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2020 Election: Gene Ward

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  • Representative Gene Ward
Name on ballot:

Gene Ward

Running for:

State House – District 17

Political party:


Campaign website:

Current occupation:

Legislator and Small Businessman


Don’t ask don’t tell

Previous job history:

Peace Corps Country Director, East Timor
Senior Democracy Advisor, Presidential Appointee at USAID Office of Democracy and Governance
United Nations Small Business Advisor, Malawi, Africa
Small Business Owner Royal Hawaiian Hotel
Small Business trainer with Dr. George Kanahele of HETADI
Vietnam Veteran – translator/interpreter Ho Chi Minh City
Peace Corps Volunteer, North Borneo
Adjunct Faculty HPU

Previous elected office, if any:

Hawaii Kai Neighborhood Board

Please describe your qualifications to represent the people of Hawaii.

1.) — What in your background/experience qualifies you for this office?

My background is a unique blend of private sector executive experience and diplomatic overseas experience that I bring to the state legislature. My time in the Peace Corps as a Volunteer (North Borneo) and Country Director (East Timor) taught me how to be of service to the community, and my 10 terms in the legislature, particularly on the House Finance Committee, has taught me the nuances of governance as well as how to watch over the finances of the state of Hawaii. Now as the Minority Leader I play a lead role and have one of the lead voices of the “loyal opposition” which keeps Hawaii’s largely one-party government from running too far off the rails with our minority checks and balances. If the Minority doesn’t speak up, there is literally no debate in the State House of Representatives.

In addition I bring another “value-added” dimension to the legislature: For example, I am proud to say I have worked with my community in Hawaii Kai to have accomplished several things including:
1) Keeping cabins off Ka Iwi and aiding its purchase by Livable Hawaii Kai Hui;
2) Keeping our farmers in Kamilonui Valley by assisting the renegotiation process with Kamehameha schools;
3) Keeping development off the Great Lawn by mobilizing constituents’ voices for preservation of that signature parcel of land;
4) Keeping Maunalua Bay from becoming a closed marine sanctuary by mobilizing the community and its fishermen;
5) Keeping Maunalua Bay boat ramp repairs on the radar scene of DLNR and a few years ago made sure the Bay was free from Shark Tour businesses;
6) Gaining Legislative approval of $4.9 million CIP project funds to renovate the Kaiser High School Track and Field by organizing a coalition of Kaiser coaches and faculty and area elected officials and the 4 high schools that use the track to lobby the Governor and the State Legislature’s money committees; and
7) Working with our fishermen and DLNR to renovate and increase the number of boat washdown stations at Maunalua Bay and reconfigure the traffic patterns for the safety of boaters; (lighting is still being worked upon)
8) And lastly, keeping our community up to speed and informed of what my office has been doing on a monthly basis for the past 13 years through distribution of a monthly newsletter and a yearly Legislative Wrap Up Report, as well as hosting regular constituent services through a Coffee Summit every first Tuesday of every month (at the Wagga Wagga Room at Outback Steakhouse) and hosting a Beer Summit the first Thursday of every month at Kona Brewery – (though now via Zoom virtual meetings) with no alcoholic consumption required. Recent summit guest speakers include Lt. Governor Josh Green, Speaker of the House, Rep. Scott Saiki and comedian Frank DeLima, with Jack Wong of Kamehameha Schools scheduled for a future Beer Summit.

What will be your top priority if elected?

My 4 priorities for the state of Hawaii are ridding the state of COVID-19, strengthening our economy, the homeless, and Hawaiian Homes.

1.ENDING THE PANDEMIC: There is nothing more important in Hawaii than containing the COVID virus, opening our economy, and getting our keiki back to school. This is where economics and biology have to intersect, and it is the responsibility to protect the lives as well as the livelihoods of the people of Hawaii. In particular the “unemployment safety net” must be put securely in place and buttressed by the next legislative session. Secondly, the legislature must as much as it has been incapable of doing in the past, become a business friendly and business promoting entity. We are now last in the nation for having an enabling environment for small business to start, grow and prosper, but the private sector is our only hope of turning the corner on keeping our government afloat. 50% of our annual $8 billion budget comes from the G.E.T. tax and 25% of our budget comes from payroll taxes. We are now $2-3 billion short in our state budget, and gearing up support of our small businesses is the only way we will survive as well as eventually get out debt, though it will take years. This leads to my second priority of strengthening of economy.

2. STRENGTHENING THE ECONOMY: Not only are some 100,000 people unemployed and about to fall of UI subsidy payment cliff, even when times are good a recent survey indicated that 50% of our families in Hawaii cannot afford to send their kids to school with money to buy lunch. This is embarrassing and unacceptable and clearly indicates the size of our economy does not meet the needs of our people. It is like a father with 8 children: he makes enough money to feed 3 of his kids well; 3 of them modestly, and 2 are on a starvation diet barely getting 2,000 calories per day. Our socio-economics mirror this family and too few are able to make ends meet and are moving to the mainland, and his is why strengthening of Hawaii’s economy has got to be a top priority.

