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 Jenny Boyette, Republican candidate for state House District 33, which includes Aiea. The other candidate is Democrat Sam Kong.
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?
The response to COVID-19 by Gov. David Ige and Mayor Kirk Caldwell has been lackadaisical; slow to make decisions, slow to shut down, slow to address adequate personal protective equipment and available testing, and slow to get Hawaii back to work. The ongoing stay-at-home order has damaged Hawaii’s economy for months, if not years to come.
Hawaii is a tourist hub and destination, with many travelers passing through the islands. Our state should have had a robust disaster preparedness plan. The state’s previously drafted plan did not account for the scope of what we’re facing and how to navigate a path forward. I understand it’s easy to arm-chair quarterback, however it seems our Democrat state leaders failed kamaaina.
Now, we are all stuck in an economic mess which will take a couple of years to correct. I am a planner by nature. My disaster plan for our state, much like the disaster plan we had for our household, includes months of preparation. In advance, we build up a supply of protective gear, we set aside emergency funds. In essence we stock up our pantry. Setting aside a little at a time does not break the bank.
2. The state budget is facing record shortfalls. How would you balance the budget? What would you cut? What would you protect?
In the age of COVID-19, we really need to tighten our belts. Working toward a balanced budget will require lawmakers with fortitude to make tough decisions. Our state must prioritize and determine wants versus needs. I would like to go line by line through the budget in order to understand and see where we’re overspending, discover what we can temporarily cut, what can survive with less funding and what we must pay first.
During these tough economic times, our state budget should mimic, in principle, a household budget. We must look at redundancies and make government more cost-effective and efficient. It won’t be easy, but it’s doable. It is a very unpopular idea, but politicians and legislators should take a pay cut. Our pay should be commensurate with the amount of time spent working at the Legislature. Being in public office is a calling.
3. What do you think should be done to diversify the economy? What would you do as an elected official to make that happen?
Diversifying our economy is a must. This does not mean abandoning tourism entirely, it means adding industries which supplement our state’s economy. The top three industries where Hawaii has potential is agribusiness, film and television production, and technology. Over the last 10 years these three sectors have seen steady growth, while others have become stagnant.
As an elected official, I would work on policies which allow for success. This includes providing business incentives and diminishing regulatory road blocks. Part of this plan also includes an education component by reviving and reimagining Vo/Tech programs, which benefit our keiki, in the hopes of diminishing the brain drain where our talented youth moving out of state.
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?
There is no easy answer to this, we are talking billions of dollars. Legislation passed in 2017 requires annual stress test reporting and is a step in the right direction in determining how pension funds perform under different economic situations. During the crisis Hawaii is currently facing, to assist employers and employees, we should consider temporarily reducing the contribution rate. While this lowers the funding and long-term could create a shortfall, to safeguard against that there should be a sunset date of six months to one year after this legislation is enacted.
After that time, contributions revert back to the 2020 pre-COVID-19 amounts. Over time as Hawaii gets back on her feet, contribution levels could rise slightly in order to fully fund sooner. In terms of benefits, the state must honor prior commitments made to retired employees.
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?
To build public confidence I will be as transparent as possible. The people have a right to know what their elected officials are doing. My advice to the governor would be to not be so afraid of making the wrong decision. Fear of action leads to inaction. Just be thoughtful and forthright with kamaaina and always keep their best interest at heart.
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?
Any death of a citizen at the hands of police enforcement is dreadful. However, that behavior is a reflection of training, accountability and public education. Defunding the police is a ludicrous idea for Hawaii. Taking a look at HPD expenditures, and considering the volume of calls and responses, the cost to the average taxpayer in Hawaii is under $1.50 per year. HPD is already running very lean.
Many of us in Hawaii support our local law enforcement. They are our friends, family, neighbors, church members, former classmates, and colleagues. HPD officers put their lives on the line every day for strangers, without flinching. That should be respected, not reviled.
7. Hawaii is the only Western State without a statewide citizens initiative process. Do you support such a process?
Having initiatives which go straight through to become law after citizens vote on the measure is a complex issue. I support a thoughtful statewide citizens initiative process. Ballot measures allow some form of direct interaction with government from the populous. However, allowing any type of measure to bypass the state Legislature and become law is dangerous.
It’s about checks and balances. There should be an increased petition-signature threshold, similar to candidate nomination papers, the signer must live in Hawaii and be a registered voter. There are many other facets and implications to consider. Public engagement with politics is healthy for our government, wholly bypassing the state Legislature is problematic.
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 Gov David Ige’s decision to suspend open government laws. Especially during a pandemic, kamaaina should know what is going on within the state. Many decisions are being made which will affect our lives for months and years to come.
Government operating in the dark is anathema to what our country and state are founded upon. Sunshine Laws are there for a reason, the electorate should always be aware of what the government is doing, in their name. Meeting minutes, expenditure reports, audits and other public records should be made readily available online. Email notices should go out routinely to all voters updating them and providing information on how to access public records. An engaged electorate creates and sustains a better government.
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?
Hawaii should protect our reefs and marine life surrounding our island home. However, some of the broad-sweeping claims about climate change are misleading. Many national groups are trying to inject their brand of activism into Hawaii, which is disingenuous and dangerous. For far too long we’ve had outsiders telling us what we should and shouldn’t do.
Kamaaina are pretty akamai about being good stewards of the land and protect our natural resources. Programs implemented should compliment the overall goal of preservation, without being a knee-jerk response to malihini social justice lobbyists. We need to be thoughtful and respectful of Hawaii’s unique culture.
10. What do you see as the most pressing issue facing your district? What will you do about it?
The most pressing issue facing my district, and every district in Hawaii, is the economic shutdown. That encompasses cost of living, homelessness, and food insecurity. My community is composed of two segments, senior citizens who live on a fixed income and working parents with teen-aged and college-aged children.
A few things I would like to work on to help our community are a reduction in property taxes for homeowners over the age of 65 and a reduction or elimination of GET on groceries, medication and personal care items. I would also like to take a look at lowering and/or eliminating state taxes on traditional IRAs and Roth IRAs, as well as lowering the estate tax percentage levied on assets bequeathed to next of kin.
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.
Making Hawaii a better state doesn’t take one big wowza idea, it will take a lot of little, meaningful actions. Including lowering or eliminating the GET on groceries; restructuring the Jones Act so it makes sense in a 21st century world; removing Common Core from our classrooms, a one-size-fits-all approach to education does not work; providing our teachers with competitive compensation and with the tools they need to educate our future generations; providing financial literacy education — for free – to help residents climb out of debt and stay out of debt; removing regulations that impede small businesses from doing business in Hawaii; focusing on diversifying Hawaii’s economy through agribusiness, which will also reduce food insecurity; and reimagining vocational/technical colleges and programs to grow the next generation of innovators.