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 Aram Armstrong, candidate for Maui County Council Makawao-Haiku-Paia District. The other candidates are Dave DeLeon, Daniel Smith, Nohe Uu-Hodgins and Nara Boone.

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

Candidate for Maui County Council Makawao-Haiku-Paia District

Aram Armstrong
Party Nonpartisan
Age 43
Occupation Strategic designer, visual facilitator and educator
Residence Haiku, Maui

Website

Community organizations/prior offices held

Food Security Hawaii; Mālamalama Sustainability Center; Maui Farm Laulima; Maui Wetlands.

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

The biggest issue facing Maui county is the mental health crisis.

Our health-care system treats mental health as a personal problem, but in reality mental health is a community issue that impacts the health and safety of us all. We are interdependent.

Specifically, let’s focus on the mental health of parents, as parents are the shoulders that the future of our community rests upon. If your parents are stressed out, anxious, depressed or angry when you are a child — that imprints basic survival mechanisms in you. Some kids become reclusive loners, some abusive bullies. Abuse begets abuse. We know this. When there is a lack of love, and the right kind of attention and presence, we seek love and attention elsewhere.

So here’s the big, generative question for Maui Nui United: How might we support and empower parents, so that they may be their best possible loving presence for their children?

Let’s start with improving the safety, services and infrastructure of our community spaces. Community suffers when people are stuck behind screens – let’s get outside! For example, Pukalani Park has most of the infrastructure needed for an intergenerational living center – including a fantastic skatepark and pool, but not the staffing or programming to activate the full potential of a multi-generational community gathering place for youth and elders.

2. In the last two years alone, the median sales price of a Maui home has shot up almost $400,000, driven by a surge of out-of-state buyers during the pandemic. What can the county do to ensure that families aren’t priced out? 

There are proven models that are being proposed to address Maui’s housing crisis – inspiration from Tokyo (“The Tokyo Model”), “for base codes” (FBC) and “by-right development” which would fast-track the creation of affordable housing while maintaining strict agreed upon community guidelines. I advocate for locally sourced building materials to lower construction costs and support local industry utilizing hempcrete and bamboo for construction. 

I believe development can be a force for community renewal if seen through the lens of biocultural restoration and directed to regenerate community health. It requires a diverse portfolio of housing solutions including multi-generational family “villages” and solo-living pods for individuals, young and old, who have different needs. 

There is a grander dream than living in luxury villas in isolation. We must reclaim the rich multi-cultural heritage of family-centered village life that existed before colonization. The forces of regenerative development work to strengthen local communities and repair the fabric that has led to atomization of families. Living in an interconnected and interdependent community is the best medicine for our collective mental, physical, financial and spiritual health.

3. In recent years, there has been a significant push to reform law enforcement and beef up oversight of police. What would you do specifically to increase oversight of local law enforcement? Are you satisfied with the Maui Police Department and the Maui Police Commission?

I would weave a thick pink thread around the thin blue line. The thick pink thread would be composed of community health professionals and social workers equipped to interface with and diffuse situations, not escalate them. 

And I would make it a TV show. Did you know COP is an acronym? Community-oriented Policing.

COPs on bikes. COPs on horses. 

Let’s fund a league of community health and safety officers (CHSO). Volunteer CHSOs may inquire with Heart Corps Maui, a division of Heart Corps Hawaii, which is affiliated with Heart Corps International.

While we are on the topic of oversight, I would also add shore patrol duties for our ocean safety officers. Get out of the booth and into the shore break. Save some okoles before they become permanent spine injuries. 

4. The Maui County Council recently passed a temporary moratorium on the construction of new hotels and other visitor accommodations and will over the next several months decide whether to make it permanent. Do you support capping the number of hotels and visitor lodgings on Maui? Why or why not?

That math feels too simple for the complexity of the problem. The moratorium is buying time for a better process and better tools to facilitate the process. If we continue to use the same process and tools, we will get more of the same outcomes: poorly considered development.

Why, in the year 2022, are we relying on thick paper reports and long committee meetings to facilitate this complex, multidimensional issue? 

The framing of “pro-development” versus “pro-conservation” is a false dichotomy in Hawaii, and is an unhelpful narrative for humanity as a whole.

Any party that seeks to diminish the cultural-ecological sanctuary that is Hawaii Nei has no business here.

5. Do you feel the governor and Legislature appreciate the issues of Maui County, or are they too focused on Honolulu and Oahu? How would you change that?

If the Honolulu-centricity of the State of Hawaii isn’t obvious from the State Capitol, I would invite them to get out of the building and visit the country. 

The best way to wash off a long day of virtual meetings is with a visit to a waterfall. Spend a weekend feeding the community by hunting deer in Kahikinui. Park among the camper trucks at Olowalu and grab some surf between meetings. Spend a month, or three, in residence in a food forest, like me, and enjoy the abundance of fruits falling daily.  

The total business of Hawaii is best understood when viewed outside of the Capitol.

