all children who are 3 to 4 years old who are in the two years prior to kindergarten entry with enrollment in a preschool program by the year 2030 and assigns that responsibility to the Early Learning Coordinator, who is based in the Office of the Governor.
The bill appropriates funds and authorizes positions for the Preschool Open Doors Program; expands this program’s eligibility from 4-year-old children to all children who are 3- to 4-years old who are in the two years prior to kindergarten entry; requires annual reporting regarding the revenues and expenditures of the early learning special fund; establishes a program for the Department of Human Services to award grants for preschools; appropriates funds for the DHS to expand its information technology system for the purpose of managing information on prekindergarten attendance and child care need and to contract for and operate preschool and child-care programs; appropriates funds to build classrooms for Hawaiian language immersion pre-kindergarten programs; and appropriates funds to build early learning services classrooms on public library property.