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 Theresa Kapaku, Aloha Aina Party candidate for state House District 13, which includes Haiku, Hana, Kaupo, Kipahulu, Nahiku, Paia, Kahoolawe, Lanai, Molokai and Molokini. The other candidates are Democrat Lynn DeCoite and Republican Robin Vanderpool.

Go to Civil Beat’s Elections Guide for general information, and check out other candidates on the General Election Ballot.

Candidate for State House District 13

Theresa Kapaku
Party Aloha Aina
Age 38
Occupation Farmer
Residence Kipahulu

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?

Yes, Hawaii absolutely has been deeply affected by the coronavirus pandemic in both good and bad ways. The tourism industry has been crippled yes, but there is a silver lining among this pandemic cloud: the ability for the land and people to heal and for us to take a hard look at our values and priorities.

District 13 community members and leaders are vocal about how the state has only been doing a mediocre job of effectively handling this crisis. The community actually deserves the credit for the low numbers of positive cases. Their own self-empowerment, voices up, and immediate action was the key to protecting themselves.

During the height of the pandemic alarm, in early March, while District 13 communities frantically self-organized, state leadership left the people vulnerable to visitors that they were continuing to allow to fly into our islands. Myself and others around our islands risked our health and safety by protesting non-resident, non-essential travel to our communities.  We stood in the road as self-appointed community road enforcement. I was also physically run over by a tourist vehicle determined to get past me and into Hana.

If I held office I would have done things differently by immediately meeting with the community, pressing the leadership for closure of all roads and ports, providing trained enforcement, diligently prepared for a long-term plan for remaining closed, supporting families through access to subsistence resources, and working to transition our economy.

2. The state budget is facing record shortfalls. How would you balance the budget? What would you cut? What would you protect?

Cut and redirect the millions of dollars for the Hawaii Tourism Authority into micro/community farmstead programs and supporting infrastructure.

Cut and defund security on Mauna Kea and every peaceful protest. Could have saved at least $17 million.

Protect small business services, Maui Economic Opportunity; health and human services; conservation of land, water and resources; Native Hawaiian programs.

3. What do you think should be done to diversify the economy? What would you do as an elected official to make that happen?

Require the state to develop organic micro/community farmsteads and produce a streamlined farm-to-market plan and ultimately infrastructure to help support farmers until they’re able to do so independently (exporting only excess).

Support the legalization of natural medicines and other advancements in the laau lapaau industry.

Support green jobs — resource management, renewable energies, technology, sustainability and education.

Support eco-tourism by having visitors engage in the natural environment without damaging it or disturbing habitats. It is a form of tourism involving visiting fragile, pristine and relatively undisturbed natural areas, intended as a low-impact and often small-scale alternative to standard commercial mass tourism.

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?

No, I am not satisfied. We should cut wasteful spending like security on Mauna Kea and work with our farmers and increase the production of organic food and medicine.

Why don’t we consider legalizing and producing natural medicines? For example, in 2018 marijuana sales in many states surpassed $1 billion. We can also increase fees to non-residents and tourists including tolls, passes, taxes and other access fees, raise property taxes significantly on foreign investment properties, and impose fees on “big box” companies and out-of-state corporations that harm our local, small businesses.

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?

Deep rifts are to be expected during a pandemic that we are unprepared for.  With no plan and emotions and tensions running high, this recipe is destined for failure. We need preemptive strategies and implementable plans in case of any major disaster — weather-related, biological, pandemics and catastrophes. There needs to be an emergency task force dedicated to solidifying and streamlining our emergency management process.

In the Legislature, I will exercise aloha with my colleagues always, and especially build them up when the opportunity presents itself.

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? 

This is a very imporant issue for Hawaii. Let’s look at ways to update and bolster our police training programs to include advanced de-escalation tactics, cultural sensitivity and civil rights education.   

Mandatory disclosure of misconduct records by any agency is critical to a transparent government.  

Law enforcement oversight boards should be funded adequately.

7. Hawaii is the only Western state without a statewide citizens initiative process. Do you support such a process?

Absolutely. This is what democracy is about — the ability for the citizens to take direct action in policy making without all the bureaucratic inefficiencies.

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 disagree with any measures that block transparency. That’s what the law was designed for.  We should utilize web meetings and social media live feeds permanently and as a part of the regular process.  Providing an archive to past videos’ should be made available on a user-friendly online format.

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?

This is a big question and one of my top priorities — the environment. Climate change is very real and we are living in it. It will be up to our generation and the next to tackle this ominous challenge and steer our destiny toward hope and preservation. Hawaii needs to be a global example of how to care for the environment and setting gold standards for land stewardship.

To protect property against sea level rise, we should restrict building near beaches and forecast all planning to include it.

Task forces to revitalize our reefs should be initiated to take measures like planting coral, planting native sea flora and fauna that can clean and contribute to the ecosystem, identifying pollution sources — and focus directly on improving the health of our kai. This task force could generate awareness, policies and enforcement for any violation of the rules to protect our waters. We should immediately desist deep well injections and dumping raw sewage anywhere, especially near shore. Fine and criminalize dumping of waste by ocean vessels anywhere near our waters.

An emergency preparedness task force needs to be created to generate community-specific plans with procedures and resources on hand ready for any emergency, including climate-related. 

We should provide infrastructure to recycle sewage into usable fuel or other beneficial byproducts.

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 13 is sustainable income for our ohanas. The people deserve to make a living wage in a pono line of work while maintaining quality of life — having time with our families in the place we love.

I will be pushing for the transition to an economy centered around precisely this. The ability to have enough funds to care for our families doing work that makes us proud. Since this is one of my top priorities I’ve outlined it further in question 11.

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 intend to do everything in my power to transition to a new and improved economy. One centered around boosting the value of “Hawaiian” and improving the environment. There are so many brilliant ideas from the community to strongly consider and I’m excited to help take the action needed to move it into reality.

Examples of specific industries are: organic micro and community-based farming; creating medicines — laau lapaau; specializations in ocean and mountain resource management; ecosystem repair/management; bolster programs and internships in sustainable technology, low impact energy generation (i.e. hydro); tech and film industries; online work from home jobs and general healing professions.

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