6. Do you think the county of Maui should do more to manage water resources that were long controlled by plantations? Why or why not?

Yes, and the “why” is pretty simple. The “how” is a bit harder. 

Ask why should a body that represents and advocates on behalf of the residents of Maui be empowered and entrusted to manage the sovereign wealth of the island of Maui? 

Ask why should water, the most essential form of sovereign wealth and source of community health, be managed by a private, for-profit, foreign-owned legal entity that does not adhere to self-imposed environmental social governance standards? Why should this entity be entrusted with stewardship of Maui’s own sovereign wealth fund?

Why would a Canadian wealth fund have a vested interest in controlling the water delivery infrastructure used to irrigate fields of diversified citrus?

Voters in Maui County will be voting on a charter amendment to establish a public water authority. I think that is the first, best step we can take to secure our future.

7. Climate change is real and will force us to make tough decisions. What is the first thing Maui County should do to get in front of climate change rather than just reacting to it?

Recognize we are the ark we have been waiting for. Imagine you are Noah.

Your neighbor is Noah too (or Nora.)

You, Noah, and Nora, have to build the ark.

What do you do first?  Do you:

— Arrange a community potluck.

— Be a community garden organizer.

— Start a community composting site.

— Watch the nightly news with dread.

— Entertain each other over pupus. Learn the names, values and talents of your neighbors. 

Join us in presencing the resilience games. Take one weekend to unplug from all digital devices and distractions. Spend 12, 24 or 36 hours discovering what it means to be a resilient, interdependent community. The future is coming sooner than you think.

8. It’s estimated that up to a thousand people might be homeless on Maui on any given day. What do you think needs to be changed to help people get into housing, and stay housed? 

One, let’s not assume everyone wants the same thing, or has the same housing needs. 

We all need sanctuary. We all need safe, secure places to feel grounded, to be healthy and maintain good hygiene. 

A safe, healthy environment is a fundamental human need and should be the core pillar of a functional society. A sense of security is the basic underlying need for community mental health. 

The fact that many of us are not living in a safe, healthy, hygienic environment, sheltered or unsheltered, tells us a lot about modern American society. 

I, for one, would enjoy the safety of a community in the canopy, Ewok-style. Some may prefer a hammock strung between two coconut palms on the beach. Others might prefer to live in a caravan of camping trucks, following the surf, or tracking herds of deer. Some may want to live on a boat, waking up in the company of whales and dolphins. 

We need a canopy, or flotilla, of services to make life for the sheltered and unsheltered safe, healthy and joyful.

Too many of us are one paycheck, one injury, or one argument away from joining the camping caravans and tent cities. I for one do not want to be alone, on a raft, in the middle of the Pacific Ocean surrounded by sharks. 

Let’s be good neighbors. 

9. Traffic is getting worse on the island of Maui, and different regions face different challenges. What would be your approach to improve Maui’s transportation problems?

I believe mobility is a public good. Affordable mobility means less of your paycheck lost to rising fuel prices. 

Affordable, reliable mobility means working-class folks can get to work and students can get to school and to after-school jobs. 

Affordable, reliable, enjoyable mobility means more of us voluntarily choosing not to go by car.

Part of the answer is on two wheels. Another part is a beautiful, scenic, reliable shuttle system that visitor dollars pay for and locals enjoy at a very reasonable monthly fee, ideally free for students and kupuna. 

Maui is both a premier cycling destination and a fantastic climate for year-round cycling.

Bikes and cars do not belong sharing the same roads. It’s too dangerous and it is not necessary. I would advocate for alternative bikeways, potentially utilizing existing private road infrastructure — the old sugarcane roads and former pineapple fields. 

Managed, monitored access for pedestrians, equestrians and cyclists to greenway corridors would open safe pathways between towns for local traffic that would reduce cars on the road, improve quality of life, and make Maui more resilient.

What if our county buses and shuttles were the most affordable, reliable way to get around the island in safety, comfort and style? Public transit is the lifeblood of a regenerative, inclusive economy.

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 Maui County. Be innovative, but be specific.

I would like to share a lesson from the Singaporean school of economic development.

It is the secret of how a tiny island nation went from being a sleepy, mosquito-filled fishing village to becoming one of the most attractive places to do business in Asia.

The secret is the people. Singapore invested heavily in improving and retaining human capital starting in the public schools.

Singapore’s students are financially rewarded by the government for getting good grades, demonstrating that the community is vested in their success and wants them to do well in school.

Singapore doubles down on the best and brightest graduates, providing financial support for them to study abroad, attend the best universities, returning in four to six years transformed by their education and experience.

With guaranteed jobs in the public sector, with salaries and benefits competitive with private industry, they are now active participants in Singapore’s world-class government services.

Singapore today is a shining example of investing in human capital, demanding excellence in the public sector, and encouraging the best and brightest to choose to serve in government.

How might the Singapore model help us transform Hawaii?

Let’s start with an experiment in improving human capital flowing into the Capitol and county offices.

Aloha! My name is Aram, and I am the prototype.

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