comscore 2022 Election: Jeanné Kapela | Honolulu Star-Advertiser
Election

2022 Election: Jeanné Kapela

  • Jeanné-Kapela
Name on ballot:

Jeanné Kapela

Running for:

State House – District 5

Political party:

Democratic

Campaign website:

www.jeannekapela.com

Current occupation:

State Representative

Age:

27

Previous job history:

I previously worked as a service provider for survivors of sexual exploitation and as a dance teacher.

Previous elected office, if any:

I have been the state representative for House District 5 since 2020.

Please describe your qualifications to represent the people of Hawaii.

I am proud to be the current representative for State House District 5, the Vice Chair of the House Education Committee, and the Chair of the Working Families Caucus at the State Legislature. I have also served my community as a member of the Kona Coffee Cultural Festival Board of Directors, Kona Coffee Farmers Association Board of Directors, Kona Dance and Performing Arts Board of Directors, and Lions Club of Kona.

For too long, the voices of Hawai’i’s working families have been silenced. Lawmakers consistently put corporate greed before the people’s needs, leaving economically vulnerable populations behind. As the COVID-19 pandemic has shown, the politics of profit is a politics of failure. We must put the needs of people and our planet first and find the political will to deliver the common good for all.

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

Local farmers are the heartbeat of West Hawai’i. Our farmers grow some of Hawai’i’s most iconic agricultural treasures, including Kona and Ka’u Coffee and macadamia nuts. Yet, climate change threatens to undermine food security for our community and wreak havoc on our farmland. To combat climate change, I believe we need to establish a Green New Deal for Hawai’i that uplifts workers’ prosperity and the well-being of our planet.

I will also fight to protect the Kona name from commercial exploitation by expanding coffee labeling requirements to include ready-to-drink beverages, requiring coffee blenders to disclose the geographic origins by weight of each regional source that their blends contain, and increasing the minimum percentage of coffee that is required to advertise a coffee product as being from a specific place (like Kona or Ka’u) to at least 51 percent.

Regenerative agriculture is a pathway toward food security and climate resilience. Instead of investing in agribusiness exports and industrial operations that poison our land with pesticides, we should support small and indigenous farmers who are restoring the ʻāina and feeding the communities in which they live.

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?

We need to put people’s needs before corporate greed. We can make Hawai’i more livable by investing in truly affordable housing for those earning less than 60 percent of area median income. Instead of giving tax breaks to developers, we should fund housing projects that are overseen by nonprofit organizations, which are not driven by shareholder profits.

I also support linking Hawai’i’s minimum wage to our cost-of-living index. That way, low-wage workers will receive pay increases that keep up with inflation, rather than having their compensation determined by politics. I believe that we need to establish paid family and sick leave programs for all workers. No one should have to choose between earning their paychecks and protecting their health.

Moreover, we must deliver tax fairness for working families. We should raise the food and renters’ credits for low-income households and create a state child tax credit, which we can pay for by closing corporate tax loopholes, increasing income and capital gains taxes for the wealthy, and raising the TAT. Finally, we should make it unlawful for gas companies to engage in price gouging, so that working families aren’t being exploited by the oil industry.

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?

Suspending gasoline taxes is a superficial solution to a much deeper problem. We need to build the infrastructure and programs necessary for people to purchase electric vehicles. I believe that we should increase funding for charging stations, invest in battery storage technology, and increase rebates and tax incentivizes for the purchase of EVs. Economists have also indicated that suspending gas taxes depletes our funding for basic infrastructure, while providing minimal financial relief to working families.

That said, I will introduce legislation next year to prevent gas companies from price gouging consumers at the pump. Studies show that the fossil fuel industry is taking advantage of multiple crises to raise gas prices beyond what can be attributed to inflation. That is unethical. We need to enact a law that will allow our state and consumers to hold fossil fuel companies accountable for fleecing the working public.

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

We need to seriously consider imposing carrying capacity limits to prevent our visitor industry from damaging our communities and our environment. This idea has been suggested by numerous economists and public policy experts, going all the way back to the 1960s and 1970s. As we work to establish a regenerative tourism framework, we have to protect the natural and cultural resources that define our island home. Hawai’i was enduring visitor arrivals that exceeded 10 million tourists per year before the pandemic. We are well on our way to experiencing those arrival rates again.

