About the Author

Beth Fukumoto

Beth Fukumoto served three terms in the Hawaii House of Representatives. She was the youngest woman in the U.S. to lead a major party in a legislature, the first elected Republican to switch parties after Donald Trump’s election, and a Democratic congressional candidate. Currently, she works as a political commentator and teaches leadership and ethics at the Harvard Kennedy School of Government. Opinions are the author’s own and do not necessarily reflect Civil Beat’s views. You can reach her by email at bfukumoto@civilbeat.org.

With elections looming, 2024 could be the most consequential year ever or it may change nothing at all.

I’m not a fan of New Year’s resolutions. They just add more pressure and anxiety to a goal that I probably failed to achieve last year, making me even less likely to accomplish it now. Instead, my sister, niece and I mark each new year by choosing a song that best describes the year that’s ending and another that represents what we expect for the year ahead.

This year, for the first time ever, I’ve yet to pick a song. My life could go in a few different directions, which is part of my song-picking problem. But one of the biggest hang-ups for my New Year’s prediction activity is that 2024 could be the most consequential year ever for politics and policy, or it may change nothing at all.

So, while I’m feeling insecure about my skills with a crystal ball, I’ll skip the predictions and offer these five things that I’m watching in Hawaii politics and policy for 2024.

Elections

This one is obvious, sort of. Most people know that the 2024 presidential election is looming alongside the specter of a second Donald Trump presidency. But, the potential impact of the 2024 election cycle goes far beyond the United States.

This year, more voters than ever before, approximately 49% of the world’s population, will cast their ballots. Both the United Kingdom and the European Union will elect new parliaments as far-right candidates are gaining ground in Europe. Internationally, 2024 could bring an epic victory for liberal democracy or a swing toward authoritarianism. 

In Hawaii, 106 positions are up for election in November, including the mayors of Honolulu and the Big Island. Starting Feb. 1, candidates can officially file their paperwork declaring their intention to run in the 2024 election so you can expect political parties, politicians and yours truly to be checking the updated candidate list every Friday to see who’s thrown their hat into the ring.

Other important dates in 2024, include:

  • March 12: Hawaii Republican Party presidential caucuses
  • April 6: Democratic Party of Hawaii party-run presidential primary
  • Aug. 10: Primary Election (Deadline to request an absentee ballot is Aug. 3)
  • Nov. 5: General Election (Deadline to request an absentee ballot is Oct. 29)
Gov. Josh Green’s proposed 2024 budget prioritizes funding for Maui’s recovery as well as housing, homelessness and health care, including a substantial commitment to adult mental health. (David Croxford/Civil Beat/2023)

Campaign Fundraising

Solicitations for campaign cash tend to pick up in an election year so 2024 will be the real test for the ban on session fundraisers that went into effect last session. While certain legislators continued to raise large sums of money, less money was raised immediately before, during and after the session than in previous years. In total, House and Senate candidates raised $495,830 from Jan. 1-June 30, which is over half of the donations candidates received during the same period in 2019, 2020 and 2022. Even the Legislature’s most prolific fundraiser, Sen. Donavan Dela Cruz, saw a decline in monetary donations from $140,482 in 2019 to $53,386 in 2023.

The apparent reduction in session-time contributions could mean that the fundraiser ban is having its intended effect and stanching pay-to-play donations. More cynically, it could mean that legislators postponed their fundraising until the next reporting period to avoid making a bad impression. We’ll know more when their fundraising numbers are updated at the end of January. Either way, legislators should consider restricting all fundraising during the session. As it stands, a good fundraiser and a savvy donor could easily get around the fundraiser restriction with a phone call.

State Budget Priorities

When Gov. David Ige left office in 2022, his administration predicted the state would have a $3.9 billion surplus at the end of this fiscal year. That prediction was revised to $600 million after the state received $1.2 billion less in tax revenue and spent $2.1 billion more than the Ige administration factored in. Nevertheless, Gov. Josh Green appears confident that his administration will still achieve its priorities with the Legislature’s concurrence.

Green’s proposed 2024 budget prioritizes funding for Maui’s recovery as well as housing, homelessness and health care, including a substantial commitment to adult mental health. The Legislature should also consider expanding Green’s mental health funding beyond the Hawaii State Hospital to support community health centers, medical professionals and nonprofit organizations that deal specifically with mental health on neighbor islands.

