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 Rynette Keen, Aloha Aina Party candidate for State Senate District 5, which includes Wailuku, Waihee and Kahului. The other candidates are Republican Christy Kajiwara Gusman and Democrat Gil Keith-Agaran.

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 5

Rynette Keen
Party Aloha Aina
Age 61
Occupation Full-time student
Residence Kahului

Community organizations/prior offices held

President and treasurer, Mount Dora Little League, Mount Dora, Florida; treasurer, Protestant Women of the Chapel, Hohenfelds, Germany; vice-president and secretary, NCOEM Wives Club, Hohenfelds, Germany; secretary,  outreach worker, Maui Oral Health Coalition; founder and administrator, In Our Kanaka World (Facebook); administrator and moderator, Hawaiian Petition Directory (Facebook); founder, Malama Aloha in Action Community Outreach; Keahi Coalition, Maui; member, Hui Haumana, University of Hawaii Maui; member, SOS Club, University of Hawaii Maui; member, National Association of Social Workers; member, member - Phi Theta Kappa Honor Society and Nu Sigma Phi Alpha Honor Society, University of Hawaii MauiHawaii; member, Alakai for University of Hawaii Manoa Distance Education Students with learning challenges; member, Maui Native Hawaiian Club, member, Share Your Mana, Maui.

1. Hawaii has been deeply affected by the coronavirus pandemic. Perhaps the most significant 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 think that the current leadership has handled the response to COVID-19 effectively. It is my opinion that the current administration has confused the citizenry and has created an economic disaster in our state, which will take years in which to recover.

I would have shut down the airports due to the health and well-being of our citizens. Yes, some of our citizens would still have been laid off. However, the majority would still be able to conduct business as usual. If this were not possible, I would have implemented a plan to have designated hotels as quarantine centers where the quarantine mandate could have been easily enforced. I would have also had a more substantial fine for all quarantine breakers, such as Canada did. Canada instituted a $750,000 fine per incident.

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

I am greatly surprised that your questions act as if one legislator can solve the problems of the whole state. If that were the case, we would not need all the legislators that we currently have. However, it would be my recommendation to the state legislative body and the governor that we work to support our local business owners, revise our current tax structure from regressive to a more balanced one. By this, I mean that rather than the majority of the tax burden being placed on individuals, families and small businesses, corporations pay their fair share.

If tax credits and exemptions are to be considered, they should be considered for the individual and married taxpayers, as well as the small business owners. It is appalling that corporations and foreign investors are granted such massive tax exemptions and tax breaks when our small business owner and residents struggle daily to make ends meet.

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

I believe in a Hawaii with greater economic security and opportunity, an economy built to last and built from the ground up. A strong and vibrant economy driven by education, energy, innovation, and infrastructure, as well as tax incentives that will help create jobs. I believe in deficit reduction by cutting out programs we cannot afford, and by shrinking the government where it has grown ineffective.

I think that everyone who works hard and plays by the rules should be allowed to find a job that not only pays the bills but will enable them to thrive and not just survive. Our people need to be able to care for their families, afford a home to call their own. Affordable and accessible health care available to all will benefit our state and our citizens. Retirees should have the ability to retire with dignity and respect. And most of all, give our children the kind of education that allows them to dream bigger and go even further than we could ever have imagined.

Many of the problems we face today have been in the making for decades as a result of poor governance. I know that changing the systems and status quo will not be easy, but we must move forward. We need a government that will stand for the hopes, values and interests of the people of Hawaii.

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 understand that the economic shortfalls will affect our state in ways never imagined before, and it is obvious our state was not prepared to handle. We, the people, have watched as our state has mismanaged funds to progress pet projects of the governor and mayors of our islands. As such, the current funding being used for the completion of these pet projects (i.e., the Honolulu rail system, recreating Ala Moana Park, etc.).

In reality, we are in unprecedented time. As such, we all will need to tighten our belts to get through this. I feel that keeping the health coverage for our workers is of utmost importance. However, at this current moment of financial strain, our state workers may have to forego their pension contribution from the state temporarily.

I realize that this will not be a popular idea, but it is realistic, and I will probably face backlash for it. However, in hard times, we all must do our part to bring us all through to better times. People need to remember that even during the Great Depression, workers had to make sacrifices, but as times got better, their sacrifices were rewarded.

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 for two more years, so what would you do to ensure public confidence in Hawaii’s government officials and top executives?

What the people of Hawaii want and are entitled to is the the truth. They want the facts, and they want to know that their elected officials are doing what is in their best interest. In my view, there is no saving an elected official that will not listen to the people.

