comscore 2020 Election: Jeanné Kapela | Honolulu Star-Advertiser

2020 Election: Jeanné Kapela

  • Jeanne Kapela
Name on ballot:

Jeanné Kapela

Running for:

State House – District 5

Political party:


Campaign website:

Current occupation:

Imua Alliance, Prevention Education Coordinator (January 2020-present)



Previous job history:

Kona Dance and Performing Arts, Choreographer (January 2017 – present); Unite Hawai’i, Executive Director (March 2015 – January 2020); Hawai’i State House of Representatives, Committee Clerk for Rep. Amy Perruso (January 2019 – May 2019); Hawai’i State House of Representatives, Legislative Aide for Rep. Nadine Nakamura (January 2017 – May 2017); American Renaissance Academy, FAME Co-director (August 2015 – January 2017)

Previous elected office, if any:


Please describe your qualifications to represent the people of Hawaii.

My experiences as a legislative staff member and nonprofit leader have refined my commitment to public service and deepened my resolve to bring hope to those who need it most. I spent two years working at the Legislature, including as a committee clerk for Rep. Amy Perruso, where I was able to help champion progressive policy measures, like expanding access to clean energy, increasing funding for public education, and banning harmful pesticides on public school campuses.

I currently work as the prevention education coordinator for Imua Alliance, one of Hawai’i’s largest victim service providers for survivors of sex trafficking. I’m also the founder and former Executive Director of Unite Hawai’i, an organization dedicated to ending exploitation through the power of education. I’ve spent countless hours working to protect our keiki from harm and provide them with the care they need to recover from trauma.

Additionally, I serve our community as a member of the Kona Coffee Cultural Festival Board of Directors and Lions Club of Kona member, and was previously a member of the Kona Coffee Farmers Association board of directors. Most recently, I’ve served as a founding member of Stop Injustice Now, which is fighting to end racial discrimination on our shores.

This election is an urgent call to action. We have a choice: maintain business as usual or move forward, together, in pursuit of prosperity and justice for all. From my first day in office, I am prepared deliver the promise of paradise to everyone who calls Hawai’i home.

What will be your top priority if elected?

My top priority will be addressing Hawai’i’s high cost of living by raising the minimum wage to at least $17/hour, establishing paid family and sick leave for all workers, building truly affordable housing for working families earning no more than 50 percent of area median income, expanding access to affordable childcare throughout the islands, and increasing funding for public education.

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

Quality medical care is a human right. Therefore, we should invest in health care delivery, especially in remote communities, like West Hawai’i. My community needs the right medical tools–including adequate protective equipment, testing capacity, bed space, and essential medicine–to give all patients access to potentially life-saving care.

We must also establish paid sick and family leave for all workers. No employee should have to choose between earning a paycheck and preserving their health when they show signs of sickness. Studies show that the annual cost of family leave for a middle-income worker is only $58 per year, a little over one dollar per week for invaluable financial security.

It’s time to put patients before profits. We can raise revenue to strengthen our public health system by closing corporate tax loopholes and asking the state’s wealthiest residents to pay a little more to protect the well-being of our most vulnerable neighbors.

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

COVID-19 has exposed the extent to which our state’s economy has harmed working families. Nowhere is this more clear than in the hardship faced by people in obtaining unemployment insurance. Moving forward, we need to dramatically modernize our unemployment system, so that people don’t have to wait for weeks to receive critical financial assistance.

Additionally, we need to heavily invest in childcare for the islands. COVID-19 has significantly damaged our state’s childcare providers, many of whom may be forced to shut down because of lagging revenue. It is incumbent upon our state to ensure that working families have access to affordable childcare, especially as our economy reopens and people go back to work.

Finally, we need to be proactive in ensuring that people are able to meet their housing needs. Our state should have suspended rent and mortgage payments when the pandemic began. That’s something we still can and should do until the economic crisis that we’re in passes.

