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 Kirstin Kahaloa, Democratic candidate for state House District 6, which includes Honaunau, Napoopoo, Captain Cook, Kealakekua, Keauhou, Holualoa and Kailua-Kona. The other Democratic candidates are  Ilya Barannikov and Lono Mack.

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 6

Kirstin Kahaloa
Party Democratic
Age 39
Occupation Nonprofit management
Residence Holualoa, Hawaii island

Website

Community organizations/prior offices held

President and past president, Hawaii Island Native Hawaiian Chamber of Commerce; board member, Hawaii Island United Way; advisory board, West Hawaii Fund; Hawaii Community Foundation, Lions Club of Kona.

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

The biggest issue facing my district is the cost of living, led by the skyrocketing cost of housing. The demand for housing at all levels is far bigger than the supply. Solving this will require a thoughtful, balanced approach including the development of new water sources.

We need to build more of the right kinds of housing, and regulate short-term vacation rentals to preserve housing inventory for kamaaina families.

We also must re-examine our zoning and land use decisions of long ago, embracing today’s best practices of walkable, transit-connected, livable communities to lower infrastructure costs and reduce the environmental impacts of urban sprawl and vehicle dependence.

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?

By moving toward a more regenerative model, tourism can drive the economic diversification that leaders in Hawaii have talked about for decades. By channeling more visitor spending toward local farmers, fishermen, ranchers, artisans, activity hosts, musicians, dancers and community nonprofits – to name a few examples – that significant capital can help these operations scale up, hire more kamaaina, and support a thriving local economy.

We must also continue to pursue opportunities for new economic sectors that build upon Hawaii’s strengths and move us toward a sustainable, regenerative future: sectors like renewable energy research, innovative agriculture and aquaculture, and intellectual property development like media production or digital innovation.

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?

Home ownership is the most accessible way for kamaaina families to build wealth – and yet today, it is far too inaccessible for too many families. Doing the kind of middle class work our parents’ generation did to purchase the homes they did, does not pencil out for today’s middle class families.

We must work to control the skyrocketing cost of housing. We must also support local families in their pursuit of home ownership. This could take the form of down payment assistance or matching, perhaps funded by an adjustment in conveyance taxes levied on out-of-state buyers and sellers. We must also deliver on our promise to Native Hawaiian families by putting eligible homesteaders onto aina and into homes.

I also believe that the implementation of universal preschool will help our keiki and our families. It will relieve some of the burden of child care and create a strong foundation for our keiki’s educational future.

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?

There is a significant diversity of ideas within the Democratic Party, and there are good ideas from good people on both sides of the proverbial aisle. Ensuring an open exchange of ideas, transparency and accountability for decisions is important no matter what party or parties is in control.

It’s not about left or right, it’s about doing right. I am thankful that, for the most part, we do not see the divisive partisan politics we see on a national level here at home.

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

Empowering individuals in our community to propose laws and constitutional amendments is something I am agreeable to. We need to look at what capacity our state departments have to execute a process like this. But, if this bolsters public engagement, it is important to look into and pursue a pathway for Hawaii.

In other states, there is a processing fee for participating in this process. That may generate enough revenue to allocate the infrastructure needed to execute this process.

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?

There are merits to having an experienced lawmaker advocating on your district’s behalf, and there are merits to having fresh, new voices and ideas in the chambers. Hawaii’s voters currently have the opportunity to choose new representation at the Capitol every two or four years. Many incumbents drew no opponents in their primaries, some running totally unopposed. What would term limits do in cases like those? I’m open to public consideration of this issue.

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?

All ideas to ensure transparency and accountability at the Legislature should be on the table. The best counter to shadowy actions is sunshine – public presence as important decisions are being deliberated and made. While existing Sunshine Law requirements may not work with the existing Legislative schedule, there is definitely a need for more transparency and public input.

Continuing the COVID-era policy of allowing remote participation in all public hearings and taking actions to encourage more in-person participation at the Legislature is important, especially for neighbor island districts like mine. The Legislature’s Public Access Room does an incredibly important public service in educating and encouraging citizen involvement, and their work must continue.

8. 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?

We must rise above the things that divide us and remember the things we have in common. For some, they are the values we grew up with here. For some, they are the values that attracted them to make Hawaii home.

At the core of all these values is a deep care for those we may never meet – our grandchildren, great-grandchildren and generations beyond. That care must drive our actions to malama our environment, our unique Hawaii culture, and ultimately one another.

9. 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.

My bold idea that could make a huge impact on our economy, our environment, and on our health is quite simple: eat local. Flipping the equation from eating mostly imported food to mostly locally-grown food would keep our precious agricultural lands productive, help with climate resilience, make Hawaii more resistant to the many external factors that currently affect our food prices, and keep more of our hard-earned dollars here at home.

Reducing the packaging associated with shipping food around the world coupled with robust composting programs on every island would have positive implications on reducing solid waste while improving our soil.

State government can lead the way, with schools, prisons and public hospitals together comprising Hawaii’s largest restaurant by far. Building upon previous work by the Legislature, I would introduce new legislation to set mandatory benchmarks getting state food purchases to 50% or more.

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