Name on ballot:
Maui county council – Makawao-Haiku-Paia
Small business consultant and freelance editor
Previous job history:
Small business consultant and freelance editor, Clear Path, LLC 2014-2020
Small business consultant, 4Ligo, Inc 2009-2011
Owner and office manager, Built, LLC, 2004-2008
Wife and mother of five children, currently aged 6 to 18
Previous elected office, if any:
No answer submitted
Please describe your qualifications to represent the voters of your county.
Perhaps the most defining part of my life thus far is that I have been married for 20 years and am the mother of five children. And as you can suppose, I have learned to work hard, how to help bring others to agreement, and how to get the job done. I’ve also learned how to listen and make good decisions. I will be the councilmember will answer your calls, be vocal in committee meetings, and move Maui County forward to a stronger and more diversified economy, to be a world leader in environmental issues, to be a healthier county for all of its people.
Something else I would like to share with you is that I have an honors degree from Harvard University, and that I have spent 20 years as a small business owner, business and education consultant, and small farmer. I have the intelligence and ideas to actually make our county more resilient. I will make the changes that will keep more of our dollars in Maui, and will help the county spend less of its dollars inefficiently. I have the ability to do the hard research, to collaborate with the people and organizations that want to move Maui forward, and to work together with other pono lawmakers to assure that we are doing what is best for the ‘aina and the kama ‘aina.
You might already know that I am an active and tireless voice for the youth in our community. I work as a volunteer with organizations who endeavor to help our children and teenagers feel empowered, develop their talents, and find purpose. We can and should do more to support our keiki and to give them the opportunities that will help them grow into functioning, happy, and healthy adults. I will bring ideas and bills to the council with the future of our children at heart, and our islands will be able to be the home that will sustain our children.
What will be your top priority if elected?
My top priority would be to finally take the steps needed to build Maui County into resilient community. A resilient community is able to take hits economically, environmentally, and to our health and recover better than before.
Our economy can be made more resilient through diversification of our economy and empowering our small businesses to be able to weather downturns and disasters. This means we, as a county, need to decrease the strain financially on small businesses and farms that we add through complicated and high business taxes and archaic regulations. We also need to address the rising rent prices on commercial and agricultural space and find ways to decrease vacancy rates in our commercial and agricultural zones. We also need to invest more in education, both to provide more skilled workers for our economy, and to educate businesses on how to be more resilient.
A resilient environment is one that is as healthy as possible to withstand climate change and the increase in natural disasters. For example, our reefs are able to endure rising sea temperatures and acidity when they are free from invasive limu and have a healthy balance on endemic fish. They also thrive when we take action to encourage natural runoff filtration through the protection of coastal lands and wetlands. Careful development that works with the natural resources and plans for more sustainable energy and resource use keeps our land more able to support a growing population.
A resilient and healthy county is reflected in our messaging that encourages healthy living. It is increasing attention to the use of county assets and allowing citizens to find emotionally and physically healthy ways to use them, and also increasing the access provided to arts and culture. The county’s increasing support of our healthcare system through growth of our healthcare education options will build the capability to meet the demand of health emergencies. And a resilient county means that our youth are considered valuable members of our society and are given opportunities to be a part of our county’s growth and economy.
As Hawaii faces the COVID-19 pandemic, what more should county government do to protect residents’ health?
First, we need to have clear, data-driven messaging. We should be advertising heavily with posters and online videos what social distancing and mask wearing looks like in real life. We should ask businesses for their recommendations on our implemented policies, as each business has a different situation to handle. We should also send a clearer message that social-emotional health is equally important and stop putting unfounded rules in place that limit the locals’ ability to safely recreate and exercise, give their children outlets for exercise and safe social interaction, and feed their families. We also need to have a clear plan according to the various future scenarios, as the back-and-forth, lack of any plans, and absence of good leadership is causing a lot of stress for us residents. And we need to recognize that Covid-19 may be around for a long time, so we need to find ways to get everyone safely back to work and reboot the economy as soon as possible, despite the existence of the virus, as the long term health effects of the high levels of unemployment, loss of businesses, and dire economic outlook are incredibly serious and seem to be overlooked by our leaders.
What should county government do to help residents who have been economically affected by the pandemic?
Our community has done a great job in helping our friends and neighbors through the economic crisis, and I applaud and thank the stores, farmers, and nonprofits who have been working tirelessly to feed our residents.
The county has had the opportunity for the last two decades to stem the overgrowth of tourism, but it has not. For too many years we have heard that we need to diversify the economy, and yet little has been done to increase support of agriculture, decrease the high costs of existence for small businesses, and allow more post-secondary education and job training. Affordable rental projects have been turned down, while hotels and timeshare companies are allowed to expand. Tourism has risen unchecked by any increase in tourism taxes or growth restrictions. These facets all need to change, and I want to join with our progressive councilmembers to finally see it come to pass.
