comscore 2020 Election: Tom Brower | Honolulu Star-Advertiser

2020 Election: Tom Brower

  • Tom Brower
Name on ballot:

Tom Brower

Running for:

State House – District 22

Political party:


Campaign website:

No answer submitted

Current occupation:

full time legislator



Previous job history:

Since ’06 State Representative, Hawaii State Capitol. Housing Chair since 2016.
’04 – ’06 Exec. Secretary, Honolulu Salary Commission
’05 – ’06 Communications Director, Democratic Party of Hawaii
’02 – ’04 Senior Aide- Ann Kobayashi, Honolulu City Council
’99 – ’04 Development Director, Hawaii non-profit serving children
’98 Legislative Aide- Mark Takai, Hawaii House of Representatives
1988-1997 Broadcaster and reporter- KSSK, KPOI, KGU, K108

Previous elected office, if any:

No answer submitted

Please describe your qualifications to represent the people of Hawaii.

I am a 37-year Waikiki resident with a diverse background: 25 years in the private and nonprofit sectors, fourteen years in government and eight years as a neighborhood board member. As an elected official, I’ve been resourceful and proactive, dedicated to finding practical solutions to longstanding community problems, both in and outside the Capitol.

What will be your top priority if elected?

HOMELESSNESS: I regularly receive complaints about the homeless living on/and preventing usage of our beach parks, sidewalks and bus stops; trashing or vandalizing the landscaping; harassing passersby; publicly drinking or doing drugs, among other related health and safety concerns.

Not all homeless individuals want to be housed and/or employed. It is not “compassionate” to allow them to stay on the streets. Enforcement of laws and park rules have been lax.

 We need realistic solutions that include both compassionate and “tough love” strategies working simultaneously.

Since 2010, I have been advocating as the “Father of Safe Zones” for government designated areas for the homeless to camp, as a temporary, cost-effective solution until long-term alternatives (like more affordable housing) are implemented. Otherwise, there will continue to be illegal camping everywhere.

 I also strongly support expanding Housing First for the chronic homeless, making public restrooms available 24/7 and creating a vagrancy law to protect the public’s immediate health and safety.

HOUSING: Is a close 2nd priority. Because of the high cost of land and construction, Hawaii has a shortage of affordable housing and among the highest rents in the nation. As chair of the housing committee, I have participated in meetings with the Governor’s office to discuss how the state can increase its housing inventory for middle class, low income, and homeless residents in a more impactful way. An additional concern is to help expand our affordable rental inventory to 22,500 units by 2027, a goal set by the Legislature in 2016 via Act 127.

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

Grappling with our first pandemic in recent history, state officials chose to err on the side of caution. Life must always trump economy. With the information government had to go on at the time, and without a vaccine, it may have done reasonably well limiting the spread of the virus by employing mandates for social distancing and wearing masks in enclosed public settings, as well as imposing travel restrictions. Per the CDC, Hawaii ranks the nation’s lowest in number of COVID-19 cases.

We have since learned that this is a widespread infection and most people who have it are asymptomatic. In general, 1 in 100 people will get the virus and that one person has over a 98% chance of survival. The virus appears to have a fatality rate of less than 2%, relatively low for the attention it has received. Meanwhile, for a much smaller percentage than we thought 6 weeks ago, it can be devastating, especially for those who are aged 60+ and/ or have pre-existing conditions. Everyone needs to remain vigilant, no matter how few cases are reported. A false sense of security will be problematic.

Some say we have gone too far at the economy’s expense, with unemployment soaring to Depression-era levels and a state budget deficit of $1.5 billion. There were also unintended consequences associated with the lockdowns: With less businesses open, more people shopped in smaller, more congested areas, especially when a curfew limits businesses’ operating hours.

In hindsight, moderate social distancing– not lockdowns which for the most part delay the pandemic and prevent future herd immunity, our only reasonable virus defense until a vaccine is manufactured– are what has worked best. Government needs to work faster to create protocols for reopening businesses in a safe and cautious manner. 