In response, we must institute green fees and increase the transient accommodations tax to generate the revenue necessary to invest in conservation and clean energy initiatives. And if we’re going to have tourism as part of our economic portfolio, we should have tourism on our terms. That means that we need to limit visitor accommodations and establish a regenerative tourism framework to ensure that our visitor industry helps to sustain our environment, rather than destroy it.

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


Diversification is critical to the long-term health of Hawai’i’s economy. We cannot continue to rely on an unsustainable model of tourism and we cannot continue to allow unchecked numbers of tourists to flood our shores at the expense of residents and our ʻāina.

I support the establishment of green fees for visitors to the islands, which can be used to increase funding for Hawai’i’s conservation and sustainability programs. New Zealand, the Galapagos Islands, the Maldives, Cancun, and Venice all have green fee programs for visitors ranging from $1 to $100. New Zealand spends $188 per tourist on environmental programs. Hawai’I spends just $9 per tourist. We need to catch up.

Additionally, we should establish a task force to create a plan to diversify our economy through sustainable industries, like regenerative agriculture and clean energy. This would create a strategic framework to guide state policy, as is the case with our state’s sustainability and renewable energy plans.

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

To begin, we need to redefine what constitutes affordable housing in state law. Our current legal paradigm is based on giving tax breaks to developers to incentivize the creation of affordable housing. Yet, we have seen that this is a failed strategy, as housing costs have skyrocketed in our state, even during the recent economic crisis. I believe that we should focus on building housing for those earning no more than 60 percent of area median income.

Additionally, I support instituting a social housing model for our islands, in which housing is viewed not as a commodity for the private market or wealthy investors, but as a human right that should be available to all in need. We should pass a rent control program and retaliatory eviction ban for Hawai’i to prevent predatory landlords from taking advantage of their tenants. I believe that we should empower nonprofit developers to create affordable housing for Hawai’i, since they are not driven by shareholder profits.

During my time as a state representative, I have frequently encountered homeless individuals in our community. Moreover, as a former service provider for survivors of sex trafficking, I worked with individuals, including children, who were exploited when they were unsheltered, as well as the “invisible homeless” who were living in storefront brothels or who were forced to find new places to sleep each night.

These experiences helped me to understand that we need to base our approach to homelessness on compassion. Instead of criminalizing our houseless neighbors, we should establish a coordinated continuum of care for unsheltered people that includes mental health and addiction services, a fully funded Housing First program, comprehensive healthcare, access to shelter space and stabilization facilities, transitional housing, and permanent supportive housing. Poverty is not a crime. It is an urgent concern that policymakers have a moral obligation to address.

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

We need to continue to encourage residents to get vaccinated and maintain the availability of vaccine clinics in our community. This is especially important now that the CDC has authorized vaccines for young children. Additionally, we need to pass a bill providing all workers with guaranteed sick leave. I proudly introduced measures to provide sick leave to workers in each of the last two legislative sessions. Approximately 200,000 people lack access to sick leave in Hawai’i, which leaves them unable to afford to take time off to recover and prevent others from becoming ill. Finally, I support establishing a single-payer or all-payer healthcare program for our state. Even with our islands’ prepaid healthcare program, thousands of residents remain uninsured. Creating a single-payer healthcare program will ensure that all residents can access care during medical emergencies, while alleviating the healthcare costs that burden small businesses and that are used as leverage during labor negotiations to prevent salary increases for employees.

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?

We absolutely could see a regular revenue surplus if we pass tax fairness policies for Hawai’i. Our state has become a Monopoly board for property investors and the rich. In some counties, average housing prices have soared past $1 million. We need to enact progressive tax policies to fund programs that uplift working families, including closing the tax loophole for real estate investment trusts, increasing conveyance taxes, raising the capital gains and corporate income tax rates, and hiking personal income taxes for our state’s wealthiest residents.

Each of these proposals will generate significant amounts of revenue for our state, which could be used to resolve longstanding problems, including increasing funding for public education, building truly affordable housing, investing in clean energy expansion and environmental preservation, fully funding public trust and Hawaiian homelands obligations for Native Hawaiians, establishing a universal public preschool program, making college free for local residents, strengthening access to abortion care throughout the islands, and launching paid family leave and single-payer healthcare programs to advance the well-being of working families.

