Name on ballot:
Lauren Cheape Matsumoto
State House – District 45
State House Representative
Previous job history:
State House Representative; Customer Service Associate, Publicis Touchpoint Solutions; Academic Mentor and Tutor, University of Hawaii; Farmer, Petersons’ Upland Farm; Lifeguard and Swim Instructor, Mililani Town Association
Previous elected office, if any:
State House Representative since 2012
Please describe your qualifications to represent the people of Hawaii.
It has been an honor and a privilege to serve the community where I was born and raised as were generations of my family before me. I learned to jump rope at Mililani Recreation Center 3; I had my first soccer practice at Hokuahiahi Park; I attended elementary, middle and high schools in Mililani; I got my first job in high school as a lifeguard at Mililani pools; and it is where I now own a home with my husband and am raising my children.
My educational background, experience in office and deep roots in the district are what qualify me to represent my community and state. I am a proud product of the Mililani Public School System. I attended Mililani Waena Elementary, was the very first sixth grade class at Mililani Middle School, and graduated from Mililani High School as a three-sport athlete. I graduated from the University of Hawai’i with a Bachelor of Arts in film production with the Academy for Creative Media and minored in Business and Japanese.
My first experience with the legislature was their utilization of my documentary film “Farm Grown,” which I made to illustrate the plight of local livestock farmers. A feed subsidy bill was passed as a result. After I was elected to the legislature in 2012, I returned to college with two full scholarships. I received my Masters in Business Administration from Hawaii Pacific University where I was named as valedictorian and gave the commencement address. I then went on to complete my Doctorate in Organizational Leadership from Argosy University with my dissertation entitled The 28 Percent: Women in State Elected Office and Leadership.
Since being elected in 2012, I have worked to gain the experience necessary to effectively serve my constituents and be an influential voice in the legislature. I have served on the following committees: Agriculture, Education, Tourism, Health, Higher Education, Housing, Labor, Economic Development, and Consumer Protection & Commerce. I am currently the Minority Floor Leader in the House of Representatives and since 2013 I have served as a co-convener of the Hawaii State Women’s Legislative Caucus. In this role I have spearheaded legislative initiatives as well as run the caucus’s annual Easter Basket Drive to help Hawaii’s women and children in need. Also beginning in 2013, I was elected to be a State Director for the national, non-partisan organization, Women In Government. Since then, I have moved up in leadership within the organization and most recently was elected as Treasurer on their Executive Board.
While my education and legislative experience add to my ability to serve as a representative, it is my love for my hometown and long term investment in my community that qualify me for this role.
What will be your top priority if elected?
Since I have held office, addressing the high cost of living in Hawaii has been a top priority. In light of COVID-19, the economy and the cost of living are more important than ever. I have introduced several bills to address the high cost of living:
1. Eliminate the General Excise Tax (GET) on food, medicine, and feminine hygiene products. Hawaii is one of only a handful of states that taxes food and medicine. Removing the GET from these necessities would immediately lower daily living costs for individuals and families in a wide range of income levels. This measure would go a long way in helping local families and benefit the community as a whole.
2. Remove the income tax for minimum wage earners and reduce rates for the middle class. Our state income tax rates are some of the highest in the nation, and working residents must pay nearly 7% marginal rates even if they’re working a minimum wage job. Removing the income tax for minimum wage earners and reducing it for the middle class rewards the hard working men and women in our communities and would give families additional funds to save, invest, or spend in the local economy.
3. Increase access to and reduce the cost of early childhood education through initiatives such as more teacher certification opportunities to address the teacher shortage within early learning and out-of-the-box solutions like tax-credits for businesses that provide on-site preschool for their employees and allowing taxpayers to spend pre-tax dollars on child care expenses including daycare, after school programs, and in-home care, thus reducing total taxable income. This is important for many families because childcare is one of the biggest expenses after rent or mortgage. According to PATCH Hawaii, in 2019 the average cost of childcare per child in Hawaii is around $14,000 a year. As the mother of a three year old and a seven-month old, I know firsthand how expensive childcare is and how necessary it is in order for my husband and I to support our family and dedicate adequate time to our careers. This is an area that desperately needs to be addressed in order to help our local families with their monthly expenses.
These examples are initiatives that can provide instant relief for our families, especially those affected by the economic fallout from the COVID-19 crisis. In addition to these measures there are other long-term and structural issues we need to continue to address. The high cost of housing in Hawaii is one of the largest contributors to our cost of living and needs long-term, dedicated solutions to ensure our future generations can afford to stay in Hawaii. We also need to look at our education system, especially higher education, to ensure our keiki are being prepared for future careers and will be ready to help diversify Hawaii’s economy. I’ve spent the last eight years dedicated to reducing our high cost of living and would be honored to continue working toward making Hawaii more affordable for our valued residents.
As Hawaii faces the COVID-19 pandemic, what more can be done to protect residents’ health?
