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 Bob McDermott, Republican candidate for state House District 40, which includes Ewa, Ewa Beach, Ewa By Gentry and Iroquois Point. The other candidate is Democrat Rose Martinez.
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?
I prepared the first written plan called, “Making Hawaii Safe for Travel.” As a member of the House Select Committee on COVID-19, I have had a front row seat to observe some of the best minds in the state of Hawaii discussing the challenges their various industries are facing.
Other than the lieutenant governor, or the UHERO report, I have yet to see anyone address in detail the elephant in the room — how do we bring visitors back in a virus-free environment? Fully one-third of our economy has evaporated and we need to restore it now. Pre-arrival testing is the only current viable option. It is not 100%, but as close as we can get. I can feel a community consensus in this regard. We must protect our residents and kupuna.
The House Select COVID-19 Committee is a policy committee, generating ideas, suggestions and formulations that the legislative and executive branches may or may not implement. The administration’s participation in meetings has been somewhat inconsistent. However, the Ige administration now seems open to some sort of testing.
The minority recommendations are a simple framework we have laid out. We do not go into the mechanics of each implementation, nor detail into cost or other issues. That is for the implementers to figure out, this is a policy outline. We just want to present the vision that it can be done.
2. The state budget is facing record shortfalls. How would you balance the budget? What would you cut? What would you protect?
Health, safety, welfare. We are in uncharted waters now, the standard “canned” answers will not suffice. In short, we do not know yet what is in front of us. It would be premature to make any suggestions or predictions given the current state of uncertainty.
3. What do you think should be done to diversify the economy? What would you do as an elected official to make that happen?
Food production and food security. Because of the pandemic we now see how fragile our food supply chain is. We must grow our own food and we can do it profitably if we control three legs of the process: growing, processing and retailing.
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?
This is a complex issue requiring a much longer discussion. But I cannot ever see touching anyone’s pension or hard-earned health care benefits.
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 can only speak for the state House where we have all worked collaboratively trying to find a way to bring back the economy while keeping our workers and residents safe and the virus contained through the pre-departure testing of visitors.
The House Select Committee on COVID-19 actually placed my plan on its agenda, recognizing that we are all in this canoe together.
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?
I think Hawaii is truly a color-blind society. The spirit of aloha and ohana permeate our daily lives. In Hawaii, we are all minorities to one degree or another. For example, my wife and I are a bi-racial couple who have been married for 35 years, with eight bi-racial children.
Our police force is the same, our brothers, sisters, cousins. We are an island people. In that spirit, we have a great police force.
7. Hawaii is the only Western state without a statewide citizens initiative process. Do you support such a process?
Yes, I would like to. Government closer to the people, through direct input, is a good thing.
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 his action to suspend open government laws. Transparency, transparency, transparency is always the best way to go.
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?
We have a lot of talented folks at the UH studying this important issue; they are always pushing out new data for future planning. But quite honestly, how we restart our economy by bringing back travelers safely is the key issue right now. Our people need jobs.
10. What do you see as the most pressing issue facing your district? What will you do about it?
Normally I would say updating our school facilities. But now I am worried my neighbor may not have enough to eat or health insurance. We have got to reopen Hawaii safely and that requires the testing of travelers 72 hours prior to their departure to Hawaii. Anything less is a threat to our residents and hospitality workers.
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.
Increase our food production by 30% in a meaningful way. We can ranch cattle on the Big Island; we need dairies to produce our own local milk products, chicken ranches, piggeries, etc., these can be done profitably if two of the three legs of the stool are owned.
Grow it, process it, and sell it. If you grow and process here in Hawaii, people will pay a premium for fresh local food.