Name on ballot:
State House – District 45
Economist/Legislative Coordinator – State of Hawaiʻi
Previous job history:
Hawaiʻi State Senate (Ways & Means Committee), U.S. Senate, U.S. House of Representatives, National Low Income Housing Coalition, Film and Television Actor
Previous elected office, if any:
No answer submitted
Please describe your qualifications to represent the people of Hawaii.
I bring a unique range of experience to the table, having worked for the Hawaiʻi State Senate, the State of Hawaii’s Executive Branch, the U.S. House of Representatives, the U.S. Senate, and the National Low Income Housing Coalition. I offer a valuable perspective on our government’s decision-making process, which I will apply to create a better future for our state.
I grew up in Hawaii’s public school system, graduating from Leilehua High School as Valedictorian and Scholar-Athlete of the Year. I then spent four years in the nation’s capital, studying Government and Economics at Georgetown University. While in Washington, D.C., I learned the ins-and-outs of our government. I was one of four students chosen from a national applicant pool to work in Bernie Sanders’ Senate office after his 2016 presidential campaign. Graduating from college, I was motivated to use public policy as a vehicle to solve the problems that I saw around me.
I spent the 2019 legislative session with the Hawaiʻi State Senate’s Ways and Means Committee. Working for a budget committee is incredible preparation for the task of being a legislator. The Ways & Means Committee handles the full spectrum of issues, as any bill involving funding has to pass through the committee. I had my hands on over a hundred bills, covering a diverse range of important issues, such as affordable housing, economic diversification, education, and labor. I have a unique understanding of what it takes to get a bill across the finish line and turn a big idea into reality. I believe that my combination of skills and experience, combined with a service-oriented mindset, will allow me to provide my district with an effective, capable voice in the Legislature.
What will be your top priority if elected?
Reducing the cost of living is my number one priority. The cost of living is the most pressing issue that we face, because it spawns so many other problems. High school graduates move to the mainland because they cannot afford high rents. Residents are unable to purchase homes because they spend their paychecks on bills and routine expenses, rather than depositing them into down payment savings accounts. Young adults defer starting families because childcare costs are prohibitive.
We need to approach the cost of living from all angles. First, we should significantly increase our inventory of high-density, affordable housing, concentrating on development in the urban core. Next, we should eliminate regressive taxes that burden our working families. For example, we should eliminate our ‘grocery tax,’ which is the fifth-highest in the nation. We need to incentivize the creation of childcare facilities near workplaces and move toward universal preschool. We should expand the Hawaiʻi Promise Program, which currently covers community college tuition for residents with financial need. We need to reduce the costs of healthcare and prescription drugs.
Lowering the cost of living is a daunting task, but each of these individual actions is achievable – and together, they will provide substantial progress. If we help our residents to cover their basic expenses, we will foster a more vibrant economy. I want to see the day where our young people can stay in Hawaiʻi and imagine a bright future ahead of them. I want to see the day where homelessness is a rarity. I want to see the day where our people have enough money not only to survive, but to purchase homes, start businesses, and travel with their families. We can achieve this if we work together and put our people first.
As Hawaii faces the COVID-19 pandemic, what more can be done to protect residents’ health?
Now more than ever, we need to provide paid sick leave for all of our workers. A lack of paid sick leave creates financial incentives for people to go to work when they are sick. This worsens workers’ health by discouraging them from resting or seeking medical care. It also exposes entire workplaces to each individual’s ailments. Mandatory paid sick leave is long overdue, and in the midst of a pandemic, it is needed more urgently than ever.
Communication is central to successful public health efforts. During this pandemic, our people have had to sort through conflicting and constantly changing guidance. We need to get all of our government offices on the same page, in order to avoid contradictions and confusion. We need to deliver important information in a timely and predictable manner.
Employers should transition as many employees to telework as they possibly can. A cluster in a workplace can spread to our communities very quickly. In today’s day and age, we have the technological capabilities to do most traditional office work without putting public health at risk. We should be cautious when it comes to returning to pre-pandemic routines.
The State should be prepared to swiftly respond to businesses and organizations that are failing to adequately practice social distancing. There should be a simple reporting mechanism for our residents to inform the State if they feel that a business is not operating in the interest of public safety.
What more can be done to help residents who have been economically affected by the COVID-19 pandemic?
First, we need to make sure that our unemployment office is running smoothly. We still have workers waiting for payments, even after months of delays. We should redeploy any government workers who are unable to fulfil their duties through telework to support this function.
Second, we must provide childcare and preschool assistance as people begin to return to work. If workers are facing financial struggles, it is unlikely that they will be able to afford high childcare prices. This will be especially important if the school year is modified or if families decide to have their children pursue online education in order to reduce risk and exposure.
Third, we should extend various consumer protections that have been already been implemented, such as moratoriums on evictions, foreclosures, and utility shutoffs. We need to do everything in our power to protect families that are teetering on the brink of homelessness, as the economic fallout of the pandemic will put them at risk.
Above all, we need an innovative economic recovery plan. We do not know when this pandemic will subside, and when it does, jumpstarting tourism will be a long process. Visitor confidence will not reach pre-pandemic levels for several years. Therefore, it is critical that we identify industries that we can quickly jumpstart. Our economy is built around tourism. We have hotel workers, restaurant owners, and farmers who are wondering what the future holds. We need to focus on these vulnerable groups and ensure that we protect them in our economic recovery.
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?
Public worker furloughs, pay cuts, and downsizing should be avoided at all costs. If we need to raise revenues, there are several ways we can do so without hurting working people. For example, we can tax real estate investment trusts, luxury properties, and vacant investment properties. We can cut wasteful spending and make our government more efficient, in order to reduce operational expenses.
