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 Ikaika Anderson, Democratic candidate for lieutenant governor. The other Democratic candidates are Keith Amemiya, Daniel Cunningham, Sylvia Luke, Sherry Menor-McNamara and Sam Puletasi.
1. What is the biggest issue facing Hawaii, and what would you do about it?
The most acute issue pressing Hawaii right now is the lack of affordable housing. Increasing numbers of younger and older residents alike now find themselves unable to live in the place where they’ve resided for their entire lives, and that is changing and even upending the islands’ traditional social structure. In 1972, about 75% of those who had been born in Hawaii stayed here upon reaching adulthood. Today, that number has fallen to 53%. Given that Hawaii’s population has increased steadily, this suggests that local emigrants are being replaced by people from elsewhere.
In those years when in-migration exceeds outmigration, this increases the corresponding demand for housing. But even when the reverse is true, the influx of 55,000 new residents annually exacerbates the problem of affordability because so many people who make the decision to relocate here often have far greater financial resources at their disposal and can afford to pay up to 50% more for housing. This likely explains why Hawaii has not experienced any significant downturn in the local real estate market, and why that market’s tides tend to flow against local residents.
I’ve discussed this problem and potential solutions in further detail in Question No. 3.
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?
The travel and hospitality industry’s past marketing efforts have focused inordinately upon maximizing the number of vacationers to our islands. Unfortunately, our resultant public image as paradise’s playground has tended to undermine attempts to sell Hawaii as a serious place for corporate executives and companies to conduct business.
When government and private agencies hold professional conferences in Hawaii, many public officials from across the country are hesitant to attend because their constituents perceive such a conference in Honolulu not as a legitimate business trip but rather, a frivolous junket undertaken at taxpayer expense. That is likely a consequence of this decision to pursue quantity at the expense of quality.
DBEDT, HTA and the private sector must develop and adopt a sustainable yet more diversified model for this industry, with less emphasis on mass market tourism and a greater effort toward attracting more lucrative business and convention travel. Further, HTA needs to manage the adverse impacts of mass market tourism in a forthright manner that addresses resident concerns, respects Native Hawaiian identity, and resists the exploitation of Polynesian cultures through derogatory caricature of native peoples, history and customs.
Surely, we can offer visitors a high-quality experience without sacrificing our dignity.
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?
While it’s undeniable that Hawaii has a housing problem, it’s not really true that we’re suffering from a housing shortage, per se. Rather, what’s not being built is the type of housing most local residents can afford. The focus of developers has been on luxury residences and high-end investment properties, which offer greater profit margins than the construction of affordable rentals.
To facilitate an increased inventory of affordable rental housing for residents, my office will:
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?
Hawaii has an incredibly regressive tax code, whereby those who are less well off financially tend to pay a vastly disproportionate per capita share of their income in state and local taxes. The primary purpose of that tax code is not just to merely provide sufficient revenues to fund government operations but rather, to be an active and rejuvenating instrument of our public policy. We’ve tended to focus on the former and not the latter.
On the state level, we dare to be creative when exploring various means to alleviate the burden the state’s general excise tax (GET) is on local residents. One such proposal was offered in 1997 by then-Gov. Cayetano’s Economic Revitalization Task Force, which noted that visitor spending accounted for approximately 30% of GET revenues. It recommended that Hawaii focus on increasing its revenue generation from visitors by raising the GET to 5.35% and providing an automatic tax credit for local residents on state income tax forms to offset the corresponding cost of that increase. Or we can define resort areas in our tax code and then assess a 0.5-to-1.0% surcharge on the GET for all transactions occurring within the designated boundaries of those resort areas.
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?
There are significant advantages to the planning and development of public education policy at the statewide level, particularly if we want to ensure an equal distribution of funding to local schools regardless of a given community’s affluence or lack thereof. However, it’s long been clear that the DOE’s centralized and top-down policy approach to school management has left a lot to be desired.
So, I tend to favor shifting more of that management responsibility to county and local jurisdictions, which would tend to know best regarding community need. As to how that can be accomplished, I’ll leave the specifics to the educators and administrators on the front lines. What DOE officials can do is facilitate those recommendations and resist the urge to second-guess.
Further, the DOE really should have primary control over its own school facilities. Right now, the responsibility for facilities management and maintenance rests primarily with the Dept. of Accounting and General Services. It’s an unwieldy and inefficient relationship, to say the least. There’s really no reason why local school subdistricts and the DOE should not have the last word on this subject. Shifting that responsibility would provide for better planning and coordination.
