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2022 Election: Jonathan Lee

Jonathan Lee
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Name on ballot:

Jonathan Lee

Running for:

State House – District 44

Political party:


Campaign website:


Current occupation:

Retired Veteran and Policy Analyst



Previous job history:

Filmmaker, Paralegal, US Navy Sailor

Previous elected office, if any:

First time running!

Please describe your qualifications to represent the people of Hawaii.

I’m running because we need experienced, trusted leaders, who care deeply about people and the ‘aina. I was the Chair of the 43rd District for the Democratic Party of Hawaii and Precinct President. In the military, I’ve led men and women overseas, on the mainland, and here in Hawaii for over 11 years while being a single father a special needs keiki. I’m an award-winning novelist and filmmaker, both professions require a clear vision, initiative, discipline, and thinking outside the box. As a paralegal, I’m stood side by side with families during their most difficult times and I never gave up on them, just like I won’t back down from the fights and challenges facing our future here in Hawaii.

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

Lack of places to live indoors, the rising cost of daily life, and traffic are our most urgent issues on the WestSide. Even those who already have a home can’t afford to live here because of the effects of inflation on electricity, petroleum, and groceries. Whenever our country and our island face tough times, the rural districts are often ignored and hit the hardest. I want to alleviate some of the pain by relaxing zoning and permitting barriers to build more apartments and homes, increasing government vouchers, and giving tax incentives to developers who choose to build medium/high density apartments instead of luxury condos.

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?

At the state level, giving grants and subsidies to farmers who plant high demand crops (like corn and wheat) will have a ripple effect in the supply chain. If we lower the price of crops by growing and buying local, then the price of bread goes down, chicken and cow farmers save money on feed, which lowers the cost of milk/eggs/meat at the grocery store. The more self-sustainable we can become without trying to be isolationists, the better balanced and stronger our economy will be to take the next hit in the future.

We also need to reward businesses who treat their workers humanely and fairly and stop giving handouts and tax breaks to companies who mistreat employees while raking in billions in profits. Worker exploitation is the largest issue plaguing the Hawaiian economy and Unions are the antidote. Increasing the number of industries that have organized labor and strengthening existing unions is imperative to protecting the working and middle class from the cycle of being taken advantage of.

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?

As the world transitions from being reliant on fossil fuels to renewable energy, it is inevitable that gas prices will get higher during this historical conversion. This current price hike, however, is caused by oil companies artificially increasing gas prices while they sit on reserves in order to rake in record profits while millions of Americans suffer. If we lower or suspend gasoline taxes in Hawaii, we will only cause more expensive problems later on. Gas taxes are how we pay for our roads, which are currently ranked at #48 in the nation already. Oil is like a drug and we are addicted. We need to double our efforts to cut off our supplier and get clean. All government vehicles, including buses, should be electric. Bus fares should be going down, not up. Solar and wind farms and other types of clean energy should be being built at higher rates.

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

Telling certain visitors they aren’t welcome to our islands isn’t in the Spirit of Aloha. The problem isn’t the number of visitors, it’s how we manage them when they are here. Unfortunately, greedy companies and short-sighted politicians have hyper-focused all of visitors to mostly downtown. Imagine if you had a party at your house and 80% of the guests just stood in the doorway. We need to diversify our economy by building more and roads to making access to the rest of Oahu easier. By doing so, businesses will be encouraged to start their companies in places other than Downtown. How amazing would it be to have tourists visit our agricultural lands and take a tour of a farm with our kupuna and learn the history of our beautiful island? I think this could also help increase respect for our culture by showing a holistic awareness of our home beyond what people see on a postcard.

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

Surprisingly, in 2021, Hawaii’s top exports were iron, steel, and aircraft parts. In order to become more self-sustainable, we need to find ways to increase and diversify exports, which requires us to get creative. One way we can do that is by legalizing, growing, and selling cannabis. 15 other states have successfully increased economic revenues by hundreds of millions of dollars and have been able to fund programs for schools, infrastructure, and better pay for teachers, police, and firefighters. It is only a matter of time before it is legal at a Federal level, so the time to start building the foundation for our industry is now, before the market is saturated and taken over by outside corporations. I believe it will bring in hundreds of millions of dollars in revenue, taxes, create agriculture jobs, and grants can be given to local farmers. This is a great way to diversify the economy and reduce the dependency on tourism and the military. The CDC has an excellent breakdown of the positive and negative effects of cannabis, which I encourage everyone to check out and compare it to another legal substance: alcohol.

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

Houselessness is by far the most pressing issue facing residents in my district, as well as the rest of the state. I do not believe Hawaii is affordable, nor do I think we will be affordable in the near future, but that will not stop me from trying to make life less-expensive. We can relax zoning restrictions for affordable housing without skimping on safety. Stopping construction of densely populated housing contracts hurts people trying to break into the rental market. Other specific steps I would fight for: government housing vouchers (historically popular and effective) in tandem with a Housing First approach, increasing the minimum wage, and better access to shelters to help people receive SNAP benefits, jobs, mental healthcare, medical, and dental care.

