Name on ballot:
Matthew S. LoPresti
State House – District 41
Associate Professor of Philosophy and Humanities
Previous job history:
Philosophy and Humanities Professor, Hawaii Pacific University (16 years); Adjunct Professor and Lecturer of Philosophy at UH-Manoa, Chaminade University, West Virginia University, University of Toledo, Antioch College (London and Both Gaya, India), and Kapiolani Community College; Hawai’i State Legislator (two terms); Sierra Club, O’ahu Group Executive Committee (two terms); previous small business owner and entrepreneur.
Previous elected office, if any:
Hawai’i State House of Representatives (two terms 2014-18) & ‘Ewa Neighborhood Board (treasurer).
Please describe your qualifications to represent the people of Hawaii.
Public service, for me, is a calling informed by my faith, my profession, and my commitment to helping others.
Ewa Beach in particular and West Oahu in general needs a strong voice to represent our interests, to speak up and take action on the issues that matter the most to my constituents. My foremost statewide concern is, of course, is the current health and safety crisis as well as its economic fallout, but in my district, where I live, we need a leader to focus on everyday regular issues too, like the state of our public schools, alleviating soul-crushing traffic, and our infrastructure that is either crumbling where it stands or nonexistent where it is needed most. Just because everything is on pause doesn’t mean that any of these issues have gone away – they are right where we left them and are waiting for us whenever it is that we return to our regular day-to-day lives. But we must not just go back to the way things were, because the way things were was a system that was failing working people living paycheck to paycheck, it was failing our children with underfunded schools and stressed out unsupported teachers (with thousands and thousands of vacancies due to our unconscionably low pay and low priority that our state actually places upon education), it was failing people who need real affordable housing closer to where their jobs are, it was failing to provide even the most basic worker protections that nearly every other modern nation has – like paid sick and family leave. The system was failing so many of us in so many ways before this crisis hit. What many voters and policy makers have now – I hope – is a shared clarity of the injustices built into the current system that need serious attention and which you the voter must hold legislators to account for in the months and years ahead. The worst thing that could happen once we find our way out of the current crisis is to just go back to the way things were and we need to elect leaders today that will do what it takes to make the changes necessary to get us back on track towards a more just society.
Our community needs a leader who will consistently stand up for our community, but we also need someone with a proven record of accomplishments who can understand and work with people from all backgrounds to bring needed change to our current system as well as to bring home needed resources for Ewa Beach. People all over my district, from all backgrounds and political persuasions have approached me of their own volition expressing their desire for me to represent them again for these very reasons. They know that I am an effective fighter for progressive causes and for our community. I feel that it is my duty to step up and dedicate myself to public service, and I am deeply humbled to know that I have the faith and confidence of so many in our community and across our state. I will do my utmost to honor your faith in my abilities to represent working families and put my community’s needs above my own.
What will be your top priority if elected?
The themes on which I will focus my efforts are four-fold. (1) Supporting our keiki and our public schools is first. Despite our great success in getting air conditioning in ‘Ewa schools and new buildings to deal with overcrowding, our schools are still over capacity, rundown, and we’ve needed a second high school for decades. Physical buildings need major renovations, the athletics complex needs to be redone, our teachers need pay increases, and our Title IX obligations to our girls requires serious and immediate attention.
(2) Traffic mitigation is also paramount. Completing rail, PM contraflow lanes on Fort Weaver Road, staggered work times, telecommuting, and moving state and county office jobs to the long designated, but never built office buildings in Kapolei would help.
We also need more attention to (3) caring for our Kupuna and (4) the overall cost of living. This means raising the minimum wage, requiring paid sick leave and paid family leave, as well as accounting for the millions in unpaid caregiving provided by family to family in our state.
Details on many of these issues are below.
As Hawaii faces the COVID-19 pandemic, what more can be done to protect residents’ health?
The state has not adequately responded to the crisis. Even when things went well, the communication was confusing and seemed to conflict with the messaging from the counties. There are two main reasons for our relatively low infection numbers: (1) the personal sacrifices of everyday people who complied with stay at home orders (thank you!), and (2) our geographic isolation. Were it not for (2) our infection rates would still be very high.
We cannot remain closed forever, but we can control how we reopen. Like New Zealand, we should use our geographic isolation to our advantage. We must test anyone before they step foot on an airplane bound for Hawaii, followed by a rigorous track and trace program. I would have implemented such a policy early on. It is unacceptable that we do not yet have this in place. Furthermore, we cannot properly plan, much less govern with poor data; track and trace programs are essential to this. This data should also be constantly available to the public.
