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 John Clark, Democratic candidate for State Senate District 19, which includes Ewa Beach, Ocean Pointe, Ewa by Gentry, Iroquois Point and a portion of Ewa Villages. The other Democratic candidate is Rida Cabanilla Arakawa.
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?
We have done well at keeping COVID-19 cases low. Perhaps we could have been better at:
Coordination: Government could have done a better job at developing and coordinating an effective strategy involving the entire state. I would have:
• Convened an emergency meeting of all elected officials.
• Sought input from medical experts (inside/outside of government).
• Developed and communicated a worst- and best-case scenario.
Communication: Initially poor communications gradually improved. I would have:
• Developed a strong communication plan. This is essential to the exchange of information; not just a one-way directive from top officials.
• Form a diverse task force that would include government personnel, business owners, non-profits, community leaders and random citizens. A diverse task force ensures excellent representation from different perspectives while ensuring a continuous flow of information to and from a variety of stakeholders.
Vision: I would set forth a vision of where we want to be as a community. From the onset, I would communicate an achievable vision of where we could be, should be, want to be, need to be. The vision includes a plan to phase in a reopening of the state.
2. The state budget is facing record shortfalls. How would you balance the budget? What would you cut? What would you protect?
To balance the budget, we must re-assess the value of every single dollar spent by our state. And we must place greater efforts on expanding ways to receive funds without raising residents’ taxes.
We could centralize and cut government where redundant services and lax oversight exist. This will require significant compromise, coordination and some degree of discomfort. However, it might actually create different jobs and initiate new industries.
I would not cut deeply into social programs. With as many as 250,000 unemployed residents, social programs are safety nets.
Estimates vary wildly on how much revenue Hawaii will lose from the steep drop in tourism. However, as the state begins to open up, the efforts of residents and government to keep the number of COVID cases low could work in our favor. For example:
We can market Hawaii as having the toughest entry requirements, and the lowest rates of infection. By communicating the correct message, these factors can create strong demand, whereby people will actually want to come to Hawaii to specifically enjoy a safe, COVID-free vacation. Concurrently, the state could add a $100 COVID fee to visiting tourist … a small price to pay for enjoying a COVID-free paradise.
3. What do you think should be done to diversify the economy? What would you do as an elected official to make that happen?
With such a rich and storied history, and some of the best weather on the planet, Hawaii remains an ideal destination for millions of tourists. Over the years, I believe the tourism industry has been a mixed blessing for the state. Billions of dollars have flowed into the state. However, there are also costs associated with using the state as a popular resort stop.
Some costs are quantitative and can be estimated and computed to determine how much it costs the state to maintain and repair the infrastructure that is more heavily trafficked due to tourism.
Other costs are more difficult to see.
For example, the cost and effects of increased pollution and the added congestion of tourist-related traffic takes a toll. But the greatest cost likely lies in the opportunity costs that occurs when we have an over-reliance on tourist-related events and activities.
As an elected official, I would make economic diversification one of my top five priorities, and I would establish an economic development plan within the first 100 days in office. I don’t have all of the answers, but I would use the influence of the office to seek and facilitate solutions.
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?
With the latest research reflecting $26 billion to meet Hawaii’s pension and retiree health benefit obligations, and an expected outlay of approximately $90 billion, the state needs to address funding shortfalls with candid discussions, creative solutions and decisive action now.
Raising the (already high) income tax is not an option. However, one realistic action includes adding a tax for real estate investment trusts (REITs). Currently, REITs do not pay corporate income taxes, but Hawaii’s other real estate businesses do. Fundamentally, this policy defies logic.
To be sure, there will have to be some rather difficult decisions to make.
Many residents who did not lose their jobs amid the pandemic donated to food banks and other cash-collecting places that translated funds into food. At some point, more residents will be asked to donate, perhaps via an increased GET.
In the near term, for added flexibility, I would support reductions in pension contributions for public employees in light of virus-related budget shortfalls, with a watchful eye on how funds are faring as we face some of the toughest financial challenges since the Great Depression.
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?
To ensure public confidence in Hawaii’s government officials and top executives, I will focus on five basic objectives:
• Form a post-disaster task force. This special committee will be composed of government personnel, business owners, medical professionals, non-profits, community leaders, and random everyday citizens. Establishing this task force would not only ensure excellent representation, but it would facilitate receiving a fully diverse set of perspectives.
• Create a resource management plan. We need to be forever mindful of our limited resources, and how we will manage those resources during and after disasters.
• Create a communication plan. I will seek the creation of a layered communication plan to allow for the exchange of information, and not just one-way communication from “top” officials.
• Partner and plan. In concert with the communication plan, I will seek partnerships and leverage the best practices of other like-minded stakeholders. Undoubtedly, other organizations and states have ideas and solutions that we might not have ever considered.
