Editor’s note: For Hawaii’s Nov. 8 General 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 Duke Aiona, Republican candidate for governor. His opponent is Democrat Josh Green.

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

Candidate for Governor

Duke Aiona
Party Republican
Age 67
Occupation Attorney
Residence Wahiawa, Oahu

Website

Community organizations/prior offices held

Lieutenant governor.

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

Currently, Hawaii’s political leadership and structure lacks trust, respect and balance. This imbalance has resulted in criminal charges against those in leadership, corruption, pay-to-play and lack of transparency. There is no civility in our political systems, and we are losing our moral compass. The spirit of aloha has been diminished in an area where we need it most.

A two-party system provides the checks and balances that are needed to bring accountability and thus credibility back to our government. I hope to restore that system by rebuilding trust, earning respect and in turn, creating the balance Hawaii needs.

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?

While tourism will always be an industry Hawaii relies on, the pandemic highlighted the need in diversifying our economy to provide more certainty for kamaaina during times of economic downturn.

Unfortunately, Hawaii’s high taxes and fees, and the copious amount of regulations and bureaucracy have made it difficult for new industries to flourish in our islands. Getting government out of the way by reducing the amount of regulations, permits, bureaucracy, fees and taxes sends a message to the businesses outside of Hawaii that we are open for business. However, to do this requires the political will and a commitment in allocating the resources that are necessary to develop the infrastructure that would attract businesses and industries.

Also, at the core of creating a sustainable and vibrant socio-economic model is the need to strengthen our families and improve our public education system; to ensure our keiki have every opportunity to succeed in a diversified economy. I am committed to prioritizing all of these areas to ensure the people of Hawaii can flourish.

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?

We need to appoint the right people at the Department of Hawaiian Home Lands to distribute these funds who can also develop and implement programs and policies to address the existing financing issues within the department. We need thousands of affordable housing units for middle- to low-income families now, not two, five or 10 years from now, which is the timeline for many of the current housing projects. Thus, the governor needs to make this a top priority and bring together all stakeholders who have the authority and resources to create housing immediately along with implementing a plan of action.

The Home Ownership, Personal Equity (HOPE) program enables individuals and families to save money for a down payment on their own home, simply by paying rent. Over time, families will actually earn equity on their rent, providing for a down payment on a home anywhere they choose to live. This program will not require an increase in taxes and is expected to help more than 5,200 families in its first year alone. Over time, these individuals and families will be able to secure their own housing and achieve their dream of owning a home.

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?

This is a problem that needs to be addressed now. The people of Hawaii were already struggling before inflation made our state even more expensive. We need to cut our cost of living by cutting the fees, taxes and regulations that impact the cost of food, housing and transportation.

One area that would have an immediate effect, especially on middle- and low-income families, is to eliminate the general excise tax on food and medicine. Hawaii is one of only 13 states that taxes groceries, and one of only seven states that tax groceries at the same percentage as other goods.

We have been taxing our residents further and further into debt, which has contributed to Hawaii being one of the worst states for homelessness.

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?

This question raises issues that have existed for decades, far beyond the pandemic. The challenges for public schools through the pandemic were the result of the policies and mandates imposed by the Department of Education and the Executive Branch, not the public school structure.

Hawaii is the only school district in the United States that encompasses an entire state. It has also grown immensely since its creation. If a statewide school district is an effective model, why does no other state in the nation structure their education system this way?

Education is an inherently local issue. Our local communities, whether it be on Molokai, in Hanalei, or in urban Honolulu, understand their needs best. As a result, they have a better grasp of what their students need than any bureaucrat does. It would be in the best interest of our families and their futures to finally discuss these issues and decide what type of public school structure our state needs. It is time for Hawaii to finally have this tough conversation for the sake of our keiki, their futures and the betterment of our state.

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?

In response to the last question, yes. As I have said before, political balance provides an immediate check that can ensure accountability at the Legislature. To eliminate feelings of entitlement and abuse of power by those representatives who have been in the legislature for over a decade, we should create term limits for those positions.

The same people in government have given us the same results for decades: the state with the highest cost of living, highest number of homeless per capita, and local people forced to move to the mainland in search of more opportunities for their families.

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?

Be a model of stewardship. Everyone who lives or visits these islands must understand and appreciate this concept of stewardship.

We are not the owners of the natural resources that make up Hawaii. We need to understand that we are the anointed and appointed caretakers of our natural resources, and we must malama the aina, stop the littering, recycle our waste and maximize our many renewable energy resources.

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?

We would work to create immediate political balance by using a leadership style that is objective, collaborative and inclusive. My leadership style is grounded upon my experience as a state judge and mediator. I believe in the wisdom to listen, facilitate and direct opposing views towards a common goal.

In addition, my experience as a litigator has trained me to identify, recognize and address the pros and cons of issues. Therefore, if I am elected, the decision process on issues and policies would be based upon the pros, con, and ultimately what is best for all of the people of Hawaii, as opposed to what the political “consequences” might be.

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

As the lieutenant governor for two terms, I did not experience this issue of a “public clash” with the governor. Accordingly, I expect to embrace the lieutenant governor in the same manner as I was by Governor Lingle.

I envision preparing the lieutenant governor to be the governor if the situation arises. I envision eliminating the invisible wall on the fifth floor of the state Capitol that existed with nearly every administration since statehood, but was non-existent between Governor Lingle and myself. I envision creating the leadership team that our state deserves from its top elected officials.

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.

We need not look further than our islands. Our state is rich with innovators and entrepreneurs who are already building a better Hawaii through fostering sustainable businesses and practices, and efforts to create social and cultural equity.

The state government needs to reimagine “bringing everyone to the table” and create a system that genuinely reflects that idea. By bringing trust, respect and balance back into our government, we can create a space for these change-makers to share their practices and work together in the spirit of aloha.

Regarding the earlier mentioned Home Ownership, Personal Equity (HOPE) program, this innovative concept would provide lower-income and middle-class families with an opportunity to own their own home and allow for families an opportunity to stay in Hawaii.

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