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 Lori Ford, Republican candidate for state House District 18, which includes Hahaione, Kuliouou, Niu Valley, Aina Haina, Waialae and Kahala. The other candidate is Democrat Mark Hashem.
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?
No, I do not believe state leaders handled the response to the pandemic effectively. There was a very public power struggle between the state’s top two leaders.
Early response of our governor should have been done with more urgency, transparency, unity, clearer communication and empathy toward working citizens and local businesses. Delayed action – out of fear of taking the wrong steps and/or unnecessarily making people anxious – is a failure out the gate. By the time the dimensions of the threat were more apparent, government officials fell behind in trying to control the crisis and resorted to extreme and ultimately unconstitutional mandates on people, businesses and civil liberties.
The testing of travelers should have been at the point of departure, not arrivals.
If I am faced with leadership in an uncertain, fast-moving crisis, I will not allow ego or stubbornness to drive communication and decisions for our citizens and local businesses. I would consider what it would feel like to be in another’s shoes — then lead with empathy. Leaders must act in an urgent, honest and iterative fashion, recognizing that mistakes are inevitable and then take correcting course in a timely manner. I would not have forced businesses to shut down all at once, but rather asked the people and businesses to unite and cooperate together.
2. The state budget is facing record shortfalls. How would you balance the budget? What would you cut? What would you protect?
Balancing the budget, whether during good or bad economic times, should be done as if running a business. Our government needs budget discipline, not more schemes designed to excuse us from fiscal responsibility. A two-party system and term limits on elected officials would bring more allegiance back to the people’s well-being and quality of life rather than spending tax dollars catering to special interests or small groups.
If elected, I will push for new and innovative streams of revenue such as clean tech, a green stimulus package, dynamic business models that create more jobs locally, and entrepreneurship training programs that create new opportunities to drive more money in the free market, boosting local economy and gaining financial independence.
As a mother of two teenagers born in Hawaii and currently attending public schools, I commit to protect funding for public education tools, advancement and technology, and competitive teacher salaries. We must also have adequate resources to regularly maintain roads and utilities infrastructure, which affects our daily quality of life. I will push for open accounting of special funds and recommend across-the-board cuts for all departments to engage more fiscal responsibility. I will also cut salaries of elected and appointed government officials.
3. What do you think should be done to diversify the economy? What would you do as an elected official to make that happen?
To diversify away from tourism, we must revolutionize the local economy and introduce new avenues to pave a more independent and financially sustainable economic foundation. Some ideas I offer are: a Green Stimulus Package including locally sourced food and agriculture; arts and film industry incentives; new software development with IT professionals who maintain a finger on the pulse of new technologies and digital advancements; technology hubs with local vocational training; creating a Women in CleanTech education program to promote female-owned and/or minority-owned businesses; and advocate for entrepreneurial support programs and resources for digital industries with innovative online sales and marketing.
Lawmakers have acted as a special interest group for large hotels and corporations for too long. It is time to bring better balance and put equal concern on ordinary citizens and their financial independence. Hawaii must refocus itself to creating incentives for entrepreneurs and new business owners creating new jobs rather than burying them under restrictions and prohibitions.
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?
I’m not satisfied with the state’s plans to pay down its unfunded liabilities, but I don’t believe that we should underfund benefits of long-term and vested workers.
I assert that many people have been conditioned to have an “employee mindset” where they think and believe that working one job, despite low-pay, is worthwhile due to pension and other promised benefits at vesting. Basic financial education starting with students can shift this conditioned mindset moving forward. Without basic financial sense, kids who walk on to a college campus are immediately handed a credit card application, education loans, auto loans, etc. without the real understanding of the high interest and debt service they are incurring.
The average millionaire is said to have at least seven streams of income. One job equates to “just over broke,” especially in Hawaii. Financial education and entrepreneurship classes should be made available for the public at-large and be a requirement of all elected officials and government managers. Shifting the expectations that government can and should mandate or subsidize financial gaps or increase minimum wage for the benefit of employees is not sustainable to businesses and employers.
With the exception of emergency first-responders (fire, police, medical responders), benefits for new payees into the state and county system must be restructured and reduced.
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?
