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2022 Election: David A. Tarnas

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  • David Tarnas
Name on ballot:

David A. Tarnas

Running for:

State House – District 8

Political party:

Democratic Party of Hawaii

Campaign website:

Current occupation:

State Representative and Environmental Planning Consultant



Previous job history:

I have lived and worked in my district on Hawaii Island for over 35 years. In my professional career as an environmental planner, entrepreneur, and legislator, I have relevant experience that strengthen my ability to serve effectively as State Representative. I worked as the University of Hawaii Sea Grant Extension Agent in West Hawaii from 1994-1998, resolving conflicts resulting from coastal development. In addition to my four terms working as a State Representative (1994-1998, 2018-2022), I have had an extensive career working as a planner and project manager on numerous projects in Hawai’i and overseas with the planning firm Marine and Coastal Solutions International. My professional work focused on projects to manage development of coastal watershed and ocean resources to protect environmental quality and sustain healthy communities. I also worked as Chief Executive Officer of Phase Inc., an environmental technology start-up company; Government Relations Director of SunFuels Hawai‘i / Merica International, a renewable energy and forestry company; and Chairman of the Board of Directors of Aquasearch (now Mera Pharmaceuticals), a marine biotechnology company.

Previous elected office, if any:

Hawaii State Representative (1994-1998, 2018-2022).

Please describe your qualifications to represent the people of Hawaii.

As a professional environmental planner and four-term Hawai‘i State Legislator, I have experience working with community stakeholders to identify concerns and opportunities; develop policies, plans and programs; and build consensus on priority solutions and implementation strategies. My professional skills in community-based planning and natural resource management are very useful in my legislative work as they are applicable skills to help me listen to constituents and stakeholders, discern issues and potential solutions, and work collaboratively with stakeholders to resolve issues and build support for legislative solutions. Having lived and worked in my district for over 35 years, I know its unique challenges and opportunities.

What is the most pressing issue facing residents in your district and how would you address the problem?

The biggest issue facing my constituents is the rising cost of living. I will continue to advocate for legislation to reduce the cost of living by addressing taxes, wages, and the costs of housing, healthcare, childcare, and elder care. I would address these issues by continuing the work the legislature did this past session when we approved bills to make the Earned Income Tax Credit permanent and refundable; provide tax rebates of up to $300 per resident; increase the minimum wage; appropriate $300 million to build rental housing and $45 million to facilitate development of infrastructure for affordable housing; increase funding for the Temporary Assistance for Needy Families program for rental assistance; provide $15 million to the Ohana Zones project providing temporary shelter, transitional housing and services for those who are houseless; prohibit rental discrimination against recipients of Section 8 housing vouchers; address healthcare provider shortages in rural areas by increasing residency and training opportunities and providing loan repayment assistance to doctors working in rural areas; expand reimbursements for telemedicine services; appropriate $200 million to develop and expand preschool facilities statewide; increase funding for the Kupuna Care Program and the Aging and Disability Resource Centers in each county; and fund adult dental benefits for all Medicaid patients.

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?

In my response to the previous question, I described the many legislative accomplishments I supported that are helping to address the main drivers of our rising cost of living in Hawaii. This includes legislation we passed that implemented tax reform, increased the state’s minimum wage, provided assistance to defray the cost of housing for low income families, facilitated the development of additional affordable housing, expanded rural healthcare capacity, expanded preschool facilities, increased support for kupuna care services, and funded adult dental care for Medicaid patients. Going forward, the legislature must do more work in all of these areas. I support providing a General Excise Tax exemption for food, medicine and healthcare; making additional changes to our tax code to ensure corporations and high income earners pay their fair share of taxes; expanding workforce development programs in high school and community colleges; providing publicly-funded preschool in all communities statewide; expanding financing programs for affordable housing projects; granting Counties the authority to authorize land use district boundary amendments for parcels between 15 and 50 acres for affordable housing projects; and facilitating the redistricting of appropriate land parcels from the agriculture district to the rural district to allow for more affordable housing development.

