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2020 Election: Aaron S.Y. Chung

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  • Aaron Chung
Name on ballot:

Aaron S.Y. Chung

Running for:

Hawaii county council – District 2

Political party:


Campaign website:


Current occupation:




Previous job history:

Law Clerk, Honorable Ernest Kubota
Deputy Corporation Counsel
Attorney at Law
Hawaii County Council member 1996-2004; 2014-present

Previous elected office, if any:

Hawaii County Council member

Please describe your qualifications to represent the people of Hawaii.

I think that all candidates, in their own way, have a genuine desire to improve the quality of life for those that live here. That is really the only qualification anyone should need to adequately represent the people of Hawaii. But in terms of which qualifications I have that are unique from others, I would say it’s my experience. Having served over 20 years in both the administrative and legislative branches of county government and having had the good fortune during that time of working with many can-do minded individuals, including seven different mayors, I think that I can offer a historical perspective and level of pragmatism to every issue which comes our way. I also happen to place great value on the concepts of teamwork, honesty and fair-dealing. Finally, my eight years as a county attorney has come in handy as I believe that the ability of understanding the law is vital to good legislative decision-making.

What will be your top priority if elected?

Aside from COVID-19-related matters (public safety, economic recovery), which should be number one on everyone’s list, it’s got to be roads. In that regard, the Council has provided the administration with all the financial resources it needs by raising fuel and general excise taxes, all with the simple expectation, among other things, that roads will get fixed. I am sorry to say that I haven’t seen much happen yet. For the district that I represent, the fact that main thoroughfares such as Waianuenue, Kilauea/Keawe, and Kinoole have fallen into extreme disrepair is, quite frankly, inexcusable. I will continue to work with the administration in moving these improvement projects along.

As Hawaii faces the COVID-19 pandemic, what more should county government do to protect residents’ health?

Most of what we can and cannot do as a county is dictated by what goes on at the federal and state levels. At the federal level, it is both scary and shameful that we have no comprehensive and coordinated national plan at addressing the pandemic, particularly in light of the relative level of success other countries have achieved in battling the outbreak. The record number of new cases being reported daily from states on the mainland has a direct bearing on our state. No matter how much our residents abide by the safety protocols that are in place, and in spite of our geographic advantage as an island state, we cannot reasonably be expected to our keep numbers down as long as inbound overseas travel is permitted, the extension of visitor quarantine measures notwithstanding. So we just have to deal with that reality. Now at the state level, the Governor’s emergency proclamation trumps (no pun intended) anything the counties want to do pertaining to covid-19-related matters. All rules issued by the respective mayors regarding social distancing requirements and opening of businesses and facilities, among other things, need to first be approved by the governor. Under those limiting circumstances, then, I think that the county needs to do a better job of making sure that businesses are requiring their patrons to abide by social distancing and safety rules. I receive complaints daily on this issue from concerned citizens. We could utilize CARES Act monies to hire temporary personnel to respond to and investigate complaints and then: 1) assist such businesses in complying with applicable laws and rules; 2) make recommendations to the mayor’s office to suspend a business’ permit to operate during the emergency period; or 3) make necessary referrals to law enforcement.

What should county government do to help residents who have been economically affected by the pandemic?

The biggest weapon available to Hawaii County in helping those economically affected by the pandemic is the $80 million received by us as part of the CARES Act federal package. These monies will be used to address child care needs and to provide assistance to businesses via micro grants, among other things. Prior to the county’s receipt of these monies, assistance was being done by redirecting council contingency relief funds to efforts aimed a feeding our community. Another possible tool would be to create real property tax deductions for those landowners that provided rent reductions to businesses during the pandemic.

Do you support or oppose the construction of the Thirty Meter Telescope on the Big Island and what should the county government’s role be in the process?

I personally don’t think that it will ever come to fruition, but I support the construction of the TMT on our island. I consider astronomy – and let’s be very clear: TMT is THE crucial component to the future success of that industry on our island – as being just a piece of a larger diversified economy puzzle. If for no other reason, though, astronomy has been the key contributor to our island’s advancement in STEM education. The people who work in that industry are the unsung heroes who have devoted countless hours providing enrichment in our grade school classrooms.

Although the TMT is a partnership among several international astronomical and scientific entities, the involvement of the State of Hawaii – the project was granted a sublease on University of Hawaii-managed lands located within the state conservation district – makes it, for all intents and purposes, a State-sponsored project and therefore the State, not the County, must take the lead in either advancing it or shutting it down. The primary role of the County is to enforce laws within its jurisdiction. Thus far we have failed in that regard. The County could also have a limited role in facilitating meaningful dialogue among the various stakeholders. I do know one thing, though: It was very wrong for the governor to delegate his responsibilities to our mayor.

Do you support reforms to policing in Hawaii? If yes, please explain what reforms you support.

Short Answer: Yes. Long Answer: Sometime during my first stint on the County Council (1996 to 2004), I asked my wife whether she felt that our island could use more police officers. I still remember her answer to this very day: “Of course, as long as they’re good cops.” That short reply sums up my thoughts on the matter. Law enforcement, as an institution, is not broken, and I believe that most police officers are decent individuals who are in their jobs for all the right reasons. However, it has always been clear that there are individuals that just cannot or should not be tasked with the heavy social and ethical responsibilities of being a peace officer. The State Legislature recently passed a bill which would require county police departments to disclose to lawmakers the identity of an officer upon his or her suspension or discharge. I guess it’s a good first symbolic step toward meaningful reform but I quite frankly don’t see what that piece of legislation is going to achieve inasmuch as it merely requires that reports be submitted, but it doesn’t require that action be taken on those reports. The law still protects the officers from the disclosure of information which would constitute a “significant invasion of privacy.” I’m not in any way suggesting that such information be made public, but it should be allowed to be considered by the hiring authority for employment purposes. In my opinion, individual privacy rights need to be reasonably balanced with the broader community’s need for an employment system – not just for police, but at levels of employment – which allows for a fully informed vetting in the hiring and retention of employees. The public should deserve no less for its money.

Is there anything more that you would like voters to know about you?

View more candidate questionnaires or see more 2022 Hawaii elections coverage.
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