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Monday, May 27, 2024 81° Today's Paper


2022 Election: Kaialii Kahele

Kaialii Kahele
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Name on ballot:

Kaialii Kahele

Running for:


Political party:


Campaign website:


Current occupation:

US Congressman



Previous job history:

Air National Guard, Hawaiian Airlines Pilot, Hawaii State Senator

Previous elected office, if any:

Hawaii State Senator, SD-01

Please describe your qualifications to represent the people of Hawaii.

I have gained experience throughout my career as an officer in the US military, a Hawaii State Senator, and US Congressman. I bring bold, decisive leadership and an unwavering commitment to the people of Hawaii, grounded in our values of community and aloha. I am ready to bring these experiences to serve the people of Hawaii from the Office of the Governor. I believe in team work, collaboration, and innovation. I further believe the solutions to our most pressing challenges are forged through the recognition of, and investment in, our working people.

What will be your top priority if elected?

If elected, my top priority as governor is to champion election and campaign finance reform, as the first step in creating a system where our elected officials can make the bold, systems-level changes needed to address our most pressing issues, without being beholden to the folks for whom the status quo is working just fine. Hawaiʻi’s government has become out of touch with our local communities and working people. Wealthy donors, corporations, and corrupt special interests have hijacked our democracy, and as a result, we aren’t making enough progress on the serious challenges we’ve been facing for decades. If we are ever going to build back a Hawaiʻi where our working families can live and thrive for generations to come, we need to fix our democracy first. My ten point plan outlines bold, courageous campaign finance and election reform to counter the influence of money in politics. This plan includes: supercharging and incentivizing publicly funded campaigns; lowering contribution limits; capping campaign war chests; instituting term limits; and banning fundraisers and contributions during the legislative session.

Rising inflation has significantly worsened Hawaii’s already high cost of living. What can be done at the state level to help Hawaii residents cope with high consumer prices?

While inflation may be a national issue, there are several ways the state can ease some of the pressure felt by our residents, including the elimination of GET on everyday items that families need to survive. Beyond that, reducing our cost of living involves strategic long-term planning. I believe that by increasing our housing supply, investing in the diversification of our economy, and reducing the tax burden of our working people, we can offset the impacts of the current economic situation. A situation, that in large part, is caused by the same corporations donating to my opponents. I believe that when our working people do better, our entire state does better. Affordable housing, an empowering living wage, access to good public education and childcare, and a thriving job market are all issue items the state can address to ease the hardship felt by our residents.

Hawaii’s rising gasoline prices are among the highest in the nation. Should Hawaii lower or temporarily suspend state taxes on gasoline to help ease the pain at the pump?

We have some of the highest gasoline tax rates in the country, and additional county gasoline taxes and sales tax. The state gas tax is 16 cents per gallon. Should the state suspend this tax, consumers would save $3.20 on 20 gallons of gas. This simply isn’t enough to make a difference for most households, unless gasoline tax holidays were also instituted at the federal and county level. In addition, the state would lose critical revenue generation that we use to maintain our surface infrastructure such as roads and bridges. Underinvesting in our streets causes other knock-on effects, like potholes that damage cars, costing strapped taxpayers money in expensive repairs. Instead, we need to keep our eyes focused on increasing access to public transportation that actually meets the needs of our residents, many of whom spend hours a day catching unreliable buses to work at jobs far from their homes. As difficult as it is, and coming from Hawai‘i Island, I know that we need to not only ease the pain on working families through reducing taxes on them, but invest in a sustainable and equitable public transportation system that will take Hawai‘i into a carbon-free future.

What is your plan to help protect Hawaii residents’ health during the continuing COVID-19 pandemic?