The governor’s proposals will encounter intense scrutiny from legislators who may want to utilize the state’s diminishing surplus on other priorities or solutions. The Legislature’s money committees could also face additional scrutiny from increasingly vocal House members who criticized last year’s budget priorities and opaque practices. Whether the process changes as a result remains to be seen.

Emergency Preparedness And Wildfire Mitigation

In addition to the $500 million allotted for Maui’s wildfire recovery, Green’s budget commits $40 million for statewide wildfire prevention and response. According to Green, the state will need to raise $50 million more per year to combat the impacts of climate change, including wildfire prevention. He is pushing the Legislature to reconsider its stance on his proposed “green fee,” which would charge visitors a fee to use certain state-owned sites.

Lanny Brown of the Rotary Club of Lahaina Sunset participated in a cleanup Saturday, Dec. 9, 2023, at the roadside memorial honoring victims of the Aug. 8 wildfire. (Christie Wilson/Civil Beat/2023)
The recovery of Maui after wildfires that killed at least 100 people and devastated much of Lahaina will be a major topic at the Legislature along with wildfire mitigation statewide. (Christie Wilson/Civil Beat/2023)

Presumably, a portion of the proposed wildfire prevention funds would go toward creating firebreaks and fuelbreaks to slow wildfires across the 350 miles of the state that are currently unprotected. However, little attention is being paid to the communities that need a second exit or access road to evacuate their homes in case of an emergency. Communities like Makakilo and Mililani Mauka, that have experienced nearby fires, have been petitioning the city and state for years with no results.

Housing And Homelessness Crisis

Mayoral candidates on Oahu and the Big Island put housing high on their list of priorities. Both the governor and the Legislature acknowledged the state’s lack of housing and promised to do something about it. But words like incentives, infrastructure and streamlining get tossed around every year without much progress. Hawaii politicians have been “prioritizing” housing since  Gov. John A. Burns commissioned his housing committee in 1970.

Yes, our elected officials have made some progress in recent years and committed more resources to tackle the crisis. The governor, in particular, took a bold and controversial step of issuing an emergency proclamation on the subject, although he later reversed some controversial aspects including restoring environmental review and historic preservation laws.

Real progress is going to require more politicians to take bold and likely unpopular actions. They need to invest more in infrastructure, speed up permitting and disincentivize out-of-state second-home buyers. First and foremost, city and county councils should renew discussions about establishing creative tax measures to penalize out-of-state investors such as a vacancy tax or an increased tax on properties that are not the owner’s primary residence.

If liberal democracies prevail, campaign funds are curbed and legislators tackle our biggest priorities, 2024 could be a transformative year. But facing these issues will take courage from voters, community members and elected officials. My 2024 wish is that we all find that courage.


Read this next:

Illegal Fireworks Will Be Back On The Legislative Agenda After A Noisy New Year's Eve


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About the Author

Beth Fukumoto

Beth Fukumoto served three terms in the Hawaii House of Representatives. She was the youngest woman in the U.S. to lead a major party in a legislature, the first elected Republican to switch parties after Donald Trump’s election, and a Democratic congressional candidate. Currently, she works as a political commentator and teaches leadership and ethics at the Harvard Kennedy School of Government. Opinions are the author’s own and do not necessarily reflect Civil Beat’s views. You can reach her by email at bfukumoto@civilbeat.org.


Latest Comments (0)

The plan to have a mail in Party Primary for the Democrats on April 6 has been changed to a Party caucus on March 6.

jbickel · 1 month ago

The wild card that will potentially have the greatest impact locally is what happens with Taiwan over the next few months. I wasn't around for ww2 but read some of the historical accounts of what life was like here under martial law and it wasn't pretty.

ItsOK2bHaole · 1 month ago

It is disturbing that the typical response to Hawaii’s problems is to propose more ways of raising revenue, both by the governor and by this writer. And the revenue to be collected is always something to be paid by "outsiders" - visitors, second home owners, vacation rental owners, the Rich, the Bad Guys. Hawaii’s problem is not a lack of funds. We’ve just seen that the Department of Education couldn’t figure out how to spend a half billion dollars and had to return it to the general fund. Hawaii’s problem is an inability to spend the funds it has wisely.

Hoaloha · 1 month ago

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