• Help establish a post-disaster vision. As a state and community leader, it is my duty to help create and share a vision of what we can and will do as we accept, adapt and achieve.
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?
Today’s police have a multifaceted mission that has grown exponentially. As a retired member of the U.S. Navy, I am familiar with serving a mission that is often not fully understood by those who have not served.
I have served on ships and submarines, which means that, while deployed, I lived on those ships and submarines while working, sleeping and relaxing on the same vessels. And though most Americans have not served in the military, most have a high regard for those who do serve (or have served).
Likewise, policing is an act that requires an everyday act of service to the community. Thus, police and the act of policing are important to our state.
Given the events regarding Katherine and Louis Kealoha, the state has a responsibility to ensure accountability of those who are paid to protect and to serve.
Preventing discrimination against people of color is a headline topic today. With a plurality of ethnicities in Hawaii, police discrimination does not appear to be as significant as it is on the mainland.
I support police reform efforts, such as increasing funding for training and for adding additional police officers, as well as facilitating oversight boards.
7. Hawaii is the only Western state without a statewide citizens initiative process. Do you support such a process?
Yes; I support the creation of a statewide citizens initiative process.
Currently, there are no term limits on state elected offices.
In my humble opinion, creating and allowing a statewide citizens initiative process would afford the citizens greater opportunity to enact laws that have been specifically generated “of the people, by the people.”
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?
No; I do not agree with Gov. David Ige’s decision to suspend the open government laws under an emergency order during the current pandemic.
To ensure the public has access to open meetings and public records in a timely fashion, I would request (or facilitate a bill that mandates) specific steps be in place to safeguard the public’s right to access to the process of government.
Despite the risk of transmission of the virus, I believe more could have been done to maintain transparency of the government’s decision-making process.
Trust is a firm belief in the reliability, truth, ability or strength of someone or something. Government should, to the maximum extent possible, facilitate residents’ ability to believe in the reliability, truth, ability, and strength of those who are charged with governing … especially in a time of crisis.
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?
Environmental issues are a priority for me. I plan to prioritize (as most pressing) the scientifically proven existential threat of global warming, poorly planned land development, and the lack of accountability placed on many politicians and corporations.
As the most remote archipelago in the world, Hawaii faces an imminent threat to our precious land, life and the intrinsic relationship we have with the ocean.
Initial steps to address this effectively include simply asking the right questions to the right people, publicizing their answers and doing more to address community apathy toward environmental issues.
I have historically focused my efforts on augmenting the education system in Hawaii. And, through the nonprofit I founded, I am proud of the free seminars I have provided to the students of the Ewa Plain. The seminars help teenagers better understand their academic and personal accountability within a range of topics, including a responsibility to protect our environment. If elected, I will continue to advance students’ understanding of how and why their attention, energy and efforts to take care of the environment are important.
Lastly, facilitating major reforestation programs to plant millions of trees in Hawaii would ensure we are part of the solution.
10. What do you see as the most pressing issue facing your district? What will you do about it?
Some of the most pressing issues facing Ewa include:
• Ensuring better planning/community inclusion on decision making (rail, developer accountability).
• Improving better traffic-related solutions to massive growth.
• Improving conditions of athletic facilities at James Campbell High School.
• Facilitating meaningful and permanent upgrades to North Road.
• Diversifying the industrial base in West Oahu – we need jobs close to home.
• Placing greater emphasis on the Second City concept.
• Facilitating a full and transparent transition of the Kapalina Homes Development.
• Partnering with agencies that have proven houseless-engagement programs.
• Facilitating and synchronizing teen development – focus on developing future leaders.
• Improving student and pedestrian safety.
• Homeowner association oversight
I have a specific three-part plan, if elected. Specifically, listen and learn. I plan to seek full understanding of the political process here and advocate for increased public/private partnerships to help fund those initiative. I would also find hidden treasure while facilitating and driving cooperation (please refer to the next question and the associated answer).
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 I could reinvent Hawaii and build on what we’ve learned, I would …
Find hidden treasure and facilitate and drive cooperation. We have a resilient and resourceful community that is packed with talent, teamwork and a true sense of aloha. If elected, I would create a standing “best practices forum” to research, document and share new ideas, proven methodologies, and evolving technology on how we can utilize and “synergize” existing resources to diversify the economy and industrial base.
As the recent pandemic has clearly exemplified, Hawaii can no longer afford to draw significantly upon the often lucrative but precariously perched patronage of tourism to facilitate and fund our local initiatives.
If elected, I plan to seek greater collaboration among the military, tourism industry, commercial companies, county and state organizations to facilitate an authentic creative community of interest. This includes proactively seeking overt partnerships with developers and other stakeholders who might have a specific interest in various sections of the community. This will not be a forum for special-interest groups, but rather an altruistic platform that can facilitate genuine malama for areas that need critical assistance but are often not seen as a worthy solution to current and future challenges.