Name on ballot:
Cory M. Chun
State House – District 35
Senior Policy Advisor
Previous job history:
Government Relations Director, American Cancer Society Cancer Action Network; Staff Attorney, House Committee on Consumer Protection and Commerce; Research Attorney, Hawaii Legislative Reference Bureau; Legislative Aide, State House of Representatives; Regulatory Specialist, Hawaiian Telcom; Staff Attorney, Hawaii Disability Right Center
Previous elected office, if any:
I have not been elected to office before.
Please describe your qualifications to represent the people of Hawaii.
I have more than twenty years of experience in government and advocacy. I have served as a staff attorney, researcher, advocate, legislative aide, and policy advisor for the following organizations and agencies:
• Hawaii Disability Rights Center;
• Office of the Majority Leader, Hawaii House of Representatives;
• Legislative Reference Bureau;
• Committee on Consumer Protection and Commerce, Hawaii House of Representatives;
• American Cancer Society Cancer Action Network; and
• Office of the Council Chair, Honolulu City Council
I believe my extensive experience as staff at the Hawaii State Legislature and the Honolulu City Council provides me the ability to “hit the ground running” should I be entrusted with the opportunity to represent the 35th House District.
In addition, I have deep roots in House District 35. I have resided and paid property taxes in this District for more than 20 years. I have served on the Waipahu Neighborhood Board for the past 14 years and currently serve as its Chair. I have participated in the Waikele Neighborhood Watch, and also volunteer with the American Cancer Society and the University of Hawaii Cancer Center.
I want to make a difference for the sake of my children. I dream of Hawaii being a place where they will afford to live, where they will thrive and not just survive, and where they will raise their children without fear from crime, poverty, or hopelessness.
With the exception of my college years, I have lived in Hawaii all my life. I understand the issues that my neighbors face. I believe I represent a new generation of young families in District 35, and want to do all that I can to make this dream a reality.
What is the most pressing issue facing residents in your district and how would you address the problem?
Because of the contamination of the aquifer from the Red Hill storage tanks, the Board of Water Supply (BWS) has had to close two of the shafts providing potable water to East Honolulu and the urban core. To meet this demand, BWS has had to divert water from other shafts. We are close to capacity right now and may need to institute water restrictions this summer. At present consumption rates, unless new access points to the aquifer are developed (i.e., new shafts and wells), a moratorium on new construction projects may be implemented.
A construction moratorium would have devastating impacts for our people. This will harm local businesses and threaten all communities and families. A construction moratorium would also stop the development of affordable housing, which is desperately needed, as well as exacerbate the homeless crisis that is becoming even more prevalent in District 35.
It is imperative for the State to work with the City and County of Honolulu to develop new access points to the aquifer as well as do all it can to clean up the Red Hill shafts and decommission the storage tanks at Red Hill.
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?
First and foremost, I believe the events in Ukraine have had an enormous impact on the State of Hawaii. With inflation at nearly 10%, electricity rates going up 20%, and gas prices surging to record highs, families now find it extremely difficult to make ends meet. If elected, I believe my primary focus will be to ensure that families in House District 35 will have access to food, shelter, and basic utilities.
Second, as energy costs go up, this will have an impact on air travel and our tourism industry. While Hawaii is seen an increase in both east-bound and west-bound travel to our islands since the relaxation of COVID travel restrictions, the airline industry is experiencing many problems leading to the cancellation and delays of thousands of flights. Until such time as the price of oil stabilizes, we have to expect our tourism industry to be extremely volitile, and while tax collections are at an all-time high right now, things could change drastically in a very short time. That is why we will need to focus our efforts to strengthening our local construction, agricultural and technical industries.
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?