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?

Rather than lowering or suspending state taxes on gasoline, I would support a tax credit for those with low income that would reimburse them for the taxes they paid on gasoline during the previous tax year.

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

During the pandemic, the State instituted restrictions that virtually stopped all visitors. During this time, residents enjoyed beaches, parks, oceans, and hiking trails without competing with visitors. It became clear there were too many visitors and the environmental quality of our special places was suffering from overuse. As we rebuild our tourism economy, we must protect our environment by limiting the number of visitors using these sites and by charging visitors user fees to help pay for environmental protection and resource management in these sites. That’s why I led the effort in the legislature to establish the Ocean Stewardship fee that every ocean recreation customer will pay for marine resource management and conservation programs. I support legislation to establish “green fees” for visitors who use any public trust resource, such as beaches, trails and state lands, to help pay for resource management and conservation programs on state lands. We need to increase efforts to educate our visitors about how to treat our environment and our community in respectful and low-impact ways so we can maintain environmental quality and our quality of life.

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

To diversify our tourism-dependent economy, I support expanding other industries including astronomy, ocean science and technology, open ocean aquaculture, forestry, agriculture, and knowledge-based industries like information technology and software engineering. To support astronomy, I support the legislative initiative to establish an alternative framework for managing Mauna Kea that articulates a clear state policy to support astronomy that is consistent with a mutual stewardship model which protects environmental quality and cultural resources and practices, and includes a substantive role for native Hawaiians in governance decision making. I support the State approving new leases for the existing Mauna Kea observatories as well as the proposed Thirty Meter Telescope. With the observing time allotted to the UH under these new leases, the UH should continue its support of its world-class astronomy and space science academic research programs. To support ocean science and technology, the State should continue to support infrastructure development for the Natural Energy Laboratory of Hawaii Authority and the Hawaii Ocean Science and Technology Park. UH should continue its support for its world-class ocean science and technology academic research programs. The State should also support the development of environmentally sensitive open ocean aquaculture projects through permitting and ocean leases. To support forestry, the State should seek private sector partners to harvest and replant the trees in the Waiakea Forest Management Area and other state forests that are appropriate for plantation forestry projects. In addition, the State should re-establish our native forests statewide in forest reserves as well as on selected public lands under pastoral leases by working with those ranches to develop diversified silva-pastoral operations that support both pasture-raised beef as well as reforested areas for restoration of native forest ecosystems. To support the expansion of knowledge-based industries, the State needs to provide public funding to expand the broadband infrastructure throughout the State in all communities.

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

I would support legislation to address the barriers that prevent us from creating more affordable housing in Hawaii which are lack of potable water, lack of critical infrastructure, lack of financial subsidies for rental assistance, and lack of appropriately designated parcels for affordable housing projects. To do this, I would support the Commission on Water Resources Management approving potable water wells for affordable housing projects in communities throughout the State such as the affordable in Kealakehe and in Waikoloa in West Hawaii. Regarding infrastructure funding, I support the legislature continuing the progress we made last session when we appropriated $300 million to build rental housing and $45 million to facilitate development of infrastructure for affordable housing. Regarding financial subsidies for rental assistance, the legislature needs to continue the funding that we approved last session to fund those in the Temporary Assistance for Needy Families program to receive up to $500 per month in rental assistance. We also need to continue the work we started last session to make sure we prohibit rental discrimination against recipients of Section 8 housing vouchers and also provide incentives for landlords who participate in the Section 8 program. Next session, I plan to sponsor legislation to make it easier to do State Land Use district boundary amendments for parcels for affordable housing projects.

What would you propose to help protect Hawaii residents’ health during the continuing COVID-19 pandemic?

I support the State administration’s efforts to mitigate the negative impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic and minimize the spread of the virus which are consistent with the public health recommendations from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

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?

My top priority areas for state funding are public education, social services, natural resource management, and agriculture.