I am thankful that the latest variant appears less severe, and has not pushed our hospitals or healthcare system to the brink. Protecting our residents’ health will rely on strategic planning dependent on the nature of future variants and federal support (or the lack thereof).
As governor, I will remain prepared for any future outbreaks or surges by keeping a direct line open from DOH to my office; supporting the mayors of each county to take the steps that their island(s) need; investing in public health infrastructure (including expanding our homegrown nurse and doctor pool); and supporting public health workers. My time in the military has taught me that if you fail to plan, you plan to fail. Under a Kahele administration, we will prioritize planning for all contingencies so that we could take decisive action to save lives and businesses.

Many of our residents, across the political spectrum, have also grown dissatisfied with our state’s response to COVID-19. It is my hope that we will not return to the aggressive mandates of COVID-19 that were implemented before the overwhelming majority of our residents were vaccinated. The next governor will have to display leadership and strategic vision when working with key agencies such as the Department of Health, the Department of Education, and the counties to ensure that government response to the pandemic is appropriate given relative risk.

Do you support or oppose efforts to slow or limit the number of tourists to Hawaii? Please explain.

Our islands are at capacity. We have all had individual moments of seeing our precious natural resources, sites, and home overwhelmed by the tourist industry. Make no mistake, tourism will always be a substantial portion of our state economy. However, our natural environment and residents are being pushed to their limits, if not beyond. I believe by diversifying our economy, investing in emerging sectors, and focusing on the workforce development of our local people, we can begin to shift our local economies away from being so tourism dependent, while using green fees and reservations systems to mitigate and offset the damage that use can cause right now. I am also proud that for the first time in our state history, Native Hawaiians will be taking the lead in deciding how Hawai‘i is marketed to the public. This will show that we are not just a simple holiday destination, but a place with living, breathing culture and tradition. We can still show aloha to visitors, but we also need to show them how to return that aloha. This will take time, and necessarily requires a long-term vision and strategic plan from the state and counties. I believe the Office of the governor plays a pivotal role in leading this strategy.

How can Hawaii’s tourism-dependent economy be diversified, and what can state government do to support the effort?

We have a GDP of $94B with a year over year growth rate of less than 2 percent. Our cost of living is growing at an average rate of 4 percent per year. This equation does not bode well for our working families and is an unsustainable economic model for Hawaii. If our tourism-dependent economy was working, the numbers wouldn’t reflect this situation. We need to actually empower the Department of Agriculture with a budget increase from .4% to 3% of the state budget. The DOA director and deputy director should be “outsiders” who have experience in agribusinesses and a proven track record of success, impeccable work ethic, critical thinking, and team building. Beyond this, we need to increase the capacity of DOA staff to target federal resources, and propose an increase to CIP investments for the state’s agricultural processing facilities.

But we must diversify beyond agriculture, too. I believe that we should focus on underperforming assets, as well, to build a future of innovative ideas. This includes the University of Hawaii, which has the potential to add more to our economic engine. On average, over $500M in grants come into our state via the UH system. Through collective support and collaborative efforts at every level of government, I believe we could increase this number exponentially, allowing us to see potential billions of inflow on an annual basis.

Another underperforming asset is the US military. As we renegotiate a future defense presence in Hawaii, or are aware of investments being made in other areas of the Asia-Pacific Region, Hawaii needs to be present in expanding our soft skills market. As an example, it is estimated that over the next 5 years, the US Military will need 5,000 soft skill positions (engineers, accountants, IT specialists, etc.) to support their hard investments with the Asia-Pacific Region. Historically, those well paid positions are occupied by out of state companies. This must change.

We also need to identify and support new revenue generating markets for Hawaii. Technology and innovation have created many entrepreneurial opportunities. The federal government is making historic investments in broadband and digital equity. Hawaii needs to capitalize on these federal dollars and ensure that all of our residents have access to high-speed, reliable internet, devices and digital skills training. We should not be encouraging folks from the mainland to come to Hawaii with their remote jobs, but supporting our residents to get those high-paying, knowledge-economy jobs. We need big and bold policy moves to allow our residents – especially our youth – to be properly supported as they use their knowledge, expertise, and passion to create these new economies.

