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 Christy Kajiwara Gusman, Republican candidate for State Senate District 5, which includes Wailuku, Waihee and Kahului. The other candidates are Democrat Gil Keith-Agaran and Rynette Keen of the Aloha Aina Party.
Christy Kajiwara Gusman
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?
It is no secret that the governor acted with complacency when responding to the COVID-19 situation in Hawaii. The governor removed Dr. Josh Green (lieutenant governor) from the COVID-19 Task Force, then later reinstated him, and then handed the governing powers of each island to their respective mayors. In doing so, the state failed to take responsibility for the people.
The state is far behind in technology. As a former state employee, I know first-hand that there is a good chance we still use the same systems Captain Cook had brought with him on his ship.
I would have ensured Dr. Green oversaw testing, contact tracing and health care— his area of expertise. There is no excuse for the ancient computer systems the state uses. In all branches of government we should be up-to-date with the best available technology, especially in areas that deal with funding or finances like unemployment insurance and the campaign filing system.
I would immediately look into temporary suspension of broad regulations, taxes, permitting and fees that make it difficult to operate a business in Hawaii. Give people the opportunity for economic freedom so they can work to survive instead of being dependent on the government.
2. The state budget is facing record shortfalls. How would you balance the budget? What would you cut? What would you protect?
Hawaii legislators spend too much of the budget on non-emergency items, which has left us in a bad situation with the current crisis. Our best hope to get our lives, businesses and communities back on track is greater economic freedom.
• Cut unnecessary government spending and projects.
• Delaying government salary increases.
• Exempting health care from the GET giving people more affordable health care options.
• Approving P3 (public-private partnerships), thus allowing for private contractors to deliver certain public services.
• Remove regulations and certain taxes on small business.
• No new taxes or tax increases for the next five to eight years
3. What do you think should be done to diversify the economy? What would you do as an elected official to make that happen?
• Open and allow for more agriculture based, agriculturally related, culture-focused tourist businesses.
• Allow for more state lands to be released for affordable housing and agriculture.
• Work with DHHL in supporting development of Hawaiian Homes to address families on the wait list.
• Increase government revenues by entertaining the idea of a state lottery to help fund public education, essential services and unfunded liabilities, without increasing taxes.
• Reduce government spending and continue to grow the economy by scaling back the overreach government has had over the people and make Hawaii a more business friendly state.
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?
Unfunded public liabilities will only get worse if the shutdown is allowed to continue. Again going back to basics: Increase government revenues by cutting back on unnecessary government spending. Suspend non-essential construction projects, implement new pension plan options and disallow pension hikes to reduce unfunded liabilities of the state employees retirement system.
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?
Unfortunately rifts in leadership happen too often because of elected officials placing personal, or political agendas, ahead of their responsibility to serve the people. It is one of the reasons why I made the difficult decision to leave the political party I grew up and actively served in various leadership positions with. When elected, I will offer the loyal opposition needed to keep our leadership honest and our government transparent.
We need leaders who aren’t afraid to speak up, call people out, and who are ready to step away from traditional strongholds. But, the people have to choose, and I believe they are ready for change. That is why I am running and earnestly asking for their vote.
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?
While Hawaii is known around the world as the “melting pot” and hosts a variety of cultures we are not exempt from racial discrimination. It is imperative that we continue to share our aloha spirit that Hawaii is known for thereby setting the example for the rest of the nation.
I believe that there is a need for police accountability. If gun owners need to register on a federal database so should police officers, especially if there have been prior cases of excessive use of force or complaints of such behaviors on their records. Hawaii gun owners are law-abiding citizens with no criminal records or issues and state law requires us to register, despite it infringing on our constitutional rights.
7. Hawaii is the only Western state without a statewide citizens initiative process. Do you support such a process?
I believe that the citizens initiative process undermines the purpose of the state Legislature. If “we the people” elect strong and trusted leaders, an initiative process would not be necessary.We need to look at why this issue is being brought up. It is very well because Hawaii has been voting in the same “recycled” politicians expecting a different result. Want different results? Vote for different people.
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?
With this pandemic Gov. Ige and the Legislature should have been even more transparent with the people of Hawaii, keeping trust with the people. I applaud our lieutenant governor who even after being removed from the COVID-19 Task Force continued to take phone calls and participate in public Zoom meetings.
He remained determined to keep the community up to date and informed on the situation of the pandemic. Again, I would be the voice of the people who would offer that open opposition to these decisions and topics.
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?
As a Native Hawaiian I believe it’s important to be true to my cultural values. As Kanaka Maoli we have lived a lifestyle of stewardship to the land. We must continue to teach the cultural ways of our people and realize that it is our Kuleana to malama aina.
What we cannot allow is for this topic to be used for political or financial gains.
During the coronavirus pandemic I believe that funding for things such as climate change and sea level rise should be temporarily suspended. More should be focused on getting the pandemic under control and people back to work. Climate change is something that can be addressed when we get things back on track.
10. What do you see as the most pressing issue facing your district? What will you do about it?
Even in this time of pandemic people need to work. We need to take action and allow for more home-based businesses, suspend some of the more stringent licensing and permitting requirements, and make it feasible for people to continue to operate local businesses.
Homelessness is another pressing issue. We must streamline permitting and open up more land for housing, which would both help reduce home prices and provide more construction jobs.
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.
I would start with public education. This pandemic has shown not just a weakness in the system but the “online” educational process has not been equal, fair and beneficial for all students. Those who are not as computer-literate will not “make the grade.”
We need to diversify our public education system by allowing for more hands-on trade school learning programs for students who may not be “college bound.” It is also our responsibility to prepare our keiki to control their own futures. Make the legislative process more attractive to younger generations. Train up students and prepare them to take leadership positions in their communities and in local government.
And again, making it easier for health care and businesses by removing government barriers and certain taxes is the best and quickest way to expand opportunities, encourage innovation and create opportunities for the people of Hawaii.
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