Name on ballot:
Rebecca P. (Becky) Gardner
State House – District 20
Program Specialist; Attorney
Previous job history:
Lecturer-in-Law, University of Hawaii – William S. Richardson School of Law;
Small Business Owner – Fitness Instructor, Fit4Mom Honolulu (women’s pre- and post-natal health and fitness business)
Staff Attorney – Hawaii State House of Representatives Committee on Commerce and Consumer Affairs;
Law Clerk; Hawaii State Judiciary – Intermediate Court of Appeals, First Circuit Criminal Court;
Research Assistant, William S. Richardson School of Law;
Escrow Assistant, Title Guaranty – Honolulu, HI;
Substitute Teacher, Maine-Endwell Central School District – Endwell, NY
Assistant Language Teacher; Japan Exchange Teaching Program (JET) – Kagawa, JAPAN;
Legal Assistant, Cahill Gordon & Reindel – New York, NY
Production Coordinator; DK Publishing – New York, NY
Exhibits Assistant; Liberty Science Center – Jersey City, NJ
Cashier – Clerk; Bear Necessities T-shirts and Novelties – Ithaca, NY
Camp Counselor, Sanborn Western Camps – Florissant, Colorado
Camp Counselor; Cornell Adult University – Ithaca, NY
Sales Assistant – Cashier; Herman’s Sporting Goods – Johnson City, NY
Tennis Instructor; Oakdale Racquet & Health Club – Johnson City, NY
Previous elected office, if any:
Kaimuki Neighborhood Board – July 2017 – present; re-elected to 2nd term.
Please describe your qualifications to represent the people of Hawaii.
I have spent the last 14 years working in public service for the State of Hawaii, with valuable employment experience in each of its 3 branches of government – including 4 consecutive legislative sessions as a Staff Attorney for the State House Committee on Consumer Protection and Commerce from 2009-2012. In my current position, I work with each of the dozens of state departments on their civil right compliance. I am also a two-term elected member of Kaimuki’s Neighborhood Board. I therefore have significant institutional knowledge of the inner-workings of local government, providing me with great insights on how our laws will be implemented.
I have also demonstrated leadership – over many years – in several community and professional organizations. I am one of the founding members of Envision Kaimuki; have been on the Board of Directors the Hawaii Filipino Lawyers Association since 2008; and have served in various officer positions in many other non-profit organizations.
My legal background is particularly relevant to the law-making responsibilities of a House Representative. Not only do I have the most legislative drafting experience of anyone else running for this seat, but I also teach legal writing as an adjunct lecturer-in-law at the William S. Richardson School of Law – my alma mater and first choice law school.
However, it is my ‘lived’ experience that perhaps makes me the best representative for my district. I am the head of my own household – a working, single mother of two girls in our public school system. Even when working both a full-time and a part-time job, as a state employee in both, I still don’t make what DBEDT has determined to be “low income” in this state – at $67,000 per year. Thus, I can appreciate the challenges working families face to simply survive in Hawaii.
Like so many others, I’ve needed a “side-gig” to supplement my income; so for years I had owned and operated my own small business in women’s pre- and post-natal fitness. I therefore understand the needs of local business owners, and want to enable them to thrive. I have also been a long-time resident of Kaimuki: both as a homeowner/landlord; and now after a divorce, a renter again – so I appreciate the needs and concerns of both.
Perhaps most significantly, (yet so easily overlooked); if elected, I would be the first woman to represent this District 20 in at least 44 years – and probably ever.
Although I have served, for many years, as an essential cog in our system of government, I am very much an outsider to the social-political elite who are calling the shots. I am eager to be a decision-maker at our legislature to represent the interests of our community – because these interests are my own. They are the interests of hard-working parents; women facing stark inequities; small local businesses struggling to survive; as well as those who wish to honor and protect our fragile environment. Community First!
What will be your top priority if elected?
My top priority is to help to steer and engineer the socio-economic re-set that is required to recover from the devastation created by the pandemic. In doing so, I want to put a premium on looking at our communities’ “Well-Being” as the metric against which we evaluate our health and progress as a state – just like many jurisdictions around the world are beginning to do. For example, New Zealand, which has led the world in its response to the pandemic, uses a “Well-Being Budget” that focuses on: “bolstering mental health, reducing child poverty, supporting indigenous peoples, moving to a low-carbon-emission economy, and flourishing in a digital age.” These areas could and should be a top focus in Hawaii as well.
