comscore 2020 Election: Gil S. Coloma Keith-Agaran | Honolulu Star-Advertiser
Election

2020 Election: Gil S. Coloma Keith-Agaran

  • Gil Keith-Agaran
Name on ballot:

Gil S. Coloma Keith-Agaran

Running for:

State Senate – District 5

Political party:

DEMOCRATIC

Campaign website:

GILKEITHAGARAN.COM

Current occupation:

ATTORNEY

Age:

57

Previous job history:

2005- present: Partner, Takitani Agaran Jorgensen & Wildman, LLLP. 2002-2005 Director, Maui County Department of Public Works & Environmental Management. 2000-2002: Chair, Hawaii Board of Land & Natural Resources. 2000: Director, Hawaii Department of Labor & Industrial Relations. 1999-2000: Deputy Director, Hawaii Department of Commerce & Consumer Affairs. 1995-1998: First Deputy Director, Hawaii Department of Land & Natural Resources. 1987-1994: Associate, Carlsmith Ball Wichman Murray Case Mukai & Ichiki (Honolulu & Wailuku offices).

Previous elected office, if any:

November 2016: Elected to State Senate District 5 for a four year term. November 2014: Elected to complete State Senate District 5 term. January 2013: Appointed to fill first two years of State Senate District 5 term vacated by Shan Tsutsui. November 2012: Elected to State House District 9. November 2010: Elected to State House District 9. January 2009: Appointed to fill term of Rep. Bob Nakasone, House District 9.

Please describe your qualifications to represent the people of Hawaii.

I represented the community where I grew up, work and raised my family. I serve as Vice Chair of the Senate Ways & Means Committee, chaired the Senate Judiciary and Labor Committee from 2015-16, and led the House Judiciary Committee from 2013-14.

I maintain simple values–hard work, education, and fair treatment—learned growing up on Maui. Community meant serving others and maintaining connections: being involved in our schools and churches, kids’ sports, the county fair. Basically, “You look out for others because they look out for you.” Those values, along with my experience and knowledge as a practicing attorney and a State and County administrator, remain foundational for my public service.

My family, like other immigrants, shared the simple dream of a better life, perhaps not for themselves, but certainly for their children and grandchildren. Whether we were born on Maui, or moved here, or moved back after seeing America, we all have more choices and opportunities today — thanks to the courage, dedication and sacrifice of prior generations.

We now must take on the same responsibility and applying the same kind of work ethic and courage, move forward together in continually making Maui a better place to live, work, play, and raise our families. We owe it to our parents and our children to maintain a strong sense of community. We can start by valuing our children and neighbors’ children, taking interest in our schools, and getting to know the other families in our neighborhoods. And hopefully, we’ll look out for them because they look out for us.

What will be your top priority if elected?

Rebuilding Hawaii’s economy should be top of mind– all other things depend on it.

As reflected in the unemployment claims, Maui Nui (without substantial military investments or presence as an additional leg of its economic stool) was more dependent on the visitor industry than other counties. Maui must re-open its local economy, including tourism sooner rather than later but with proper precautions in place to meet possible Covid-19 resurgence. In the short-term, no economic niche can replace the number of jobs provided by visitor accommodations, services, and vendors for the hotels, restaurants and activity providers.

I support prioritizing visitors from “travel bubbles”—countries and mainland regions which have addressed the pandemic well (i.e., Japan, South Korea, New Zealand, Australia)– assuming they are willing to reach agreement with Hawaii on protocols that will need to be observed.

An expected initial reluctance to travel also gives Maui an opportunity to plan tourism (as reported, spending from 10 million tourists in recent years only equals revenue from a smaller and more manageable visitor number decades ago) that better balances impacts on our local population, infrastructure and natural environment. One of the measures under consideration remains some kind of “green fee” to charge all visitors that would be invested to mitigate the impacts of tourism on local communities and resources.