We must strengthen our economy by having an “Entrepreneurial Renaissance” of small businesses so they can grow and create more jobs, particularly high paying jobs. We have some of the most entrepreneurial cultures in the world residing in Hawaii and we not using them to create more economic growth. Instead we are using them with one arm tied behind their back by the amounts of regulations and taxation we require of them. Hawaii is not only known for its being a very unfriendly place to do business, we fulfill this reputation by being the highest taxed state in the nation, with the lowest wages, and the highest cost of living. It doesn’t have to be this way, and it is time that the small entrepreneurs of Hawaii are allowed to grow and prosper, and the government facilitates rather than frustrates their development. To catalyze this change in our sub-culture in government I have introduced legislation that places an “Entrepreneur in Residence” in the Governor’s office for $1 per year for one of Hawaii’s retired executives (e.g. Walter Dods, Oz Stender, or Jay Shidler) who would advise the g
Governor and his cabinet on how to make Hawaii open to business and increase the enabling environment for businesses.

2) RESOLVING THE HOMELESS SITUATION: My third priority for the state is solving, managing, or at least containing the homeless problem. Hawaii is still leading the nation in per capita homeless and we are doing very little, contrary to what the governor’s office is saying, to curb it. The homeless “sweeps” that have taken place are both costly and ineffective. Instead and as proposed by the Director of the Hawaii Kai Homeless Task Force, Mike Goodman, the “Puuhonua Village” concept could save the day.

Rather than paying upwards of $400,000 per unit for a “brick and mortar” solution to homelessness as espoused by the “Housing First” concept, Puuhonua Villages proposes alternative transitional housing that costs about $15,000 for a 350 square foot dome/igloo that can be assembled in a matter of hours and could easily get people off the streets. There is presently a pilot project for homeless single mothers with children in Kaneohe. The village is comprised of 9 domes with 1 dome for a manager; 1 dome for social services, and 1 dome for a kitchen and is sponsored by First Assembly of God without any government funding. This “faith-based” village has rules and enforcement is expected to be a key to its success.

The legislature has allocated millions upon millions of dollars for homeless programs, but their numbers refuse to subside. We need pilot projects as proposed by LG Josh Green where temporary housing gets the homeless off the streets, into on-sight clinics, food, bathing facilities, and a chance to live a normal life as much as possible, while training for job placement. Unfortunately, there is no political will in the legislature to follow the LG’s lead, and instead have relied on the brick and mortar permanent housing solution. In the final analysis if all the programs we have funded to not succeed, I believe the legislature will have to consider new laws to keep our streets and parks clear.

3) MORE HOMES FOR NATIVE HAWAIIANS: A fourth priority is about fulfilling a promise made to the Hawaiian people almost 100 years ago by an Act of Congress passed in 1921. They were promised to have 203,000 acres distributed among them for the purpose of creating homesteads and hence “rehabilitation” after the Hawaiian Kingdom was lost to US interests some 30 years prior. Now almost 100 years later there are only 9,800 homesteads and 28,000 Native Hawaiians on the waitlist, most of whom die before being granted a parcel of land or a house. Today Hawaiians have the largest homeless population per capita, the highest rates of incarceration, heart disease, and are still the lowest on the social economic ladder.

My office formed a study group and interviewed all of the living past directors of the Department of Hawaiian Homes and wrote a White Paper on what are the problems and possible solutions of building more Hawaiian Homes in the future. The research study was released along with a 26-minute documentary which has over 200,000 engagement so far. The study or “White Paper” has a Forward written by former Bishop Estate and OHA Trustee, Oz Stender and is downloadable at

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

The short bumper-sticker answer leadership, leadership, and leadership is what more could and should be done to protect our residents’ health. Information has not been sufficiently accessible, sufficiently agreed upon, or sufficiently accurate to allow the average person on the street to stay informed.

Like there was a Giuliani at 9-11 in NYC, we needed a similar leader months ago to take charge of fighting the virus. My own answer to this question is that LG Josh Green, MD should have been in charge of fighting the virus from the veryt beginning and we could have avoided a lot of missteps and the many times our state leaders looked slow, confused, contradictory, and incompetent. Not the Josh Green is a hero, it is because there needs to be a point-man (or woman) in a crisis, and Hawaii just had a lot of cooks in the kitchen with their individual receipes and stove-piped biases.

Now some 5 months later, and our economy is still twisting in the wind and we have had an uptick in the virus for the past few weeks. We thought we have “flattened the curve” and all we did was flatten the discipline of wearing a mask and social distancing, the two things we still haven’t gotten things right.

