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 Michael Roven Poai, candidate for Kauai County mayor. His opponent is Derek Kawakami.

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

Candidate for Kauai Mayor

Michael Roven Poai
Party Nonpartisan
Age 47
Occupation Machine operator
Residence Kapaa

Community organizations/prior offices held

Former member, Kapaa Rotary Club.  

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

It’s kind of a double-edged sword — tourism. On one hand it’s the state’s major industry and many of our island residents depend on it for survival, so it’s a good thing. On the other hand, we can’t keep up with the demand as our roads, infrastructure, beaches, parks and trails, and residents are being burdened by the costs to maintain that industry and in the process, are being priced out of their homes and this place we call paradise.

What have we done to address this? I haven’t seen much and I’m not sure there is a will by government to do much about it. I think we must be honest with ourselves and accept the fact that tourism is here to stay, and we don’t have a visible plan in place for people to feel confident about. What we need to do is get honest with ourselves, then begin to address the issues that tourism has dropped on us, then address it head-on and not deny it.

2. In the last four years, Kauai’s north shore has endured two major weather events that have severed entire communities from jobs, schools, pharmacies, banks, doctors and other essential services for many months. Should this change the county’s approach to disaster preparedness, and if so, how?

I believe that it is the mission of the county to mitigate, prepare, and respond to natural disasters. Hindsight is always 20/20 — someone somewhere is always critical on our response and preparedness.

The fact of the matter is, when it comes to Mother Nature, she is unpredictable and sometimes our best plans are not enough. We try to prepare as best we can, and we learn from each event, then revamp our approach and stay ready.

Should the county change its approach? I think our mission reflects our commitment to preparedness and in turn strengthens our resilience. I think we are doing okay.

3. There are nearly 14,000 cesspools on Kauai that must be removed by 2050. With an average cost of $15,000 to $30,000 to convert to septic, many homeowners say making the transition is not affordable. How can the county help to jump-start cesspool replacements?

Great question. An even better question is, what can the county provide in terms of rebates, discounts, grants to the owners of these homes?

The reality is it is not the fault of the homeowner. Since government decided to end cesspools, then government should subsidize or even pay for the conversion. $15,000 to $30,000 is not cheap and I anticipate that those rates will skyrocket as we near 2050.

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

First, we need to get real with the problem and stop living in denial. Second, tell me what are our plans right now? Third, is it the will of government and the people to deal with traffic issues?

I would prioritize those areas where traffic is dire. Hanalei, Kapaa, Tunnel of Trees to Lihue, Cocoa Palms to Hanamaulu, alternate routes, bypass roads, to help with congestion or in case of emergency.

Why haven’t we been given any money? Are there monies? If so, why are we taking so long to address the issues of traffic in these areas? I would ask and continue to ask until we get something done.

5. Do you feel the governor and Legislature appreciate the issues of your county, or are they too focused on Honolulu and Oahu? 

The fact of the matter is, Oahu is the hub for the state, so it is understandable. I look at it like sports. The big-name schools will get all the attention, while the lesser-name or smaller schools, not so much.

I think for Kauai, we are lucky. Our legislative leaders for Kauai, Kouchi, Nakamura, Tokioka, Morikawa, have not forgotten us here and have done a lot for our island.

6. For more than a year the median price for a single-family home on Kauai has topped $1 million. What would you do to help address the deficit of low-income, affordable and middle-class housing?

I would do a study to see where and who are the people most affected by the cost of housing. For example, Native Hawaiians: what percentage of them make that list?  How would that affect our numbers if all the Hawaiians on that list can get into a home on Hawaiian lands? What is the holdup? Financing? Can OHA pay for the down payment? How about Hawaiian Homes? Didn’t HH just receive millions of dollars?

What happened to the County of Kauai’s affordable housing program? Is that still in operation? Is that an option? Are we setting too high of a criterion for loan qualification? Are there government grants available for first time home buyers? Do people know about it?

7. Even as the Covid-19 pandemic winds down, local businesses are struggling to hire and retain workers, which has led to shortages of everything from grocery store cashiers and restaurant workers to teachers and school bus drivers. What, if anything, would you do to address this economic instability?

That is the million-dollar question. I think when Covid-19 hit and people got to work from home, then were able to get free money for not working, people became handicapped and now we’re stuck with too many jobs and not enough willing participants. People don’t want to work anymore.

The saying goes, “You can lead a horse to water, but you cannot make him drink,” essentially saying “you can show someone something that will benefit him, but you cannot force him to accept it.”

The government needs to stop giving people handouts and force them to work if they are able to. The economic instability we see today is self-inflicted and unfortunately it has penetrated into the fabric of our society. Some companies are offering incentives for people to work for them — maybe all businesses should look into providing that as a means to get people to come to work.

8. Kauai’s landfill in Kekaha will soon run out of capacity and there’s still no timely plan in place to build a new one. What can the county council do to address what could become a garbage crisis for the island?

I think we should look into generating all that waste into energy. Find what states or countries that are doing it, learn it, apply it.

I know it’s easier said than done, but what are our alternatives? We are in dire need of finding an alternative to our landfill problem. Why aren’t we addressing that? If we are addressing it, why are we being so secretive about it? Tell the people the plans to address the issue. Invest in technology or smarter systems involving trash collection, recycling, composting; public campaigns for smarter choices for recycling, and waste segregation.

9. Overtourism can degrade the environment, threaten biodiversity, contribute to wear and tear on infrastructure, generate traffic and disrupt neighborhoods. What more can be done to better manage the island’s tourism sector?

Focus on improving our infrastructure. Overtourism is taxing our roads, landfills, bio-waste system, causing resentment and greed to face off for the soul of our island.

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 Kauai County. Be innovative, but be specific.

I would focus on improving our quality of living with an emphasis on climate, sanitation, transportation, affordable housing, communication, healthy choices, and cleaning up the social and political climate.

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