comscore 2020 Election: Kauʻi Pratt-Aquino | Honolulu Star-Advertiser

2020 Election: Kauʻi Pratt-Aquino

  • Kauʻi Pratt-Aquino
Name on ballot:

Kauʻi Pratt-Aquino

Running for:

State House – District 48

Political party:


Campaign website:

Current occupation:




Previous job history:

Non-Profit Organization and Estate Planning Law Firm

Previous elected office, if any:


Please describe your qualifications to represent the people of Hawaii.

I am a mom, wife, attorney and community organizer. I am also active in the district. I try my best to hear the concerns of residents that are specific to different areas. I believe this is critically important when seeking public office to have a pulse on what’s important to constituents. The job of an elected official is to amplify the voices of the community. I have also directly engaged in the legislative process at the county and state levels over the years.

I have been at the forefront of a grassroots coalition to save preservation land in Pūʻohala Village from irresponsible development. The proposed development would harm residents and our fragile ecosystem. I currently serve as the Chair of the Governing Board of a public charter school where we have invested a significant amount of time to turn the school around. Through our collective efforts and strong leadership, we believe the school will now be a leader in progressive education in the Koʻolaupoko area.

From 2006 to 2016, I worked for the Institute for Native Pacific Education and Culture (“INPEACE”), a non-profit organization dedicated to serving some of the most high need areas in Hawaiʻi where poverty and poor health have had a significant impact on the well-being of our keiki and their families. I was involved in almost every aspect of nonprofit development from operations, partnership building to programs. I also represented INPEACE at the state sponsored Keiki Caucus Resource Group where we collaborated to create viable policy solutions for children.

Through my community-based experience and background in law, I believe I bring a community based perspective to the legislative arena. That is my goal is to bring people back into policy making. I believe communities have the inherent right to control their future, that their voices should be the center of any and all policy decisions and there is a need to restore integrity and respect to the legislative process. I humbly ask for your vote to represent our community.

What will be your top priority if elected?

As it is in so many districts around the state, cost of living is a serious issue in Kaneohe. 

Our district’s homeless population is on the rise and families are fleeing the district (and the state) because they can simply no longer afford to live here. According to Zillow, the median rent in Kaneohe is $2,500. It is just too difficult to survive in Hawaiʻi.

Kaneohe is also home to countless small businesses whose owners and employees are struggling to make ends meet. They are operating at 25% to 50% capacity due to COVID-19. A second wave of restrictions could cause these small businesses to close permanently.

 We need to find a way to make it easier for small businesses to succeed, while also ensuring workers are paid a living wage.

Now with the pandemic, we need to make sure our Kupuna are well and their basic needs are met. We need to provide safe spaces for them to congregate and socialize to ensure they live with dignity (and not locked up in their homes). We can be creative but their health and well-being must be a priority. We just need to commit to a plan that values and honors them.

The cost of child care is also a serious problem. On average, $7,800 per year per child. How can we expect families to survive, let alone thrive under those conditions? 

If I am elected, I will work hard in support of our families, kupuna, a living wage, for paid family leave, paid sick leave, affordable housing and access to child care.

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

Perhaps what is most positive and inspiring about the pandemic response has been how the vast majority of residents have taken to the shelter-in-place and social distancing orders. This, to me, is the main reason why Hawaiʻi’s infection rate has been so low in comparison to other states.

We need to increase our capacity for testing and contact tracing, especially as the state begins to loosen restrictions and more people go out in public for shopping, dinning, etc. This will be a challenge given the recent news that testing suppliers are diverting resources to those states where infection rates have exploded.

Given the spike in confirmed cases over the last couple of weeks, we must seriously question Governor Ige’s intention to reopen to visitors at the beginning of August. I do not believe we can stay “closed” indefinitely, I also don’t believe we have sufficient safeguards and testing and contact tracing systems in place to protect residents. Until those structures are confidently in place and functioning, we should postpone any further loosening of travel and business restrictions.

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

I have been disappointed by our elected leaders in their effort to address the economic crisis in a timely manner. Years of underfunding departments like the Department of Labor and Industrial Relations (DLIR) have come home to roost.

To be clear, the blame cannot be laid entirely at the feet of the Department, its Director or the DLIR staff. They did their best with the resources that were at their disposal. The Director provided our elected leaders with the appropriate warning that UI could not withstand an emergency prior to the pandemic. Rather our elected officials have ignored structural and fiscal deficiencies in favor of a lean and mean government at the detriment of the people.

While the House Special Committee began meeting relatively early, the focus was entirely on protecting the tourist and related industries. Which they then ultimately failed to do. No apparent concern was given to the plight of “essential workers” or the expected deluge of unemployment claims that has since buried the DLIR.

UI claims should have been provisionally approved on spec at the outset, allowing for review after the worst of the crisis passed. Instead, claimants spent hours calling and trying to file their claims in hopes that they would get in successfully. This is unacceptable. The UI system must be fixed immediately.

