Editor’s note: For Hawaii’s Aug. 13 Primary 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 Heidi Tsuneyoshi, Republican candidate for governor. The other Republican candidates are Duke Aiona, Gary Cordery, George Hawat, Keline Kahau, Lynn Mariano, Paul Morgan, Moses Paskowitz, BJ Penn and Walter Woods.

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

Candidate for Governor

Heidi Tsuneyoshi
Party Republican
Age 47
Occupation Honolulu City Council member
Residence Wahiawa, Oahu

Website

Community organizations/prior offices held

Member, Wahiawa Lions Club.

1. What is the biggest issue facing Hawaii, and what would you do about it?

The biggest issue facing Hawaii is the cost of living, which includes the tax burden on our residents and local businesses. Over the years so many of our family and friends have moved away and businesses have closed because of the high cost of living. There are many factors that contribute to this problem, including housing costs, utility fees, food costs, medical insurance premiums and tax increases.

With costs continuing to compound, residents have very little if any of their hard-earned money left for unanticipated emergencies or saving for their future home. As governor, I would immediately work on tax reform to lessen the tax burden on individuals and businesses. Especially now with inflation, our General Excise Tax is becoming more and more of a burden.  I will decrease the percent of GET tax. I will also decrease the fuel tax, especially in light of the sharp increase in fuel prices.

As the high cost of living is directly related to the cost of housing, I will work with developers and landowners to develop true affordable housing and increase the housing inventory to help with the supply and demand issues we face.

2. Many people have talked about diversifying the local economy for many years now, and yet Hawaii is still heavily reliant on tourism. What, if anything, should be done differently about tourism and the economy?

Diversification of our economy has been discussed for years. When our state was shut down and tourism came to a screeching halt, we quickly realized how devastating it is to rely so heavily on a single industry to keep our economy moving. There were some positive steps taken during that time to support other industries such as agriculture and conservation, which proved to have positive outcomes. However, once the state opened back up, much of those conversations on supporting a diversified economy went quiet again.

As governor, I would not only talk about diversifying our economy, but take action to support jobs in agriculture, conservation and the tech industry. The state has acquired hundreds of acres of agricultural land and I will work to support agricultural activity on these lands by providing support and needed infrastructure such as water and slaughterhouses for farmers and ranchers. This will be a win-win as we look to address our food security as well as the need to create exports to support our economy.

3. The Legislature this session approved spending $600 million for the Department of Hawaiian Home Lands plus another $300 million for other housing programs. What specifically would you try to do to create more housing for middle- and low-income residents?

The funding provided to the Department of Hawaiian Home Lands (DHHL) for housing and the funding appropriated for the development of additional affordable housing units is not, and should not, be seen as a true solution in providing homes for our people. In the case of the $600 million appropriated to DHHL, there are many conditions on the funding including a deadline to use the funds. Other issues include securing a site for housing development and costly infrastructure to support the housing.

As governor, I will take inventory of all affordable housing projects that have been completed throughout the state and create a comprehensive statewide plan for the development of true affordable housing with a balanced and targeted approach. This would include working with the Department of Land and Natural Resources to create a detailed list of all leasehold lands and aggressively work toward the development of housing to fulfill the vision of Prince Kuhio and the Hawaiian Homes Commission Act.

The development of affordable housing for all our people must be done in a very intentional way if we want to make significant changes to address the cost of housing in our state.

4. An estimated 60% of Hawaii residents are struggling to get by, a problem that reaches far beyond low income and into the middle class, which is disappearing. What ideas do you have to help the middle class and working families who are finding it hard to continue to live here? 

In addition to tax reform and providing pathways to affordable home ownership, I will also focus on programs to support our small businesses and good-paying jobs for our people. Small businesses, the middle class and working families are the backbone of our communities.

Our state is facing critical shortages in job markets that affect our daily lives, such as in our hospitals and schools. I will work with various stakeholders including medical associations and insurance providers to ensure that our medical providers are fairly compensated and work with the Department of Education to ensure our teachers, counselors, coaches and all those working to educate and nurture our next generation are fairly compensated.

I will also work with nonprofit organizations to identify funding to support jobs in the mental health field, which are in critical need as well. There is a lot of good work that is done by our middle and working class families and I will do all I can to ensure quality, well-paying jobs as well as tax reform and the development of affordable housing options so our people will not only survive, but thrive here in our state.

5. The pandemic was particularly difficult for Hawaii’s public schools. Should there be a change in the way schools are administered? Would you support more local control including breaking the single school district into subregions?