Almost 17 years ago, lawmakers found that gasoline prices were kept artificially high because of business decisions made by a centralized group of oil companies that controlled Hawaii’s market. Because of this, Hawaii enacted the most progressive legislation ever enacted to control the price of gasoline in the Nation — the Hawaii Gas Cap Law. This law was revolutionary because it set the price of gasoline in Hawaii based on the average daily price of gasoline in other jurisdictions across the United States. This ensured that increases in prices in Hawaii would correspond to the movement of prices in the domestic United States market, as well as internationally. This law ensured that price increases were transparent to Hawaii consumers and not artificially kept high solely because of the whim of oil companies doing business in Hawaii wanting to retain higher profits.
In my opinion, the Gas Cap Law was ultimately repealed because of unfortunate timing (storm damage to key production facilities due to natural disasters), lack of adequate consumer education, and bad publicity. However, I don’t think anyone would disagree that the Gas Cap Law kept oil companies doing business in Hawaii in check by making sure that consumers were not gouged merely because the oil companies had an opportunity to increase profits.
I believe the Legislature should take another look at the Gas Cap Law to at least ensure that the oil companies doing business in Hawaii keep prices at levels that reflect the domestic U.S. and international markets and not force people in Hawaii from paying even more.
Regarding taxation, these revenues are directed for necessary improvements to Hawaii’s roads and highways. I would be hesitant to reduce or eliminate this tax without first seeing if there were ways of mitigating other factors that have more significant impacts on the overall price per gallon. Savings pennies in this case might not be the best solution to address the problem.
Do you support or oppose efforts to slow or limit the number of tourists to Hawaii? Please explain.
I support the establishment of impact fees on the non-resident use of Hawaii’s natural and cultural resources. This is vital to ensure that these resources are protected and preserved for future generations.
I do have concerns on the overuse of our resources, especially if access by residents is limited or diminished in any way. Governor Ariyoshi once called the beaches along Oahu’s southern shores “pearls” that need to be protected for use by residents. All of our cultural and natural resources are “pearls” that need to be protected strenuously, but reasonably, for the enjoyment of both residents and visitors.
Can Hawaii’s tourism-dependent economy be diversified, and, if so, what can state government do to support the effort?
Hawaii’s geographical isolation, relatively small population base, and lack of infrastructure and resources have greatly magnified the difficulty in diversifying Hawaii’s economy. Policy makers have tried targeting new industries with incentives and even capital improvements to entice new businesses to our State with very limited success. We’ve learned this — unlike “Field of Dreams”, merely building it does not mean that “they will come.”
Diversification of Hawaii’s economy will require patience, political will, and visionary leadership that focuses on the next generation. This will require an enormous amount of courage and commitment to building consensus across all fields, ideologies, and perspectives.
People who are able to do this command respect not only through their actions, but for staying true to what they want to achieve. Will our next Governor have that kind of vision and ability to bring differing constituencies together for a common goal? That is what our State needs and I want to be there to help this cause.
What is your plan to increase affordable housing in Hawaii, and to help the counties deal with homelessness?
Housing costs in Hawaii are extremely high because there is an inadequate supply of affordable housing in our State. In 2015, DBEDT reported that the State would need to develop more than 36,000 new units by the year 2030 or an average of 3,600 units per year to meet population growth. During the Waihee Administration, where the State developed more housing than at any other time, only around 2,500 units per year were built.
This situation continues to worsen because of competing interests, “Keep Country Country” sentiments, and the desire of homeowners and speculators to keep property values high. The result though is that Hawaii now is a place where only the rich can live. This is not the Hawaii I want for myself nor for my children or their children.
We need to reevaluate our land use policies related to agriculture. When we have 3/5 of the land area in the State zoned as agricultural, and 70% of it is laying fallow, there is a considerable amount of land that can and in my view should be developed for affordable housing. Some of this land has been irrepreably damaged from generations of pesticide and fertalizer use and is not graded “A”.
In addition, no longer can large plantations be sustained in Hawaii with the industry transitioning toward boutique “crops” grown in smaller batches. We need to preserve agriculture but not in a way that prevents the reasonable use of these limited resources for other very important needs.