What is your plan to increase affordable housing in Hawaii, and to help the counties deal with homelessness?

It is not enough to build more housing. We also need to protect the housing that we have and ensure that local families have access to every possible tool to buy or rent a home that will provide the safety and security they deserve. This will require leadership, collaboration and, more than anything, an unwavering commitment to the people of Hawai‘i that this is their home and they should not have to leave it in order to make ends meet.

As governor I would build truly affordable housing in the areas that would thrive with greater density; bridge the divide between the counties and DoTax to enforce laws against vacation rentals and support a vacancy tax on unoccupied units; protect the security and stability of our working families by offering zero-interest down payment loans to first-time homebuyers; building housing specifically for Native Hawaiians and public sector workers like teachers; and negotiate with the military to house more of their personnel on base.

In addition as Governor I will propose to build 10,000 workforce & affordable housing units in Halawa and redevelop every available piece of State property along the rail line from Halawa to Waikiki. I fundamentally oppose building a stadium on the current Aloha Stadium site and believe that a new stadium is better situated in Kapolei near UH West O’ahu or on the Lower Campus of the University of Hawai’i at Mānoa. I am also in support of finishing the rail project to UH Mānoa connecting both campuses and increasing the opportunities for enhanced transit oriented development.

The issue is not simply that there are not enough homes in Hawai‘i. Folks from around the world want to live here, and they have the means to pay (often above asking price). If Hawaii is not for sale, then we need to start developing lawful ways to keep these homes in the hands of our working people and ‘ohana that call this state home.

Hawaii isn’t likely to see a repeat of this year’s $2 billion revenue surplus which allowed higher-than-normal spending on state programs and projects. If elected, what will your top spending priorities be?

Working families – the lifeblood of Hawaii. We need to support these families by investing in the areas that cause the greatest hardships for them: affordable and accessible childcare, housing, food, and healthcare. Regarding childcare, it is unacceptable that we are missing 20,000 daycare spots for our youngest keiki. Parents who lack reliable and affordable childcare options aren’t able to work. We need to implement universal pre-k, streamline the subsidy process, and pay our childcare providers a living wage. Regarding housing, my administration will prioritize larger investments in the rental house revolving fund for LIHTC. We also need to get serious about dismantling the system that creates homelessness. This is a problem that we have engineered through abandoning mental health and drug addiction services; only building luxury housing; and criminalizing poverty. Housing first works. We need to build or retrofit more units that will get people off the streets. Not only has this been proven to be the cheapest way to address homelessness, it is effective, and it shows the humanity that each one of us deserves. Finally, if we are serious about diversifying our economy with agriculture, we need to actually invest in it. I am proposing we increase the Department of Agriculture budget to 3% of the state budget, up 2.6% from its current .4%.

What, if anything, should state government do in response to the decision by the U.S. Supreme Court to overturn Roe vs Wade?

We need to move quickly to 1) expand access to reproductive healthcare, especially on neighbor islands and 2) be prepared for a national ban on abortions. While the basis of the Supreme Court decision to overturn Roe v. Wade was made on the grounds of federalism and states’ rights, Republicans on the mainland may be resolved to pass a national ban on abortion if they control Congress and the Presidency. As such, I support a constitutional amendment to further enshrine individual’s rights over their reproductive health. We need to ensure that reproductive care is accessible to everyone on every island. Currently, there is such a lack of reproductive care in rural areas of neighbor islands that people still struggle to find resources and providers. We can protect the right to choose at the state level, but then need to ensure this critical healthcare is available for everyone.

What should state government do to support and improve public education in Hawaii?

It is our job in the state government and the Department of Education (DOE) to ensure that every family has opportunities to send their children to outstanding public schools. This journey begins with early learning and pre-k and goes through post-secondary education. I believe that public schools play a critical role in our democratic political system, and should serve as centers of community and collaborative learning. I believe we need to empower our teachers and allow them to do what they do best.

