comscore 2022 Election: Jarrett Keohokalole | Honolulu Star-Advertiser
Election

2022 Election: Jarrett Keohokalole

  • Jarrett Keohokalole
Name on ballot:

Jarrett Keohokalole

Running for:

State Senate – District 24

Political party:

Democrat

Campaign website:

www.jarrettkeohokalole.com

Current occupation:

Attorney

Age:

38

Previous job history:

Attorney, Legal Fellow

Previous elected office, if any:

State Senate, District 24 (2018-present); State House, District 48 (2014-2018)

Please describe your qualifications to represent the people of Hawaii.

1. Experience. I have represented our district in the state legislature for the last eight years in both the House and now the Senate. I have served in leadership roles in both chambers, and as a committee chair for the last four years. During that time, I have been involved in many of the most significant issues before the legislature, including COVID-19, affordable housing, homelessness, and the recent Red Hill water crisis. I know how to bring people together, communicate, and get things done at the legislature.

2. Connection to community. I am a generational resident of my district raising a young family there. I grew up in my district. I know what is happening in my community because I am part of the community. During my time in office, I have come to know and work with many of our community leaders and institutions. As a result, I have a significant understanding of how our community works and what our issues, challenges, and strengths are. This perspective guides how I vote, work, and prioritize the attention and prerogative of my office.

3. I care. I want my children and their children to continue living and raising their families in Hawaiʻi. I understand how difficult that is. We need competent, dedicated leadership in Hawaiʻi that will work to fix problems, move Hawaiʻi toward a better future, and stand ready to respond when hard times hit. I care deeply about this place and our community, and will continue to work hard for Hawaiʻi.

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

It is too expensive to live here. Coupled with a lack of economic opportunity, the shortage of affordable housing is making it too difficult for young people, families, and kūpuna to survive in Hawaiʻi. Inflation, which is mostly due to global supply chain difficulties out of our control, is raising prices to unmanageable levels. Cost was always a challenge in Hawaiʻi, but the rate in which every aspect of life is more expensive is our biggest problem right now.

There are obvious steps we can and have taken to immediately address this problem. Raising the minimum wage, which we did this year, will help working people immediately. Hundreds of millions of dollars have been dedicated over the last four years to subsidize affordable housing. We need to work with developers to deploy that money and get homes built fast.

In the long term, we need to foster a culture of innovation and forward motion in our economy and community that allows us to break the gridlock preventing us from fixing whatʻs broken, foster competitiveness in our economy, and mobilize our education system to train the next generation of problem solvers committed to moving Hawaiʻi forward.

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?

Efforts we took legislatively this year, like raising the minimum wage and providing a tax refund to residents, will help those who are having the most difficulty dealing with rising prices. And while housing development has lagged in Hawaiʻi, every unit built has an impact on our soaring home prices. Adding to our inventory will have a cascading effect on price stability and economic resiliency that we canʻt afford to ignore.

In addition, one of the most important ways we can fight inflation is by keeping COVID under control. A new surge similar to the Delta surge in August of 2021 would devastate our local recovery and exacerbate the supply troubles that are making things so hard. Although it seems less likely with each passing month, vigilance and a solid pandemic response plan are critical to ensuring the type of local economic stability we need to combat inflation.

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?

The war in Ukraine has caused gas price spikes around the world. The frustrating part is that it has also triggered record profits for oil companies, the benefits of which have not passed down to consumers.

That is why I have concerns about a gas tax holiday. If we were to enact it, we have no guarantee that those tax savings trickle down to customers. And if they donʻt, we will have limited a revenue source that is dedicated to matching federal funding for infrastructure.

A more sensible approach to deal with immediate high costs is outlined above, including increasing access to affordable housing, higher wages, and childcare. Long term, we need to make the gas tax fairer. Electric vehicles pay no gasoline tax, and newer more fuel efficient vehicles pay less of a share than older vehicles. This unfairly places the bulk of the tax burden on residents who canʻt afford to buy a new car. This needs to change.

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

Hawaiʻi cannot accommodate a perpetual increase in the number of visitors here. We are at or beyond carrying capacity at so many parks, beaches, and attractions that residents are no longer able to enjoy them.