As a state, we need to show compassion towards those who are struggling to get by. it breaks my heart whenever I hear a voter say, “Just get them off my beaches.” and “I just don’t want to see them.” Let me be clear: It is not illegal to be poor and simply re-locating homeless residents will not solves the problem. “Beach sweeps” and fines and throwing people in jail will not fix the problem. We need social workers tracking cases, better data collection, more housing, more shelter and transportation access, free mailboxes, and most of all compassion and hope. I have been to the homeless camps, I have sat in the tents, I have walked along our beaches and talked to the homeless. They are kind, they are smart, they are not trying to bother anyone or hurt anyone (and are more likely to be victims rather than perpetrators), they are funny, generous, resourceful, respectful, and most of them are “choosing” to be homeless as some have suggested. There is a lot of trauma, history of drug use, mental illness, and they are fighting to break into a system that makes it extremely hard for them to be given a chance.

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

COVID is here is stay, perhaps forever in some form or another, and it’s time to shift from reactionary measures to precautionary initiatives. We should worry, but not panic. The best use of our resources can be in rebuilding our healthcare infrastructure. Nurses and healthcare workers went through 2 years of war-like operational tempo. As a veteran who was diagnosed with PTSD, I know what that kind of stress can do to someone. We need to take care of nurses and make sure they recover from this and get the physical, emotional, financial, and psychological help they need. They took care of us, now its time to take care of the caretakers. That is the best investment we can make to protect Hawaii residents’ health moving forward is to rebuild our healthcare system for the next crisis.

Ats for day-to-day mitigation, our focus should be on making testing free and readily available, vaccinating those who want it (with priority to kupuna and those with underlying health conditions), and providing treatment/medicine for those who test positive. I don’t support public schools mandating masks anymore, however I encourage everyone to manage their own COVID response. For example, if a teacher wants to continue to wear a mask or a parents chooses to send their keiki to class with a mask, that decision should be supported. Using hand sanitizer, social distancing, wearing masks at large indoor gatherings, and eating outdoors in restaurants when possible are all daily decisions we can make to reduce risk.

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?

New and improved roads will have a ripple effect that will positively impact traffic, housing, the economy, small businesses, homelessness, and climate change. On the westside of Oahu, we need to demand more access roads as an urgent housing issue. We waste so much money on contra flow and paying police officers to direct traffic. We waste gas and time sitting in traffic for every fender bender on Farrington Highway. We put ourselves at risk of a disaster by not having inland emergency roads. The westside is essentially a giant cul de sac with one way in and one way out. We need to remedy this poor design and it will take a lot of time, planning, public support, and money.

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

I fully support the choice to have an abortion to be between doctor and patient. Hawai’i has some of the most progressive abortion laws out of any state, however access is not equal, especially on other islands and in remote parts of Oahu. Expanding funds to Planned Parenthood and making public transportation free for all would help those who are uninsured and do not have transportation get the care they need.

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

1) Making breakfast and lunch free for K-12
2) Providing teachers with the pay and resources they need
3) Improving infrastructure like parking lots, A/C, sidewalks, lighting, crosswalks, etc.
4) Funding STEM programs like robotics, space, and coding
5) Exploring funding Teacher Housing for the westside
6) Allocating >1 acre of land on the westside for a community garden for students to take field trips to with a state-of-the-art agriculture learning resource center
7) Investing in art, music, and multimedia facilities (e.g. a theatre on the westside for plays and concerts to be used by the schools)

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

I believe Sunshine Laws and term limits for State Legislators are excellent ideas. I currently support a maximum of 12 years (6 terms) as a means to ensure continuity for ongoing legislative efforts, but I am open to discussion for shorter limits. I understand needing time to see projects through to fruition, but after so many years of being in office, it becomes almost impossible to properly relate to and represent everyday people. I also think we need to further empower the Ethics Commission to ensure local government is kept accountable to laws already on the books. There also needs to be Chair Limits so that committee chairs are people who are qualified for the job and not just go to those with seniority.

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

Mauna Kea is a deeply sacred place to many Hawaiians and we should not have built any telescopes on there in the first place. I fully support and encourage the advancement of science and space exploration, however I think the selection process for the location could have been more transparent and included public input, and if Native Hawaiians voted not to have the telescope built on any of the proposed locations, then it should have been built at the back-up site (the Canary Islands in Africa). The Hawaiian archipelago only has so much land and there are so many other places on Earth they could have built this project, it is heartbreaking and tiring to see kanaka and kama’aina having to fight over and over, decade after decade to protect every square inch of the islands. I’m not oppossed to hosting a telescope and science center on the islands is a great idea, but we shouldn’t be building anything on sacred land. The issue isn’t the telescope, it’s the land. Nothing should be built on it. Let me re-phrase the question: Do you support or oppose the construction of a Wal Mart on Mauna Kea? A strip club? A hospital? The answer should be no to whatever the facility because the building isn’t the issue, its the ‘aina.

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

I am the most experienced candidate running, the only father, the only homeowner, the only veteran, and I’m running on real change with a bold, clear vision for the westside. I may not be kanaka maoli, but I am a fierce ally and I love the beautiful westside of Oahu. I am not afraid to stand up to the military to get the ‘aina back to the Hawaiian people and I’m not afraid of to call out corruption when I see it. I was honored to receive the Special Parent Information Network Parent of the Year Award in 2019 at UH Manoa for my work with special needs children and my son while attending Harvard University. I sued the military in 2019 and authored the Military Anti-Discrimination Act which led to me being awarded the Marven Shaw Pillar Award at the 9th Annual 2020 WhistleBlowers Summit. I want to praise the whistleblowers who helped shut down Red Hill and will continue to honor their hard work and sacrifice by holding the Navy accountable for their actions.

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