Editor’s note: For Hawaii’s Aug. 13 Primary Election, Civil Beat asked candidates to answer some questions about where they stand on various issues and what their priorities will be if elected.
1. What do you see as the most pressing problem facing Native Hawaiians, and what will you do about it?
Poverty. Native Hawaiians suffer the highest poverty rates for individuals and families in Hawaii, according to the Department of Business, Economic Development & Tourism. OHA’s job is to better the conditions of Native Hawaiians, and therefore ending this statistical shame must be OHA’s highest priority, and it will be mine.
The most promising public policy for breaking this cycle of poverty is early childhood education, especially programs that serve keiki up to 3 years old and that include a component for parental coaching. These programs have been shown to stabilize families and reduce incarceration rates over multiple generations, breaking the cycle of poverty.
As an OHA trustee I will advocate for OHA to engage more directly in early childhood education research and grant program development. I will advocate for OHA to partner with early childhood educators, local nonprofits, the DOE, Kamehameha Schools, charter schools, and the Executive Office on Early Learning to more effectively assist beneficiaries with their early childhood education needs.
Please read more about this ground-breaking public policy at the top of my issues page at my website. Since Civil Beat does not allow hyperlinks in these responses, my website also provides more details and citations for my answers.
2. What would you do to bridge the gaps within the Native Hawaiian community over issues like construction of the Thirty Meter Telescope or development of energy projects?
I would encourage OHA to engage in innovative conflict-resolution techniques, such as “partnering,” where stakeholders, broadly defined, are gathered for a retreat to determine how disputes regarding projects will be resolved, at the planning stages of the project. I would coordinate large public meetings where everyone can share their feelings, hopes and dreams, in order to provide context for having an open and honest discussion of the facts surrounding a project.
I will also condemn and expose bullying and threats of anyone involved in these discussions, as I have done to protect Native Hawaiian TMT supporters before the OHA board, to ensure no one is afraid to make their voice heard.
Once a decision is made, I will also advocate for the enforcement of our laws. Our society cannot function if we claim that lawful arrests are “violence” while ignoring the violence and anarchy inherent in physical blockades of public roadways. After all viewpoints have been considered and a decision made, we cannot allow our public policy-making to be derailed by individuals who refuse to play by the rules all of us live by, and benefit from equally, as established by our democratically elected officials.
3. Do you support the construction of the TMT atop Mauna Kea? Why or why not? Could a new management structure help to resolve long-standing disputes?
Yes. TMT represents the next chapter in our culture’s enduring legacy of incredible contributions to astronomy, celestial navigation and natural observation. I am excited to see the benefits to our community from the scholarships and job opportunities that TMT affords our keiki, and the unknown technological advances that will come from TMT’s development.
The astronomy sector has led to and supports incredible technologies, like wi-fi and GPS. I am honored that Hawaii will play a role in future technological advancements and scientific discoveries benefiting all of humanity.
A new management structure will not ultimately be the solution to the perceived problem. What matters are the people selected to oversee the use of the mountain. Do they have Hawaii’s best interests at heart, understand the value of perpetuating Hawaii’s culture of skywatching, care about the economic benefits that would ensue from the promotion of this unique aspect of Hawaii, and believe all people should have access to Mauna Kea for cultural, spiritual, religious, academic and recreational purposes?
Mauna Kea is a place of dreams and wonder, feelings borne out of the love we all have for that special place, whatever our reasons. It deserves pono management.
4. What role should the Department of Hawaiian Home Lands play in reducing homelessness?
Homelessness is a housing problem. DHHL has land and now an additional $600 million to build homes. DHHL needs to build more houses at higher densities and get those homes into the hands of its beneficiaries.
A portion of those homes can and should be used to house homeless Native Hawaiians. Innovative solutions such as temporary micro-housing to transition people from homelessness to homeownership should be tried. DHHL should seek to cooperate with other state and city programs working on homelessness to address how best to house our homeless Native Hawaiian population, and OHA should help to facilitate that cooperation. But ultimately the key to resolving homelessness is to build more homes.
If we do not build more homes in Hawaii, we are condemning ourselves to population decline and stagnation. This would be an historic travesty for Hawaii and Native Hawaiians. The population of Native Hawaiians in Hawaii has increased every year since we joined the United States and only today does that population risk stagnation and decline because of the lack of housing.
5. Why do you think Hawaiians are disproportionately represented in our prisons and jails? What can be done about it?
Native Hawaiians suffer the highest rates of poverty in the state and poverty is strongly correlated with higher crime rates. Furthermore, young Native Hawaiians are bombarded with negative messaging about our victimhood. This gives some young Hawaiian men excuses to justify their crimes in racial or political terms.
