Editor’s note: For Hawaii’s Nov. 3 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 Kurt Fevella, Republican candidate for state Senate District 19, which includes Ewa Beach, Ocean Pointe, Ewa by Gentry, Iroquois Point and a portion of Ewa Villages. The other candidate is Democrat Rida Arakawa Cabanilla.
1. Hawaii has been deeply affected by the coronavirus pandemic. Perhaps the biggest impact is to the economy and the tourism industry, which has been Hawaii’s biggest economic driver. Do you think state leaders have handled the response to the virus effectively, including the approach to testing and health care as well as the stay-at-home orders that have caused serious economic harm? What would you have done differently?
As one of the six state senators appointed to the Senate’s Special Committee on COVID-19 (out of the total 25 senators) – based on the hearings that our Committee has had since March – I think that the state government’s response could have used improved screening techniques of arriving passengers, more widespread COVID-19 testing, and better contact tracing.
2. The state budget is facing record shortfalls. How would you balance the budget? What would you cut? What would you protect?
Balancing the budget will require sacrifice, unfortunately, on the part of state government workers: To balance the budget, there will be no new hiring for the next three fiscal years; positions vacated due to retirement must be left unfilled.
Also, during those years, state government workers – other than public school teachers and low-ranking clerks – will have to take unpaid “furlough days” – during each two-week period, they will have to take off one day without pay. I would protect public school teachers and low-ranking clerks – who are already grossly underpaid — by allowing them to be the only state workers exempted from pay cuts and “furloughs.”
3. What do you think should be done to diversify the economy? What would you do as an elected official to make that happen?
Our best hope is table-to-farm diversified agriculture to supply both residents and visitors. As Gov. Ige has proposed, we must double our food production over the next few years. As a senator, I will introduce a bill for a “crash program” to reduce our dependence on imported foods. This “crash program” will include low-interest loans for local farmers. It will also limit agricultural lands exclusively to only agriculture — defined as the growing of edible crops and raising of cattle and other grazing animals.
4. Are you satisfied with the current plans to pay for the state’s unfunded liabilities? If not, how would you propose to meet pension and health obligations for public workers? Would you support reductions in benefits including in pension contributions for public employees in light of virus-related budget shortfalls?
Rather than speaking of “reducing benefits,” we should focus on not increasing the state government work force and gradually downsizing downsizing it.
5. The state’s virus response effort has exposed deep rifts within the top levels of government, including between the Legislature and Gov. David Ige. He will be in office two more years, so what would you do to ensure public confidence in Hawaii’s government officials and top executives?
I disagree with the term, “deep rifts.” Instead, there has been an honest difference of opinion as to the everyday mechanics of fighting COVID-19.
For example, we senators on the special committee noticed that there were some gaps in the state forms being filled in by incoming passengers. We suggested how to close the gaps.
6. Recent deaths of citizens at the hands of police are igniting protests and calls for reform across the country, primarily aimed at preventing discrimination against people of color. How important do you see this as an issue for Hawaii? What should be done to improve policing and police accountability throughout the state? Do you support police reform efforts such as mandatory disclosure of misconduct records by police agencies and adequate funding for law enforcement oversight boards that have been established in recent years?
Fortunately, there has been less discrimination against people of color here in Hawaii than on the U.S. mainland. Still, of course, everyone should be treated equally and with respect.
Because everyone is innocent until proven guilty, I do not support mandatory disclosure of misconduct records until after the misconduct has been fully adjudicated.
As for adequate funding for oversight boards, I think that should be left up to a vote of the people at the county level.
7. Hawaii is the only Western state without a statewide citizens initiative process. Do you support such a process?
We in Hawaii are 2,500 miles away from the Western states, and we have our own unique culture and ways of doing things. Before our Hawaii voters approve a statewide citizens initiative process, we should set up a citizens’ study commission to review the pros and cons of our current representative form of government – in which we elect officials who act on our behalf to make laws – versus a direct initiative approach in which citizens can vote directly, on Election Day, on new laws.
8. Hawaii’s public records law mandates that public records be made available whenever possible. Gov. David Ige suspended the open government laws under an emergency order during the pandemic. Do you agree or disagree with his action? What would you do to ensure the public has access to open meetings and public records in a timely fashion?
What we are discovering in what I call this “brave new world” of dealing with this unprecedented pandemic is that we have to learn to be innovative and inventive in the face of new challenges. I think that, with video-conferencing and Zoom as well as Internet access, the public can have access to open meetings and to public records.
9. What should Hawaii be doing to prepare for the effects of climate change, including sea level rise and threats to the reefs? How big of a priority is this for you?
The rise in sea level and the endangering of reefs are definitely serious problems. They are being addressed well by various conservation groups and by the City Office of Sustainability, which has already alerted city planners to plan ahead in approving building designs, by accounting for the anticipated rises in sea levels along the seashores.
10. What do you see as the most pressing issue facing your district? What will you do about it?
In the Ewa District, we have twin issues that are the most pressing:
First, you can ask any of the hundreds of commuters stuck in traffic on Fort Weaver Road and Kolowaka Drive during rush hours in the morning. I am a strong supporter of making sure that the rail line from East Kapolei to Aloha Stadium and then to Middle Street, at the least, is completed in a fiscally responsible way.
Second, our public school facilities in the Ewa District are in dire need of upgrades. This past session, I was finally able to get a desperately needed track and field for my alma mater, Campbell High School. We still need a new football field there. Ilima Intermediate is in desperate need of a new cafetorium.
11. 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.
One job should be enough to make ends meet in this beautiful paradise of Hawaii that we are lucky to call home. I will be doing all I can at the Legislature to make sure that this One Big Idea becomes a reality by providing sufficient educational and job-training opportunities for our youths and by providing affordable housing for all of us.
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