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2020 Election: Ernesto “Sonny” Ganaden

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Name on ballot:

Ernesto “Sonny” Ganaden

Running for:

State House – District 30

Political party:


Campaign website:

Current occupation:

Lawyer, Youth Program Coordinator



Previous job history:

Practicing Attorney (12 years), Youth Program Director (1 year); Former Staff Attorney, Domestic Violence Action Center; Instructor, Ethnic Studies and American Studies, University of Hawaii at Manoa; Lead Writer, Native Hawaiian Justice Task Force Report; Journalist.
Education: UCLA (political science, public policy), UH Richardson School of Law

Previous elected office, if any:


Please describe your qualifications to represent the people of Hawaii.

I have dedicated my career to public service in this beautiful town. As a lawyer, I have served domestic violence victims who could not afford services, and those in criminal court. As a college instructor, I have taught writing and ethics, with an emphasis on the lived experience of those, like my family, whose stories were written out of history. As a Coordinator of a program for underserved youth in Kalihi, I have been working throughout the pandemic to assist in serving meals and supporting children’s mental health. Service is a privilege. If chosen, I am prepared to begin the difficult work of rebuilding our economy and maintaining public health with the trust and dignity that is expected of elected office.

What will be your top priority if elected?

The top priority is rebuilding the economy in an equitable way for working families. The reliance on cheap tourism took several generations to develop in Hawaii. As we transition to an economy that diversifies to local agriculture, clean energy, and a more sustainable tourism, we must articulate an economic vision in which wealth circulates within the local economy.
Much of what makes us resilient to both economic calamity and climate change is based in fair and affordable housing. Because of the pandemic, we can now return illegal vacation rentals to local residents, develop alternative forms of housing for our houseless neighbors, and engage in “shovel-ready” housing that will increase housing in our urban core, particularly Kalihi. For years, wages have stagnated as the cost of living has risen for working families in Kalihi and Halawa. For years, roads and schools have needed investment. Now is the time for the state government to make those investments and transform our economy.

As Hawaii faces the COVID-19 pandemic, what more can be done to protect residents’ health?

I support extensive testing, contact tracing, mandated job safety plans, and continuously updating the public in all ways on all platforms.
The pandemic will be with us for longer than any of us had hoped. It is a testament to common sense and good will that cases have not spiked in Kalihi and Halawa over the last several months.
Most of the residents I’ve spoken to value human life over an immediate economic recovery. We all wish it was over already, but wishes do not make policy. We must heed dangerous warnings from states that opened their economies without adequate plans in recent months, and open our economy to locals first prior to the resumption of tourism. In the present era, when we are so reliant on information from health professionals and best practices from around the world about how to proceed, the public appreciates direct questions and direct answers and the supremacy of science over politics.

What more can be done to help residents who have been economically affected by the COVID-19 pandemic?

The state is not handling the pandemic well for the working class. There is no clear plan articulated by the Governor or the legislature to ensure social stability in the face of an economic depression, in which there is no way for those in the hotel and service industry to return to work, and no guarantee of jobs to return to. Thousands across the state, many in Kalihi and Halawa, face an uncertain future regarding their continued unemployment benefits, healthcare, and capacity to feed their children. These are serious issues which will not disappear during this election cycle.
The legislature must explore possibilities in earnest. These include a form of universal basic income, a rent and mortgage moratorium, an establishment of housing as a human right under law, and an expedited and automated system to enroll individuals in state Med-QUEST and other healthcare programs.
This is no time for blame. The crisis demands bold decisions. This is the most debilitating economic crisis of our lifetime. Hawaii must suspend the non-binding precedent of balancing the state budget and borrow from the federal government at historically low interest rates in order to maintain social stability as we recover from the pandemic.

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?

I do not support cuts to public employees’ hard earned pay or benefits. Public workers live and spend in our communities, supporting homes and dependents. Their paychecks go directly to the local economy. It may seem counter-intuitive to continue to pay for public workers, however austerity measures have been proven to destabilize economies, as many households rely on these jobs, or fixed incomes from retired workers. In a crisis of this magnitude, only government can stabilize fluctuating and uncertain economic forces.

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?

The reliance on cheap tourism and military investment took several generations to develop in Hawaii. As we transition to an economy that diversifies to local agriculture, clean energy, and a more sustainable tourism, we must articulate an economic vision in which wealth circulates within the local economy.
Massive wealth leaves the islands when we are economically booming. I support taxing and ending exemptions for Real Estate Investment Trusts (REIT’s), encouraging block grants directed to local owners order for business development and training during the crisis to support local innovation, and exploring pilot projects of collective-owned hotels and resorts. I support taxing second and third homes owned by non-residents to the maximum amount pursuant to law, and enforcing regulations against short term vacation rentals to ensure hotels stay viable and staffed.

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

I respect the difficult profession of law enforcement. But oversight is long overdue, and massive public safety and police budgets are components of a system which we can no longer afford.
Crime is disproportionately felt in District 30- residents of lower Kalihi have lived with well-known gambling houses and petty crime for years. The Oahu Community Correctional Center is in the heart of the district. The state spends at least $47.2 million on private prisons, with plans for the new Oahu Community Correctional Center on a loan. The current plan will be a windfall for a private prison corporation contractor, despite a changing international dialogue about what actually makes communities safe, similar projects being scrapped across America, and growing local awareness regarding racial and economic inequality.
A new path is necessary. When we replace OCCC, it must be done with community input and fiscal restraint. When we have a transparent and open police department, as has occurred in other communities, our community will become safer. Lessons from around the world are unanimous: our system does not work to make us safe and costs too much. What works are more affordable community-based justice programs; affordable housing; mental health services; youth services; evidence-based models for rehabilitation; addiction treatment; job training; the zealous preservation of due process; and traditional cultural practices.

Do you support or oppose the construction of the Thirty Meter Telescope on the Big Island and why?

Oppose. Last summer, we all became informed of the failures of the state, the University of Hawaii, and others to fulfill their obligations to native Hawaiians and the environment on Mauna Kea. Opposing construction of this project now does not mean another project; completed with community input and procedurally competent; is not possible. Multi-million dollar law enforcement budgets to combat peaceful protests are not aligned with peaceful local values and will not offset the tax revenue collected from the project.

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

Getting to know my community has made me know myself, and clarified my conception of leadership. The pandemic has shown us what essential work is, and how it is not tied to pay. Many in Kalihi and Halawa recognize my last name from their home in the Philippines, and many have have welcomed me into their lives. As the son of an immigrant, from a working class family, I take that support as a responsibility. As a youth mentor, I tell boys to be the best version of themselves; a mantra I have done my best to achieve as a professional and a person. I will serve with honesty and dignity, for those who came before me and those who will follow.

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