Flipping this script requires numerous approaches. Effective early childhood education has been proven to reduce rates of violent crime. If elected I will work to shift OHA’s resources to this bread and butter issue. I will also push back against spending more money on political fights about creating a race-based government. This attitude only exacerbates the victimhood narrative and provides more justifications for Native Hawaiians to commit crimes.
As Trustee Akina has so artfully said in his 2020 candidate survey, the message for our keiki must be: “You are not a victim, so don’t act like one. Remember our Hawaiian values – aloha, respect, caring, achievement. That way you won’t go wrong.”
6. What are your views regarding Hawaiian self-determination?
I want the best life possible for my keiki. I believe that the principles of government that will best protect their interests are democracy, equality before the law and religious freedoms. I believe that being a state of the United States best protects those principles. Where we fall short, we should strive to better adopt those principles.
Hawaiians today live in the greatest democracy on earth, and are citizens of the greatest nation in human history. We exercise self-determination every day in our local, state and national elections. And I encourage everyone to continue to do so by voting this year, especially in the OHA election.
7. Is OHA getting its fair share of ceded-land revenues from the state?
I believe OHA’s time is best spent focused on bread and butter issues like early childhood education programs, not fighting over ceded lands claims. The oft-cited 20% number is not in the Hawaii state constitution or the admission act, but rather is a creation of the Legislature. The Hawaii Supreme Court has determined that how much money that 20% represents is entirely a question for the Legislature, not a mathematical formula. Spending by state agencies that benefits all the people of Hawaii also benefits Native Hawaiians.
Furthermore, the kingdom that was overthrown was not a race-based kingdom. The first constitution declared all people are made of one blood, and citizenship was not race-based. No groups obtained race-based benefits. Thus, the overthrow is not a justification for race-based benefits.
The most important thing OHA can do is to make sure that the money it is entrusted with to better the condition of Native Hawaiians is spent on the programs most likely to achieve that objective, like early childhood education programs. OHA can also work with the many Native Hawaiian-serving ali’i trusts to better coordinate services. OHA must likewise ensure that the money it is entrusted with by all the people of Hawaii is not wasted, stolen, or spent creating racial division in our society.
8. Is OHA fulfilling its mandate to serve the Hawaiian people?
Yes and no. OHA’s programs that better the condition of Native Hawaiians do so, but OHA’s expenditures on race-based nation-building do not. I am running for OHA in part because I think OHA has been distracted by political fights instead of focusing on bread and butter issues like education, housing and jobs.
OHA’s mandate is to better the condition of Native Hawaiians. The best way to do that is early childhood education. If elected, I would also encourage OHA to join the voices of pro-housing advocates in Hawaii, starting with legalizing homebuilding in Kakaako Makai. There is no legitimate reason Kakaako Makai cannot be developed in partnership with the other landowners (Kamehameha Schools, the city and UH) and local residents. Let’s create a mixed-use, mixed income community where all people are welcome.
I will also urge my fellow trustees to focus on bread and butter, salt and poi, issues that benefit not just Native Hawaiians, but all the people of Hawaii. When Native Hawaiians win, Hawaii wins, and when Hawaii wins, Native Hawaiians win. And when we are all winning, we are making the whole world a better place.
9. Is Hawaii managing its tourism industry properly? What should be handled differently?
Yes and no. Without even discussing the billions of dollars and hundreds of thousands of jobs our guests support, the industry has enabled us to earn a living while perpetuating the aloha spirit that has always made this community so special. This includes opportunities for cultural practitioners of hula and mele to earn a living by sharing our rich cultural gifts with the world, perpetuating those art forms while putting food on their tables and a roof over their ohana. We quite literally export happy memories.
But there must also be balance. Reservation and crowd control systems of our most popular destinations, like Hanauma Bay and Diamond Head, are reasonable and prudent. Educating visitors in a way that protects Hawaii’s land, culture and people is a win/win, as long as such education does not draw our guests into fights about local political issues, like the overthrow of the kingdom.
I have been blessed with the opportunity to travel to over 40 countries around the world and, without exception, everyone dreams of visiting Hawaii not solely because of the beauty of our home, but also the aloha spirit of our people.
I pledge to be an ambassador of that aloha spirit.
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.
The big idea is effective early childhood education. Effective early childhood education has been shown to provide an internal rate of return of 13.7% on the money invested. The benefits come from many things that are even more important than money, but do have a cost, such as reduced incarceration, increased familial stability and better health outcomes. This will transform Hawaii by empowering our keiki to diversify our economy and allow newly freed health and law enforcement spending to be shifted to investments in infrastructure, education and other community priorities.
If you honor me with election as your next OHA trustee at-large, I will ceaselessly advocate, relentlessly promote and constantly campaign for effective early childhood education. I will work collaboratively with Kamehameha Schools, the DOE, our charter schools, nonprofits, ali’i trusts, and the Executive Office on Early Learning. An investment in our keiki is an investment in our future.