The first thing that I would do is remove State Health Director Bruce Anderson and Maui District Health Officer Lorrin Pang for their incompetence and handling of the contract tracing debacle. Thousands of dollars were spent to train approximately 450 people during June and July, and the state failed to use this valuable asset.

Second, it is my opinion that what the special COVID-19 task force did by visiting and speaking with the contact tracers was appropriate. I believe this action in itself went a long way to comforting the public and assuring them that the task force would not stop until they got the answers they needed. These types of measures are necessary to reassure the public that our elected officials do have their best interest and health 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? 

Hawaii has been very fortunate that we have not seen the violent protests as seen across America. In actuality, the demonstrations that we have had have been relatively peaceful and well organized. With this said, yes, I do believe that there is always room for improvement in each area of our government, including the police force.

The areas that I see that need significant improvement are responding to areas that are predominantly populated by Hawaiians such as Makaha, Waianae, Nanakuli, Hauula, Kaaawa, Kahuku, and Waimanalo. It appears that these outlying areas are disproportionately underserved, and this needs to be fixed immediately. I also believe that our police could use some classes in cultural sensitivity and awareness to help them in handling people of color in our islands.

I do support police reform efforts such as mandatory disclosure of misconduct records by police and police agencies, as well as adequate funding for law enforcement oversight boards that have been established in recent years. Over the years, the Code of Blue has hindered investigations and criminal prosecution against police officers, and I would like to see the oversight boards address these issues as well.

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

I support this process. Elected officials are there to do the will of the people and not their own. Citizens often have done a lot of research on their ideas before bringing them to their local governments. I find this to be a real asset to any elected official. If the ideas brought forward have a large number of supports, the elected officials owe it to the people to thoughtfully review and consider the plan.

Being the public is in support of such a process, it would behoove the elected official to present it to the Legislature. Our current system does not support civic engagement by the people, which any honest government would appreciate.

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?

The citizens of Hawaii voted for the implementation of the Sunshine Law in 1989, which requires transparency and disclosure in government or business. These laws and regulations would make meetings, records, votes, deliberations and other official actions available for public observation, participation and/or inspection.

I have been questioning how the governor, an elected official, repealed a law without going the proper channels, having a vote in the House and State Senate that supported such action. I’m afraid I have to disagree with his decision to repeal this law, primarily because of our current situation with the COVID-19 pandemic.

I would ensure that the Sunshine Law remained in effect at all times unless removed by of majority vote of our citizenry. The public has a right to know what is going on behind closed doors at the state capital. And has a right to the information regarding the meetings and decisions made in those meetings. I  feel repealing the law of his own accord weakened his stance with the public and that items have been passed and people appointed without the knowledge of the people he represents.

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?

Being that Hawaii is a nation of islands, climate change is an important issue facing Hawaii, as with other Pacific Island countries. It is my understanding that the state Legislature and the DLNR have created the Hawaii Climate Change and Mitigation and Adaptation Commission that is working toward recommendations for Hawaii.

Although this is an important issue, I do believe that genuinely affordable housing costs and rentals, employment, education and diversification are of more importance to Hawaii residents at this time. These are the issues that we must address immediately, and once resolved, we can look at furthering our effort regarding climate change.

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

Pressing issues in my district are numerous including but not limited to employment/unemployment, supporting small business, medical staffing shortages, water diversion, genuinely affordable housing, education, food security and adequate funding for social resources in the area of addiction, trauma, mental health issues and domestic violence and abuse.

Being as tourism accounts for only 21% of Maui’s economy, diversification of economic drives should be relatively easy. Rather than building more hotels, we need to invest more in our people through the offering of educational opportunities that lead to high-paying jobs.

To accomplish this, I would like the University of Maui to become a full four-year institution offer degrees in technology, cyber security and film making, as well as advanced degrees such as Masters and Doctorate programs.

I would also like to see our students in the medical field have more opportunities that would prepare them to work in both city and rural hospitals and clinics.

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.

One thing that I would do is return each county to home rule. Counties that are comprised of more than one island would also have to allow each island to have representation at the table. To do this, we would have to restructure our current voting system allowing only residents from that particular island to vote for those running to represent that island.

In addition to county elections, I would implement this idea of home rule to the Office of Hawaiian Affairs. To me, the current system does not allow the voices of the people on a particular island to be heard. Currently, the state House of Representatives candidates for Molokai and Lanai are included with a district on Maui. Thus, the people on Maui are eligible to vote for the representative for both Lanai and Molokai, which could be completely different from what the people of those islands would want.

Additionally, as we have seen in the elections for the Office of Hawaiian Affairs, the whole state votes for candidates that are meant to represent the outer islands, once again drowning out the voice and votes of those residing in a particular area.