Name on ballot:
Shannon Lopeka Matson
State House – District 3
Small business owner
Previous job history:
Small business owner
Previous elected office, if any:
Please describe your qualifications to represent the people of Hawaii.
Shannon is born and raised on the Big Island and an Alumni of UHH. Shannon graduated from H.A.P.A.’s Kuleana Academy leadership training program in 2016. Currently, Shannon serves on the Board of Recycle Hawai’i, and recently she served as the East Side Vice Chair for the Hawai’i County Democrats, as well as a member of Mayor Kim’s Real Property Tax Review Working Group. Shannon was the lead on planning Hilo’s Grand Rally events for the Democratic Party in 2018 and has helped co-organize the last three Hilo Women’s March Events. Shannon’s employment history is mostly in retail, primarily as a long-time manager for Abundant Life Natural Foods store in Hilo, and as a small business owner and yoga teacher. Shannon is the founder and former owner of Hot Yoga Hilo, Hilo’s only heated yoga studio.
What will be your top priority if elected?
My top priority is to reform campaign spending. We have so much important work to do and the biggest problem with how our government “works” (or rather doesn’t truly WORK for us right now) is due to private interest and corporate funding in our public elections. If we are able to limit corporate donations and increase access to publicly funded elections we can get our elected representatives to truly REPRESENT our communities and not corporate interests. If we make this reform happen it will pave the way for all of the other changes we urgently need to make to create a thriving Hawai’i for all.
As Hawaii faces the COVID-19 pandemic, what more can be done to protect residents’ health?
We absolutely need to make sure that as we continue to open to up to travelers from all over the world we are educating and enforcing physical distancing and mask wearing recommendations. Requiring testing before and after travel is another important measure to protect all of our health.
What more can be done to help residents who have been economically affected by the COVID-19 pandemic?
It is absolutely ridiculous that we have allowed stores to remain open throughout this pandemic but haven’t figured out a way to open the doors safely for the unemployment office. For struggling families UI is essential! The online and phone options are not working for many residents and people are disheartened with trying to get through after months of struggles. For some disabled people or those with limited or unreliable access to internet/phone their only accessible option is to go in person, as the offices have been closed since March, this is unacceptable. We need to make sure the CARES act funds are getting to local services and organizations that have been on the front line from day one, helping to make sure our communities needs are being met.
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?
I am not in favor of furloughs or pay cuts for public employees, regardless of budget shortfalls. I understand that our expenses are extreme right now and our current unfunded liabilities may be approaching $14 Billion and even with employer contribution rates being adjusted and rising incrementally that our liabilities will continue to be unfunded fully for over 25 years. In light of all of this I think we need to think outside the box and look at other options for funding- I am interested in exploring options for additional taxation on our wealthiest 1% as we simultaneously work to end regressive taxation practices that adversely affect the lowest income wage earners in my district.
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?
As we are currently still importing over 85% of our food, but we have a year-round growing season, I would like to see our top priority in our economy diversification be to improve our support for local, small-scale, sustainable agriculture. I would be supporting farm-to-table programs at the DOE level and through other State programs, and be working towards creating opportunities for students to have an active participation in learning about and supporting farming practices in school; growing their own food, harvesting their own food, preparing their own food, and eating their own food. If we are able to create interactive, and fun programs in which our keiki learn the importance of being food-self-sufficient and experience the joy in feeding themselves from food they grow we will help to create the next generation of family farmers. This is crucial to support our goals of resiliency and improving the local economy. I would also be supporting the growth of green technology jobs and alternative energy production infrastructure as top priorities.
Do you support reforms to policing in Hawaii? If yes, please explain what reforms you support.
There is a serious lack of trust between the public and police all over the Country and here in Hawaii. We are at a moment of change right now, and some reforms are long overdue. I strongly believe we need to change what we are asking of our police force. If we were to diversify the ways in which we spend our police budget, we could spread some of the responsibility throughout other agencies in our community who would be better equipped to de-escalate high stress situations, and get families connected to the services and help they may need; such as mental health care, anger management counseling, addiction treatment programs, or resources to financial aid. An undue emphasis on the use of force in policing and the unnecessary militarization of police response units are things I am firmly against and will work to end. Police should have to go through far more hours of bias and cultural sensitivity training, de-escalation training, as well as receiving more support on the job, such as counseling or help with PTSD. This is one of the most stressful jobs we ask our citizens to take on, and we should do everything we can to put them in situations where they will have positive outcomes. I do support the disclosure of misconduct records as well as more transparency and accountability from independent oversight boards but I believe we have just as much, if not more, to gain from funding public safety programs that do not rely on the use of force.
Do you support or oppose the construction of the Thirty Meter Telescope on the Big Island and why?
I am a former volunteer at the V.I.S. on Mauna Kea and have utmost admiration and respect for the astronomy community. This was one of my fondest memories of my time in UHH and I learned so much while spending time on the Mauna with the NASA scientists and astronomers from all over the world. My father worked on building the mirrors of Keck Observatory, when I was a child, and I have the utmost appreciation and respect for construction workers who have helped to build the telescopes and who may be building future ones.
At the same time, many Native Hawaiians and their supporters have made it abundantly clear that they do not agree with any more telescopes being built on Mauna Kea due to the mismanagement in the past. Until those issues are addressed and worked through, I do not see a resolution that allows TMT to move forward at this time. I would be happy to help facilitate a compromise/peaceful resolution to this issue, but I’m not sure what the path forward looks like at this time. If the entities behind the T.M.T. and U.H. are not able/willing to meet some of the requests of the Kia’i and the Kia’i are not able/willing to support the T.M.T. in some sort of fashion then I do not see how this project can truly move forward in a way that benefits our community. At the same time, if I am able to help work out a compromise of some sort I would be honored to be able to do that work- I am in a unique position as I truly do see empathy for each side of the argument.
Is there anything more that you would like voters to know about you?
I will approach these issues as I will with any policy decisions I make, which is to truly listen to all members of the community and work to create positive change that will benefit the majority of our community and protect our environment for future generations. I refuse to take any corporate contributions so I can truly represent the people and not for-profit entities. I am committed to holding regular town hall meetings, virtually and in-person so that I can hear from our community directly and keep everyone informed. I look forward to hearing more from all of my potential constituents on how I can best address the issues that are important to them.
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