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2020 Election: Karl Rhoads

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  • Karl Rhoads
Name on ballot:

Karl Rhoads

Running for:

State Senate – District 13

Political party:


Campaign website:

Current occupation:

State Senator



Previous job history:

State Representative; tutor; lawyer; Congressional aide; farmhand; sales assistant; dishwasher; sheetrock worker; and warehouse worker.

Previous elected office, if any:

State Representative (2006-2016); Downtown Neighborhood Board (1997-2006)

Please describe your qualifications to represent the people of Hawaii.

I have represented diverse neighborhoods from Ala Moana to Kalihi, Chinatown to Nuuanu for over a decade. While understanding how government works, I also care about what happens to people and have a good sense of how government policies will affect them

What will be your top priority if elected?

Getting through the current pandemic with as little damage as possible to people from a health perspective and economically. The two, of course, are interconnected.

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

Thanks largely to people following the stay at home orders, we have done very well so far. Despite the recent spike in cases and deaths, Hawaii, as of July 14, still has the fewest cases per capita and the fewest deaths of any state. More extensive testing of arriving passengers would help. More testing in general would improve the situation. More vigorous enforcement of the 14-day quarantine rules and the mask orders would slow the progress of the virus. Better voluntary compliance with physical distancing and the mask orders is very important.

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

The Legislature passed and I supported measures to extend extra unemployment benefits after the federal plus up ends on July 31. We also appropriated funds to temporarily subsidize lower income people’s rent.

Extending the larger federal plus up is critically important. Federal legislation has done much to alleviate the economic suffering, but this is a catastrophe of historic proportions and more assistance is needed.

Getting the virus under control in other states would also help our economic situation tremendously. Unfortunately, President Trump does not seem to understand the connection between the health effects and the economic ones. His complete lack of leadership has not only cost unnecessary lives, but, especially for us in Hawaii who are dependent on the visitor industry, has damaged our economy far more than was necessary.

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?

Unless a vaccine is found very soon or the federal government provides significantly more financial assistance, government workers will be laid off, furloughed or have their pay cut by this time next year. The Legislature has already declined (with my support) the pay raise that was mandated for January 2021. The State’s revenue situation is bleak once we spend the CARES Act money and our reserves.

The Legislature has adopted, with my support, a cuts last approach. Immediate cuts would have made the economy worse by reducing consumer spending which in turn would have lowered tax revenues which have required deeper cuts.

We still need government workers and in some areas we need them worse than we did before the pandemic. For example, first responders and many other medical personnel are government employees.

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?

For as long as I can remember we have been discussing this topic. We have known for decades that we were vulnerable to a prolonged downturn in tourism. The pandemic is the sum of those fears.

Once the pandemic is over or we have gotten used to living with the risk of infection, we will turn to face the problems we had before that haven’t gone away. Global warming is the most urgent of those problems. Hawaii is already a leader in renewable energy and we have all the natural advantages: wind, solar, geothermal, fallow ag land and wave energy resources. My opinion is that we should strive to become world leaders in all the technologies involved and once we have switched entirely to renewable fuels for our own energy needs, we should start manufacturing products that require lots of energy. This is going to be a growth industry for decades and one with huge potential markets.

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

I support police reform. I supported House Bill 285 which will require that more information about county police officers who have been suspended or disciplined be made public.

I also support use of body cams. They protect good officers and make it harder for bad ones to take advantage of the trust we place in them.

Because policing is a dangerous business, I have also supported gun violence protection legislation. Tragedies like that at Diamond Head will occur less frequently if it is harder for criminals to obtain firearms.

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

I support it. For me it boils down to the fact that I do not want to block an important astronomy project. Mauna Kea is one of the best, if not the best, place in the world to view the stars. Some of the opponents argue that it is not about astronomy. I disagree.

I also worry that when any group loses a court case or does not like a project that they will simply refuse to follow the court order or physically block the project. In the long-term, that is a bad precedent to set.

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

I have done my best to do a good job and not worry about keeping my job. If you do reelect me, I will continue to address the many problems we face, especially the difficult ones. Once the pandemic and its economic effects are under control, I will refocus on affordable housing, helping to get the mentally ill treatment and a place off the street, gun violence protection legislation and the climate crisis.

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