I am running for public office to be the people’s representative and to bring more balance to Hawaii government. In fact, in my role as vice-chair of Candidate Recruitment and Training for the Hawaii Republican Party, together with county and district leaders, we pooled 50 Hawaii Republicans to run in 2020 for partisan races, and dozens more Republicans and conservatives stepped up to run for non-partisan county seats and OHA.
Voters have a choice in 2020 to shift the political status quo toward more checks and balances, transparency and fiscal responsibility. For far too long, the Democrat party machine has maintained a super-majority in Hawaii. A lopsided one-party system is only poised to continue to be dominated by complacency, incompetence or special interests that put the desires of the powerful and wealthy before the needs of working families, with minimal consideration of wasteful tax spending and thus silencing of the working class, keiki and kupuna.
Citizens must also go out of their comfort zones by voicing their dissatisfaction and bring public confidence back to government by ensuring they are registered to vote and then utilizing their vote to bring balance and accountability back to the people.
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?
Uniquely located in the Pacific Rim, Hawaii has traditionally welcomed and embraced ethnic and cultural diversity, but there is always room for improvement. Community policing has been an effective and positive tool in many states.
As with the other branches of government in Hawaii, diligence to open communication – rather than secretive decision making, will have a positive impact. Established oversight boards can bring the community and law enforcement together to find a better way forward through cooperation.
7. Hawaii is the only Western state without a statewide citizens initiative process. Do you support such a process?
Yes, I support a statewide citizens initiative process. A core principle to government transparency and effectiveness is expanding civic engagement.
Hawaii residents are fed up with the current practice of Hawaii’s one-party system. Most voters are not aware that they will no longer be able to go to their regular polling location to vote this year. Voters are shocked and upset to learn that all-mail ballot voting was passed and enacted in 2019 with very little care or input from our citizens, yet it is still unclear how the process, training, printing, mailing, receiving and verification of ballots will be handled.
Citizen initiatives are often proposed as a result of the failure of government to respond to the needs, interests and well-being of everyday people, and lacking empathy for the people shows that we must make all levels of government more open, accountable and accessible to the public.
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. Ige’s action to suspend the open government laws. In fact, one glaring discrepancy in Hawaii’s Sunshine Law is the exemption of the state Legislature. For accountability and transparency, the state Legislature must also adhere to sunshine law, yet the super-majority has quietly killed all legislation over the last two decades that would remove their exemption. The citizens of Hawaii deserve information and access to meetings at which critical decisions are being made about how to protect public health, safety and the allocation of taxpayer dollars.
Legislative transparency is especially important because without balance and full public disclosure, the super-majority legislators can make backroom deals that impact the financial well-being and quality of life for the people of Hawaii. Currently, it is estimated that only half of all legislative deliberations and lawmaking is done publicly.
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?
Natural climate solutions such as planting native trees, protecting native forests, restoring wetlands and bolstering the resilience of coral reefs are essential to Hawaii’s ongoing ability to thrive and survive in the middle of the Pacific Ocean.
While climate change is not a direct act of human action in Hawaii, I believe we must take immediate action to make significant strides in creating a more aggressive statewide clean energy standard, begin collaborations to shift utilities to more consumer-friendly business models rather than large profit-driven corporations, and implement such actions to steeply climbing to 100% carbon-free energy by 2030.
10. What do you see as the most pressing issue facing your district? What will you do about it?
Our state’s exorbitant cost of living is the biggest issue facing my district. We have the highest housing, electricity, taxes and food prices in the nation. Despite those well-known problems, however, households still fail to earn the wages necessary to pay their bills, build savings for retirement, and all the while developers continually price housing units beyond the reach of working families.
Many residents are house rich and cash poor. Parents work multiple jobs and sacrifice time with families. I will work tirelessly to not only introduce and push legislation but I commit to also actively educating students and the working class on financial literacy and productive, smart entrepreneurship, and I will collaborate with my colleagues in the Legislature and local business leaders on best providing proper incentives for entrepreneurship and new initiatives such as green stimulus and clean tech.
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 elected, in my first term I would introduce and aggressively push for the passage of financial literacy legislation for students and entrepreneur workshops for the public. Five states have already passed laws requiring basic financial literacy to manage money and build wealth, and 36 other states have pending legislation.
Educating and shifting the mindset of our future leaders and working class citizens is the first step to revolutionizing financial independence, building a dynamic and thriving business environment and strengthening the free market and increasing local economic security.