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 Makai Freitas, Democratic candidate for state House District 8, which includes Hawi, Waiaka, Waimea, Makahalau, Palihooukapapa, Waikii, Waikoloa, Waikui, Kawaihae and Mahukona. The other Democratic candidate is David Tarnas.

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

Candidate for State House District 8

Makai Freitas
Party Democratic
Age 44
Occupation Longshoreman
Residence Waimea, Hawaii island

Website

Community organizations/prior offices held

Football and track coach, Hawaii Preparatory Academy; member, Hawaii County Democratic Party; member, Waimea Community Association; International Longshore and Warehouse Union – Local 142 (ILWU); ILWU Political Action Committee; ILWU Unit 1201 chairman.

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

Housing – forces internal and external causing skyrocketing costs and reduced inventory. Issues range from out-of-state buyers hiking up prices $300,000-plus above asking price and triggering huge increases in property taxes, short-term vacation rentals in residential areas reducing availability of reasonable rentals and disturbing neighborhoods, increased homelessness, and perhaps worst of all, the number of families forced to move away.

Housing is complicated and frustrating and must be tackled on multiple fronts – from expediting increased inventory, especially low-cost rentals on public lands to hold down costs – and also intended for teachers, first responders and other essential workers. Also, we need rent control, to restrict vacation rentals in non-resort areas, and to create real property tax breaks for long-time residents/kupuna to protect them from increased property taxes. Further, we need to raise the minimum wage to help individuals/families deal with the cost of living.

Housing issues also impact health care and education. I am committed to getting in the weeds to help bring together the public and private sector, nonprofits, labor and community groups. I’m not convinced we need more laws – in fact, we need to work with the counties and DOH to streamline building codes and the permitting process.

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?

I support the full-time livable wage jobs with health care that the visitor industry provides. I do not support unlimited visitor numbers. I like the strategies John DeFries and team are advocating to educate visitors about how to appropriately interact with residents and respect our land, ocean and special places.

If elected, I’m committed to working to protect the quality of life of local residents as well as our natural and cultural resources. This will include establishing user fees for out-of-state residents with revenue raised dedicated to the specific needs of that community.

I also will fight to bring back home Transient Accommodation Tax revenue to the counties to mitigate the impact of visitors – from emergency services to our public facilities and special places. I think it’s shameful that the Legislature is now stuffing all of the $640 million in TAT taxes generated by visitors into the general fund. TAT was originally intended to mitigate visitor impacts … it needs to be returned to this purpose.

Second, we must get serious about agriculture on Hawaii island with infrastructure support (housing, slaughter capacity, PV for refrigeration, food aggregation facilities, interisland shipping supports), plus help farmers and ranchers with long-term state leases and integrating manpower-reducing technology.

3. 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?

Two public schools in my district have lost about 150 students over the past three years. Many of these families left the state due to cost of living, lack of reliable livable wage jobs, and lack of access to and cost of medical care.

I support a more rapid increase in the minimum wage than approved by the 2022 Legislature. I also support an exemption to this for small locally owned businesses with 10-15 or fewer employees.

I support the funding the 2022 Legislature put toward early childhood. Working families need this assistance for child care and to improve academic success for Hawaii students to be prepared for high school, college and/or career. If elected, I will monitor this funding to ensure effective use and that rural communities such as my district get our fair share of increased seats and services for children.

4. Hawaii has the most lopsided Legislature in the country, with only one Republican in the Senate and only four in the House. How would you ensure there is an open exchange of ideas, transparency and accountability for decisions? What do you see as the consequences of one-party control, and how would you address that?

While there are few Republicans, it seems that Democrats come in many “flavors” – from quite conservative to quite progressive. If all Democrats thought the same, we wouldn’t have had such a hard time raising the minimum wage.

However, I think the bigger issue today in Hawaii has more to do with building trust and being accessible and accountable, listening to learn, and having hard conversations about broken promises and how to meaningfully move forward in ways that most feel heard and treated fairly. This is not easy, but I’m committed to doing my best and remembering two things: the expectations of my kupuna and the needs and dreams of our children – to give them hope and choices.

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

I believe Hawaii has a “citizens initiative” process. It’s called elections, and I am involved right now in such an initiative, challenging a sitting legislator.

Further, Hawaii is a strong union state – both public and private – to balance the rights of working men and women with the needs and expectations of employers. I support organized labor and think citizen initiatives have in other jurisdictions undermined this protection and other privacy and minority rights that we in Hawaii are fortunate to have had protected by thoughtful policymakers over the years.

Also, in looking at initiatives in other states and jurisdictions, major public policy decisions are determined by initiatives that are funded by dark PAC money and/or special interest groups. This does not serve working men and women and their families well.

6. Thanks to their campaign war chests and name familiarity, incumbents are almost always re-elected in Hawaii legislative races. Should there be term limits for state legislators, as there are for the governor’s office and county councils? Why or why not?

Here again I think we have “term limits” – called “elections.” I am a newcomer and know I face an uphill race with an incumbent, but I also understand how challenging it is to learn the legislative process and what it takes to pass a bill or secure funding for a program, service or facilities that my community may need.

Term limits would impair a legislator’s ability to effectively fulfill their community’s needs. Further, there are other ways to address large campaign war chests – such as public funding of campaigns, campaign spending limits and/or limiting or banning “blind” political action committees.

7. 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 or banning campaign contributions during session?

I totally agree campaign contributions should be banned during session. Beyond this, as a newcomer, I am very open to listening and learning from the House commission on its findings.

8. How would you make the Legislature more transparent and accessible to the public? Opening conference committees to the public? Stricter disclosure requirements on lobbying and lobbyists? How could the Legislature change its own internal rules to be more open?

I have much to learn about the legislative process and internal rules, but do think – at least initially – that conference committees should be open to the public.

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

First, clear, consistent communication is essential – using a variety of platforms to reach wide-ranging constituencies. Our North Hawaii community is very aware of this need/issue in part due to the recent horrific wildfire to which our emergency responders and community responded incredibly proactively, but there were serious gaps in communications.

Public policy is complicated and decisions must be explained. This doesn’t guarantee agreement or consensus, but there must be a serious effort to be factual, adhere to the rule of law and science as applicable, and be consistent and accessible. We also must realize that social media isn’t always “our friend” – and also, many do not have internet access so we must not rely on electronic media as the sole source of information.

How to bridge gaps? Personally, I would draw upon my experience as a union contract negotiator to work with the wide-ranging constituencies in my district and those that are present at the Legislature to try to find common ground. This will require open communications, accessibility, and at all times, civility and being willing to listen and learn.

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.

Tackling the construction of affordable housing – especially rentals – is my priority and it will not happen without bringing together people and resources from across the county and state – public, private, non-profit, labor, business and community organizations. I am committed to this.

I’m also committed to growing agriculture on Hawaii island. Initially this includes transitioning state ranch and farm leases from DLNR to DOA to support both environmentally and culturally responsible land stewardship and food production. And there’s so much more that needs to be done to meaningfully support agriculture.

However, if there’s one “Big Idea” I’d like to share, it would be to “grow” Palamanui – the Hawaii Community College campus here in West Hawaii — to become the College of Environmental Sciences.

Hawaii island is the perfect “living laboratory” for the environmental sciences and just as Hilo is the ideal “home” for Hawai‘inuiākea School of Hawaiian Knowledge, established in 2007, West Hawaii campus can and should take advantage of our amazingly diverse environmental systems and place in the Pacific.  For now, we must do all we can to continue to nurture growth of Palamanui. North and West Hawaii fought long and hard to get this major educational asset launched.

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