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

Abortion rights are human rights. I am heartbroken by the U.S. Supreme Court’s disastrous decision to overturn Roe v. Wade. In response, we must strengthen access to reproductive care in Hawai’i. To begin, we should make Hawai’i a sanctuary state for abortion, so that service providers and their patients are not held legally liable for reproductive care that is performed in Hawai’i to people traveling from states that have outlawed abortion. Additionally, we should establish a state fund to cover abortion services for those who can’t afford to pay for reproductive care, as well as an online portal through the Department of Health’s website to notify the public about reproductive care services that are available throughout the islands. I also support eliminating all criminal penalties from state law that relate to the performance of abortion care. Finally, I will sponsor legislation to expand our reproductive care workforce, especially in remote areas that lack abortion clinics.

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

Our children deserve a prosperous future. Too often, though, our keiki are placed in overcrowded and overheated classrooms, given harmful amounts of standardized testing, and denied the support services they need to thrive. Teachers tirelessly guide our children’s learning without receiving the professional pay that they’ve earned.

To ensure our children receive a quality education, I will sponsor legislation to build community schools that offer arts courses, vocational training, and access to social and healthcare services on campus. I will also work to limit standardized testing and empower teachers to use authentic assessments aligned with real-world learning experiences.

I am committed to raising teacher pay. While policymakers passed funding to resolve teacher salary compression and extend differential pay increases this year, our state’s educators still earn far less than their colleagues who work in school districts in other states that have a similar cost of living to Hawai’i. To recruit and retain a quality teacher workforce, that must change. Lastly, I support creating a dedicated funding source for public education that increases school spending by at least $500 million per year.

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

Integrity is essential to good government. Therefore, we should pass proposals to remove corporate influences and dark money from politics. I support strengthening our state’s public funding program for candidates who agree to limit private campaign contributions, as states like Maine have done. I also believe that we should enact common-sense campaign finance reforms, like ending the practice of bundling that allows candidates and political action committees to subvert the spirit of campaign finance laws by combining individual campaign contributions into one large contribution. Furthermore, we should close loopholes in our campaign finance laws that allow individuals who are working on state contracts to donate to political candidates, even though their companies are prohibited from doing so.

Moreover, we should limit the amount of campaign funds that candidates can carry over from one election to the next, so that politicians cannot accumulate an unlimited amount of funds to intimidate potential challengers and contribute to other candidates. Relatedly, we should prevent elected officials from buying fundraiser tickets for other candidates, which is essentially a form of campaign money laundering. I support banning the solicitation of campaign contributions during the legislative session. I also believe that we must prohibit lobbyists from hosting fundraisers for policymakers. Finally, we should require all state employees, including legislators and their staff, to receive annual ethics training to ensure that they are fully informed about how to comply with ethics regulations.

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

I strongly oppose the construction of the Thirty Meter Telescope on Mauna Kea. This is not just about a telescope. It is about the ongoing displacement and abuse of the Hawaiian people within our homeland. When it comes to measures of educational attainment, health, homelessness, and economic well-being, Native Hawaiians are at or near the bottom of the list. At the same time, our land continues to be exploited by multinational corporations and agrochemical companies, like Alexander and Baldwin and Bayer. As a Native Hawaiian woman, I believe that we must work to undo the legacy of colonialism by restoring our ‘āina, preserving the Hawaiian culture, increasing the share of public trust revenue allocated to the Hawaiian people, fully funding Hawaiian homelands, and empowering Native Hawaiians with greater authority in decision-making processes about how to use public land, from the summit of Mauna Kea to the slopes of Red Hill to the sands of Waikiki.

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

We need to establish a Green New Deal for Hawai’i that uplifts people and our planet. Our islands remain overly reliant on unsustainable industries to drive our economy, like tourism and the military-industrial complex. We need to rebuild our economy by investing in renewable energy innovations that advance our fight against climate change, regenerative agriculture that delivers food security and restores the health of our land, and other carbon-reducing economic initiatives.

While a Green New Deal generates good-paying green jobs, it also requires our state to invest in the knowledge and benefits necessary to allow workers to transition from carbon-heavy positions to more sustainable industries. Accordingly, we must also increase funding for public education by at least $500 million per year, create free preschool and childcare options for working families, and establish a single-payer health insurance program that guarantees quality medical care for those in need. We can pay for these initiatives, in part, by establishing a carbon tax, which experts believe will generate up to $400 million per year.

The climate crisis is the most urgent issue facing humanity. We must take bold action today to preserve a sustainable future for the generations to come.


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