Working families need urgent relief from the COVID economic crisis. At least 117,000 people are now unemployed and economists expect that number to endure through the beginning of next year. Our old approach to unemployment benefits was not designed for this situation. To ensure immediate relief from financial pressure, I support dramatically increasing UI benefits for local working families, using federal stimulus funds. This is a short-term, fast-acting remedy to address decades of failed attempts to diversify our economy.

The Legislature and Governor need to continue to ensure protections for renters and homeowners so they do not lose their homes during this crisis.

Local farming is the backbone of our Windward O‘ahu community. We can give an immediate boost to our local food producers by exempting locally grown food from the 4.71% State General Excise Tax, as well as increasing SNAP (food stamps) benefits to buy locally grown produce direct from farmers and at farmers markets. Eating locally grown food is better for the environment, more nutritious, and also rebuilds the agricultural sector of our economy, and creates local jobs.

Paid Family Leave and Sick Leave are two key ways to improve care for seniors and children, as well as protect working families from the spread of COVID. I support expanding worker insurance coverage to provide 16 weeks of paid leave to workers so they can care for their kupuna and keiki. Federal workers, as well as 8 states, already have paid family leave, and those workers are seeing a 20% drop in infant mortality rates and elders enjoying a higher quality of life while aging at home.

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?

Contracting government spending, especially on wages and benefits for workers, will do nothing to help our economic situation. In fact, a preponderance of evidence suggests to do so would only make things worse.

Workers and essential government responsibilities should be protected first. Those departments and programs that work to benefit Hawaiʻi and its residents need to be preserved.

We must increase wages when the time is appropriate. But at minimum, due to the pandemic, our leaders must do what they can not to cut the wages and benefits of our workers. We have big challenges ahead that require strong and community-based leadership to truly represent the voices of our community. Our first priority should always be the health and well-being of residents. This includes providing plans to safely open up our economy and to stabilize our workforce.

Wages for our “essential” minimum wage workers, for teachers, for state workers should be increased once we have a viable and reliable plan to move forward. When people have more money in their pockets our entire local economy benefits. And higher salaries for teachers and state workers will attract more people to work in essential positions.

We must also move away from our reliance on tourism to power our local economy. Not only does the industry create a number of negative impacts to our economy and ecosystem, but we have seen what happens when the tourists stop coming.

The Legislature should look to end subsidies for tourism. Tax credits in support of tourism, whether it be hotels, “local” airlines, etc. should be immediately ended.

Additionally, any and all funds appropriated for marketing Hawaiʻi to the world should be zeroed out and returned to the general fund.

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?

We have an opportunity to reshape our state budget in a way that benefits working people. Tax credits are often given to the wealthy and corporate entities that generate off-shore profits, while the food-excise and renters tax credits, and a refundable EITC have repeatedly been called “too expensive.” Hawaiʻi has become a tax shelter for the wealthy.

We must realign our priorities to put people and workers first. We must find creative ways to increase revenue to the state while protecting the most economically disadvantaged among us.

We need a far larger effort to more quickly expand local food production. And we need to better support our local farmers to incentivize food production. There should be no reason why we are not producing most or all of our own food now. The pandemic showed us how dependent we are on imports. The answers to food security are here in Hawaiʻi. We must leverage those resources and people to truly move toward a sustainable future for this generation and beyond.

As military leases are coming up for renewal, we must insist that those leases of public land are paid at rates far higher than the couple of dollars they are leased for now.

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

Though the principles of aloha permeate our island culture, our home is not free of violence, racism, or institutional bias. To be very clear, racism in Hawaiʻi is not always between white and colored people. 

We must institute reforms that bring transparency to our criminal justice system. This includes abolishing cash bail, dramatic reforms to criminal asset forfeiture, and increased transparency and collaboration between law enforcement and our leaders. 

All judges, elected officials, prosecutors, public defenders and law enforcement should be required to go through annual “implicit bias” training.

We also need to look to our local police for leadership and guidance for practices that can be replicated in other communities. In District 48 specifically, the police are well respected and trusted. They are invested in our community meaning they live and have raised their families in the district.

They also institute community-based policing in a culturally appropriate way to ensure public safety. We need to honor those practices in supporting them and our community.

We need to provide more social support services to police to allow them to do their job. Oftentimes, they wear many hats when dealing with our community. This includes greater access to resources to provide support for domestic violence victims, more options for emergency placements for the same victims and their children.

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

I oppose the construction of the TMT.

The University of Hawaiʻi has completely failed to meet their obligations to manage the mauna and have repeatedly ignored their prior commitments. Until all the decommissioned telescopes currently on the summit are deconstructed and the land is restored, any new construction should not even be considered.

While many have characterized this issue as a conflict between science, development and Native Hawaiians, that characterization is both inaccurate and unfair. The issue is simply that the land in question is a conservation district. The State and the University of Hawaiʻi have made promises should the TMT proceed, but we have no reason to accept those promises given their prior track record.

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


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