The legislature included funding for thermal scanner equipment at airports as another tool for detecting possible cases and resources to support contact tracing efforts (assuming the Department of Health acts to truly partner with nursing and health programs at local universities). The Lt. Governor’s initiative to partner with private testing labs continues to hold promise provided that the mainland states that provide many of our visitors get better control of the virus in their own cities and towns. However, development of quick tests or requiring some kind of passenger pre-clearance (working with Hawaii’s Congressional delegation and federal authorities) should also be pursued.

Diversification has been a long-standing concern that the pandemic bluntly highlights. We should support economic development promoting self-sufficiency and which builds on what has been perceived as a weakness– our remoteness can be an advantage.. Funding should be invested in workforce development advancing Hawaii’s own resiliency—for example, health care. Maui Health System (MHS) now hires nurses directly from the University of Hawaii Maui College (UHMC) and takes on their training on the job (the Hawaii Health Systems Corporation generally required nurses to get experience elsewhere and consequently contracted traveling nurses—new UHMC graduates needed to move off island for training without any assurance they would return). MHS is also looking for local medical technicians to reduce the number of off-island contractors, working with UHMC to develop a program or to partner with Kapiolani Community College.

This year, one of the legislative priorities for the John A. Burns School of Medicine was medical education and training on the Valley Isle.

In connection with Mahi Pono’s agricultural activities, the State should support UHMC and the Farm Bureau/Farmers Union efforts to develop value-added products from the crops.

We should build on the growing number of solar, wind and other alternative energy projects to develop, adopt and market the technologies required to grow local opportunities. We’re an island state. Climate Change is a pressing issue. Global warming is already happening. More hurricanes, drought followed by sudden storms and rising sea levels are all going to change Hawaii in ways that will impact and change the quality of life for all our residents.

Government should implement the Hawai‘i Climate Change Mitigation and Adaptation Commission recommendations. All County planning, especially in coastal areas, should incorporate climate change considerations. The State and Counties should also lead by example in moving key public infrastructure (roadways, water and wastewater reclamation facilities and utility plants) mauka of vulnerable coastal areas for managed retreat.

Using carbon tax and/or green tax revenues, Hawaii could implement WPA-like initiatives for island residents displaced from their pre-pandemic jobs for various public works projects (including addressing the backlog of repair and maintenance of existing university, public school and other office facilities and buildings), and reforesting as mitigation for the state’s carbon footprint.

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

Social distancing and face coverings remain the main safeguards in the near term, and avoiding crowds remain key– recent clusters of community spread have been traced to larger gatherings. Along with the efforts described above regarding testing and contact tracing, the 14-day quarantine policy should be maintained until a vaccine is readily available. Enforcement throughout the state should be rigorous and a priority– as I understand it, arrests and citations on Oahu for quarantine violations have largely been implemented by Attorney General’s Office personnel rather than the Honolulu Police Department. On the neighbor islands, anecdotally enforcement occurs only on Covidiots (those who publicize their flaunting of the quarantine requirements on social media) and those identified by members of the public or hotel employees. The legislature did allocate CARES funding for grants for local manufacturing of various personal protective equipment (i.e., face shields, masks) and other products (i.e., sanitizer) to build Hawaii’s resilience in that area.

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

The pandemic disclosed what we knew: the number of working families living on the financial edge remains way too high. The legislature began this session with a consensus on chipping away at the costs of living—housing, child care, wages and taxes—that make life challenging for many residents even in good times.

The present impacts will likely push more people onto this bracket. Many residents who had little to no savings, quickly lost their jobs (including multiple jobs) and with their jobs their health-care insurance. Like other communities throughout the country, others had to continue to work in healthcare and other areas deemed “essential” but lowly paid (like grocery clerks), opening themselves to continued health risks.

The legislature allocated federal CARES money (which must be used by the end of this calendar year) towards rent supports through the end of the year, various food programs (including funding to help the Department of Human Services to increase enrollment for SNAP benefits), and child care initiatives. The legislature provided funding initially to the four counties to take advantage of programs already in place for rent and utility subsidies, food distribution programs, and partnerships with non-profits providing various services.

