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 Seaula Tupa’i, Republican candidate for lieutenant governor. His opponent is Democrat Sylvia Luke.

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

Candidate for Lieutenant Governor

Seaula Tupa'i
Party Republican
Age 43
Occupation Senior pastor
Residence Hilo

Website

Community organizations/prior offices held

Hawaii National Guard Youth Challenge Academy, instructor; Overcoming Faith Center, senior pastor; Hilo High School, football coach; Kamehameha School Keaau, football coach; Waiakea High School, Alternative Learning Center Instructor.

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

The rights of the people of Hawaii have been long overlooked. In  2020, Hawaii saw some of the strictest mandates and lockdowns in the nation, all done against the will of the people of Hawaii with over 2,000 small businesses shutting down yet big stores like Walmart, Target and Home Depot staying open. Also, many current and past elected officials are or were under investigation by the FBI for their connection to high profile corruption cases.

We need to put the power back into the hands of the people by electing constitutional sheriffs that will uphold the U.S. and Hawaii constitutions and fulfill their oaths of office. We need to put governor-appointed candidates on the ballot so the people can vote for them. We need to cut taxes and give incentives to the small businesses of Hawaii, which make up 99% of the businesses in Hawaii.

Winston Churchill said a nation that tries to tax itself into prosperity is like a man standing in a bucket trying to lift himself up by the handle of that bucket. That’s what Hawaii’s been doing with our small businesses.

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?

We know that tourism makes up 21% of Hawaii’s economy, we’re ranked first in the nation for tourism dependency and suffer from an economic phenomenon known as “overtourism.”

What we need to do for the economy is start by amending policies that don’t serve the people’s best interest such as the Jones Act. We need to empower Hawaii’s local fishing, farming and food production industry by providing tax benefits to local farmers, fishermen and ranchers. We should also explore how to make Hawaii the bridge between eastern and western medicine by creating avenues for traditional and alternative medicine practitioners to receive training and licensing.

In regards to tourism we should introduce a “give and take” therapeutic hunting industry that also benefits Native Hawaiian communities by providing them with food. Hunting supports more than 680,000 jobs nationally and has an annual impact of about $38 billion on the economy. In 2017, Wyoming’s state and local government saw $72.4 million in tax revenue from wildlife-related activities and it is something Hawaii should look into.

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?

Honolulu is ranked in the top 3 as the most expensive cities in the U.S. Our housing in Hawaii is 202% higher than the national average. DHHL has stated that there are over 40,000 applications and over 28,000 people on the wait list and according to their plans to develop 1,300 new lots from 2020-2024, it would take 110 years to service everyone on the wait list, not including any new applications. We need to have dialogue on how to open up more vacant lots and allow a lessee to potentially construct their own property by partnering with organizations like Hawaii Habitat for Humanity Association and Ho’olimalima.

We should also open up rent-to-own options for those on the wait list earning 50% to 60% of the median income. Let’s also look at partnering with nonprofit associations that provide financial literacy, credit repair courses and education on support with bills. We need to have conversations on creating regulations prioritizing who can buy or rent a house here. We must also hold developers to promises they’ve already made and honor the contracts in which these developers should be local developers, not nonresident developers. On the Big Island alone 40% of the houses sold last year were developed by nonresidents.

We need to have a circular economy that puts the money back into Hawaii, not into foreign economies.

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?

In 2019, Hawaii had the highest cost of living in the nation with an index of 191.8. Currently the cost of living in Hawaii is 88% higher than the national average.

We need to eliminate or lower sales taxes including excise taxes on such commodities as gasoline, tobacco, alcohol and license fees for vehicles etc. while keeping taxes as-is for tourists visiting our islands. We need to keep the minimum wage small business-friendly but bring the cost of living down.

We need to consider eliminating occupational licensing on trade based and nonmedical careers and lower property taxes, income taxes and government wages. Governments do not create the wealth. They consume it. It is the people who create the wealth and they need the incentive tax cuts to do it.

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?

Hawaii is ranked 40th in overall educational quality and 48th in ACT scores, but we’re ranked 13th in highest school spending. 15.9% of all adults in Hawaii lack basic literacy skills yet in the early 1800s Hawaii was the most literate nation in the world with a 91% literacy rate among citizens.

We need to revamp the state’s “one-size-fits-all” school system through school choice and we should create voucher programs that provide parents with an allotted portion of public education funding and allow them to use those funds to send their child to a school that best suits their needs. In other words the money should follow the child. Let’s create Tax Credit Scholarships that allow individuals and businesses to reduce their liability by supporting organizations that disperse funds to families. We should also make tax credits and deductions that help families pay for educational expenses.

The state also needs to allocate monies for a safe school security response system to protect the lives of students and school personnel from intruders and criminals.

And lastly, the BOE should be elected by the people and not appointed by the governor. A compromise would be allow the governor to choose a number of candidates and then let the people vote and select from the pool.

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 the past two years Hawaii has seen an uptick in corruption scandals with current and former officials who are or were under investigation for their connection to high-profile corruption cases. According to CNN, Hawaii has some of the lowest voter turnout among new voters but some of the highest legacy votership.

We need to place term limits on seats that currently have no term limits. We must also perform ongoing audits on government spending at all levels and publicize the reports. We need to create laws that eliminate pensions for those caught in bribery scandals and insist that every expense and project requires independent review, justification and priority assessment. We should perform full forensic audits on all projects and departments that faced scandal in the past two years. Then we should create a civil asset forfeiture law in which the public is reimbursed with the assets of the elected official caught in a corruption scandal.

I feel these changes would encourage and empower the people to be educated and proactive in the political well-being of the state.

7. 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?

There must be transparency and open dialogue with those in office and the people we serve. I would look to do a monthly town hall or fireside chat to let the people come and ask questions about the state and all that is happening within each department.

People want transparency and this would help destigmatize the communities’ perception of those in office.

8. The office of lieutenant governor has few official duties and is often viewed as irrelevant. But some LGs have managed to play a significant role in government. What would you do to make the office more productive?

Hawaii has reduced the duties of the LG since the mid-’90s to four official duties. We would like to bring the Office of Elections under the purview of the LG. We would also hope to create programs that focus on teaching future generations constitutional rights and civic duties.

We would work closely with the 4H Club and other organizations that empower youth through financial literacy courses, entrepreneurship courses, vocational trade programs relevant to the agriculture of each respective island to instill a love for the islands back into the keiki and other life skills. We would also like to work on bringing more music, art and cultural enrichment back into Hawaii’s schools.

9. Sometimes Hawaii governors and lieutenant governors have not gotten along very well, and those disputes have spilled into the public realm. How important is it for you to be on the same page as the governor, and how will you handle disagreements on policy.

It is extremely important to be on the same page as the governor. We can get so much more done if we don’t care who gets the credit. My demeanor and approach to disagreements is to have open dialogue and find the areas we have alignment on and then proceed from there to find compromises.

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.

I would put this question to the people in our state. Many times those in office have these grand ideas but they rarely ever have a genesis from the people. In the end, the people would know what we have need of the most here in Hawaii.

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