To achieve similar success in Hawaii, we need to diversify our economy; focus on public health and education; encourage civic engagement; ensure community and environmental sustainability; and foster our resilience to a climate catastrophe. We need to focus on and remove our state’s vulnerabilities so we can be ready to weather the impacts of the next calamity – be it a public health emergency, natural disaster, or economic crisis. From this readiness, we can build our state with thoughtful and effective legislation and policies to make us a model for all other states to follow.
As Hawaii faces the COVID-19 pandemic, what more can be done to protect residents’ health?
Although it seems that Hawaii has performed the best of all the states in limiting the spread of this virus, we cannot rest on our laurels. We can’t rely on our geographical advantage; and seek only to restrict and quarantine incoming visitors at our airports. Our very limited capacities in healthcare and hospital facilities make it imperative that we do more.
Of course, we need to continue promoting the use of masks, physical distancing, frequent hand-washing, sanitization, reduced indoor gatherings and capacities, and more. We also need to be prepared do to damage control, and ensure that all of our essential and health care workers have adequate and effective PPE in the event of further spikes.
We can also build on our success and overall compliance with public health directives by playing to Hawaii’s strengths. This means further cultivating our collective ethic of community and care – which puts the health and interests of others above individual convenience. Thus, our leaders should further model best practices; and promote these values by highlighting community practices and individual role models that all of us can follow. This should be done with very clear, concise, consistent and cogent messaging, from all levels of leadership, explaining how to safely go about life during a pandemic – i.e. “Wear Masks.” “Meet Outside.” “Give Space.”
Accordingly, we need to explore all the ways we can take outside the things we’ve traditionally conducted indoors – especially for activities that require the congregation of large groups – like classroom activities, church gatherings, community forums, entertainment, and dining. Hawaii is blessed with some of the most pleasant and temperate weather on the planet. We must take advantage of it.
I am hearing from constituents some really positive things about DOH’s efforts in testing, contact tracing, and follow-up. I hope our government can further bolster DOH’s efforts, and enable them to best collect and analyze data about our state’s experience with this virus. We must then use that information to better direct resources and interventions. Especially since location-specific spikes will occur, and conditions will likely change, details should be made public so people can adjust their behavior and practices for their own safety and that of their family’s. It would be helpful for the public to see real-time, interactive maps with clear guidance on best conduct in these areas. Moreover, many countries have developed highly sophisticated systems using smartphone apps to curb the spread – methods we should also adopt.
As for testing, I hope our protocols, modalities, the speed with which we get results, and overall capacity will continue to improve so we can identify hot spots and do more targeted testing. I would also like to see greater use of antigen testing, as this may help fill out the picture of past community-spread cases and the extent to which we may have developed immunities. We also need to further support proactive outreach and testing in our communities through home testing kits, mobile medical/testing vans, tele-health, free and wide-spread internet access, and other remote healthcare strategies.
Enacting universal health care would also help – immensely.
What more can be done to help residents who have been economically affected by the COVID-19 pandemic?
First, by implementing freezes on rent and mortgage payments, and/or extending moratoriums on evictions and foreclosures, we can address our residents’ largest and perhaps most immediate expense – housing; which, for most of us before the pandemic, was 50% of our income.
We should also focus on our community’s other essential needs – like food, shelter, and healthcare – needs which otherwise require cash or credit to purchase; and think creatively on how we can meet them. For example, there are many community-based solutions cropping up – like trade and bartering systems for groceries and produce; food-secure subsistence practices like family-based gardening, fishing, and hunting; use of vacant hotel, dormitories, and other properties as shelter and quarantine solutions; and volunteer outreach efforts to provide food and COVID testing for the houseless and economically disadvantaged. We should look at these organic efforts and explore ways we can replicate them, efficiently and effectively, on the government level – and lean on the compassion and care that characterizes our communities.
We also need to fund and bolster the capacity and operations of our unemployment system so it can better address the continuing needs of those who’ve lost their jobs to the pandemic; and use what we’ve learned to prepare for a future economic catastrophe.