I would encourage the use of empty hotels to temporarily assist those living on the streets and better coordinated the messaging of state and local government. This final failure caused much confusion and consternation amongst the public and failed to inspire confidence that our leaders knew what they were doing.
As for going back to school, the state must listen to parents and teachers concerns about what this means for health and safety. Many people feel that they are not being listened to and the set public health policy and standards should not be different from school to school or classroom to classroom. The children, teachers, staff, and families deserve a standard approach so that everyone is held to the same standards backed by the best science and advice of experts.
What more can be done to help residents who have been economically affected by the COVID-19 pandemic?
This crisis exposes the failing of our current system on so many levels (see my statement on why I am running). It especially exposes the antiquated systems state government still relies on. If they cannot even process claims in a timely fashion then help will be delayed at best if not outright denied by a failing system. The state needs to modernize the Unemployment Insurance system for starters. We also need to implement longer rent and mortgage protections for those who have lost their jobs and small business loans for those trying to keep jobs for their employees. Much of this needs to come from the Federal Government but our state also has excellent credit, we will clearly have to use it to do some of these things.
Last, but not least, we absolutely need to have paid sick leave, paid family leave, and better access to health care that is not reliant on a specific job. With so many out of work during this pandemic, they are also losing their health care – the system we have is actually making the pandemic worse. Furthermore, without sick leave, people are having to choose between losing their jobs but keeping colleagues safe, or possibly infecting colleagues but still being able to pay their bills. Our system is forcing people between options no one would want to choose; it doesn’t have to be this way. We need elected leaders who are smart enough to recognize these facts, moral enough to acknowledge that the system is condemnable, and brave enough to do something about it.
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?
Maintaining a budget during at a time like this requires the wisdom to know what we can do without and the forethought to avoid pennywise but pound-foolish temptations.
The possibilities alluded to in your question, should be avoided precisely because many of our state workers are already undercompensated. Perpetually poor compensation for educational professionals, for example, has resulted in thousands of unfilled education positions by highly qualified professionals and the nation’s worst teacher turnover rate. It would be foolish to compound this already critical problem, so I would protect their salaries and pensions. Many such workers and their families have still not recovered from the last time the state tried to balance the budget on their backs in 2008.
I would implement a hiring freeze, eliminate vacant positions, find efficiencies as suggested by ongoing performance audits, look to repeal certain GET exemptions and impose a 20% salary reduction for appointed and elected officials while also holding off on their scheduled pay raises. Lastly, this crisis will not last forever and the state can borrow what it must to fulfil the state’s vital functions.
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?
Obviously tourism is important, and we need to safely reopen that sector, but we also need to diversity the economy beyond just tourism. But how? Here are some ideas that I have:
Pursue major infrastructure projects by leveraging state lands along the rail route for genuinely affordable housing projects. With three growing seasons, focus on producing local food for local consumption. Hawaii should be a leader in developing clean renewable energy technology. Hawaii has genuine potential for growth in the development and implementation of emerging aerospace industries. With these last two, our children can have the choice of high-paying professional carriers right here at home.
Attract higher-paying tourists (not just focus on raw numbers) and find ways to make the tourism industry work for the working people by keeping more of enormous profits generated by our state’s largest industry in our state.
Lastly, we must protect fragile but successful areas of our economy. Failure to implement a plan to bring back the thousands of higher-paying international and mainland students who enroll in Hawaii’s universities will result in a catastrophic collapse of our state’s institutions of higher education. Not only do local universities provide a substantial contribution to the diversification of our state’s economy, they are essential to the development of an educated local workforce necessary to any economic diversification. Without maintaining strong local universities any discussion about economic diversification is just talk.
Do you support reforms to policing in Hawaii? If yes, please explain what reforms you support.
Native Hawaiians and Micronesians are overrepresented in our prison populations and they are more likely to be arrested and incarcerated. We need to take a hard look at the policing of these communities and why they are more likely to face harsher penalties or heavier policing than others who commit the same offenses.