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?

Absolutely not. We cannot cut our way out of this crisis. Instead, we should apply for every available federal loan to shore up our state budget. Additionally, we should temporarily repeal general excise tax exemptions, as our state did during the Great Recession, and implement sensible revenue generation policies to boost our economy, including by taxing real estate investment trusts, increasing high-earner and corporate income taxes, instituting rate recapture for Hawai’i’s wealthiest residents, legalizing and taxing recreational cannabis use, and establishing a statewide property tax for residential investment properties valued at more than a million dollars.

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?

First, we need to invest in sustainable agriculture, so that we can decrease our reliance on food exports and increase local food sovereignty. My district includes Kona and Ka’u coffee and macadamia nut farmers, who grow some of our islands’ most iconic products. By investing in local agriculture, we can cut our dependence on costly exports, increase food security, reduce carbon emissions from the shipping industry, and ensure that working families receive healthy meals, even when emergencies occur.

Second, we need to create a Green New Deal that invests in Hawai’i’s clean energy industry and grows good-paying green jobs for our community. Given our geographic advantages, Hawai’i should be the envy of the world in terms of renewable energy research and production, so we can become 100 percent clean energy reliant within this decade.

Third, we’ve seen an outpouring of community activism in response to COVID-19, from food distribution to community health programs to services for victims of sexual and domestic violence. We need to invest in innovation that sustains the care-based economy we’ve created.

Fourth and finally, if we’re going to have tourism as part of our economic portfolio, we should have tourism on our terms. That means that we need to limit tourism to each island’s carrying capacity and establish policies like green fees that ensure our visitor industry helps to sustain our environment, rather than destroy it.

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

Police reform is a major issue for Hawai’i. As a young Native Hawaiian woman, this issue deeply affects me because Hawaiians are disproportionately arrested and incarcerated in our state and face harsher penalties than their non-Hawaiian neighbors.

I wholeheartedly support implementing mandatory disclosure of police misconduct records and fully funding law enforcement oversight boards to ensure that police are held accountable for their actions. I also believe that we need to ban police chokeholds in our state, which undermine public safety.

Furthermore, as a victim service provider for survivors of sex trafficking, I believe we should prohibit police from engaging in sexual conduct during prostitution investigations. Many of the victims I’ve assisted have been forced to engage in sex acts with law enforcement officers while they were being sexually exploited, worsening their trauma. It should be outlawed.

Finally, we need to decrease funding for police militarization and, instead, reallocate those funds to programs that advance communal wellness, like public education, social services, and community health centers. When vulnerable communities receive adequate resources, crime rates decline and the police become far less necessary to maintain public safety. That is what “defunding the police” is all about.

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

I am opposed to the construction of the Thirty Meter Telescope. As a Native Hawaiian woman, I am committed to protecting Hawaiian ancestral rights and preserving Hawaiian’s sacred spaces. The fight over TMT is not just about a telescope. It’s about the historic and ongoing dispossession of the Hawaiian people within our homeland.

Hawaiians disproportionately suffer from poverty, high rates of illness and incarceration, and chronically underfunded schools. Moreover, the state continues to fail in its responsibility to provide 20 percent of revenue generated from public trust lands for the betterment of the Hawaiian community.

Additionally, I believe that the University of Hawai’i has a poor track record when it comes to managing Mauna Kea. I support transferring management authority of Mauna Kea to DLNR, which I believe is better equipped to oversee cultural access and conservation efforts on the mauna.

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

I’m a working-class Hawaiian woman, who was born and raised in West Hawai’i, where my family has lived for generations. I come from humble circumstances, not wealth and privilege. I care about working families because I come from one. If elected, I will be the first woman and Native Hawaiian ever to represent District 5 in the Hawai’i State House. I promise to spend each day delivering leadership with aloha that puts people first, always.

View more candidate questionnaires or see more 2020 Hawaii elections coverage.
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