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?
My first order of business as lieutenant governor would be to put the question of term limits to a constitutional amendment, so that the people of Hawaii can decide. This amendment would address all levels of government, so that there is no ambiguity in its application. Term limits currently apply to all elected offices in Hawaii state and county elections, except for state legislators. As a former City Council member of Honolulu and chair of that Council, I have personally experienced term limits. The introduction of term limits will allow for new opportunities and new ideas from new people who want to serve the people of Hawaii.
Another area is that of applying the Sunshine Law to all areas of government, and not just the ones the Legislature deems to. Right now, all bodies of government, from the appointed board all the way to the county councils and appointed boards in the state, are subject to the law. The Legislature, just like with term limits, excluded itself when writing the law. I will cheerlead for the elimination of that exemption and require all bodies addressing government issues to adhere to the Sunshine Law, with penalties for not following it, being enforced.
7. 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 primary obligation of a governor or mayor is to not necessarily to be everyone’s “BFF,” but rather, to provide for the public’s safety and welfare through the competent administration of the executive branch. In times of crisis, senior members of that executive branch — the governor, lieutenant governor and cabinet officials — better be able and willing to lead, make sometimes tough decisions and be accountable for their actions or non-actions.
You can’t protect public health by pandering to people’s worst fears, instincts and misconceptions, or defend civil rights by acquiescing to the unreasonable/irresponsible dictates of what author Mark Twain once characterized as “the loud little handful.” You can’t lead by following the mob, being risk-adverse or allowing political whims to supplant your own good judgment.
It’s easy to do what’s popular. It’s oftentimes neither easy nor popular to do what is ultimately right. The great political leaders in history have been those individuals who effectively communicated with the public and convinced citizens to follow a course of action, even though many might have otherwise hesitated. Good leadership is the result of knowledge, planning, effort and commitment. If you’re not willing to lead, then don’t run for office.
8. The office of lieutenant governor has few official duties and is often viewed as irrelevant. But some LGs have managed to play a significant role in government. What would you do to make the office more productive?
I tend to view irrelevance, like effectiveness, as a self-fulfilling political prophecy. If you as an elected official are perceived by the public or pundits as irrelevant or ineffectual, more often than not it’s your own conscious decision-making that allowed it to happen.
Therefore, I believe a good lieutenant governor is someone who aspires to be a team player, who can take direction from the governor without tripping over his/her own ego, and who can be assertive and influential without being overbearing or obnoxious. I’m willing to insert myself into public discussion when necessary, but I also realize that the privilege of holding public office does not also endow the officeholder with the title of “Smartest Person in the Room.”
If I’m fortunate to be elected, one way I can be productive is to have my office establish a permanent presence in our neighbor island counties of Hawaii, Maui and Kauai. All too often, state government has a tendency to be Oahu-centric in both outlook and priorities. Neighbor island residents will benefit from having an active liaison, someone who helps to resolve issues and problems and can advocate to administration officials on their behalf when necessary.
9. Sometimes Hawaii governors and lieutenant governors have not gotten along very well, and those disputes have spilled into the public realm. How important is it for you to be on the same page as the governor, and how will you handle disagreements on policy?
We all have unique and different perspectives on issues and it’s okay to have disagreements, so long as we remember that at the end of the day, it’s the governor who is in charge and not the lieutenant governor. When policy disagreements do arise, as they inevitably will, it’s best to discuss it in private and not take it public. Once a decision has been made, you accept it and move on regardless of whether or not you disagree with the outcome.
We all have a vested interest in a successful administration. It’s important to keep the lines of communication open, so that the governor knows we’re there to help and not hinder. I’m not going to let personalities get in the way or cloud my judgment.
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.
In 2019 as Honolulu City Council chair, my office partnered with the office of the lieutenant governor and the Waimanalo community to establish Hui Mahi‘ai ‘Aina, a tiny-home communal village modeled on the kauhale concept offering shelter and wrap-around services to our homeless population. In November 2021, the first official kauhale opened in Kalaeloa, which proves that this style of communal village living with wrap-around services is successful.
As lieutenant governor, my office will identify state-owned lands across Hawaii where additional kauhale are feasible, and work with the governor and local communities to establish more of these villages to service our homeless ohana. Rather than forcing people into shelter, the kauhale concept is modeled on communal living where every family takes ownership in the village’s success by pitching in to kokua one another, thus creating an environment that people want to willingly join. The kauhale model is a proven success, and it is absolutely logical to expand this concept across the state.
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