Furthermore, we need to provide adequate sick and family leave – so people won’t feel the financial pressure to further expose themselves or others to the disease, especially if they are otherwise needed to care for someone who is sick. Childcare assistance will also help parents, like myself, who’ve been unable to work because the schools have closed. We should also normalize telework to the greatest extent possible – enabling more people to earn a living in a manner that is safer for the community by complying with social distance protocols. This pandemic is showing us what is truly possible.
The federal stimulus checks that went out several months ago greatly resemble the universal basic income concept, and can be essential to avoiding an unprecedented homelessness crisis when the eviction ban is lifted. The state should look into how we can implement economic stimulus efforts here, and encourage the investment of any such disbursements in local products and services to keep this capital circulating in the local economy.
I understand that most of these measures require significant funding to implement – which seems futile at a time when our state’s tax revenue is probably at the lowest per capita rate ever. It is thus imperative that we take full advantage of the state’s very favorable credit rating and apply for the federal loans and aid available now – while the rates are historically low.
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?
When the private sector crashes, the public sector must remain strong to avoid a full economic collapse. The worst thing we could do right now is cut or layoff our loyal public workers – who are essential, especially now, during a pandemic – in meeting Hawaii’s residents’ basic needs. Moreover, as a state worker, I know how badly public workers are underpaid. We’ve seen in places like Greece and the United Kingdom how austerity measures can destroy the working class and create greater damage to economies. Such approaches have even been called out as violating international human rights.
There are plenty of other ways we can balance the budget. With Hawaii’s excellent credit rating, we can borrow necessary funds from the federal government, or seek loans from the big banks that we, the taxpayers, bailed out during the Great Recession.
We should certainly tax real estate investment trusts (REITs) and look carefully at the tax exemptions we’ve already instituted; determine who benefits; why we are catering to them; ascertain the most likely response (not doomsday scenarios); and how much revenue we can recapture if eliminated. Achieving tax fairness to recapture taxes that large corporations and high-earners avoided will reduce the need to make budget cuts.
By reversing our regressive tax structure — where those with lowest income pay the highest tax rates, and vice versa; or even instituting a “flat tax” rate is better than our current regressive system, which penalizes the lowest earners already struggling to survive. We need to make sure they maintain purchasing power, and not fall into further debt – which would ultimately create more strain and expense on our social safety net services.
We should also consider the overhead we can cut if more state workers are allowed to tele-work — the pandemic has taught us how.
New Zealand’s administration offered to cut their own pay by 20%. Likewise, I feel our governor and legislators should forego their pay raises before cutting our already inadequate salaries. State employees can’t afford a 20%, let alone 40% cut. We must not touch our teachers and first responders.
We should also strongly consider the recommendations in the State Commission on the Status of Women’s Feminist Recovery Plan – as women unfairly bear the brunt given our income disparities.
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?
Diversifying Hawaii’s economy is critical for protecting our residents and industries in ways we can thrive — independent of supply chains we cannot control.
I’d like to explore all the legislative tools (appropriations, tax incentives, program initiatives, budget analysis and reallocation, task forces and research studies, etc.) to support and incentivize new industries and initiatives that:
• Diversify agriculture – with a focus on Hawaii’s food security (e.g. ulu/breadfruit; artisan products, like chocolate, coffee, etc.);
• Grow green tech and clean energy generation;
• Subsidize education, training, transportation and living expenses to encourage and equip Hawaii residents to take green jobs that support new agricultural and energy initiatives;
• Support innovation and intellectual property — and otherwise make it affordable for knowledge workers and digital nomads to thrive in Hawaii;
• Bolster university-based research and programs to grow our own local talent and world-class expertise in culturally and environmentally-sensitive industries that thrive in Hawaii;
• Foster the creative industry – art, film production, design work, etc.;
• Identify and encourage scaling businesses in sustainable industries to locate and blossom in Hawaii; and
• Cultivate a “buy local” culture so profit dollars and incomes are more likely circulated within the state.
Also, I love that the legislature has allocated $36M to retraining and workforce development programs, especially if those jobs are directed into conservation and green technology, as originally intended. Just like the New Deal was a lifeline to pull the US out of the Great Depression, a Green New Deal can transition us into a truly sustainable post-COVID, post-Climate Change planet. It’s long past time to invest in regenerative agriculture for local consumption so we’re not as dependent on imported food, fuel, and supplies.