Communication with my constituents has always been one of my top priorities. Throughout this pandemic I have worked to keep my community informed on the rapidly changing governmental recommendations and mandates. Unfortunately, it has been difficult to share information because communication from our state’s top leaders has often been conflicting and confusing. First and foremost, it is critical to establish more effective and clear coordination and communication between government agencies and the public, most importantly regarding any changes in mandates relating to the COVID-19 pandemic. Additionally, we need to continue offering free local testing, while broadening our testing capacity, initiating public health campaigns, and starting a reimbursement or tax initiative program for certified cleaning and sanitation expenses incurred by local businesses. If we are going to put an end to this virus in our communities, I also believe it is important to look at successful programs from around our nation to see where we can bolster our efforts. As an example, Boise, Idaho has been providing free masks for residents by distributing them at government buildings. Finally, for all of this to be successful, we need to put more resources into contact tracing as we begin to further open our economy to prevent another shutdown.
In addition to these measures I’ve worked on at the legislature, I’ve also started several initiatives within the community. For instance, I started a project at the beginning of the pandemic, #malamamasks, to provide masks for essential workers. I realized that my mother was interacting with hundreds of customers a day at our family’s egg farm, Petersons’ Upland Farm in Wahiawa. Since my husband is a firefighter, I know how important N95 masks are for medical workers and first responders but I wanted to protect workers like my mother. My husband’s family business, Hawaii Mercantile LLC., generously cut and donated the fabric and elastic needed to make over 7,000 masks. Now, the #malamamasks project has helped donate masks to essential workers for every employee in over 50 local businesses, multiple schools in my district and to the entire Honolulu Fire Department.
What more can be done to help residents who have been economically affected by the COVID-19 pandemic?
As I spoke about in my top priorities answer, these initiatives are issues I have been working on that will not only provide immediate economic relief but also help make Hawaii more affordable in the long run. This includes initiatives like removing the general excise tax (GET) from necessities such as food and medical services, and providing more access and assistance with early childhood care and preschool in order to help parents get back to work.
In addition to previous legislation I have introduced, our state can remove the tax on unemployment benefits, continue to expand benefits through Childcare Connection Hawaii and Preschool Open Doors programs, and re-employment assistance for workers who have been laid off and are needing to transition into new fields.
Currently unemployment benefits, including the extra $600 from the federal government, are taxable under Hawaii’s state tax laws. Families who are already struggling to make ends meet and benefiting from unemployment will have to pay full income tax rates on their benefits. The state should explore suspending income tax payments on unemployment benefit income for at least two years or until the State experiences a substantial economic recovery.
During the pandemic the Department of Human Services lifted the income cap for families to apply for assistance in sending their children to preschool. These subsidies are set to end in December of this year. This assistance program needs to be extended through 2021 to help parents get back into the workforce and stimulate our economy. It is also necessary in order to keep these preschools from closing their doors.
As we begin to diversify our heavily tourism dependent economy, many of the workers in this field will need to transition into new careers. This will require training programs into needed areas such as the technology, agriculture and healthcare sectors.
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?
Any furloughs, pay cuts or downsizing should be the last thing considered in order to balance the state budget. Drastically cutting public sector workforce income impacts the broader economy and the State’s ability to recover. Instead, we need to focus on savings through eliminating vacancies and find areas in which we can trim current budgets.
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?
In addition to the stop-gap measures that the legislature just implemented, one of the first things we need to do is figure out how to re-open up our economy safely. Since Hawaii is an economy largely based on tourism, in the short term we need to focus on how to bring back tourism responsibly in regards to both total number of tourists and public health concerns. The first three sectors that the state should invest in to diversify is the film industry, technology, and agriculture and agricultural tourism. In order to diversify we need to recognize what is realistic to implement in both the short and long term.
Film is an already existing, though underutilized industry we can leverage to help stimulate our economy as a short term solution while we are able to create long term sustainable solutions. The film industry can play a key role in the revitalization of our economy through creating jobs for our residents and adding much-needed dollars to help our state recover. Film is a large part of the current economy, and would be a strong, immediate economic driver. Throughout my time in the legislature and throughout the pandemic I have been in communication with the Hawaii State Film Office on how to make changes to push the film initiative forward in order to help diversify our economy. According to the Department of Business, Economic Development & Tourism, film had generated as much as $825M in overall economic activity up until the pandemic hit. As a member of the Economic Development committee in the legislature I have advocated to remove the current cap on the Hawaii Film Tax Credit. This would give us a competitive advantage over many of the other top film locations around the globe and further push the film industry in our state forward.
As a legislature we need to start laying the groundwork for the long term diversification of the tech and agricultural sector. While we are working on opening our current economy up safely we need to be laying the framework for the long-term goal of diversification. Once our economy is on the road to recovery I believe we should begin to diversify by focusing on our unique location in the center of the Pacific Ocean between Asia and the continental U.S. We should use this advantage to develop a strong tech industry here in Hawaii. For several years in the legislature I have championed several STEM bills that would strengthen the pipeline for technological jobs in our state. As an island state we have limited land space and tech will provide high paying jobs with a small footprint.