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

The State needs to make sure that women have access to the healthcare that they need, which includes abortion. Hawaii laws already support the right of individuals to make their own reproductive health decisions, including abortion services. The State administration and legislature must do whatever is needed to make sure that women in this state retain control over their own reproductive health decisions.

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

Public education is a top priority for me and my community. This past session, I strongly supported legislative decisions that made significant progress to support and improve public education in the State. The State administration needs to implement these measures through the collective bargaining process with public school teachers. The measures the legislature passed this past session included funding higher salaries to compensate public school teachers for additional experience, professional development, and filling hard-to-staff positions, which include Hawaiian language immersion, special education, and rural positions ($34.5 million). The legislature also appropriated $200 million to develop and expand preschool facilities statewide (HB 2000). To improve the relevance of public education, the legislature also established programs for digital literacy (SB 2214, SB 2184), workforce readiness (HB 1561), and career development (SB 2826). Going forward, the legislature needs to continue funding for these programs in future State Budgets.

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

I would support the recommendations that are being developed by the independent Commission to Improve Standards of Conduct, which was established by the State House. This includes strengthening the investigation and prosecution of fraud, increasing disclosure of expenditures of legislative allowances, increasing reporting and disclosure by registered lobbyists, decreasing the costs for the public accessing state records, allowing all state legislative committees and all state boards and commissions to conduct business via remote means, requiring that all digital recordings of these meetings be archived for easy public access, increasing the required ethics training for legislators, and prohibiting fundraisers by legislators during legislative session. In addition, I work as Chair of the House Water and Land Committee to demonstrate my commitment to transparency in government decision by hearing as many good bills as the legislative schedule allows, including those introduced by minority members. In all our Committee deliberations, I treat all testifiers politely and with courtesy to allow each of them equal opportunity to present their views and recommendations, even if I don’t agree with what they were saying. I also make sure to give all Committee members, including minority members, equal opportunities for asking questions and offering suggestions. When I make recommendations for the Committee to take action on measures being considered, I always explain my rationale for doing so in Committee hearings to ensure transparency for the public. It is important that our Committee deliberations are done in a transparent manner and I always welcome questions about my recommendations and actions so that I am held accountable for my legislative work. Through these actions, I try to demonstrate how legislative committees can conduct their hearings and deliberations to ensure an open exchange of ideas, transparency and accountability for decisions.

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

Yes. I believe that the Thirty Meter Telescope will have a significant positive impact on the State if the project is done in close consultation with the community and in a manner that will protect the environment, cultural resources and cultural practices. I support the bill the legislature approved to establish an alternative framework for managing Mauna Kea that articulates that it is the state policy to support astronomy that is consistent with a mutual stewardship model that protects the environment and cultural resources and includes a substantive role for native Hawaiians in governance decision making. I support the State approving new leases for the existing Mauna Kea observatories as well as the proposed Thirty Meter Telescope. With the observing time allotted to the UH at the observatories under these new leases, the UH should continue its support of its world-class astronomy and space science academic research programs. Under this new management framework and new leases, the Mauna Kea Observatories and the Thirty Meter Telescope will make ongoing financial and in-kind contributions to benefit the community, enhance educational opportunities for public school students in astronomy and related fields, and support technical training for local residents to gain the necessary skills to join the workforce of these observatories. All of this will combine to have a significant positive impact on our community.

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

I wish to continue serving in the state legislature so I can keep giving back to this community where I have lived and worked for over thirty five years, and where my wife and I have raised our two children, who are now starting their professional careers. I am asking for the voters’ support to continue my legislative work to help meet the needs of my district through public infrastructure construction funding for schools, highways, small boat harbors, commercial harbors, parks, forest reserves, health care facilities, and other public facilities. I hope to continue serving as Chair of the House Water and Land Committee and help lead state policy development in marine and coastal resources management, ocean recreation, agriculture, forestry, watershed management, climate change adaptation, endangered species protection, renewable energy production, water resources management, land use management, affordable housing, transit oriented development, and sustainable economic development. I am grateful to be able to serve in the State House and I am working hard to get re-elected to continue this important work on behalf of my community.

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