Editor’s note: For Hawaii’s Aug. 11 primary, Civil Beat asked candidates to answer some questions about where they stand on various issues and what their priorities will be if elected.
1. Homelessness continues to be a major problem in Hawaii. What specific proposals do you have to help reduce homelessness?
The homeless situation in Hawaii is unique when compared to the other states. Our top industry is tourism and the impact of a growing homeless community can severely damage that industry, resulting in financial downturn to both the state and to our many citizens in the service industry. Increases in crime, graffiti, physical attacks on tourists and citizens, cluttered sidewalks, parks, bus stops and public bathrooms all serve to tarnish the image of Hawaii as paradise.
While it is important to treat those in a homeless situation compassionately, we also have a responsibility of compassion to our housed citizens, our tourists, and those whose livelihoods depend on the tourist industry.
Having accurate demographic information and asking “why” allows for tailored solutions. We need to make sure that our very generous welfare/government assistance benefits do not serve as a beacon to mainland homeless people but instead benefit our own citizens.
My vision to help those suffering from substance abuse and/or those with psychological issues is to implement what some states have already done – create mental health courts to handle their placement in their best interests especially if they are a danger to themselves or others.
2. What should be done to increase affordable housing, especially for the middle class? What could you as lieutenant do specifically?
We need to do all we can to lower the cost of living in Hawaii, and that especially includes housing. Half of the population spends 30-50 percent of their salary on housing. This is telling, when you compare it to the “low unemployment rate” – while many are “employed” (DOL includes part-time workers in this definition), they are mostly in low wage part-time or service positions, making too low a salary to support their housing and necessities.
We need to attack the problem from a supply position, as well as demand. First, we must lower barriers to entry and encourage an expanded business base in Hawaii (such as the IT industry) and thus boost wages. Secondly, we must lower costs – the Jones Act has been brutally raising costs for Hawaii residents, especially construction costs (please see further discussion below). Further, we need to streamline regulations — the Wharton Residential Land Use Regulatory Index ranks Honolulu as the most regulated U.S. city.
Simply buying housing with government funds and limiting sales to certain income groups is not a sustainable solution. We must partner with the business community to find more efficient solutions to finding affordable housing for all.
3. Do you support or oppose holding a state constitutional convention? Why or why not?
The Hawaii constitution declares and confirms that 100 percent of the political power is held by the people and that the people are responsible to protect and to ensure their right to (among other rights guaranteed in the constitution) petition their government for the redress of grievances. The sole and only avenue the people have directly to do that is a constitutional convention.
The state constitution does not recognize the people’s right to propose laws through initiative, or to repeal undesired laws through referenda. It does not even recognize the people’s right to recall legislators who refuse to address grievances through the legislative process. The “con con” is the only avenue recognized in the state constitution to redress grievances that are not first brought before the Legislature in our one-party political environment. I support the con con.
4. Do you support or oppose allowing citizens to put issues directly on the statewide ballot through an initiative process? Why or why not?
The current process through the Legislature restricts the ability of the average person in Hawaii to raise important issues without politicized interference and stonewalling from entrenched interests. This system acts in the interest of a few at the expense of the many. It is in need of reform, so I support allowing citizens to put issues directly on the statewide ballot.
However, I would require that we create a process that requires a certain threshold of signatures be gathered to avoid abuse of the system.
5. Hawaii’s public records law requires that records be made available whenever possible. Yet state agencies often resist release through delays and imposing excessive fees. What would you do to ensure the public has access to government records?
Much like the federal government has a system of public document release under the Freedom of Information Act and Privacy Act, so too should Hawaii. As bureaucracies resist the release of (non-private) government information, I would make changes requiring the posting of releasable public documents on government websites. Moving away from paper use and towards electronic filing should make documents more available.
Further, I strongly support the posting of audit information and receipts, at the time of disbursement, for all public and contractor spending – such a system would ensure transparency, efficiency, and an end to perceptions of corruption. I support removing all fees (or standardizing a fee structure statewide) and imposing a mandatory response timeframe.
6. Illegal vacation rentals have proliferated throughout Hawaii. The state is not collecting tax revenue on many of these properties and residents worry about overcrowded neighborhoods and other problems. Do you see this as a problem given Hawaii’s booming visitor industry, and what do you propose to do about it?
Illegal vacation rentals present a problem but also an opportunity for residents to make ends meet in a state with an incredibly high cost of living. Like with Uber and Lyft, some residents are able to use spare capacity and space to earn extra money. Also, it is my understanding that the hotel industry cannot accommodate the current number of tourists visiting the islands so the extra capacity is needed if we decide to maintain this level of tourism.
However, we are all subject to the same nuisance laws, zoning laws and general aloha courtesy that is expected here. We need to come to a good balance and accommodation with companies like Airbnb. Taxes need to be collected on all vacation rentals to level the playing field with the hotel industry and ensure the impact of increased tourism is partially offset.
