comscore 2020 Election: Kim Coco Iwamoto | Honolulu Star-Advertiser

2020 Election: Kim Coco Iwamoto

  • Kim Coco Iwamoto
Name on ballot:

Kim Coco Iwamoto

Running for:

State House – District 26

Political party:


Campaign website:

Current occupation:

Small Business Owner, Community Advocate



Previous job history:

Owner of Affordable Quality Apartment Rentals, LLC (dba AQuA Rentals); owner, Enlightened Energy, LLC; Managing Attorney of Volunteer Legal Services Hawaii.

Previous elected office, if any:

State Board of Education, 2006-2011

Please describe your qualifications to represent the people of Hawaii.

After completing law school on the continent, I returned home to Hawaii to care for my ailing mother. After passing the bar exam in Hawaii, I worked with advocates, community leaders, and unions to expand civil rights protections for all workers and families. I served the community as Homeless Outreach Coordinator then Managing Attorney of Volunteer Legal Services Hawaii.

I became a licensed therapeutic foster parent and opened my heart and my home to teenagers, many of whom had been homeless and/or incarcerated. While advocating for their education access, I was elected to the State Board of Education. That led me to serve on the Hawaii Teachers Standards Board and Chair the Career and Technical Education Coordinating Advisory Committee for the University of Hawaii. More recently I served as a Hawaii Civil Rights Commissioner.

While my career as a public servant has certainly prepared me well for the office I’m seeking, I believe compassion and courage are my true qualifications because these are the attributes that can restore voters’ faith in government.

Faith is lost when legislators financially neglect our social safety nets for decades then take credit for sending “volunteers” (actually paid state workers) to deal with the 250,000 backlogged unemployment insurance claims caused by the neglect.

While families were waiting for their unemployment benefits and being turned away empty-handed from depleted food lines, our legislative leadership’s first instinct was to stash federal relief aid meant for these families into the state’s rainy day fund. This insult added to the original injury caused by their failure to fund upgrades to the IT infrastructure of our unemployment insurance system for three decades.

What will be your top priority if elected?

The people of Hawaii will always be my top priority. The legislature is the only body charged with raising revenue to fund services that our residents rely on: education, economic infrastructure, fair and affordable housing, environmental protections, justice and healing. As we begin to experience the longterm hardships of the pandemic and recession, the people of Hawaii will need the legislature to focus on housing & healthcare.

We need real housing options for the houseless and support systems that keeps the housed in their homes. Hotels sit empty and short-term rentals go unbooked while thousands sleep on our streets. Meanwhile our legislative leadership just allocated $7M to store personal property abandoned in the “homeless sweeps”—when that funding could have housed 583 homeless families for one year.

With up to 30% of our workforce unemployed, COBRA health insurance will run out soon, leaving many Hawaii families vulnerable to catastrophic debt due to illness or injury. We need healthcare for all and we pay for it by self-insuring. The Hawaii Health Authority All-Payer Proposal delivers the benefits of universal healthcare while eliminating administrative waste.

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

If our main concern was protecting residents’ health, then we would have managed our state more like the similarly ocean-locked New Zealand (NZ). Within 20 days of identifying its first coronavirus case, NZ banned all incoming visitors. In striking contrast, 20 days after our first case, the airline executive sitting on the House’s Economic Recovery Panel was luring tourists to Hawaii from infection hotspots with discounted airfare.

By June 8, NZ reported the last person infected with COVID-19 in NZ had recovered. Meanwhile, Hawaii’s infection and death per capita statistics were already double those of NZ and they are still rising. We continue to fly in tourists when we know we do not have the infrastructure to monitor whether they are complying with our quarantine orders.

The quarantine regulations for returning residents provide so many exemptions that the regulation itself becomes pointless. Certain kinds of business owners traveling for personal reasons can go straight to work from the airport; even they have expressed alarm by the governments lack of concern for their workers, communities and families.

The most disturbing exemptions go to military personnel who are taking advantage of their special status to vacation here. We read every day about what a poor job the military is doing to stop the spread of COVID-19 on its bases and ships – why would we want to keep giving them free range around our islands?

A lot more must be done to control access to our islands so that we can keep our residents safe, as well as expand testing and contact tracing.

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

Before the pandemic, few imagined the U.S. government would hand over $600/week to unemployed workers as a modified-universal basic income. A “big idea” initiated by Andrew Yang’s campaign, became a reality six months later.

This was an affirmation that “trickle-up” economics works when jump starting local recovery efforts. While unemployment insurance is an earned benefit, the extra $600/week was not earned. So why not provide it to all people who are suffering financial hardships: homeless people who cannot sustain employment, non-legit workers and small business owners who just lost all their savings?

