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 Miller, Republican candidate for State Senate District 22, which includes Mililani Mauka, Waipio Acres, Wheeler, Wahiawa, Whitmore Village and a portion of Poamoho.
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 am not going to criticize currently elected officials. I don’t have the information that is available to them to determine if they acted in the citizens’ best interest. With that being said, I would do my best to reopen Hawaii as quickly and safely as possible.
Rep. Bob McDermont, with help from Rep. Gene Ward, submitted a plan on May 18, Making Hawaii Safe Again. This plan has some good action steps in it. In addition, Grassroot Institute of Hawaii put forth a comprehensive plan called, Road Map to Prosperity, which I like as well.
I believe the key to reopening Hawaii is to test visitors before they fly to Hawaii and after they arrive. If they have negative test results, let them enjoy their vacation and spend the dollars needed to activate the economy of Hawaii. If they test positive after arriving then put them on a quarantine.
2. The state budget is facing record shortfalls. How would you balance the budget? What would you cut? What would you protect?
I would cut areas that are considered wasteful spending. I would cut any areas that are not crucial to the people of Hawaii for several years. We have been asked as citizens of Hawaii to make extreme sacrifices so that the pandemic can be held to a minimum spread.
Now the Legislature and other officials need to make the same sacrifices as they create a budget that sustains and helps Hawaii continue to have financial solvency. I would protect education, health care, first responders and welfare programs for the extremely needy.
3. What do you think should be done to diversify the economy? What would you do as an elected official to make that happen?
Decrease excessive taxation and government regulations that make it costly for businesses already in Hawaii and those who would like to move here to be a part of the economy. We should extend tax credits and breaks to the movie industry so they would be enticed to film more movies here and spend dollars in the local restaurants, hotels and shops.
We could create more jobs and opportunities for renewable energy. Change laws that delay or prevent the construction of new medical facilities. Health care will always be needed and essential to people. By building more facilities you encourage the health and wellness of the people which reduces medical cost and receives a strain on the welfare system. In addition, it will attract more doctors and health care workers to move to Hawaii who will spend money, pay taxes, and help our citizens with their health care needs.
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?
Apparently the plan to fund the state’s unfunded liabilities is based on the promise that there are no more increases in benefits or spending going forward and it will still take until 2050 to fund them. I don’t think this is reasonable or going to happen.
I don’t think benefits and health obligations should be cut for those who have already retired and are depending on the promises made to them in the past.
Going forward, if the unions and the state can come to some reasonable agreements on cuts I would be open to that. With the pandemic and its effects on our current economy, things will certainly have to change. Business as usual will most likely not be feasible moving forward.
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 for two more years, so what would you do to ensure public confidence in Hawaii’s government officials and top executives?
All meetings and decisions about policy and new laws need to be made visible to the public. Records and documents should be made available to the public in an effective and timely manner. Elected officials were elected by the people to work on behalf of the people.
One of the reasons I am running for office is to push for more accountability and transparency in the state government. I have talked with many voters in my district who feel unheard and unseen by the government. They feel like politicians make them promises during elections and then nothing changes.
It is also extremely important that the citizens see more unity in the government. When they read about and see on the news these rifts it makes them feel insecure about who is going to win these personal battles and fight for the everyday working and retired people in Hawaii.
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 death of George Floyd has revealed the hurt of those who have been victims as well as family members and friends and others. And the need for police reform. The world has become more global now due to the internet. Therefore, something of this magnitude that affects one state or country will ultimately affect us all. Therefore, I think it is very important to listen to the people and make the necessary changes in the system that will protect the citizens and the police officers.
I feel like if the police and the citizens could get together and work on this it would be beneficial. I do not believe that all police or even the majority of these are bad actors. There needs to be quick and resolute punishment and replacement of the bad ones to protect the citizens and the integrity of the entire police department.
By default, we have put the police in charge of dealing with the homeless and those with mental illnesses and drug addictions and that shouldn’t be their responsibility.
7. Hawaii is the only Western state without a statewide citizens initiative process. Do you support such a process?
Yes, I do.
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’m not sure why Gov. Ice made this decision. If feasible and possible I believe he should move quickly to make these records public. The governor has had to make tough decisions for 1.4 million people that affect the health and economic future of us all. I or/we don’t know the information that he had so I don’t think we should be second-guessing his decisions.
During the last election cycle, these same questions came up in regard to public access to open meetings and public records. Therefore, it appears to me that it is still a problem. Most of the candidates said they would change that. I would support legislation that would make these meetings more accessible. In addition, I would support enforcement of existing legislation that has already been passed and that is not being enforced currently. Elected officials need to keep the promises they make during election cycles.
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?
It will be a big priority for me. I feel that Hawaii is what it is today because of the efforts of the Hawaiian people to protect the sea and ocean around it. There have been some really innovative solutions offered by professors at the UH. One is to put geo-tubes just off the coastlines. There is proof of the concept in other countries that this process will rebuild coastlines naturally without any harm to the ocean and beaches. I will be open to those who have experience and knowledge in these areas.
A legislator can’t be open to knowing everything but he/she can be a student of those who do know and be open to new ideas that will help Hawaii protect its reefs and shorelines. We should be getting the infrastructure ready for the effects of climate change. If we continue pushing forward as innovative leaders in the creation of renewable energy that will help as well.
10. What do you see as the most pressing issue facing your district? What will you do about it?
The economy and education. We have to reopen the economy as quickly and safely as possible and the same applies to the schools. The people in my district are hard-working people and many of them travel downtown and around the island for work. They need to open their business and go to work for other businesses. They are concerned about their children not being able to go to school and learn what is necessary for them to have a better chance at college to get good-paying jobs in Hawaii.
I will sit down with health officials, businesses and school leaders to find out how we can reopen the economy and schools safely. Most experts say there needs to be more testing. I think there are many creative and innovative people in Hawaii who can get this economy and school back open and running safely. It’s is going to take someone who is willing to listen to others and treat them with respect even if there are areas of differing opinions.
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 created 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.
In light of the recent events concerning George Floyd’s death and numerous protests around the world and here in Hawaii over the last two years, it is clear to me that many citizens around the world and here feel like they are not being seen or heard. This could be a once in a lifetime chance for Hawaii to become a state of justice and reconciliation for the entire world.
What if we started first here in Hawaii and kept the promises that have been made to the people of Hawaiian ancestry by building homes for them and protecting their religious practices and ways of life? We could create a model of justice and reconciliation that could be used throughout the world.