That is why I support the Hawaiʻi Tourism Authorityʻs move toward destination management. We need to be intentional about attracting the fewer, higher spending visitors that we hope will replace the spending power of the masses who currently visit Hawaiʻi. Part of that includes a pivot at HTA from mass marketing to investment in impacted communities themselves, so that they continue to be places that we all want to visit.

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


Yes for two reasons: 1) we are reaching max capacity for visitors and 2) we have to. We are quickly running out of room to accommodate more visitors. Communities like Haʻena on Kauaʻi and Lanikai on Oʻahu simply can’t handle any more tourists. There just aren’t enough lanes and parking stalls to hold everyone who wants to come.

State support for diversification can work if properly structured to supplement, not dictate, promising opportunities. This starts with maintaining and developing infrastructure that will allow the workforce to be more productive. This year, the legislature worked with the executive branch to draft a plan to deploy money from the federal infrastructure bill toward broadband development. Broadband is critical to our continuing economic prosperity, not just for our startup businesses, but also to ensure that our local industries remain resilient and competitive.

The other major piece of state action is to develop a workforce that is nimble and entrepreneurial. We don’t know what the next major industry or industries will be. And until we do, we need people who are committed to stay here, take chances, and innovate until our economic path forward emerges. This will require us to build a culture where competitiveness, resiliency, and innovation are rewarded.

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

We went a long way this year with the appropriation of over $1billion toward housing.
While it won’t completely solve the crisis, it is a significant step to address the shortage of affordable housing units.

Long-term, we need to continue to make investments in infrastructure–especially sewer–to ensure that we can accommodate enough housing density to keep up with population growth. That is the only feasible way to make housing realistically accessible.

On homelessness, we’ve started to implement a successful plan to get people off the street. The new emphasis on crisis stabilization, where individuals suffering any kind of crisis are taken in and stabilized before long term services are offered is the right way to go. We need to continue to build out capacity in the form of stabilization beds throughout the state, but also more can be done to maximize federal resources and national best practices in the treatment of individuals with both mental health and addiction conditions. This will require systemic change all around: the court system, healthcare, government administration and contracting, and collaboration and adoption of best practices by providers. All of these sectors are moving in the right direction, but need to go faster.

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

The most important thing we can do is ensure that we never have another surge like we did with the Delta variant in August 2021. That was the closest we came to a collapse of our healthcare system, with our hospitals exceeding licensed ICU bed capacity for several days and medical oxygen supplies nearly running out.

It is unacceptable to allow a COVID surge to overrun our healthcare system and force implementing crisis standards of care. We do not have the luxury other states had when their hospital systems were overrun. For example, residents in Idaho drove their sick relatives into Oregon and Washington when hospitals filled up. If we are maxed out, we canʻt expect residents to fly family members to the continental US while debilitated with COVID. When Florida hospitals ran out of oxygen like we did, they paid to truck more in overnight from Georgia. We canʻt do that here.

Whether it was PPE and ventilators in early 2020, vaccine doses in early 2021, or oxygen and surge nurses in the fall of 2021, Hawaiʻi is always last in line for supplies when cases are high nationwide. We cannot rely on the federal government to come to the rescue if we find ourselves in a healthcare crisis. With these realities in mind, the cautious approach weʻve taken was a prudent one. Going forward, it is critical that the state, counties, and healthcare partners maintain an open dialogue and that we aggressively and proactively communicate to the public about what the appropriate course is and why.

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?

There is so much need. Affordable housing must continue to be our focus. Infrastructure to assist in the development of that housing–especially sewer infrastructure–is a critical and under-appreciated. It will need to be addressed if we are ever going to make meaningful change on housing availability.

On Oahu, I am especially concerned about how the Red Hill crisis will continue to impact our water system capacity. We will not know the extent of aquifer contamination for some time, so it will be difficult to know how many Board of Water Supply wells will need to be closed to protect our system. And if we donʻt know how much water capacity we will lose, we won’t know how much to replace. New well development will take years and potentially hundreds of millions of dollars to complete. If new well development is necessary due to the Red Hill contamination, I expect the Navy to pay for it. But the cost of that unpredictability is high, and we need to provide certainty to the building industry and our broader community that housing is coming no matter what.