If all other options were to be exhausted, any cuts to public workers would have to start at the top. In times of economic crisis, we cannot take money out of the pockets of low- and middle-income earners. Doing so would exacerbate the expected economic downturn. We need to stimulate our economy from the ground up in order to produce sustainable growth, so it is essential that we protect government workers’ salaries.
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?
Economic diversification is paramount in our recovery from the pandemic. Our state is in desperate need of an affirmative vision for our economy. We need leaders who can offer innovative ideas, creative thinking, and fresh perspectives. This pandemic has made it clear that the status quo is not enough. We need to identify and strengthen several pillars of our economy. Industries with great potential include film, cybersecurity, green technology, and agriculture.
As a local actor with credits on productions such as Hawaiʻi Five-0 and Midway, I have seen how each project employs workers in dozens of professions – from hairstylists and makeup artists to truck drivers and accountants. Through this industry, we can use our competitive advantages to create jobs and bring money into the state.
Cybersecurity is a growing field that has the potential to leverage our well-developed government and military industries to create high-paying jobs. I will help to construct career pipelines in our K-12 schools, as well as in our universities, so that our talent pool is prepared to fill the critical cyber workforce shortages that exist in our state and our nation.
Green technology will facilitate progress toward our renewable energy goals, while attracting research and development investment. Just last year, the Irish government sent a $12 million wave energy device to Kaneohe Bay in order to utilize our unique testing environment. We should expand our research and development capabilities and search for more technologies like this to test and deploy. My work as an Economist for the Hawaiʻi Public Utilities Commission has prepared me to maximize the benefits of renewable energy and green technology.
Finally, a vibrant agriculture industry will enhance our food security and circulate money within our economy. We should source all state hospitals, schools, and correctional facilities with local products to create a steady baseline of revenue for farmers. We should also facilitate direct-to-consumer sales opportunities and promote value-added production.
Do you support reforms to policing in Hawaii? If yes, please explain what reforms you support.
We entrust our police offers with a tremendous amount of responsibility. We cannot maintain that trust unless our law enforcement institutions are transparent, consistent, and accountable to the public.
I support the police transparency bill that the Legislature passed this year, which my opponent voted against. Currently, officers are exempt from certain disclosure requirements when they are suspended for misconduct. This bill removes that special treatment and holds our officers to the same standards as other government employees. It is counterproductive to protect the “bad apples.” We deserve to know if the officers patrolling our neighborhoods, pulling people over, and carrying guns have failed to conduct themselves responsibly. We need to isolate bad behavior from good behavior in order to maintain public trust in those officers who are properly fulfilling their duties.
I support strengthening our police oversight bodies, including the Law Enforcement Standards Board. The Board was created in 2018 and has not met its deadlines or fulfilled its intended duties. Such responsibilities include establishing minimum standards for employment as an officer, developing a curriculum for officer training, and creating criteria for the revocation of an officer’s certification. Hawaiʻi was the last state to create this type of entity for state-level police regulation, and it is essential that the Legislature enables the Board to carry out its intended purpose.
Do you support or oppose the construction of the Thirty Meter Telescope on the Big Island and why?
I believe that the project should be completed, as long as an appropriate number of telescopes are cleared from Mauna Kea to return those areas to their natural state.
I understand why many people are hesitant to permit construction in such a unique location. In general, I support the protection of our natural lands. However, because there are observatories that are already located on Mauna Kea, the disruption will be much less severe than if this were the first development in the area. The road already exists and the electrical grid is already equipped to service the location.
This project will benefit our economy and our education system. There is a workforce pipeline program in development, which will craft science, technology, engineering, and mathematics career pathways in our schools. At a time when we are desperately searching for ways to diversify our economy, we have the opportunity to create hundreds of jobs that are completely isolated from tourism. Expanding our astronomy industry will bring money into the state, which we can use to protect and restore other natural lands, support workers, and improve life for our people.
Beyond these benefits, I see astronomy as a worthy purpose for this area of land. Learning more about the reality around us, about our place in the universe, is an invaluable pursuit. I am sympathetic to the concerns that have been raised by community members, and I believe that we should strengthen our community engagement efforts across our government. In this instance, I feel that the benefits of the project warrant its completion.
Is there anything more that you would like voters to know about you?
I am a community member just like you. I am running because this district means the world to me, and I want to make sure that it is represented proudly in the Legislature. During my time working in the Hawaiʻi State Senate, I saw how a single vote – or even a single conversation – could affect the lives of thousands of people. We elect legislators to represent us in those critical conversations, on the issues that we care about, to defend our interests. I want to make sure that our district has an influential voice in our state’s decision-making process.
I grew up in a military family, first moving to Hawaiʻi when I was three years old. I spent nearly my whole life on the island of Oʻahu, moving between Hickam, Schofield, and Aliamanu before finding a permanent home in Mililani. I come from a large family, as the second-oldest of seven children, with three sisters and three brothers. Throughout my upbringing, my parents cared for twelve foster children and found the generosity to adopt three of them. Their selflessness is also reflected in their careers; my dad served in the U.S. Army and is now a professor at the University of Hawaiʻi, West Oʻahu, while my mom is a licensed clinical social worker.
I am a proud product of Hawaii’s public school system. I graduated from Leilehua High School as Valedictorian and double-majored in Government and Economics at Georgetown University, where I wrote my senior thesis on Hawaii’s cost of living. Two weeks after I graduated from college, I moved home and married my high school sweetheart, Lori. We are now living happily in Mililani, just a short distance from my parents’ house.
I am driven by a desire to make life better for those around me. I see public policy as the best way to do so – to enact broad-scale change that creates a better life for current and future generations. I believe that my unique background and my eagerness to serve will enable me to represent you effectively and proudly. Thank you very much for your consideration.
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