I am not suggesting that we walk away from tourism or fail to recognize the benefits it can give to our community, but when we are given the opportunity to reboot tourism, it needs to be done in a way that keeps our county safe both from viruses and from overtourism. We need to demand that every resident realizes benefits from sharing their home with visitors. Our county has the third highest tourism rate in the world per capita, and yet we have some of the worst roads, parks, and amenities for local residents. We pay our essential workers too little. We overtax our small businesses and residents. And, our environment suffers heavily with too little done to mitigate tourism’s effects. We can increase the quality of life for our residents and the quality of visit for our tourists if we finally get serious about mitigating tourism.
Should public worker furloughs, pay cuts or downsizing be used to help the county deal with lower tax revenues and higher expenses during the pandemic? Why or why not?
I think we need to preserve employment in any way we can during the crisis. I do not support across-the-board furloughs or paycuts. Many of our public workers are doing essential work and should not be punished for continuing to work in hazardous conditions throughout the pandemic. I do believe that the county needs to be very serious about their spending on non-essentials. When I look at the budget and see tens of thousands of dollars spent on new computer systems for elected officials, or see the waste in legal fees to appeal decisions about deep water injection wells, I know that there are a lot of costs that can be cut or delayed during our time of higher expenses, but that does not need to include our public workers.
And also, the county’s revenues will not be as hard hit as the state’s, as the county derives its revenue mainly from property taxes, which continue to be collected. We will see some decrease in funding to the county from the state, however.
What specific solutions do you propose to combat homelessness?
There are many facets to homelessness, and even more many facets to stemming or ending homelessness. Many people are mostly concerned about outwardly visable homelessness, but there is a lot of homelessness that is invisible. A lot of people who are using services already are not the ones that are camped out on the street corner, and we need to address their needs as well as those who are visible and/or service-resistant.
There are three levels that I would like to address at the county level. The first, and the generational long-term proven solution to homelessness, which extends beyond this election and this county council, is better health. And you get to better health by focusing on young parents and young children. We need to increase prenatal care, infant care, and getting kids ready for school in the right way so they have the social-emotional health to be ready to learn and have positive experiences in their education. This might look like teaming with medicaid to provide prenatal group classes and new parent in-home nurse and education visits, funding universal preschool, and increased funding for mental health for children and parents. We need stable parents, healthy births, and healthy children.
The second and near term solution, which specifically addresses the high service utilizers, such as those that utilize government services like emergency rooms, jail, behavioral health and shelters (for which high costs are born by the county and state), is that we can pay for them to be housed and have a case manager. This will save the government money in the short and long term. It is called permanent supportive housing. And even for those who the costs might break even, such as those with severe mental health or substance abuse issues, it would be the ethical thing to do. We should redirect funds from other services to permanent supportive housing.
Third, for the service resistant, which are often the most visible homeless, we could look at joint police and social worker pairs that work solely with the service resistant homeless. These teams could look at engaging with these homeless through ongoing engagement, offering meals, providing veterinarian services, etc. with the goal of getting them into the preventative services, enabling family reunification, and getting them therapy and/or medication. It would involve consistency, empathy, and funds. But those costs would be offset by the gains in more livable, attractive, economic, and environmental sustainable communities.
Do you support reforms to policing in Hawaii? If yes, please explain what reforms you support.
Yes, I support police reform everywhere. Here in Hawai’i, there are a number of reforms we can seek for. For example, we should look at reviews of officers with the majority of complaints. We should also push for a national registry of officers so that officers with misconduct on their records don’t just move from place to place. We should also push for citizen-staffed oversight boards. And our budgets need to reflect a compromise of funding that recognizes that increased and effective educational, mental health, social services, and affordable housing funding does more for a community to care for its at-risk population than increased incarceration and brutality.
Is there anything more that you would like voters to know about you?
If you want your home, your county, to come out of this year’s crises more resilient and empowered, then I encourage you to be an informed voter, and to devote your attention to our local government. If anything, we have learned this year that local government is what really matters, and it is what makes a difference in our everyday lives. Don’t just vote because you know the name or because you’ve seen a banner, and don’t just allow the same people in office to do the same ineffective things they have been doing for years. Now is the time to make sure our county and state is in the best hands and that our leadership is smart, capable, and ready to move Maui and Hawai’i forward. I believe that I will be that leader. If you would like more information about my specific ideas of how I can do this, please visit AJAEYRE.COM.
View more candidate questionnaires or see more 2020 Hawaii elections coverage.