With the additional federal benefit of $600 per week for unemployment benefits ending in July, the legislature included funding to provide an additional $100 in UI benefits through the end of the year.

While the legislature did pass a package of child care/preschool initiatives (expanding Open Doors, building classrooms at UH campus and libraries), we will need to still address quality of life issues. Hawaii needs to directly subsidize for sale homes (as it does rentals) to bring prices down for local working families; the budget includes money to pay for housing infrastructure. Our tax credits (EITC and rental housing) should provide more help for these residents. We need to seriously look at single payer health care (rather than linked to employment), paid family and medical leave like other industrialized nations.

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?

In the short-run, we should focus on continuing important services residents depend on in the wake of this pandemic. Drastic cuts to government services would only add to the economic challenges of our community and our businesses, and further reduce spending in the local community.

If Congress does not provide direct financial support for State and local government shortfalls, services protecting health, safety and welfare programs will still need to be staffed and operated. Pre-Covid-19, the $8Billion State General Fund Operating Budget largely supported public lower (23% or approx. $1.9Billion) and higher education (6% or approx. $518Million), basic human services (15.7% or approx. $1.2Billion) and health programs (8% or approx. $668.5Million), and public safety (3% or approx. $271Million) programs. 38% or approx. $3Billion are fixed costs (i.e., pension and health benefits, medicaid, debt service).

Across the board percentage cuts would not reflect important basic priorities, requiring larger cuts in the remaining departments which receive 5% or approx. $387.6Million.

The Constitution provides the Governor options in managing finances, including borrowing from the U.S. Treasury as the legislature recently authorized. The Governor should be in discussions with all the public worker unions regarding options for addressing the shortfall (some options are only available through negotiations and cannot be unilaterally imposed by the Governor).

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 has been a long-standing concern that the pandemic bluntly highlights. As reflected in the unemployment claims, Maui Nui (without substantial military investments or presence as an additional leg of its economic stool) was more dependent on the visitor industry than other counties. Maui must re-open its local economy, including tourism sooner rather than later but with proper precautions in place to meet possible Covid-19 resurgence. In the short-term, no economic niche can replace the number of jobs provided by visitor accommodations, services, and vendors for the hotels, restaurants and activity providers.

We should support economic development promoting self-sufficiency and which builds on what has been perceived as a weakness– our remoteness can be an advantage.. Funding should be invested in workforce development advancing Hawaii’s own resiliency—for example, health care. Maui Health System (MHS) now hires nurses directly from the University of Hawaii Maui College (UHMC) and takes on their training on the job (the Hawaii Health Systems Corporation generally required nurses to get experience elsewhere and consequently contracted traveling nurses—new UHMC graduates needed to move off island for training without any assurance they would return). MHS is also looking for local medical technicians to reduce the number of off-island contractors, working with UHMC to develop a program or to partner with Kapiolani Community College.

This year, one of the legislative priorities for the John A. Burns School of Medicine was medical education and training on the Valley Isle.

In connection with Mahi Pono’s agricultural activities, the State should support UHMC and the Farm Bureau/Farmers Union efforts to develop value-added products from the crops.

We should build on the growing number of solar, wind and other alternative energy projects to develop, adopt and market the technologies required to grow local opportunities. We’re an island state. Climate Change is a pressing issue. Global warming is already happening. More hurricanes, drought followed by sudden storms and rising sea levels are all going to change Hawaii in ways that will impact and change the quality of life for all our residents.

Government should implement the Hawai‘i Climate Change Mitigation and Adaptation Commission recommendations. All County planning, especially in coastal areas, should incorporate climate change considerations. The State and Counties should also lead by example in moving key public infrastructure (roadways, water and wastewater reclamation facilities and utility plants) mauka of vulnerable coastal areas for managed retreat.

