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 Jeanne Kapela, Democratic candidate for state House District 5, which includes Keaau, Kurtistown, Mountain View, Glenwood, Volcano, Pahala, Punaluu, Naalehu, Milolii, Hoopuloa, Hookena and Pawaina. Her opponents are Republican Lohi Godwin and Libertarian Michael Last.

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

Candidate for State House District 5

Jeanne Kapela
Party Democratic
Age 28
Occupation State legislator
Residence Captain Cook, Hawaii island

Website

Community organizations/prior offices held

State representative for House District 5 (2020-present); chair, Working Families Legislative Caucus (2021-present); Kona Coffee Cultural Festival Board of Directors (prior); Kona Coffee Farmers Association Board of Directors (prior); Kona Dance and Performing Arts Board of Directors (current); Lions Club of Kona member (current); communications chair, Konawaena High School 100th Anniversary Committee (prior); executive director, of Unite Hawaii (prior).

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

Local farmers are the heartbeat of West Hawaii. Our farmers grow some of Hawaii’s most iconic agricultural treasures, including Kona and Ka’u coffee and macadamia nuts. Yet, the looming threat of climate change threatens to undermine food security for our community and wreak havoc on our farmland. To combat climate change, I believe we need to establish a Green New Deal for Hawaii that uplifts workers’ prosperity and the well-being of our planet.

I will also fight to protect the Kona name from commercial exploitation by expanding coffee labeling requirements to include ready-to-drink beverages, requiring coffee blenders to disclose the geographic origins by weight of each origin that their blends contain, and increasing the minimum percentage of coffee that is required to advertise a coffee product as being from a specific place (like Kona or Ka’u) to at least 51%.

Regenerative agriculture is a pathway toward food security and climate resilience. Instead of investing in agribusiness exports and industrial operations that poison our land with pesticides, we should support small and indigenous farmers who are restoring the aina and feeding the communities in which they live.

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?

Diversification is critical to the long-term health of Hawaii’s economy. We cannot continue to rely on an unsustainable model of tourism and we cannot continue to allow unchecked numbers of tourists to flood our shores at the expense of residents and our aina.

I support the establishment of green fees for visitors to the islands, which can be used to increase funding for Hawaii’s conservation and sustainability programs. New Zealand, the Galapagos Islands, the Maldives, Cancun and Venice all have green fee programs for visitors ranging from $1 to $100. New Zealand spends $188 per tourist on environmental programs. Hawaii spends just $9 per tourist. We need to catch up.

Additionally, we need to seriously consider reinstating carrying capacity limits for each island to prevent our visitor industry from damaging our communities and our environment. Finally, we should establish a task force to create a plan to diversify our economy through sustainable industries, like regenerative agriculture and clean energy. This would create a strategic framework to guide state policy, as is the case with our state’s sustainability plan.

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?

We need to put people’s needs before corporate greed. We can make Hawaii more affordable by investing in truly affordable housing for those earning less than 60 percent of area median income. Instead of giving tax breaks to developers, we should fund housing projects that are overseen by nonprofit organizations, which are not driven by shareholder profits.

I also support linking Hawaii’s minimum wage to our cost of living index. That way, low-wage workers will receive pay increases that keep up with inflation, rather than having their compensation determined by politics. I believe that we need to establish paid family and sick leave programs for all workers. No one should have to choose between earning their paychecks and protecting their health.

Moreover, we must deliver tax fairness for working families. We should raise the food and renters’ credits for low-income households and create a state child tax credit, which we can pay for by closing corporate tax loopholes, increasing income and capital gains taxes for the wealthy, and raising the TAT.

Finally, we should make it unlawful for gas companies to engage in price gouging, so that working families aren’t being exploited by the oil industry.

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?

This year, I launched the Working Families Caucus at the Hawaii state Legislature. The purpose of the caucus is to fight for the issues that matter to working families in the islands, like tax fairness, affordable housing, paid sick and family leave, and universal preschool. I’m pleased that the caucus is bipartisan.

