Name on ballot:
Kauai county council
Bookstore Owner & Operator
Previous job history:
Owner & Operator of Talk Story Bookstore since starting it in 2004
Previous elected office, if any:
None; appointed Commissioner on Kauai Charter Review Commission from 2011 to 2016
Please describe your qualifications to represent the voters of your county.
I am the owner and operator of the only bookstore on the island, Talk Story Bookstore. As a small business person and also a renter, I know first-hand many of the challenges we face everyday, and how much government decision-making affects our daily life. I was provided an opportunity to serve as an unpaid volunteer Commissioner on the Kauai County Charter Review Commission from 2011 to 2016, and while I was there, I presented numerous charter amendments in an effort to make the County more accessible to the public and eliminate conflicts-of-interest. My research and experience while I was there provided me with a wide understanding of what the County can do. The truth is we have so much potential here to help create a better quality of life for all our residents and I know we can incentivize the ways to make it happen.
What will be your top priority if elected?
Here’s my priority: Balance our economy and becoming less dependent on tourism. We can start accomplishing this by bringing back diversified agriculture, and we definitely can incentivize it. With our amazing agricultural land here, we can grow enough food to not only provide for all of Kauai, we could feed the entire island chain, and even export the excess. Not only would this create additional supportive industries and jobs, it would open up opportunities for new businesses that create value-added products from the crops grown, as well. Also, for public safety, we must also recognize agriculture as critical infrastructure due to our geographic isolation, ensuring we can feed and provide for ourselves in preparation for long-term emergencies.
As Hawaii faces the COVID-19 pandemic, what more should county government do to protect residents’ health?
To me, getting a test DAYS before coming is ineffective, and frankly useless, since the person has all that time to become infected before arriving at the airport with a paper that says “uninfected”. It further makes the “pre-test” pointless when planes are being filled with both “tested” and “untested” passengers, where the “untested and possibly-infected” can contaminate all the passengers on the plane before they land–and the “pretested-and-now-possibly-infected” folks walk right out into our communities and the “untested” go into quarantine. We must do better for the safety of both our visitors and especially our residents.
So far, the State has said it cannot handle the “testing capacity” for test-on-arrival, and intends to continue as planned. That doesn’t mean the County has to do the same–we can require it (especially since 15-minute tests are available). However, If we are to assume that the State or County will not change this decision, we can anticipate a potential spike in new infections, and the hospital systems are already making contingency plans for this eventuality. Instead of allowing returning residents and visitors to do a “self-imposed quarantine” (which we see all the time is being violated), the government can use a hotel or similar place as a mandatory quarantine facility. This way, we can make “violating” a quarantine nearly impossible, preventing further infections.
We can also ensure that non-COVID related medical issues can continue to be treated in our hospitals separate from where COVID cases are being handled by having separate COVID-treatment facilities. There are many of us who have had to delay treatments and procedures because of the original effort to not overwhelm our hospital system, and I would not like to see a new spike cause even further delays. Sometimes delaying a treatment or examination can turn a mild issue into a serious or even deadly problem.
What should county government do to help residents who have been economically affected by the pandemic?
Recently, the County of Kauai partnered with Kauai Government Employees Federal Credit Union to provide up to $10,000 per person with 0% interest 5-year Emergency Loans. Since my bookstore was considered “non-essential” by the State during the shutdown (as were all public libraries), and I had a situation where I could not collect PUA unemployment or even through regular unemployment for that 6-week closure, my livelihood was put in a very tight spot. I was thankful for the ability to access this emergency loan the County helped to create, because it allowed me to cover my critical expenses until my unemployment payment situation got sorted out. I have since repaid the loan. I think this is an excellent program, and I would like to see it offered in a wider way to our residents who are still continuing to suffer through this. In so many ways, the economic and mental health damage of the COVID crisis is just as bad as the disease itself.
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?
Public worker pay cuts and furloughs should be our last resort in dealing with our budget, although we must have this crucial conversation with the unions in order prepare for such a situation. The pay we should cut immediately is that of our elected officials so they can share in the “sacrifices” that the rest of us are having to make by either having our businesses shut down, revenues greatly reduced, or losing our jobs. It would put pressure on our elected officials to be creative just like all of us are having to do with less or no income. I would rather find ways to create new tax revenue opportunities, such as reorganizing our property tax structure to incentivize new economic growth areas (such as agriculture) that is not totally reliant on the tourist economy. Because we are so dependent on tourism is why we are in this budgetary crisis in the first place.
What specific solutions do you propose to combat homelessness?
I have been homeless. You do everything in your power to get out of that situation. “Homeless” people are not the problem. We have to honestly address the “problem” by calling it what it is, not lumping different groups together as “houseless”.
Hawaii has a “vagrant” problem. Vagrants are people who are intentionally homeless. Often times, this choice is because they would rather spend their money on their vice (drugs, alcohol, etc.) than on the high cost of a home. Understandable; their addiction is their priority. It doesn’t mean we should enable it. Nor should we allow the monopolizing of our public property and parks either as their “home” while the rest of us work hard for ours. We can make legislation to protect our public areas so the community can use them as they were intended.
Unfortunately, there are also vagrants who also suffer from a mental illness, or sometimes also combined with a drug abuse problem. This needs to be handled as mental health problem, and we, County and State, must develop mental health facilities and supporting legislation to help these individuals become rehabilitated. Sometimes, all they need is an easily-available medication to help improve their mental health and quality of life.
Just like I was, there are people who are in a dire spot and just need a temporary helping hand to get themselves going again. The County already has programs that can help, but we must make sure that these programs are not being abused by vagrants who have no intention of making their situation different. We also must reach out directly to real “homeless” people who need help, not expect them to come to the government. Sometimes, it can be hard to ask for help, and we shouldn’t add the burden of dealing with government bureaucracy on top of it.
Do you support reforms to policing in Hawaii? If yes, please explain what reforms you support.
I do. One of the most impressive things that KPD did to work to hold themselves accountable was the installation of body cameras on the officers. These cameras were required to be active when the office was on duty. This way, both the officer and the person an officer interacts with can be held accountable for their actions in a court of law. Every police department should use this. It works. When I was on the Mayor’s Crime Task Force, I recall at the time, KPD was unfortunately getting severe pushback from the State (and some of the other counties) on their use of body cameras. I 100% support their use and we should enact further measures to ensure this tool for assisting police oversight and overall accountability remains.
Is there anything more that you would like voters to know about you?
I am passionate about revitalizing and prioritizing the revitalization of our existing towns instead of building entirely new additional “town centers”. The County has the ability to encourage the restoration and rebuilding of dilapidated or missing buildings in our towns, and we can created a tiered property tax system that incentivizes redevelopment over new developments. We can also create a “vacant commercial property” tax as well, where rentable commercial buildings that sit vacant for 6 months or more would be taxed a far higher rate than those who actively are renting spaces for active businesses. The high cost of rent is incredibly prohibitive for small businesses to start or expand on Kauai, and this would incentivize commercial property owners to offer reasonable rents for new small businesses to open up and be able to provide services for their communities. It is sad to see so many businesses that have been around for years being forced to close because of landlords insisting on incredibly high rents, especially during this crisis. For those that seek to redevelop an existing site where a building used to exist or in is poor condition, we can offer fast-track permitting processes, infrastructure assistance, and possibly even temporary public-private partnerships to get things off the ground. Prioritize our existing communities first.
View more candidate questionnaires or see more 2020 Hawaii elections coverage.