As Vice Chair of the Public Safety committee I supported (and still support) the development of police standards boards. This is a basic way to help promote professionalism for those who are tasked with the difficult jobs of keeping us safe every day. These boards must be fully funded so that they are relevant and helpful for our public safety officers and the community. Police disciplinary record disclosure can serve the public interest but should only be made public if there is a clear finding of serious and egregious wrongdoing or abuse of power (not every single little misstep). I have also consistently supported and introduced and supported legislation requiring body cameras to help protect officers and the public as well.
Finally, I believe we need to do more to practice restorative justice and I authored and passed a resolution to further implement the use of Ho’oponopono (a Native Hawaiian form of conflict resolution) for non-violent offences. I believe that indigenous wisdom and methods can help victims and communities heal and overcome the root sources of crime.
Do you support or oppose the construction of the Thirty Meter Telescope on the Big Island and why?
To begin with we must honor and respect native Hawaiians and concerns expressed about development. I believe one of the best ways to do this is through processes that genuinely consider public input when planning for development across our state and in our hometown communities. If these processes can be improved upon (and surely they can be improved upon) then we should all work together to do so. The process matters. What that also means though, is that we must all abide by the outcomes of the processes that we have. If because of expressed objections, a project has already undergone years of hearings, court challenges, and so on and have done everything they are legally required to do to move forward and according to the law they are told by the highest court in the land that they should be able to move forward, then, yes, of course they should be allowed to move forward. Otherwise, the law itself and the very idea of government and its processes all becomes utterly meaningless.
Stable governments can have a stable economy; unstable governments where the rule of law is unreliable, as a rule, have weak economies. The economic consequences of such an environment where large projects have undergone extensive review and have been approved but are then prevented from moving forward would seriously discourage capital investment in Hawaii, which we desperately need to not only to help keep our economy afloat but to help diversify our economy in the future. As we can all see around us today, a stable economy is not just some abstract benefit for a few – it impacts every single one of us every single day.
If people want to revisit the process of how communities are able to participate in the planning process for future projects, then that is a different issue. The state and everyone in it can and should always be exploring new methods for improving the democratic process. I would like to see us better empower public input in meaningful ways. In a democracy people will always have a problem with the outcome of any process, but that does not justifiably nullify the outcome, instead it should focus attention on finding ways we can all work together to improve the processes that we have.
To conclude, as mentioned above, when I was in office, I authored and passed a resolution to further implement the use of Ho’oponopono (a Native Hawaiian form of conflict resolution) in our justice system for non-violent offences. I believe that indigenous wisdom and methods can help communities heal and overcome the root sources of conflicts, but even hoping to do this requires addressing transgenerational pain and disenfranchisement. We need this restorative justice practice now more than ever in public policy and decision making, especially when it comes to development decisions and coming together again as a community, especially after hard fought battles so that we can help create new processes that genuinely respects all perspectives.
Is there anything more that you would like voters to know about you?
Interestingly, this survey didn’t even ask about affordable housing or climate change. I believe that these are the single greatest quality of life, and existential issues facing our state and the world.
On affordable housing: This economic crisis is the perfect time to leverage public land along the rail corridor for genuinely affordable housing. Altering the patterns of development is largely what the rail system is supposed to bring about, so let’s stop talking about transit-oriented development and start doing it by investing in large workforce housing projects on state land. The state can provide infrastructure costs to help developers reach real affordable housing needs. Alternatively, we could ourselves finance projects directly – so long as they serve an immediate public good, like designated teacher housing, for example. High and medium density housing projects for urban infill face enormous financial burdens because of increased upfront costs and risk, so the state should itself look to provide low-cost loans for low-priced housing. This is the time when large public works programs can do the most good. Let’s do it.
On Climate Change: Protecting the environment is a driving personal and public concern for me. My service on our local Sierra Club’s Executive Board helped inspire me to run for the state legislature. Our family has transitioned to solar power and an electric vehicle. Despite their upfront costs, these choices were made for both ethical and economically sound reasons. We should make it easier for people to make environmentally sustainable choices. Carbon taxes are generally agreed upon by experts as one of the best ways to discourage fossil fuel use. Moreover, Hawaii could lead the way with a cap and trade market, utilizing our abundant natural resources as an enormous economic boon as carbon sinks on the international market.
High-density housing is increasing in areas we know for a fact will be underwater in just a few decades. It would be madness to not begin having the necessary, but uncomfortable conversations about which areas, if any, we are going to try to save by hardening shorelines or building seawalls, and which areas we will allow to naturally erode. Climate change is already here, and we need to codify the foundations for managed retreat now.
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