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

The Legislature has come up with a comprehensive plan that reinforces the social safety net for residents, rebuilds and moves our economy forward, and addresses the ongoing pandemic. Specifically, Senate Bill 126 (2020) appropriates nearly $636 million in federal funds designated for the state by the CARES Act to fund rental assistance, additional weekly unemployment benefits, connecting unemployed people with future employers, and a food assistance partnership, among other efforts.The bill was enrolled to the Governor on June 26.

We really need to reopen the economy and help people return to work. A recent survey showed that 30% (or roughly 250,000 people) in Hawaii have missed a rental or mortgage payment due to the effects of the virus. While both the federal and state government have done their best to supplement the incomes of people who were recently unemployed, that money is running out. Government leaders need to realize it’s not about “essential” and “non-essential” but what is “safe” and “less safe.” For nearly all young people, and those 60 and below in good health, it is a relatively benign disease. Let’s continue to shelter the vulnerable and allow others to return to work and live life with reasonable precautions.

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?

No. There are other ways to balance the budget and these need to be exhausted before considering drastic measures like public worker furloughs, pay cuts, or downsizing. In fact, these could actually prolong Hawaii’s economic downturn since more people would have less money to spend in the economy.

The initial, practical method to address the $1.5 billion budget shortfall is to use rainy day funds, cut vacant positions, and return unspent money that went to departments for projects that aren’t time sensitive. In addition, I support authorizing the Governor to borrow up to $2.1 billion from the federal Municipal Liquidity Facility to keep local government operating.

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 a 37 year resident of Waikiki, I know first-hand how dependent Hawaii is on tourism— it’s literally been in my backyard. When I served as Tourism chair, my goal was to kindle tourism without compromising area residents’ quality of life. (To that affect, I also worked to ensure that businesses catering to tourists and local “party animals” acted like “good neighbors” in our community, out of respect for the residents who live there.)

Since then, I have supported expanding our economy in other promising sectors, such as technology (especially cybersecurity), energy innovation, transportation, farming, and entertainment. It looks like the pandemic will influence which sector we invest in next.

The challenges are even greater for small businesses. In its 2019 ranking of best states to start a business, Wallethub ranked Hawaii 47th overall. My uncle used to have an auto body shop in Kakaako. The state should provide reasonable tax incentives and accommodations to expand industries poised for growth and small businesses– like having a fair tax system that is not complicated (simple, streamlined) and that is easy to plan long-term around.

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

Police brutality against people of color in Hawaii is less of an issue than on the mainland, thanks to our diverse “melting pot” culture and aloha spirit. From my experience, most police officers conduct themselves honorably and responsibly.

That said, I do believe it is important to learn from the tragedies of other cities.
Reforms I support include mandatory disclosure of misconduct records by police agencies, re-evaluating standards of conduct, and increasing transparency surrounding officer misconduct and the inappropriate use of force. I voted in support of the Law Enforcement Standards Board (Act 220, 2018). I also support increasing the police departments’ funding to increase police presence in high crime areas, whether for community engagement or enforcing laws. Since there continues to be a police shortage in Waikiki, I support having social workers assist with 9-1-1 calls on mentally ill, non-violent people.

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

Yes, I support TMT. Since the islands are one of the world’s best platforms for star gazing, I would like to see Hawaii continue being a leader in astronomy. To do so requires our state to be the home of the latest technology. Since 1964, thirteen telescopes have been constructed at Mauna Kea. The Thirty Meter Telescope, which was approved in April 2013, will enable discoveries we cannot even imagine today.

I believe the current controversy is more about what some see as historical imbalances rather than the issue of the telescope itself, though protestors say the massive size would desecrate the summit. The best way to move forward on this may be for Kamehameha Schools, the Queen Liliuokalani Trust, the Lunalilo Trust, the Queen Emma Trust, and the broader Hawaiian community—and not government– to work this out.

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

That I will do my best to be there for them. I am committed to preserving what is special about our community and correcting what needs to be changed. I will continue to raise the issues and make government more aware and responsive to their concerns.

I regularly visit areas that receive complaints. I have been the first and sometimes the “loudest” to “sound the alarm” on issues, like homelessness, that legislators feel uncomfortable talking about. Like firemen going into a burning building, legislators must go where the controversy is… If you’re not being misunderstood, then you’re not really trying.

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

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