My great-grandfather started Petersons’ Upland Farm in Wahiawa in 1910 and my mother runs the farm today. As a fourth generation from a family farm I understand the benefits and challenges of farming in Hawaii. Our district has some of the best prime agricultural lands left on Oahu, however, there are so few farmers because much of the land is lacking water and electric infrastructure needed to successfully grow crops. In order to diversify our economy in the long run the state needs to provide avenues through tax credits or subsidies to help farmers begin to break ground. Additionally, Hawaii has a unique opportunity to be successful in agricultural tourism. We are the only place in the United States that can grow cacao. We have the potential to be the Napa Valley of chocolate. We need to encourage our local farmers to begin to invest in value added products to help them raise their bottom line.
Do you support reforms to policing in Hawaii? If yes, please explain what reforms you support.
Hawaii is not immune to the issues faced by many police departments around the nation. And while I firmly agree that there needs to be more transparency in law enforcement and those abusing their position need to be held accountable, I voted against the police reform bill this year because it removed an important protection from the police by disclosing names of officers who have been suspended or dismissed for misconduct before due process. I would have supported this bill if it applied only after an investigation was complete that confirmed wrong-doing. However, as the bill was written it required the publication of any officer’s name who is suspended for any reason. This policy undermined the judicial standard of a presumption of innocence because officers are suspended while an incident is under investigation and are often subsequently found to be innocent.
Instead I believe that we should strengthen the oversight methods that we currently have in place and increase officer training. The Honolulu Police Commission should always be fully-staffed with qualified, non-police members to give additional perspective and accountability from the civilian community. Additionally, I would be in favor of a comprehensive review of the Honolulu Police Department’s internal and external controls and processes related to officer discipline. All the way from initial reporting to the judicial system, the public and legislature should know exactly how cases are handled and any formal or informal roadblocks that would keep clear instances of police misconduct from prosecution and disciplinary action. Our police officers are entrusted with great responsibility, and there is a level of trust needed from their community in order for them to steward this role well. I am in favor of providing them with increased training in correctly handling complex ethics issues, how to strengthen community relations, and teaching the social/emotional tools necessary to address the stress and possible trauma they face on the job. Currently, they have less than five training days a year. This needs to be increased and include more de-escalation training. I believe with the right accountability and training, we can have more accountability and trust within our communities.
Do you support or oppose the construction of the Thirty Meter Telescope on the Big Island and why?
Watching the situation unfold surrounding Mauna Kea it is clear that there is a strong disconnect between the State and the public in the process for approving projects like the Thirty Meter Telescope. There is an obvious flaw in the current process. Often, community members never know that an extensive project like the TMT or the Kahuku windmills are in the pipeline until the period for submitting public comment or filing Environmental Impact Statement (EIS) lawsuits is over. I drafted and submitted legislation this year that would have required the State to overhaul its EIS website and information to make it more user friendly and ensure people could search for projects in their area or by topic (e.g. a user could search by “Oahu North Shore” or “windmills”) and allow them to sign up for email notifications so they are aware of new projects. This bill was moving through the legislative process until the capitol was shut down due to COVID-19. This is much needed legislation that I plan to introduce again next legislative session. A law like this would effectively give people a stronger, more proactive voice in the decision making during the process, instead of learning about projects after they have been finalized.
I reluctantly agree that if TMT should decide it wants to continue to build in Hawaii instead of another location it should be allowed since it followed and adhered to the current process. However, this project has highlighted several things including the poor stewardship of Mauna Kea by the University of Hawai‘i, that the process is flawed, and that people need greater access to have their voices heard.
Is there anything more that you would like voters to know about you?
As your representative I have learned that one of the most important aspects of my job is an open communication line with those in my district to intimately understand their needs. The top priority in my office is being available, providing regular legislative updates, sending out surveys to hear your thoughts, and ensuring that you are heard, respected and included in the legislative process.
In addition to all of my legislative work at the capitol, I have made it my priority to focus on work in my community. I have tirelessly served our community throughout my life from elementary school when I was an American Heart Association Ambassador doing jump rope performances at schools across the islands, to serving our state during my year as Miss Hawai‘i in 2011. Since becoming a legislator in 2012 my capitol office has focused on our community through activities and programs such as: a high school and college internship program, continuing to perform jump rope tours at schools, dressing up as the Cat in the Hat or Elsa from Disney’s Frozen to read to children at schools, and hosting an annual capitol talks and tour for members of the community to learn about the legislative process. This year I finished a project I have been working on for several years, a children’s activity book to educate keiki on Hawai’i State Legislature and which I distributed to all the elementary schools in the district. I am passionate about making a difference in our state.
Finally, as someone whose family has lived in this community for the past four generations, you can trust that I have our community’s best interest at heart. This district is where I was raised, and where my husband and I have chosen to raise our children. I know that the decisions we make today will impact our children, and their children after them. I am invested here and have been honored to serve you in the State House of Representatives for the past eight years. I humbly ask for your continued support. Thank you!
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