We’ve also invited advocates and labor unions to participate in our meetings to ensure that the caucus’ efforts are driven by workers and that legislators are held accountable for their actions. In this way, we have been able to engage in deep and meaningful conversations about public policy, where creative thinking isn’t stifled by special interests or legislative hierarchies.

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

Before we enact a statewide citizens initiative process, we should pass significant reforms to our campaign spending system. In other states, wealthy corporations and rich political donors have used dark money to manipulate citizens’ initiatives and undermine the public trust. We cannot allow that to happen in the islands.

We need to strengthen our commitment to preserving the public trust, which includes regulating the special interests that corrupt our political system.

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?

I don’t believe that term limits for state legislators will necessarily lead to better governmental outcomes. At the state Legislature, policymakers are tasked with addressing thousands of issues and making decisions that impact our entire island chain. It often takes years for policy ideas to move forward. Moreover, policymakers often need time to become familiar with complex policy items, like the state budget. It is important that we retain the institutional memory of elected officials who genuinely support the public’s interest.

Instead of implementing term limits, we should pass proposals to remove corporate influence and dark money from politics. I support strengthening our state’s public funding program for candidates who agree to limits on private campaign contributions. I also believe that we should enact common-sense campaign finance regulations, like ending the practice of bundling that allows candidates and political action committees to subvert the spirit of campaign finance laws by combining individual campaign contributions into one large contribution. That’s a practice that we should immediately ban.

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?

Integrity is essential to good government. I support banning the solicitation of campaign contributions during the legislative session. I also believe that we should prohibit lobbyists from hosting fundraisers for elected officials.

We must end the practice of allowing campaign contributions to be bundled together, which undermines our efforts to enforce campaign spending limits and invites corruption into our political process. Furthermore, we should require all state employees, including legislators and their staff, to receive annual ethics training to ensure that they are fully informed about how to comply with ethics regulations.

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 support making legislative allowance expenditures public, so that people can see how legislators are using the tax dollars with which they are provided to carry out their legislative responsibilities.

We must also take conflict of interest decisions out of the hands of individual legislators. Instead, we should empower the Ethics Commission to make recommendations about potential conflicts of interest after bills are filed, with those recommendations being made available for public review. The Ethics Commission has access to legislators’ financial disclosures and is, therefore, well positioned to determine when taking action on a proposal might provide an unfair financial benefit to a lawmaker.

Finally, we should require registered lobbyists to disclose exactly what pieces of legislation they are lobbying for or against.

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?

At its heart, politics is about community organizing. When politicians lose touch with their constituents, they become detached from the issues that matter to the people they are entrusted to represent. I grew up in poverty. I know what it is like when you can’t buy food or pay your bills. My district is also extremely impoverished. Large portions of it lack access to running water.

While we may not always agree on what solutions to pursue, I believe that we are at our best, as a community, when we are engaged in an open dialogue about the problems experienced by everyday people. During the pandemic, we came together to deliver meals to children, kupuna and our most economically vulnerable neighbors. We created local continuums of care to meet each other’s basic needs. We proved that we can unite for the common good when faced with daunting challenges.

There may always be a vocal minority who engage in threats, abuse and intimidation to get their way. But we must overcome the politics of fear by rededicating ourselves to the creation of an economy based on compassion and hope.

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 to establish a Green New Deal for Hawaii that uplifts people and our planet. Our islands remain overly reliant on unsustainable industries to drive our economy, like tourism and the military-industrial complex. We need to rebuild our economy by investing in renewable energy innovations that advance our fight against climate change, regenerative agriculture that delivers food security and restores the health of our land, and other carbon-reducing economic initiatives.

While a Green New Deal generates good-paying green jobs, it also requires our state to invest in the knowledge and benefits necessary to allow workers to transition from carbon-heavy positions to more sustainable industries. Accordingly, we must also increase funding for public education by at least $500 million per year, create free preschool and child-care options for working families, and establish a single-payer health insurance program that guarantees quality medical care for those in need.

We can pay for these initiatives, in part, by establishing a carbon tax, which experts believe will generate up to $400 million per year.

The climate crisis is the most urgent issue facing humanity. We must take bold action today to preserve a sustainable future for the generations to come.

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