Unfortunately, Hawaii did not learn from New York’s example of unnecessary high death rates that occurred in their elderly care homes. One would assume that Hawaii’s leaders would have learned a lesson. But just later learned of an outbreak in our care homes and now our fire departments.

The point is we have not been doing enough testing. LG Green loves it; DOH’s Park and Anderson hate testing; this lack of consensus has set us back considerable. All long-term care homes, nursing homes and elderly housing should have been targeted and tested long ago but were not and this lies at the feet of leadership. Also the state’s pecuniary policy of “you have to be symptomatic before getting tested” was a total failure. We never paid attention to the 30+% of cases that are transmitted from persons who are asymptomatic.

I am additionally concerned that there are more small businesses dying in Hawaii than there are deaths from the virus. There is too much uncertainty about when and how to open the tourism economy of over 100,000 jobs and over $17 billion. A date and a plan needs to be offered to stabilize the business community lest our already fragile tourism economy will have an extremely difficult time to recover.

What I have done about this was to first put aside the myth that Hawaii could not require tourists to be COVID-19 tested before arriving in Hawaii. Please see the detailed explanation that Rep. McDermott and I did with input and inspiration from Lt. Governor Josh Green, to put together a road map to open the visitor industry. The 20-page document is called “Making Hawaii Safe for Travel” and has been basically implemented by Alaska weeks ago but is a harbinger of what Hawaii will eventually being doing by pre-testing all arriving passengers before they board a plane for Hawaii and is key to the opening of our visitor industry.

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

As previously noted, there should be a robust unemployment safety net in place and be continually monitored and mended if and when it rips. There are over 100,000 people who are living at the mercy of government unemployment compensation. The Congress is still equivocating on the future of the federal $600 per week add-on, but my sense there will be a compromise and an agreement will be worked out. The amount and length of the subsidy will likely be tied to the opening of economy and the reopening of our schools.

Getting the unemployed back into the work force is another effort that should be undertaken immediately. For example, the Hawaii Chamber of Commerce has launch a new website called, “Hawaii is Hiring” where there is an online one-stop shop to apply for a myriad of job openings throughout the state. (The Department of Labor should learn from this private sector initiative and job placement and job training should be its highest priority, assuming that it gets it UI and PUA payments act together. The waiting period for checks and processing of applications was almost unbearably slow and cumbersome. Now months later my office is still receiving calls that the DLIR will not return their phone calls nor send them the UI they are rightly due.

Another thing we can do to help residents through this transition is to put them all at ease by allowing for universal testing. Hawaii’s own Oceanit Corporation and leader, Patrick Sullivan has just developed a “spit in a cup” COVID virus test that can be completed in about 10 minutes, much like a home-pregnancy test you can buy off the shelf in Longs. There is also a breathalizer test coming our of Israel that in minutes could determine one’s COVID status. Both these breakthrough technologies are undergoing trials and pending FDA approval before being available for public utilization.

My last suggestion to help out the people of Hawaii get out of this pandemic and lockdown of people our minds, and our economy is to adopt a plan and stick to it. Something like Rep. McDermott and I proposed in “Making Hawaii Safe for Travel.” there is a concrete road map to re-open Hawaii’s visitor industry. I worked with the White House to get the ‘green light’ to proceed to develop a pre-testing of passengers prior to their arrival in Hawaii and Hawaii thus became the first in the nation to push this issue nationally and is the safest way we can assure visitors to return to our shores, and our workers safely to their hotels.

We must reestablish Hawaii as a safe place to visit, fly to, as well as provide safe lodging. The people of Hawaii need to get back to work and testing and social disciple are the best two things we can offer the people of Hawaii. We must quash the Boston TeaParty DNA in our veins at least temporarily and discipline ourselves to fight united against this virus. My office came up with the COVID saying about masks:
We are Americans and can get through this. There has been worst crisis in our past and through creativity, innovativeness, and hard work, we became overcomers then, and we can do so again, now. For more details, click:

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?

As much as I don’t like even the sound of “cuts or furloughs” there’s a bitter pill that is coming in the form of our 2.5 billion dollar shortage in our state budget. That is unless we really get our economy open and humming as well as getting our kids back to school without endangering their health, we’re going to be in trouble as a state. Of course we are now doing a good job of avoiding and or postponing the use of such options, but at some point we will run out of federal subsidies as well as shuffling special state funds balances around, and lastly our credit lines will dry up because we can borrow no more money, or the feds will refuse to print more money.

As previously stated, almost 75% of our government is supported by the private sector though GET and Withholding Taxes and means we must as a state ramp up our support of our small businesses through temporary stimulants and incentives, tax breaks, and suspension of a few regulations so they can get back on their feet and hire back workers. It is estimated that about 20% of of businesses are not going to open again after this pandemic has closed them down. That is a big blow to our economy and painful for the needy families we may be pushing closer and closer to homelessness. So when push comes to show, yes those draconian tools have to be put on the table, but teachers and first responders should be exempted.

