Name on ballot:
Patrick Pihana Branco
State House – District 50
Former U.S. Diplomat
Previous job history:
– Cultural Affairs Attaché, U.S. Embassy Venezuela
– Watch Officer, Secretary of State’s Operations Center
– Vice Consul, U.S. Embassy Pakistan
– Deputy Press Attaché, U.S. Embassy Colombia
– Fellow, Office of U.S. Congressman Eni Faleomavaega
– Legislative Aide, Hawaiʻi State Legislature
Previous elected office, if any:
Please describe your qualifications to represent the people of Hawaii.
I am a fourth generation resident of Kailua, and I’ve dedicated my career to public service. I served seven years as a U.S. diplomat, working in Korea, Colombia, Pakistan, and Venezuela. I am skilled in working across different parties to achieve consensus, engaging communities at the grassroots level, and designing policies to encourage economic development. Before entering the State Department, I earned a Master’s degree from Johns Hopkins University in Washington D.C. in international economics and worked at the Hawaiʻi State Legislature. I am a proud Kamehameha Schools and Hawaiʻi Pacific University graduate.
What will be your top priority if elected?
My top priority will be helping the Kailua and the whole state navigate economic recovery while we beat this public health challenge. We’re facing record unemployment and budget shortfalls, and our small businesses are on the verge of collapse. I will work on a concerted strategy that charts a path forward for the short, medium and long-terms. In the short-term, we do everything we can to ensure the safety and health of residents and that local businesses can stay afloat. This includes programs like the small business recovery fund and unemployment assistance. In the medium-term, we look to get the businesses and existing tourism industry up and running again. For the long-term, I will prioritize encouraging greater economic diversification through the growing of industrial hemp, sustainable agriculture, aquaculture, renewable energy technology and production, and incentivizing the growth of the film industry.
As Hawaii faces the COVID-19 pandemic, what more can be done to protect residents’ health?
As we have already seen, we must be preparing for a second wave. We need to think about our preparation in a comprehensive way. First, we need to ensure our residents have access to healthcare; in this regard, Hawaiʻi’s Prepaid Health Care Act has served the state well and should continue to be supported in the absence of Federal action to supersede it. Besides acquiring medical equipment — both for our hospitals and businesses in need of PPE — we need to incentivize medical professionals to live and work in Hawaiʻi. One short-term solution would be to continue to allow doctors to practice medicine in Hawaiʻi remotely from the continent by relaxing licensing requirements. This would free up our most in-demand doctors to help priority patients. We also need to keep expanding our pool of contact tracers and lobbying for more COVID-19 testing kits and PPE.
What more can be done to help residents who have been economically affected by the COVID-19 pandemic?
We already had problems with the rising cost of living, but the pandemic has taken a toll on our working-class. My top goal will be economic recovery while working toward long-run economic sustainability. I favor the immediate implementation of short-term solutions to help Hawaiʻi’s working class, including an emergency loan program and short-term health insurance for the unemployed as well as grant programs for small businesses. We also need to expand our ability to offer services — like temporary rental and utilities assistance — through non-profit organizations.
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?
Cutting the pay for public workers should always be a last resort. First, harming our public workers, many of whom are “essential,” would be counterproductive to our goal of keeping our residents safe and healthy. Second, cutting public worker pay means less money being put into our economy, thus creating a vicious circle of lower consumer spending and therefore lower state GDP. Instead, we should look at using our special funds — exhausting the rainy day fund, convert capital improvement plans (CIP) funds to general funds, and raise GO bonds to pay for the CIPs (such as Aloha Stadium). Finally, we need to work with our federal delegation to buttress the state budget with available COVID-19 related federal aid. If this alone is not sufficient to close the budget gap, we should work to protect the jobs of state workers as we look to budget cuts. In general, I would prefer to cut back on programs which have not yet started being implemented than cut programs in progress.
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 and the creation of a long-term, targeted strategy for economic recovery is a key pillar of my platform. We need legislation that accomplishes two goals: 1) corrects underlying perceptions that Hawaiʻi is a bad place to do business and 2) directs and incentivizes the growth of key industries. For the first goal, I will advocate for policies that provide an environment that facilitates investment by lowering entry barriers, investing in upgrading our infrastructure, ensuring/encouraging a skilled labor force, foreign language assistance, and cutting bureaucracy for approvals. To encourage the growth of key industries, I would support the following types of legislation:
– Legalize industrial hemp and use tax credits/subsidies to incentivize the creation of sustainable agricultural co-ops and companies that can produce new and innovative products that Hawaiʻi can export such as cacao and hemp.
– Invite companies to test and develop a broad variety of renewable energies in the islands – including wave, solar, hydrogen, geothermal, and biofuels.
– Incentivizing the continued growth of the film/stage industry in Hawaiʻi, including the encouragement of the creation of local production companies.
Do you support reforms to policing in Hawaii? If yes, please explain what reforms you support.
The recent calls for reform are an important issue for every state to consider, including Hawaiʻi. Policing and police accountability in Hawaiʻi is not a new issue and we have been hearing more recent calls for accountability from community advocates. I think it’s important to build a relationship between police and Hawaiʻi’s residents, especially with some of our more vulnerable populations. I would support reforms that encourage accountability, like body cameras, citizen oversight boards, community policing, and open records. These tools build a bridge of trust, transparency and engagement between our police and our citizens.
Do you support or oppose the construction of the Thirty Meter Telescope on the Big Island and why?
I would oppose the construction of the Thirty Meter Telescope should certain conditions not be met. I am totally opposed to building the telescope on a new plateau. The State also needs to fulfill its agreement to decommission the five non-operational telescopes before any further construction occurs. Additionally, a management board needs to be developed for Mauna Kea that is a combination of Native Hawaiians, community members, environmentalists, and educators. The Hawaiian community needs to be engaged throughout the planning process, especially given the history of mismanagement of Mauna Kea by the state. Finally, there needs to be a direct benefit given to the community by this telescope beyond just more research at the University of Hawaiʻi. If these conditions are met, and the board desires to build the telescope on a previously used plateau, I would support it.
Is there anything more that you would like voters to know about you?
My global mindset from my years working overseas, combined with my Native Hawaiian values, makes me uniquely qualified to help our community and state navigate the truly global crises we face today — from ensuring Hawaiʻi remains a destination for responsible investment to also creating an economy and agricultural system that is self-sufficient and supports our future generations. I have spent the last decade helping other countries combat human rights abuses in their social justice systems and help build economies around the world, and now I want to apply these skills to the unique challenges faced in my own community.
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