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 Mike Gabbard, Democratic candidate for state Senate District 21, which includes Fernandez Village, Ewa, Kapolei, Makakilo and Kalaeloa. His opponent is Republican Matthew Khan.

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

Candidate for State Senate District 21

Mike Gabbard
Party Democratic
Age 74
Occupation State senator
Residence Kalaeloa, Oahu


Community organizations/prior offices held

Hawaii State Senate (2006-present); Honolulu City Council (2003-2005); Stand Up For America, 2001; co-founder, Healthy Hawaii Coalition, 2001; founder, Aloha Parenting Project, 2007; president, Kalaeloa Tennis Association; member, Kapolei Chamber of Commerce; member, St. Jude Catholic Church; Makakilo member, Knights of Columbus.

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

In a word: infrastructure — roads, broadband, power, etc. In 2022, Kapolei ranks as the third-fastest growing jurisdiction in Hawaii and the fastest-growing city on Oahu. Its population has practically doubled in 10 years. Kalaeloa, formerly Barbers Point Naval Air Station, isn’t far behind.

Residential and commercial development is trying to keep pace with burgeoning growth, but solid infrastructure continues to lag behind. I’m proud of the work we’ve accomplished over the past 16 years, but there’s much more to be done. I plan to build on my record to effect positive change by introducing legislation to address these issues.

I’ll collaborate with the Kapolei Chamber of Commerce to help business revitalization, advocate and support policies to increase jobs and help build a dynamic economy. With three new schools coming online in the district, I plan to build on my partnership with teachers, the DOE, and UHWO to introduce legislation to address the serious issue of school infrastructure and safety.

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?

The pandemic opened our eyes to the critical need for alternative economic pathways besides tourism. I support the new marketing direction taken by HTA to involve visitors in regenerative tourism,

Also, since 2014, I’ve championed the need to create a cottage industry with industrial hemp. We’ve had many starts and stops, but I’m not giving up. This past session, I introduced SB2986, working with hemp farmers to lessen some of the regulations and make it easier for them to do business. In the end, because of concerns from agencies like the Attorney General and HDOA, we couldn’t get final agreement.

On one hand, it’s good the USDA hemp program can continue to 2025, but it’s unfortunate we couldn’t make improvements. I’ll work with hemp farmers to come up with a new and better bill for 2023 to help move us closer to seeing industrial hemp as an alternate solution to help our struggling economy. I’ve always said that Hawaii nei will become the global leader in hemp largely due to Hawaii branding, whether it’s Honolulu CBD, Hawaii Hemp Shampoo, or Hanalei Hemp Granola. Once we’re at full steam, we’ll blow everyone else out of the water. Hemp hemp hooray!

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?

I supported the minimum wage increase and will support legislation to implement a “green fee” on tourists, tax reform and more affordable housing. The green fee is a no-brainer that will help bring more money into the state through tourists paying for different services they use, such as parks, beaches, etc.

Tax reform, where we get rid of the general excise tax on food and medicine, is also a no-brainer. Affordable housing is key for keeping our local people from leaving the state.

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?

People are free to support the party of their choice. Whether Democrat, Republican, independent, etc. We at the Capitol have far-ranging positions on the issues and often, differing opinions. The fact there is a majority of Democrats doesn’t mean there isn’t an open exchange of ideas, as many of us represent a wide continuum of values. Different viewpoints do end up getting represented. 

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

Yes, our state constitutional amendment process has served as the closest thing to a citizen initiative process and it has been an effective way for people to be involved.

Implementing a citizen initiative process in our state will likely promote greater participation in the political process and would be a healthy addition to our democracy.

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?

The major point that bothers me about term limits is that voters are denied the opportunity to vote for the candidate of their choice. It’s a controversial issue that needs more conversations statewide.

Currently, 15 states have term limit laws on the books in the U.S. Six states have passed term limit laws, then repealed them. I’m open to looking at the issue via a bill being introduced at the Legislature, and hearing from all the various stakeholders, for and against.

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?

Yes to the above. In 2017, I made the decision to follow my daughter, Tulsi’s lead, and only accept campaign contributions from individuals.

In 2020, I disagreed with the governor’s decision to suspend our open government laws. It never makes sense to close the public out of the policymaking process, especially during a crisis when freedoms and civil rights can be trampled upon.

The Legislature, our city and county councils, and government boards and commissions, need to continue to make many improvements in allowing for remote public testimony to accommodate those who are working or can’t be at hearings in person because of where they live. This will make a big difference in allowing people to know what’s going on in government and for getting them involved in the policymaking process.

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?

One positive to come out of the pandemic was the reorganization at the Capitol to allow for virtual hearings and testimony. The public can watch any of the hearings, including conference committees, live and on-demand on the Senate’s YouTube channel. They can also contact the committee chairs ahead of time to request live testimony.

I support stricter disclosure requirements on lobbying and lobbyists.

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?

It’s all about laulima, many hands working together to get things done, and aloha, being respectful to each other, no matter what our positions are on the various issues.

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 import 85-90% of our food, costing us about $3 billion annually. We have plenty of ag land — but lack farmers. The average age of farmers in Hawaii is 61. We desperately need a massive online/TV/radio/print campaign extolling the virtues of being a farmer — that being a farmer is a noble profession, no less noble than being a doctor, lawyer or businessperson.

As the Senate Agriculture and Environment Committee chair for the last six years, I’ve been a huge supporter of Waianae’s MA`O Organic Farms’ Youth Leadership Program, which teaches young people about organic, regenerative farming, pays them a monthly $525 stipend and pays for their college tuition.

The program dramatically changes lives and encourages a new generation to consider agriculture as a career to help us become more food self-sufficient. For several years, I worked with Dr. Albie Miles of UH West  Oahu to replicate a program like MA`O’s on the UHWO campus. While it didn’t pan out (I haven’t given up on the concept), I envision continuing to support MA‘O in its amazing growth and success.

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