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?

We have talked about this question for the past 3 decades and have gotten no where. Part of the reasons is that Hawaii does not know what its ‘Strategic Advantages” are and plays to its strenght.

For example we have 6 strategic advantages as a state, only two of which we have taken advantages of, i.e. Tourism, and Defense spending.

I have countless times spoken on the Floor of the House noting that Hawaii has the potential to become the “Hollywood of the Pacific,” but the legislature does fully comprehend this potentially billion dollar industry. We must prime the film pump with competitive tax credits that are now being offered like candy on the mainland. Instead of aggressively completing the Legislature only threw a bone to the budding film industry by expanding the film tax credit from $35 million to $50 million, even though for every dollar we invest as a movie tax credit, we receive $4 in return in the form of taxes, wages, and goods and services purchased. A greater expansion of the credit to $70 million would have cemented us as the “Hollywood of the Pacific” worth about $1 billion in annual revenues.

A second opportunity we have for diversifying our economy is becoming the “Geneva of the Pacific.” Hawaii has two elite diplomatic centers of excellence at the Asian Pacific Security Studies Center and the East-West Center— which now ranks as the fourth-best government-affiliated think tank in the world. These diplomatic centers, coupled with Hawaii’s central location between the United States and the Asia-Pacific Region, give us an opportunity to lead in peacekeeping efforts throughout the region in a similar way Geneva, Switzerland, plays mediator for European and African nations.

A third diversification option is that Hawaii has the potential to become the “Space Center of the Pacific.” Our state has played an integral role in space exploration throughout our history, namely training astronauts for the Apollo lunar missions and cutting-edge advancement aerospace technology.

Our fourth strength as a state is that we have the opportunity to become the “World Sports Arena of the Pacific.” For years, Hawaii prided itself as the host of the NFL’s Pro Bowl, bringing in thousands of fans across the country to watch the NFL’s best at Aloha Stadium.

So diversification opportunities are many, but political will is scarce. Fortunately the private sector has been agile enough to help government out. We have never lowered the cost of living in Hawaii, only raised it. But Costco, Target, and and Walmart made our working class families able to afford putting food on the table and clothes on the backs of their kids. Amazon’s purchase of the Servco property in Mapunapuna could also lead to a new diversification of our economy as well as Oceanit’s “spit in a cup” COVID test that owner, Patrick Sullivan says will be manufactured in Hawaii. This is great news, but how many in the legislature will extend a hand to Oceanit except for payment of its GET and W/H taxes?

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

Hawaii is the gold standard for ethnic relations in the nation. The notion of aloha and ohana are real and practical concepts not platitudes and it also helps that we’re all minorities with no one group comprising a majority. At the same time there is always a need for improvement. Police training should be improved without question; things like the neck and torso being placed off-limits to police constraints is an obvious addition. In addition to increasing the quantity and quality of training there should be shift in technology of weaponry, i.e. more use of rubber bullets and other non-lethal methods to halt or immobilize potential arrestees.

At the same time our police need also to be protected by being paid sufficiently and not being tempted to be recruited away to west coast police departments that many are each year. We are presently over 200 officers short in the City and County of Honolulu and need to retain the officers that we presently have. In addition to salary increases, unless an officer has a major infraction of the law or committed a felony, officers’ privacy needs to be protected from revenge assaults on themselves or family members.

Lastly we must never forget what the Preamble to the Declaration of Independence says without equivocation that we are as human beings all created EQUALLY. Anyone who thinks or acts differently is not an American.

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

Yes, but in a culturally sensitive manner with the majority of the benefits accruing to the Hawaiian community in the form of grants, scholarships, and commitments to build more Hawaiian Homes that have been neglected for the past 100 years, with 28,000 on the waitlist and less than 10,000 Native Hawaiians provided with homesteads.

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

Who one affiliates with is a further indication of character and fitness for office: Below is a sample of community organizations I now belong to our were previously associated with as a member:

• Hawaii Consular Corps
• Board of Governors, East-West Center
• Returned Peace Corps Association-Hawaii
• National Returned Peace Corps Volunteers Association
• Rotary International
• Hawaii Kai Neighborhood Board
• Hawaii-Indonesian Chamber of Commerce (HICHAM)
• Vietnam Veterans Association
• Bush-Cheney Alumni Assoc. of Former Presidential Appointees
• United Nations Association of Hawaii
• Presently I am an incumbent State Representative, District 17-Hawaii Kai since 2006; I am also the Minority Leader as well as Hawaii’s National Committeeman.

View more candidate questionnaires or see more 2022 Hawaii elections coverage.
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