With regard to homelessness, in years past, the Hawaii Lodging and Tourism Association and the Hawaii Tourism Authority worked with the Legislature to administer and allocate $1 million in matching funds for various homeless mitigation programs. Partnerships like this provide pragmatic and effective solutions to get people off the streets and on their way to permanent housing. If elected, I would support partnerships like this and work with business, labor, and community groups to find practical and meaningful responses to this problem.
I believe homelessness is the result of the serious and endemic lack of affordable housing and the growing economic disparities throughout the State. We need to figure out how people in Hawaii can earn enough to adequately support themselves and their families, and how they can put a roof over their heads. For too long, we have taken these basic necessities for granted and are now paying the price. There is only so much that families can do on their own. How many multigenerational families living under a single roof do you know? The current situation is not sustainable. We need to do more.
What would you propose to help protect Hawaii residents’ health during the continuing COVID-19 pandemic?
COVID-19 showed us all how unstable our social safety net is. Basic and essential services were stressed beyond capabilities. If it were not for an unprecedented provision of federal funding, stimulus payments, and the unwavering dedication of Hawaii’s nonprofit organizations, many more of our friends, family members and neighbors would have suffered even more. It is essential that fundamental changes be made to support nonprofit agencies so that they be vibrant, resiliant, and able to meet enormous demands when called for.
As former staff in the nonprofit sector, I believe the State should dedicate more resources so that nonprofits will have the resources to build their infrastructure and footprints within underprivileged communities.
In that same vein, a dedicated funding mechanism should be established to furnish resources for grant-in-aid — perhaps a trust fund — that would generate revenue on an annual basis specifically for nonprofit service providers. Further, some way of having these funds disbursed on merit rather than through politics would be ideal.
COVID showed us that the State cannot go through years without providing grant-in-aid to our nonprofits. The work they do is so vital for the health and welfare of our citizens.
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?
The COVID pandemic demonstrated how fragile Hawaii’s economy is, and that our reliance on tourism is both our greatest strength and our greatest weakness. The responsiveness of the visitor industry has precipitated such a robust and immediate economic recovery, yet, our reliance on this industry has left the State extremely vulnerable to changes beyond our control, such as a global pandemic, the price of jet fuel, and changing consumer preferences.
Regarding specific appropriations, if elected, I intend to work with my colleagues to address the most pressing needs as they are brought to the Legislature’s attention through the lawmaking and budget approval process. More importantly though, I want to strengthen our social safety net to ensure that the State will be able to provide the most essential services in times of crisis.
We cannot go through years without providing grant-in-aid to nonprofit organizations as we had to in the midst of the COVID-19 shut down. This situation gravely threatened the health and welfare of our most vulnerable communities. With a record surplus, now is the time to establishment mechanisms to preserve the State’s ability to meet these needs should another crisis occur. The establishment of a trust fund to guarantee the provision of grant-in-aid for social service providers would be a prudent investment, in my opinion.
What, if anything, should state government do in response to the decision by the U.S. Supreme Court to overturn Roe vs Wade?
Hawaii has the distinction of being the first state in the Union to legalize and decriminalize elective abortion under state law. In Hawaii, the people have long held that a woman has the right to choose, and that will not change regardless of whether Roe v. Wade is overturned.
Could this public policy be preserved under the State law? Yes. The Hawaii State Constitution could be amended to establish a woman’s right to choose. Would the State of Hawaii see an increase in travellers to our State to have this procedure done? Likely. Should the State of Hawaii take steps to assist persons seeking this procedure? I think it is important that the Legislature figures out how best to advance this public policy.
What should state government do to support and improve public education in Hawaii?
Public education is currently the third largest expenditure in Hawaii’s budget only behind Medicaid, and the Public Employees Health Fund and debt service. Each year, more than $2 billion in general funds go toward public education.
Is this adequate? I’m not sure whether State funding would ever be truly adequate considering how difficult the job is to educate our youth.