Do you support reforms to policing in Hawaii? If yes, please explain what reforms you support.
I support not only police reform, but also significant criminal and correctional justice reform. As an attorney who has clerked in a criminal trial court, I have seen how overburdened our criminal justice institutions are – our courts, prisons, rehabilitation programs, and social service agencies which address defendants’ needs shouldn’t have to struggle. Supporting them also means supporting public safety. We should therefore invest more resources in community policing approaches; outreach to vulnerable communities; and robust crime prevention efforts. We should implement true Restorative and Rehabilitative Justice principles at every juncture of the criminal justice system.
We need to eliminate the cash-bail system, which penalizes people for simply being poor. How hypocritical and disingenuous it seems that certain leaders within our criminal justice system have themselves been tried and convicted of serious crimes; yet the public picks up the bill for their leave, severance, and/or legal fees. Bad apples should pay for misconduct cases out of their own retirement funds.
Do you support or oppose the construction of the Thirty Meter Telescope on the Big Island and why?
I think this issue has been inappropriately framed as a science v. culture debate. It is far more nuanced than that. Several years ago, my initial, loosely-held position was in general support for scientific innovation and the opportunity to make the University of Hawaii a clear leader in cutting edge scientific discovery. However, after learning how the telescope projects have unfolded, and the scourge it has left upon the community, I have since changed my mind.
Mauna Kea is a sacred space; and I think we need to ask ourselves if we’d be willing to engage in the same sort of development on the site of a great cathedral, or world heritage site. For as long as people are compelled to chain themselves to cattle guards, I cannot support this project because of the great emotional trauma it creates. This trauma further exacerbates the generational trauma inflicted on Native Hawaiians from the illegal overthrow and occupation of their kingdom. We’re so quick to invoke the “aloha spirit” to sell vacation packages and luau tickets; yet, when faced with a choice of honoring foundational Native Hawaiian spiritual beliefs and values, or achieving glory and research investments, our ‘aloha’ goes out the window.
At this point, the TMT has been so badly mismanaged that there’s no hope for salvaging this or a similar project. We haven’t even followed our own environmental laws that prohibit this type of construction on conservation land. What could have been a beautiful opportunity for Native Hawaiians to lead the world into the future of astronomy ended with political gridlock and police shedding tears as they arrest their own Kupuna.
However, despite the desecration, despair, and disrespect, I think the conflict at Mauna Kea has given us a tremendous gift – the beauty and compassion of the non-violent Kapu Aloha movement. I have been fascinated with the parallels that can be drawn between it and the non-violent teachings and practices of Gandhi; Nelson Mandela and Truth and Reconciliation Commissions of South Africa; Martin Luther King Jr. and the civil rights movement; and beyond. I had been so inspired by the principles of Kapu Aloha, and the notion of loving and forgiving your oppressor, I felt compelled to visit and witness the movement myself. In my opinion, these sentiments and belief systems represent the best of Hawaii; and can be an incredible source of healing – not only on the Big Island, and in Hawaii in general, but all across the world. I stand with Mauna Kea.
Is there anything more that you would like voters to know about you?
I had never felt such tremendous professional efficacy as I did when I worked at the legislature as a staff attorney from 2009-2012. I just loved policy work; talking with stakeholders; and using various legislative tools (of which there are many – having learned about them from over 4 years as a legislative staff attorney, and the following 8 years during which I had engaged in various forms of legislative advocacy) to solve problems in ways that achieve shared goals without injuring other parties.
I want to bring our laws into alignment with our community’s values, and I have the skills and know-how to do it. Seeing the devolution of our federal administration has made me all the more committed and invested in what happens on the state level. To innovate state policies that make things better for everyone in Hawaii; to craft legislation that protects the people of Hawaii by using our unique status as a predominantly blue legislature, immune from crippling partisan acrimony; to collaborate and design model legislation that other states can follow; all this is a dream job to me. I just can’t wait on the sidelines any more. I am throwing myself into the arena because I must do what I have to do to help our people and our planet.
District 20: I would be honored to represent you and your family in our State House of Representatives. ~ Put me in, coach! I’m ready to go!
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