Name on ballot:
State House – District 46
State House Representative
Previous job history:
Teacher and HSTA Leader
Previous elected office, if any:
Please describe your qualifications to represent the people of Hawaii.
As a veteran teacher, community organizer and teacher union leader, as well as an elected representative, I have had ample opportunity to do the work necessary to prepare me for elected office. I have also taken advantage of those opportunities to the best of my ability, becoming an award-winnning and nationally certified social studies and civics educator with a doctorate in political science, an activist who helped connect teacher unionism to environmental, labor and social justice issues for decades in the islands, and the lead organizer on the Schools Our Keiki Deserve campaign as HSTA Secretary-Treasurer. I am deeply rooted in my community, especially in the schools, and make it a priority to do everything I can to both challenge the status quo and to provide opportunities for people who feel silenced and are alienated to re-engage and own their power.
What will be your top priority if elected?
My top priority will be to work with my community and my colleagues to craft a post-COVID transition plan that moves us away from an economic, social and political status quo that impoverishes and marginalizes so many, towards a socially just and environmentally sustainable approach to economic diversification that privileges and centers using local capacity to meet local needs. This is a significant lift, but I think it is both necessary and possible.
As Hawaii faces the COVID-19 pandemic, what more can be done to protect residents’ health?
In a moment when we have just lost most of our testing capacity, when it is unclear how we will be able to support public schools with sufficient PPE to reopen, it is clear that we need to become much more agile not only in terms of local production of public health and hygiene materials but also much more invested in and holistic about our approach to public health. We need to look at every question through the primary lens of public health, because without a healthy community, we can only have an economy that may produce profits for a few at the great expense of the many. We need to do everything in our power to stop the influx of tourists until we are well recovered from this pandemic, and to put much stronger controls in place for military movement – the proposed lifting of the 14 day quarantine and the exemptions provided for military movement make all of us unsafe. We also need to delay school reopening until we are well beyond this moment, until it is absolutely safe to do so, because the impacts will absolutely be race and and class-based. Schools in lower income communities, with principals under pressure to produce better test scores, will be most likely to have the most students on campus for the longest periods of times, because they recognize that even when they distribute necessary devices, students are less likely to engage in structured learning when they are at home, for a wide variety of reasons. So we will see rapid disease spread in those most impoverished and racially segregated communities. If we do not delay reopening of public schools, we are essentially declaring war on the poor. And it costs us nothing to delay. The law only states that we must have 180 days of instruction – we can move our calendar to remove the fall and even most of the winter and spring breaks to make up time, if necessary. But to reopen schools when we have this level of virus in the community is, at best, policy malpractice.
What more can be done to help residents who have been economically affected by the COVID-19 pandemic?
First and foremost, we need to make sure that all workers have access to good healthcare and are protected from employers’ urges to downsize workforce to maximize profit. Those companies that have actually flourished during the pandemic need to pay their fair share in local, state and federal taxes so that we can use these monies to support workers who are furloughed or laid off. And we need to revisit our tax structure, not just to make sure that those local residents who benefitted the most from the Trump tax cuts pay those increased benefits into state coffers, but also to increase and make refundable EITC tax credits for our working class ALICE families. We also need to use this opportunity to really strip back and look at the root causes of the real inequities in these islands, which include failure to control property speculation, failure to make tourists provide economic support to address the ecological impact they are causing, failure to make the US military pay its fair share (as it controls 20% of the land on O’ahu with an absurd lease structure), and failure to mandate a living wage. If we change our policy approach in these four areas, and develop the courage and political will to tax those who are the most privileged, we will have the resources we need to provide wraparound support for those who are truly suffering in our communities.
Should public worker furloughs, pay cuts or downsizing be used to help the state deal with lower tax revenues and higher expenses during the pandemic? Why or why not?
No, because that type of short-sighted approach will only cause us to spiral deeper and more rapidly into economic depression. We need workers to be able to pay their bills and spend money in the community to prevent further economic disaster. There are many other policy tools at the disposal of the governor and the legislature – let’s hope they have the wisdom to maximize use of revenue-generating tools rather than imposing draconian cuts on an already starved public system.
Hawaii’s tourism-dependent economy has suffered greatly due to the pandemic. If elected, what would you propose to support and diversify the state’s economy?
Diversification is critical, and if done right, will take time, effort and intentionality. Economic change must be directed in a way that reflects not only consciousness of the negative impacts of our existing economic structure, but also a strong willingness to do what is best for local communities, for the working class people of these islands. We have massive tracts of state-owned land, controlled by the ADC, the use of which can be redirected away from pesticide-drenched mono-crop industrial agriculture towards community-controlled, small and sustainable farming operations supported with socially owned processed and packaging centers. We need to move rapidly and decisively, to create a robust farm-to-school food system, so that our keiki are primarily eating food we grow here. We need to shift away from our unsustainable dependency on the continent for our most basic survival goods, like food, medical supplies and housing materials, and use the work of those who are developing Aloha ‘AIna Futures to look at our own capacities and how we can use those to build a flourishing local economy, the goods and services from which will be highly valued on the larger market.
Do you support reforms to policing in Hawaii? If yes, please explain what reforms you support.
Yes, I support more systems of police accountability to protect our good policemen, an independent Board to oversee police activity, a more active and critically empowered Police Commission with reform-minded members, and redistribution of responsibilities (and funding) so that police are not held responsible for addressing social issues that are outside their bailiwick. I am also deeply invested in the mission to make sure that we address the evidence of misogyny and sexual assault in the department – to say that HPD has a terrible record with respect to protecting women, especially women of color, is a gross understatement.
Do you support or oppose the construction of the Thirty Meter Telescope on the Big Island and why?
I oppose it. I have read all of the reports written for the legislature for the past three decades, and there is little to no evidence that the state (or UH) has operated in good faith or meaningfully fulfilled any of the promises made with respect to the mauna. That is a sacred space and there should be no telescopes on the mauna.
Is there anything more that you would like voters to know about you?
I am deeply committed to my community, and am willing to do whatever it takes (having the hard conversations, doing all of the investigation and research necessary to find out what’s going on, marshaling the necessary resources to make change happen) to help my community move forward, but the most important work, as far as I am concerned, is working with others to learn how to collaboratively govern ourselves. I want more decision-making power returned to towns and communities, and more of our tax monies invested back into the infrastructure that the people actually want for our communities, not on ego projects or projects that benefit outside investors.
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