Using carbon tax and/or green tax revenues, Hawaii could implement WPA-like initiatives for island residents displaced from their pre-pandemic jobs for various public works projects (including addressing the backlog of repair and maintenance of existing university, public school and other office facilities and buildings), and reforesting as mitigation for the state’s carbon footprint.

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

Equal and fair treatment of all residents by law enforcement is a national concern. It should also be a local concern. Racism exists in the islands and is directed at different communities in various ways, sometimes openly and at times embedded in our own local institutions and traditions.

I’ve supported the use of body cameras and dash cameras during interactions between law enforcement and the public and worked on legislation to provide a structure for setting policies regarding the use of those tools. I also supported the right of residents to video law enforcement during police interactions in public spaces.

While the Commission on Accreditation for Law Enforcement Agencies (CALEA) has certified most Hawaii law enforcement agencies, the legislature created a local law enforcement standards board. That local oversight body should have the funding required to accomplish its goals. It should generate training requirements on de-escalation during interactions with the public and set uniform policies on proper use of force. Addressing profiling and discrimination should be part of the training and policies of local police. I would support a requirement for certification of law enforcement officers.

County Charters should grant County Police Commissions broader authority in reviewing disciplinary cases and the present internal affairs process should be run by an independent, third-party agency rather than officers employed by the same department investigated. Disclosure of police records in the same manner other government employee disciplinary records are released.

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

I support astronomy as an area where Hawaii has advantages over other locations and in some regards is a modern reflection of the native cultural heritage as star navigators. However, the University of Hawaii (UH) Board of Regents (BOR) do need to provide assurances that cultural practices will not be greatly impeded by construction or operations at the site (and I don’t discount that opposition has hardened against construction regardless of any accommodations or benefits provided to the general community or whether TMT received the proper government approvals for use and construction). The BOR also does need to show good faith by actually funding and continuing the process for decommissioning existing telescopes as promised to the public. In February, the Institute for Astronomy reported to the BOR that the California Institute of Technology (Caltech) Submillimeter Observatory and the UH Hilo Hōkū Keʻa teaching telescope were both making progress in the extensive decommissioning process. The BOR should move up the timetable to address the decommissioning of an additional three telescopes from December 2025 to an earlier date. Given the timeline, UH needs to put skin the game to show it does intend to address the number of facilities on the site.

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

Although my roots are firmly on Maui, I have had the opportunity to live on the east coast, the west coast, and the big city of Honolulu. My experiences have shaped a lot of my thinking about both Maui’s present and Maui’s future– which I believe can be a bright one, if we act together to make Maui a better place to live, work, play, and raise our families. I love this place. I love its people. And this is why I made a conscious decision many years ago that this is where I wanted to live.

It’s easy to focus your attention on challenges facing Maui from a narrow, selfish viewpoint. It’s harder but I’m optimistic that you can recognize problems without being paralyzed by them into counterproductive and divisive argument and debate.

From my vantage point of growing up, working and living here, I believe our grandparents and our parents did improve the quality of life and choices for my generation. but I know it took hard work, education, opportunity and, yes, a selfless sense of community.

But it starts with the kind of work ethic and courage that previous generations brought. I admire my grandfather and my dad—they came to hawaii before airplanes made the journey a matter of hours rather than months on an open ocean. They came to Hawaii without first seeing the sand and surf on television or the internet. They came knowing only the people who disembarked on the ships with them. and at some point, Maui became home.

Whether we were born on maui, or moved here, or moved back after seeing America, we all have more choices and opportunity today.

But I think we place too little value in the shared connections we owe to others in our community. It’s useful to step back from living our individual lives in even small ways. Valuing achievement in our children and also our neighbors’ children and taking interest in their schools and activities forces us into interacting with other parents and takes us a step towards re-connecting our communities. It opens up the possibility that our generations will know the families in our neighborhood and that we’ll look out for them because they look out for us.


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