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

The recent decisions by this new radical U.S. Supreme Court are infuriating. They have devalued the importance of precedent and encouraged the view that the high court is just another political institution where the side with the votes acts with impunity for as long as it has power.

Thankfully, Hawaiʻi has protected the rights and privacy of women to make choices like abortion and contraception for decades. We need to continue to build out access to womenʻs health services, like we did last year, when as Senate Health Committee Chair I helped pass Act 3, which expanded access to abortion by authorizing APRNs to perform them. That bill was critical to providing womenʻs health access in rural communities and on the neighbor islands.

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

I have been a consistent advocate and supporter of education, including for increasing funding for education, school infrastructure, early learning, and teacher pay. The first thing we need to do is address learning loss that took place as a result of the pandemic. Fortunately, the revenue surplus this year allowed the legislature to make substantial investments in public education funding and infrastructure. But fixing learning loss is about more than money. This will require, as I have said in the past, less emphasis on standardized testing and more on individual student achievement. Each student experienced the pandemic in a different way, and each will need a specific approach to meet them where they are and foster the kind of academic growth that will ready them for future years of learning and adulthood. We need to provide teachers the resources and space to help catch everyone up and set them on their own individual path to success.

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

We need to continue to build out access to public proceedings through interactive participation, universal live streamed action, and easily accessible archived hearings, meetings and votes. I am proud to have worked during the pandemic to finally bring the state legislative process live online.

Prior to the pandemic I championed multiple bills to implement video conference technology and live streaming to make the process convenient and accessible. Often, the only way to view public hearings and votes remotely was to follow individual citizens on social media who would attend and live stream on their own. That was unacceptable.

In 2020, I helped lead the effort at the legislature, beginning in the State Senate, to pilot remote hearings during judicial confirmations, which eventually led to our entire 2021 legislative session being conducted on Zoom. This was a huge leap forward in access for the public, especially for neighbor island residents who are no longer required to fly to Oahu to participate in the legislative process.

Equally important was our move to live stream and archive all legislative proceedings on YouTube, where anyone can go back and see exactly who said what, which way they voted, and how everything happened on EVERY matter at the legislature. Moving forward, this needs to be fully adopted by all boards and commissions, and we need to continue to smooth the process and make accessibility and archival retrieval as user-friendly and convenient as possible.

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

This year, I supported and fought for the passage of HB2024, which creates a new governing authority on Mauna Kea while also codifying support for astronomy. The bill was conceived out of the work of the Mauna Kea working group, which included members on both sides who supported and opposed TMT.

This issue has divided our community. These types of impasses can only be resolved by bringing opposing sides together to work out differences and commit to finding common ground. This bill challenges both sides to do that, and sets a path forward to a resolution.

I have long believed that the only way we will diversify our economy away from tourism and military dependence will be by committing to develop industries where we compete at a global level. It is the only way we can replicate the tens of thousands of jobs in those existing sectors. Furthermore, because no other industry has reached economic prominence, there is still an opportunity to build them in a more sustainable and less extractive way, so that our communities truly benefit.

Astronomy is one of these industries. Unfortunately, it is now in crisis due to decades of mismanagement, broken promises, and a patronizing disregard for the community. We can’t get there with astronomy or move forward on Mauna Kea until people are heard and have a voice on the decisions that are made. The way forward will be difficult, but there is potential with HB2024.

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

I feel a deep commitment and obligation to work hard and do this job well. I know that in serving I am representing our collective community, and also my grandparents, parents, uncles, aunts, cousins and all my family and friends in our community. I am truly honored to serve the community where I grew up and have deep roots in. This job has made me a better person.

Hawaiʻi is undergoing dramatic change and it will take leadership to ensure that our kamaʻāina families, who built the Hawaiʻi we know and love, continue to prosper here. It is difficult work. Our biggest problems took years to develop, and easy solutions are seldom available. We are desperately short on leadership willing to step forward to take risks, endure criticism, and fight the fights necessary to tackle these challenges. I am qualified, experienced, and committed to take on this role. I would be honored to continue to serve our community and the people of Hawaiʻi.


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