Editor’s note: For Hawaii’s Nov. 3 General 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 Mike Molina, candidate for Maui County Council representing Makawao, Haiku and Paia. The other candidate is Aja Eyre.
1. Hawaii’s economy has been hard hit with the outbreak of the coronavirus and measures to prevent its spread, mainly because of the collapse of the tourism industry. Should we continue to rely largely on the visitor industry for economic vitality? What concrete steps would you take to bring tourism back? What else would you do to diversify the island’s economy?
For the time being, the visitor industry will still be a primary revenue source for our economy; however, we need to explore other options to diversify our economy and to develop sustainable, well paying jobs with less reliance on the visitor industry. We should place a heavier emphasis on agriculture tourism and continue to promote educating our tourists to be respectful of island culture and culturally sensitive areas and change the visitor perception of Hawaii as being a place to “party and frolic.”
Hawaii, having a low amount of COVID-19 cases, will still be an attractive option as a tourist destination, however, we need to insure proper health precautions to protect our people before we open the “flood gates” for future tourism. Regarding other areas of economic diversification, we need to support all forms of agriculture to promote not only local products but food sustainability as well, in the event of another pandemic or war.
2. As the economy struggles, the county may have to cut expenses and seek new revenue sources. What would you cut? And what is an area where you see potential new revenue?
As a member of the Maui County Council’s Budget Committee, I worked collaboratively with the administration and made decisions to reduce: operating expenses, expansion job positions, and capital improvement projects not “shovel -ready,” which resulted in over $50 million in savings for our taxpayers. With a bleak revenue forecast for the next fiscal year, I will continue to look for ways to reduce taxpayer expenses while balancing the need to maintain government efficiency. Regarding potential sources of revenue, I would support adding more personnel to “crack down” on illegal vacation rentals and working with the state officials to consider taxing out of state pensions.
3. What would you have done differently to handle the coronavirus crisis on Maui?
While I appreciate Mayor Victorino’s handling of the COVID-19 situation, I am hopeful he will consider my suggestions for the use of the $67 million Maui County will be receiving from the CARES Act. I have asked the mayor to increase the amount of assistance given to eligible families, revise asset qualifications and hire additional staff to expedite the processing of applications. In order to help people get back to work, I am asking him to also consider hiring temporary employees for 30-, 60- and 90-day periods to assist with government projects, maintenance and clerical work.
4. Homelessness remains a problem statewide, including on Maui. What would you do to come to grips with this persistent problem?
Regarding homelessness, I will continue to work collaboratively with law enforcement, government agencies, non-profits and faith-based groups to address this problem. I am open to the funding and creation of tiny homes and temporary shelters, especially for our working homeless. I believe it is important for our society to show compassion by providing services along with educational and job opportunities for our less fortunate so they can live with dignity, and elevate their socio-economic status.
5. 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. Do you see this issue as a problem in Maui County? What should be done to improve policing and police accountability on Maui? Should oversight of the police department be strengthened or reformed?
Fortunately, Maui County has not seen rioting and violent protests that have occurred on the mainland, however, our police and government officials should keep the “door open” toward looking for areas to improve policing and police accountability. In my opinion, government, our police commissions and community leaders should maintain strict oversight and work collaboratively with our police departments to support training programs that will help eliminate incidents of police brutality.
6. 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?
This is a difficult question to answer. On the one hand, I support the Sunshine Law, however, had the governor not suspended the Sunshine Law, it would have made it difficult for the Maui County Council to proceed with its time-sensitive work with the Maui County budget. The BlueJeans application was used to make it possible for council members and administration staff to work with each other while in full view of the public via computer and public television. Members of the public were provided the opportunity to give testimony via the BlueJeans application and by phone. Written testimony via email and traditional mail was accepted as well. Documents have been made available for public review on the Maui County website and by contacting our Office of Council Services and other county departments.
7. What more should Maui County be doing to prepare for the effects of climate change, including sea level rise and threats to the reefs?
I supported legislation to stop the use of injection wells and will support developing transmission lines to distribute and use recycled wastewater instead of injecting it into our ocean, damaging our reefs. I supported legislation to pursue a multi-state lawsuit against the oil companies related to climate change and sea level rise that has contributed to coastal erosion. Whatever compensation is received from litigation will be used to offset county infrastructure costs to relocate public roads and buildings. In the meantime, we need to consider changing our boundaries for development in our coastal areas because of the costly impacts that will be felt in our large resort areas like Waikiki and Kaanapali. CFD’s are one way to pay for the impacts of coastal erosion on shoreline developments.
8. 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.
I am supportive of developing private/public partnerships to upgrade technology for our departments. Long term, I would like to see us rely less on the visitor industry and expand the training and development of health care professionals especially on our neighbor islands. The effects of COVID-19 have impacted the economic ability for those who desire to obtain degrees and training in various health care occupations. I would like to see our counties collaborate with the University of Hawaii and private entities to expand educational and training programs on-island with the goal of keeping local talent here to provide much-needed service for a growing senior population. This would result in less costs for recruiting off-island workers and keeping individuals who possess a critical skill here instead of losing them elsewhere resulting in a talent drain and breaking up of families.
9. What do you see as the most pressing issue facing your district? What will you do about it?
One of the most important issues in my district is the need for an advisory committee for the Paia-Haiku District. This area of Maui’s North Shore is one of our fastest-growing communities and over the years has dealt with controversial issues such as cell towers, zip lines, short-term vacation rentals and development. An advisory committee, made up of area residents, would serve as the first level of public input before a proposed project goes before the planning commission and county council for final decision making. It would also empower area residents by giving them a greater stake in the future of their community and give individuals proposing a project the opportunity to meet with residents at the “grass roots” level to address concerns before moving forward.