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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 Lorraine Shin, Republican candidate for state House District 1, which includes Hamakua, North Hilo and South Hilo. The other candidate is Democrat Mark Nakashima.
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?
Based on unknown facts and no vaccine regarding the COVID-19 pandemic, I believe our governor and mayors are trying to do their best. We sometimes believe the shutdown and stay at home was unwarranted with the knowledge that businesses will not survive, and many families are facing financial crises.
2. The state budget is facing record shortfalls. How would you balance the budget? What would you cut? What would you protect?
The Legislature wants to prevent furloughs and pay cuts. The Legislature plans to tap into the rainy-day fund, taking excess revenues from state departments, removing vacant positions from the budget and raiding unused funds for mental health services.
As a businessperson with money management skills, this may be a quick fix for now, but if this crisis continues, the Legislature may have no choice but to impose furloughs.
3. What do you think should be done to diversify the economy? What would you do as an elected official to make that happen?
As a candidate for House District 1, where agriculture used to be premier, we need to consider the expansion of agriculture. I remember when we closed sugar in Hilo with many unemployed sugar workers. At that time many discussed alternative crops such as value-added products and timber.
I would meet and listen to our farmers and discuss diversified ag and what it takes for them to be successful. I want to explore new start-up businesses such as aviation mechanics and flight training on the Big Island.
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?
Hawaii is in a deep financial pit with an expected $25 billion for unfunded pensions and retiree health care liabilities. We’re in this serious trouble because we should of addressed many of these issues five years ago. With the COVID-19 pandemic, the pit gets deeper.
As a business person, we meet our ongoing debts by creating income and cutting expenses to balance the budget. We need to do the same in government by energizing our small businesses, big businesses and new start-up businesses to generate tax dollars to cover our debts, and at the same time go through spending and eliminate or put on hold those items we can.
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?
In this pandemic crisis, we expect to have rifts between the governor and Legislature. The governor wants to keep Hawaii’s people safe, and constituents want government to unlock the city and get back to work. We can build confidence by ensuring our constituents that we are all in this together, and we will do whatever it takes to help them through these difficult times.
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 nationwide and worldwide spread of anti-racist protests are acceptable, but the rioting, destruction, looting and loss of innocent lives are not acceptable. There are many discussions happening nationwide on police reform, and Hawaii needs to explore which reforms will work for Hawaii. I do agree with 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.
7. Hawaii is the only Western state without a statewide citizens initiative process. Do you support such a process?
I would support a statewide citizens initiative process. I understand that 26 other states have an initiative or referendum process.
We elect officials to represent our rights in government, and yet we have to resort to a citizens initiative process. Why? I believe it’s about a one-party dominance in government that has its own agenda.
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?
Although many government offices have been suspended because of COVID-19, such as our courthouses, Gov. Ige should not have suspended the open government laws regardless of the pandemic emergency. He could have had an on-line site for public access.
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 is one of the most pressing challenges facing our islands. Farmers are impacted by weather, warming in our oceans, water availability, and are scared our lands will eventually be underwater. Hawaii.gov does have information on climate change mitigation and an adaptation commission, and yet most of Hawaii’s people are unaware of these challenges.
Education is the key to combating the effects of climate change. I would recommend that education on climate change should be mandatory in public schools.
10. What do you see as the most pressing issue facing your district? What will you do about it?
My area covers North Hilo to Waimea and the most pressing issue is recovery from the COVID-19 pandemic. It’s like having a bomb landing on us, destroying the fabric of our existence. It’s going to take months and maybe years to recover.
The question is up in the air as to when we can regain normalcy from this pandemic. As a newcomer to the political arena, I bring experience in business, creating jobs, money management skills and the desire to help my district as well as the state.
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.
I believe if we could reinvent Hawaii, someone would be an obstacle in your way, like the Hawaiian mythology of the aama crab trying to climb to the top and another crab pulling him back down. I was 13 years old when we became a state, and even at that age I recognized the significance of being the 5oth state.
As a business person, I have accepted the fact that it takes money to make money, and it takes money management skills to grow. I would evaluate the possibility of privatizing many of the departments in government with accountability, transparency and an annual report card.
Privatization could save our taxpayers millions of dollars annually. We need to create a budget to improve our infrastructures in schools, bridges and roadways. We are a tourist destination. I would recommend increasing the spending budget annually to sell Hawaii as the best tourist destination to increase revenues.
It takes money to make money. We need to address homelessness by providing a sanctuary or safe place to keep them off public and private lands. We could do so much more if we increased our revenues, privatize departments, and eliminated wasteful spending. We need to emphasize and demonstrate that we are the aloha state.