Furthermore, COVID made it clear to everyone that our public educational system provides much more than just education for students, their families, and entire communities. Public schools have become the first line of defense for health, social service, housing, and other systemic problems all communities face.
I believe lawmakers must recognize the enormous responsibilities placed on our educational system. We need to look at alternative sources of funding to supplement State funding for class-based learning. Can we utilize federal funding for broadband in our schools? Can the federal match provided in Medicaid be utilized in public schools? What about impact fees on transient oriented development to improve the infrastructure of public schools? These are just some of the ideas I’d like to pursue if elected.
In addition, there is a desperate need for highly qualified teachers. Many of the teachers who began teaching in the 1970’s have all retired. Fewer of our college students are pursuing education as a career.
As such, I believe we need to identify this need strategically, and strengthen our institutions of higher learning to train more teachers in Hawaii. We need to offer loan repayment programs and look at creative ways to utilize our existing public school system for the training of the next generation of educators. And while we do this, we need to work with the Department of Education, the Hawaii State Teachers’ Association, and the Hawaii Government Employees’ Association to reasonably improve the compensation package offered to teachers so that our State is able to attract and retain the best educators possible.
These steps must be gradually implemented if we are to truly reform our system. To do one without the other will undoubtedly have negative impacts on communities.
I truly believe the best teachers are those what are born and raised in the communities they teach at. They retain the same values, vision, and objectives as the people in the communities they serve. Considering how divisive some communities have become because of differing values, we must do our best to unify communities especially during times of great change.
What reforms, if any, would you propose to make local government more transparent to the public?
In my opinion, lawmakers today are much more disconnected from their communities and constituencies. While email, ZOOM, and webpages have made it easier for some to interact with lawmakers, communication has become much less personal.
Fewer lawmakers today go to their districts and meet with their constituents by convening get-togethers at a school or a rec center. Many of our constituents feel like their views aren’t taken seriously.
One possible way to increase transparency is to add five-day recesses before First, Second, and Final Decking Deadlines. Right now, there is only one mandatory five-day recess between the First Lateral and First Decking Deadlines. This recess was intended to allow members to go to their districts and let their constituents know about legislation going through the process. Why not do this before the three major votes that takes place on legislation? This would promote better transparency and accountability, at least in theory.
Furthermore, hostility grows when people feel they are not able to voice their concerns or if they feel they are not being heard. If elected, I believe I will have an obligation to listen and to discuss issues respectfully. A decade ago, lawmakers did not utilize time limits for testimony during public hearings. As the result, there were public hearings that would go on for hours and well into the late night. As staff during these times, public hearings were grueling, but it seemed as though the public was less upset because at the very minimum, they were given a greater opportunity to be heard.
I’m not saying that the Legislature should go back to that, but I do believe it is incumbent upon lawmakers to be emphathic to all testifiers and help them to participate in the process. It is vital for the public to see that lawmakers want to hear what they say and help them speak their minds.
Do you support or oppose the construction of the Thirty Meter Telescope on the Big Island and why?
I support the construction of the Thirty-Meter Telescope. However, as mentioned earlier, the diversification of our economy will require visionary leadership, consensus-building, and the patience and respect necessary to do what is best for future generations. The Thirty-Meter Telescope is a prime example of this need.
Astronomy holds enormous economic and scientific potential. It capitalizes on Hawaii’s unique geography and would greatly further important public policy goals of diversifying our economy, and developing our higher education institutions, among others, in a manner that would have minimal impacts on the environment.
Yet, I also recognize the importance of Mauna Kea to native Hawaiians and how we must respect and preserve cultural and religious practices and beliefs. For the sake of the next generation, it is my hope that a solution may be found that respects all the vested parties involved.
Is there anything more that you would like voters to know about you?
As a parent, I want to help ensure that Hawaii is a place where my children and their children can live, become productive members of the community, and thrive. That is why I am running for the Hawaii State House of Representatives and humbly ask for your support.
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