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 Kelly Kitashima, Republican candidate for State Senate District 16 representing Pearl City, Momilani, Pearlridge, Aiea, Royal Summit, Aiea Heights, Newtown, Waimalu, Halawa and Pearl Harbor. The other candidate is Democrat Bennette Misalucha.

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

Candidate for State Senate District 16

Kelly Kitashima
Party Republican
Age 40
Occupation Director of sales and marketing, Marriott Oahu Kapolei
Residence Aiea


Community organizations/prior offices held

Co-chair, Women in Lodging, Hawaii Lodging Tourism Association; Kapolei Chamber of Commerce member; Mana Loa-Nimitz Lions Club (Aiea); Pearl Ridge Elementary PTO; Women Speaking Out board member; volunteer for Hoola Na Pua, Kamehameha football and track team, Rainbow Gymnastics.

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?

Flattening the curve did not mean flatten the local economy.

Mismanagement and reactive versus proactive measures by the current administration negatively impacted Hawaii’s generational small businesses.

As an essential worker in the hospitality industry, the mandatory 14-day quarantine was not properly executed, and the burden fell on hotel workers in conjunction with local law enforcement. Visitors entering the state should have undergone intense screening prior to entering our communities.

Hawaii demands a plan – this is going to take bold action by a two-party system or public will lose all faith left in our government.

Please click on the website for our plan to reinvent the local economy.

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

Remember what we learned in basic economics: Expenses cannot exceed revenues and now more than ever elected officials must have a laser-focused attitude to managing the state’s finances.

Although I do not have access to the state budget specifics, I would agree with recommendations provided by UHERO, utilizing all available federal funding, converting special funds, establish a contingency plan no more than three years out and finding department-specific savings.

I Highly oppose any budget cuts to education, health, social and emergency services especially during the pandemic.

Responsibly reopening local businesses, including smart statewide tourism, would begin to restore the state’s financial balance. Without substantial tourism recovery, which accounts for 30-35% of state tax revenues (pre-COVID-19), it will be impossible to overcome the current fiscal crisis.

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

Short term, I fully support opening smart tourism responsibly and safely. As our No. 1 driver to get the economy kick started instantly with a quality-versus-quantity targeted approach, this will provide immediate spend into the local economy from dining, retail, attractions, services and increased tax revenues. Employment will see overnight positive results when local jobs return.

Additionally, this will give Hawaii an opportunity to diversify within the hospitality industry, including but not limited to, film production, sporting and entertainment events and military leisure spending.

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?

The problem is there is there is no plan – without interrupting employee benefits. I would support delaying contributions to the ERS (Employee Retirement System) until the state can collect sustainable revenues, then moving in more stable investments with contingency plans.  I do not support reduction of benefits for hard-working retirees.

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?

As one political expert stated, “Without an opposition party to force public debate, even seasoned political observers struggle to understand why some bills are passed and others fail. No democracy can remain healthy for long without a loyal opposition.”

Hawaii is long overdue for a strong two-party system so there is a check and balance, civil compromise and a return of stability to local government.

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? 

As a Native Hawaiian, our kupuna instilled kapu aloha – a nonviolent code of conduct and a commitment to act with love, empathy and compassion. This practice should be embraced across the state.

Celebrating diversity is our strength in Hawaii. Discrimination against race, skin color, national origin, gender, disability, religion or age is intolerable. Period.

Transparency is key and I support disclosure of misconduct records with completion of compressive investigations.

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

Absolutely – power to the people.

Also, I do not agree with the current practice of “gut and replace” that occurs late in session and denies the public participation and a meaningful voice in democracy.

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?

Disagree. To use emergency powers and withhold critical information regarding contact tracing, mass testing results and use of CARE Act funds lead to deeper public mistrust.

The creation of the COVID Pau initiative is a step in the right direction and would support immediate funding for public service announcements, as not all residents of Hawaii have access to internet, TV or media.

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?

As stewards of Hawaii, it’s our kuleana (responsibility) to malama our aina (take care of our land) and natural resources — they are finite. The simplest approach would be to place a moratorium on coastline building to safeguard against rising sea levels.

Looking forward, we must cultivate public/private partnership opportunities that can mutually benefit our environment and make financial sense. Locally, there are a tremendous amount of fantastic grassroots organizations — like Sustainable Coastlines Hawaii — inspiring local communities and doing great work that should undoubtedly be supported through grants from the state.

10. What do you see as the most pressing issue facing your district? What will you do about it?

Due to the lockdown, we are not able to traditionally connect with the community for direct feedback.

My top priority is kick-starting our local economy through smart tourism. As a director of sales and marketing for our No. 1 industry, I have hands-on experience to bring a better understanding from the inside-out to the Hawaii State Senate. Any additional delays will hurt local businesses, their employees and their families.

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.

My campaign promise is R.I.S.E.:

  • R: Reduce costs and reinvent how we manage Hawaii to end wasteful spending, support lower taxes and deregulation to support local and especially small business with relief. Most importantly, get our people of Hawaii back to work.
  • I: Improve infrastructure from crumbling roads and coastlines, embracing technology within government and funding overdue projects like Aloha Stadium in my district.
  • S: Safety and sustainability for our keiki and kupuna. Crime is on the rise and will require more collaboration with the county to keep our communities safe, especially in school zones. Invest in our keiki, our future, our legacy — which undoubtedly starts with a strong and resilient education system.
  • E: Engagement with community through transparent and open communication. Introducing technology that is user-friendly to keep our state informed, engaged and up to date. Providing a voice, bringing balance and civility back into Hawaii politics.