First, we need to address teacher recruitment and retention. We need to make teaching a respectable and viable profession, again. This starts by improving salaries and benefits, and recruiting from within our own communities. The next Governor of Hawaii will have a direct role in negotiating the next HSTA CBA, I believe step increases in the next contract should be tied to years of service and the 21 hours of professional development should be restored permanently. It also means developing programs to address teacher housing, from rentals to home ownership. And finally, we need to allow our educators to drive our curriculums and pedagogy. We need to focus more on holistic learning, critical thinking & real world life skills over antiquated standardized testing and teacher evaluation.

Next, we need to increase access and affordability of pre-k education. COVID-19 showed us how deeply important pre-k education is for early childhood development. There is widespread support for universal pre-k education across political beliefs in Hawaii. As governor, I would keep up the state’s momentum in developing universal pre-k education. I support the recent efforts of the State Legislature to request the Legislative Bureau to conduct a study on the feasibility of a universal pre-k program, and will work with the legislature to amend the newly created School Facilities Authority (SFA) to conduct repair and maintenance of existing school facilities.

Finally, we need to reexamine the DOE’s revenue. The Department educates and supports approximately 180,000 students and employees 22,000 full-time employees and another 20,000 substitutes or casual employees. This is an enormous load for a departmental budget to carry, so we need to ensure DOE’s money is being spent in the most efficient and impactful way possible. Specifically, this includes the maintenance of existing school facilities (not necessarily building new ones), and for the hiring and retention of teachers.

What reforms, if any, would you propose to make state government more transparent to the public?

I launched my campaign with one immediate platform: campaign finance reform. What good is increasing transparency over our government and elected officials if our working people aren’t empowered to elect alternative candidates to office? Our state government has become unresponsive to our working communities. I am proposing we supercharge public campaign financing, lower campaign contribution limits, cap campaign accounts across election cycles, prohibit corporate and union contributions, regulate bundling, ban in-session contributions, and institute term limits at the state legislature. Taken together, these steps will greatly increase our electorate’s ability to ensure their democratic vision for Hawaii makes it into our political leadership.

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

I do not support TMT as it is currently proposed. I am not opposed to astronomy on Mauna Kea today, tomorrow, and beyond 2033. I support the existing modern telescopes on Mauna Kea and will support their continued presence & reinvestment on the mountain. I support the call for a new management plan of Mauna Kea, and I also believe the University of Hawaiʻi and the astronomy community must be included at the table.

I believe that voters should understand that currently, TMT lacks financial resources to proceed. And should TMT seek National Science Foundation (NSF) funding, the project will need to complete a federal Section 106 NEPA assessment, which includes assessing impacts to cultural and historic resources as well as the environment. TMT has not previously had to complete a Section 106 assessment, and this process can take several years and is subject to myriad periods of review, contestation, and potential litigation. As such, it is my firm belief that the next governor should focus on a much longer list of critical challenges impacting the entire state.

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

While I was in Congress, I took my responsibility to represent my constituents very seriously. I traveled across Hawaiʻi, sitting under mango trees and in carports, listening to the challenges of everyday people. These working families and grassroots organizations lack the financial capability to lobby on the Hill, and my time as a Congressman has been better spent meeting people where they’re at. It was here in Hawaii that I realized our working people’s lives were most impacted by the lack of leadership at the state level. My first concern has always been to serve the community in whatever way I can, with whatever skills I have. I am fighting for a new era of politics in Hawaii – one that is driven by the voices, needs, and future of our people. Despite all the poetic language and promises, this era is not possible if we do not fundamentally change the way that politics is done. The people have had enough of backroom deals and legal bribery. I will be committed, as you next governor, to fighting for a political system free of pay-to-play politics. Hawaii doesn’t have the time for our political status quo to remain. We need bold, decisive leadership now.

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