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 Jesus Arriola, Democratic candidate for State Senate District 10, which includes Kaimuki, Kapahulu, Palolo, Maunalani Heights, St. Louis Heights, Moiliili and Ala Wai. The other Democratic candidates are Vicki Higgins and Les Ihara.
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?
I believe our state leaders are doing their best. We need to remember that decisions are made at the time with information that is available. As a legislator you are required to make a decision with the facts that are presented to you.
I see that we have an opportunity to pivot our focus toward agriculture, health care and STEAM (science. technology, engineering, arts and math) fields. These sectors play a strategic role in the process of economic development/vitality.
We need to remember that our tourist/guests come to Hawaii for the now-rare aloha experience. If we take this pause and reset, in order to bring life back to the people, culture, land and history, tourism will not only return but it will become sustainable, treasured and respected.
2. The state budget is facing record shortfalls. How would you balance the budget? What would you cut? What would you protect?
First off, Thank you for hitting on this. Make no mistake, the state budget is one of most complex subject and topics. Seventeen state departments, thousands of program IDs. I have a lot of respect for our budgetary legislative leaders.
My recommendation, (with the help of LRB, AG and state auditors) is to further review every department and make sure to protect our Hawaii state constitutional core values and their correlating programs, and then revisit all other add-ons for efficacy.
Another idea is in reference to the Hawaii State Auditor’s Report 20-05. The report illustrates how suspending some General Excise Tax (GET) and use tax exemptions and exclusions for a two-year period could provide a quick, short-term response to the economic impacts of this pandemic.
(Consider mirroring what worked in 2011 — ACT 105 which suspended 31 exemptions and exclusions for FY2012 and FY2013.)
3. What do you think should be done to diversify the economy? What would you do as an elected official to make that happen?
We should pivot our focus onto agriculture, health care, AI/technology and “ecoHawaii” made goods. We need to focus on sustainability and exports.
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?
We should honor and follow through with the commitments made to the public workers and re-evaluate and examine future 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 Hawai’i’s government officials and top executives?
First off, I believe elected positions need to be respected and held accountable. Honestly, changes start by our vote, one vote at a time. Choices and decisions need to be made for the better of the people of Hawaii and we, the people, need to make informed decisions (due diligence) to elect the candidate that will best serve the needs of Hawaii and its people.
My purpose is to encourage and build up leaders in our community, to encourage others to learn about the legislative process and run for office, to represent their community. Our legislative leaders must hold other officials and top executives accountable.
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 Hawai’i? 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?
We are blessed and lucky we life in a state like Hawaii. It is a melting pot of different backgrounds and color.
It is important to revisit potentially outdated policies to make sure they reflect our current times. I also believe first responders need to be adequately trained and compensated.
7. Hawaii is the only Western state without a statewide citizens initiative process. Do you support such a process?
This is another example of why everything begins with our vote on Election Day. The responsibility of the legislators is to bridge the gap and connect the public and the legislative process. This is another reason transparency is key to a healthy legislative process. To shine a spotlight on special interest groups with financial backing.
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?
We need to create a process to deliver non-fragmented, current and up to date, and most importantly, relevant, information to the people of Hawaii. Transparency to the people of Hawaii is important for elected officials. There should be transparency with the people in order to make guided decisions.
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?
Climate change and taking care of our environment is very important to me. If we take care of the land, the land will take care of us.
10. What do you see as the most pressing issue facing your district? What will you do about it?
The most pressing issue facing District 10, (Kaimuki, Kapahulu, Palolo, Maunalani Heights, St. Louis Heights, Moiliili, Ala Wai) is the sustainability and survival of our local communities. Diligently assisting local business and our community members with rental grants and programs will both directly and indirectly address the cost of living and wages.
With information found in the state auditor’s reports, I believe we have the resources to support a special fund by reallocating state sweepable funds and/or using federal grant money.
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.
While working on the 20-21 state budget I learned first-hand how we got to where we are today while recognizing the opportunities available for our communities. For example, as a state, we have the opportunity to team up and promote local agriculture, from community food support to sustainable farming for local and export use. By diversifying and protecting our economy we can safeguard ourselves while setting up for future success.
I would like to take this opportunity to thank the State Auditor’s Office for diligently providing resourceful COVID-19 special reports.