The pandemic was very difficult for our public schools, specifically our students and their families. I continue to have great concerns about the pandemic’s still unknown long-term effects on our students’ academic, social and emotional well-being.

Having worked as a behavioral health specialist with the Department of Education, I have first-hand experience with the many challenges our students and their families face, especially in these challenging times, and I do not believe there was adequate support available with virtual learning.

My mother is a retired special education teacher and my father is a retired NJROTC teacher so I have grown up deeply involved and supportive of the education and support of students. I understand what it takes to help them reach their full potential. Students and their families needed the support and access to opportunities for growth and development that were not available through virtual learning.

As governor, I will work with the Department of Education, families, and students to determine the outcomes and create a better system moving forward. I would be in support of decentralizing the Board of Education and creating subregions that better represent schools and communities throughout the state, especially in rural and underserved areas.

6. Hawaii has recently experienced a number of prominent corruption scandals, prompting the state House of Representatives to appoint a commission tasked with improving government transparency through ethics and lobbying reforms. What will you do to ensure accountability at the Legislature? Are you open to ideas such as requiring the Sunshine Law and open records laws to apply to the Legislature?

Corruption in government is a critical issue which has led to the breakdown of public trust in our state. The people deserve answers as to what has happened and what will happen to address issues that have been brought to light, what the consequences will be and what will be done to ensure that those types of things don’t continue.

One of the main issues I see is a lack of checks and balances in our state, in large part due to a one-party system that has been in power for decades. One thing that is known to be true is that absolute power corrupts absolutely. It is inherent to human behavior.

The government was intentionally set up to have checks and balances with a party system so differing opinions and views could be discussed, resulting in balanced decisions that fairly represent the people.  We have not had that here, which has created an environment rife with corruption and government overreach.

As governor, I will support measures to bring government back to the people, including changes to the administration of executive orders and application of the Sunshine Law and open records law to the Legislature.

7. Recently a house on the North Shore of Oahu fell into the ocean. Climate change is real and will force us to make tough decisions. What is the first thing Hawaii should do to get in front of climate change rather than just reacting to it? 

One of the main concerns I have with the government’s work on climate change is that we have talked about it as an issue to address in terms of limiting emissions and other initiatives but little has been done to take action and set aside funding to assist residents who are already dealing with the effects of climate change. The house on the North Shore that fell into the ocean due to shoreline erosion is an example of the dire importance of making that shift in focus.

As the Council member representing the North Shore, the issue of shoreline erosion has been persistent.  I have worked closely with the city’s Department of Planning and Permitting, the Office of Climate Change and Resiliency, stakeholders and, most importantly, residents as we discuss how to support homeowners who are being seriously impacted.

As governor, I would work with each county’s planning department to decide the overall policy so residents know what their options are and how best to protect their homes.

8. Hawaii has seen a growing division when it comes to politics, development, health mandates and other issues. A governor represents all the people of the state. What would you do to bridge those gaps and bring people together in spite of their differences?

The growing division among our people is something that continues to concern me. However, I can understand why the division has happened. As discussed in a previous answer, we have had a one-party system for decades, which has created a scenario where a small group of people has made decisions that do not represent the people and their longstanding concerns.

As governor, I will ensure that the people’s voices and their concerns are heard and are a part of decision-making. Although there have been many things that show how we are divided, there are many more ways that show that we can all come together for the common good. I believe the people can and will come together and as governor I will be focused on creating a government that brings people together rather than tearing them apart.

9. Historically, governors and lieutenant governors have sometimes publicly clashed. How do you envision the relationship between the state’s top elected officials?

As governor I will be sure to develop and maintain a strong and positive working relationship with the lieutenant governor. There is much work to be done and it does not benefit the people to have division in the highest offices in the state. That does not provide a good example and sends a negative message to the Legislature and residents.

I look forward to working with the lieutenant governor to set up a strong team of leaders who have the heart for the people and the skills needed to move forward and turn things around to improve things now and for our future.

10. 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. 

The pandemic did highlight many issues that we have here in our state. I have addressed many in my responses, including finally taking action on diversifying our economy, working toward food security and supporting the Department of Education, students and families.

Another major issue that was not discussed is the availability of medical care for our people. Throughout the pandemic we were told that the reason for mandates was the lack of bed space in our hospitals, yet there has been little to no work done to increase those numbers. As governor, I will work closely with the Department of Health to increase access to bed space and all related health services, including outpatient services, to be sure that people have access to care to address their medical needs through comprehensive services and informed consent.

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