Lastly, we need to get a better understanding of whether the surge in illegal vacation rentals has an unintended consequence of removing inventory that might otherwise be rented by Hawaii residents.
7. Is Hawaii managing its tourism industry properly? What should be handled differently?
How much is too much? The Hawaii Tourism Authority has a mandate to bring in as many tourists as they can without end. Environmental groups have called for an impact assessment, and that may very well be a good idea.
In Hawaii, the environment is our greatest resource and we must strive to protect it – as such, if tourists damage the environment, the current government cannot be so short-sighted as to leave cleanup for another generation or for when there is another downturn in tourism. Many tourists see Hawaii as a once in a lifetime destination – oversaturation of tourism may leave Hawaii a less desirable destination for future generations. We need to have an organization that is mandated to examining the sustainability of the tourism industry in Hawaii for the long term.
8. Do you support amending the state constitution to allow taxing investment properties to fund the public education system? How would you implement it if it passes?
I am generally opposed to further taxes, while I am very cognizant of the fact that we must do something to improve our education system and infrastructure. We must find ways to retain good teachers and encourage advanced learning for better economic base in Hawaii. We need to audit the DOE and introduce business best practices to drive down overhead costs and streamline operations. We need federal resources and alliances with education groups that can upgrade current thinking in this field.
The proposed tax is understandably opposed by Realtors, as it is unclear what is considered investment property and how such a tax would affect the rental markets. Very possibly, already-high rents would increase as landlords would have to pass on costs to renters – local and tourist. Even if they could not, this would greatly disincentivize the inflow of cash, foreign investment, and business into Hawaii, and might even cause a collapse of real estate prices as people who once held on to homes they lived in but then rented, dump them to use their money elsewhere. We have to be careful here.
9. Would you support using liquefied natural gas to generate electricity as the state transitions to renewable resources to supply power?
LNG is a difficult issue, especially given all the infrastructure that must be put in place to use it. At the end of the day, LNG is fossil fuel.
I support alternative sources for electricity, even geothermal despite the recent setback. Ocean thermal energy conversion looks very interesting due to our geography. We must find different sources, and the state should provide tax and other incentives to obtain the cleanest and safest sources of energy for our residents. And we must ensure Hawaii’s electrical grid can support our needs.
10. What should Hawaii be doing to prepare for the effects of climate change, including sea level rise and threats to coral reefs?
The Earth is undergoing climate change, and has for millions of years – we must prepare for it in the islands. While the issue of whether or how much of it is man-made is debated, we in Hawaii have no time to lose. We must ally ourselves with those who will be most affected by the change, understand the expected impacts to our state, and obtain resources to adapt to those impacts. Regarding eroding beaches, there are technologies such as Geo Textile Tubes that could protect and restore our beaches. Legislation that calls for design planning for expected sea level rises for new construction projects seems prudent.
11. The office of lieutenant governor is often viewed as irrelevant. What would you do to make it more productive?
The office of lieutenant governor is underutilized. My vision is to vastly improve its productivity by working in close daily coordination with the governor to ensure the most pressing problems are being effectively addressed.
However, the focus areas I will champion as lieutenant governor are my “Three E’s” – economy, education and environment.
To improve the economy and make Hawaii more affordable, I will advocate for waiver/removal of the Jones Act, or federal credit for our increased shipping costs due to its requirements; champion transparency audits on major government spending; strive to modernize government agencies by introducing proven business strategies.
To improve the education system, I will support an audit of the Department of Education; advocate for the introduction of business best practices into DOE; promote vocational-technical education; and strategize to retain teachers and fill the 1,600 vacancies in the system.
To preserve the environment, I will work endlessly to better manage the homeless issue through a multi-path approach including ending the DHHL backlog and increasing affordable housing; coordinate with the Department of Health and environmental groups to target the worst contaminators of our beaches and waterways; and devise strategies for the state to incentivize cleanup activities such as replacement of cesspools.
12. What other important issue would you like to discuss here?
The Jones Act (Merchant Marine Act of 1920) is costing Hawaii residents millions of dollars each year due to increased shipping costs. Hawaii is simply not in the same situation as, say Kansas, which is not dependent on shipping to provide necessities, building supplies, and general transportation but rather has the benefit of other modes of travel such as interstate roads and railways. The Virgin Islands were exempted during the writing of the Jones Act. We need to lower the cost of transporting goods to Hawaii. This will not only lower basic cost of living, it will also lower construction costs for better and affordable housing.
Also, the tourist industry is fragile and susceptible to impact due to man-made and natural events – Hurricane Iniki and the Kilauea eruption are examples. We need to change Hawaii to a “business friendly” state in order to expand our economy and especially help our small business entrepreneurs to succeed. We must expand our technology industries and help nurture our agriculture businesses to increase Hawaii’s food security.
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