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?

First things first: close all of the tax loopholes for the wealthiest families, corporations and Real Estate Investment Trusts. Let’s do this now while it is painless for them.

Hawaii received $1.8B in Federal Relief Aid so far and has a $2B line of credit from the federal government. We also have $6B in unpaid Impact Aid from the U.S. Department of Defense from 20 years of underpayments to the Hawaii Department of Education. Add to that the $350M a year we can save by self-insuring medical coverage for government pensioners and Medicaid recipients, and you can see we have funding available to provide residents’ basic, urgent needs.

Even before the recession, we knew that more than 50% of households in Hawaii were living paycheck to paycheck. This includes many households headed by our lowest paid public workers. So before we think about “spreading the pain” evenly, let’s acknowledge the disastrous economic inequality before the pandemic.

If we do get to the point where government worker salaries must be cut, the formula must take from the top of the pay scale. Start with those that make wages that are five times higher than the minimum. The Speaker of the House makes $70K for six months work; that comes to $67.31/hour – six times more than the minimum wage of $10.10/hour.

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 need to use New Zealand’s model of putting the welfare of its people before corporate profits. NZ’s primary economic driver is agricultural food production. This model will fit into the circular economy we need to work towards.

The state has been issuing permits for growing hemp, which may yield $1M profit a year per acre. We need to make sure those permits are only given to food producing farmers so they can use those profits to underwrite food production expenses. So for every one acre of hemp, farmers must grow 9 acres of food for local consumption.

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

After taxpayers have paid hundreds of millions of dollars in settlements, jury awards, and attorneys fees, we can no longer afford to keep turning a blind eye to injustice, wrongful death or the excessive use of force.

In 2015, Hawaii ranked fifth in the U.S. for the number of people killed that year by police on a per capita basis. A key contributing factor to the poor ranking is the lack of transparency over police misconduct. We could have easily fixed this years ago with a mandatory disclosure of misconduct and adequate funding for oversight boards.

These solutions were proposed by community organizers for decades and each year legislative leadership would kill these bills in committee to protect wayward officers. Today, those same legislators will take credit for finally getting out of the way of the community’s uprising for police reform.

Additional reforms needed: any law enforcement personnel in the state who carries a weapon designed to kill or cause grave bodily harm should be wearing a body-cam to document their behavior.

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

I stand with the Sierra Club in opposing the construction of any eight-story building on conservation land.

As a descendent of settlers who came to Hawaii as humble immigrants, it would be arrogant of me to support a development that the host culture deems a desecration. Imagine being a guest in someone home. How could you justify permanently and drastically altering their home without their consent? You can’t.

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

I am yonsei – fourth generation American of Japanese Ancestry. On my maternal grandparents’ side, the family left Japan to grow cantaloupe in California. During World War II, my mother and her family were forced into internment camps in Poston, AZ. My uncles were eventually released to enlist and serve in the U.S. Army.

My paternal great-grandparents left Japan to work in the sugar cane plantations of Kauai. My grandmother, Florence Onishi met my grandfather, Robert Iwamoto, at Tip-Top Restaurant, where she was working as a cashier. Robert and Florence used their families’ cars to start a taxi company, which eventually expanded to a tour company.

My father Robert Jr. began working in high school as the car washer. Eventually their collective efforts became known as Robert’s Hawaii.

On May 25, 1968, my mother went into labor while attending a party hosted by Grace Guslander to celebrate the expansion of her Coco Palms Resort. The next morning the hotelier visited us at Wilcox hospital and asked that I be named “Coco” in honor of her hotel.

Both my parents grew up working to help their families. This was the work ethic they expected from their children. When I was in the 5th grade, I delivered the Star Bulletin after school on my bicycle. By the time I was a student at St. Louis High School, I was washing rental cars, taking reservations for Robert’s Overnighters, and serving beverages on the Aliʻi Kai Catamaran.

I attended colleges in New York City, San Francisco and just before entering law school in Albuquerque, my mother had a severe stroke so I deferred enrollment for a year to take care of her.

I was only 26 years old and my mother’s primary caregiver. That was a pivotal time; I gained the confidence to later step up to care for foster kids and eventually to adopt my daughter Rory.

My family gathers every year to honor our matriarch, my grandmother Florence Iwamoto; we make grants to the community she relied on to get through the challenging times in her life. This is the lesson I try to pass on to my daughter: always remember the kindness extended to you and share that grace with others.

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