comscore 2022 Election: Kim Coco Iwamoto | Honolulu Star-Advertiser
Election

2022 Election: Kim Coco Iwamoto

Name on ballot:

Kim Coco Iwamoto

Running for:

State House – District 25

Political party:

Democratic

Campaign website:

www.kimcoco.com/

Current occupation:

Small Business Owner

Age:

54

Previous job history:

Delivered Honolulu Star Bulletin to residential subscribers on my bicycle, Food Server at Chowder House in Ward Warehouse and Monterey Bay Canners at Ward Center, Homeless Outreach Coordinator then Managing Attorney at Volunteer Legal Services Hawaii on Queen Street, Property Manager for Affordable Quality Apartment Rentals (dba AQuA Rentals, LLC) in Ala Moana, Elected Member of the Board of Education, and Legislative Assistant in the State Senate.

Previous elected office, if any:

Elected to the Hawaii State Board of Education in 2006 and re-elected in 2010. Elected to the Ala Moana–Kakaako Neighborhood Board in 2021 and currently serve as Treasurer.

Please describe your qualifications to represent the people of Hawaii.

My first job as a public interest attorney was at Volunteer Legal Services Hawaii —- I coordinated free legal clinics at community centers and homeless shelters across the state. I later became a licensed therapeutic foster parent: I opened my heart and my home to teenagers, some of whom had experienced homelessness and/or incarceration. In order to have a more flexible schedule, I stopped practicing law, and decided to purchase a small apartment building in the Ala Moana area. I fixed it up and managed the property. Today over 50% of my tenants are previously homeless or may have been homeless but for their Section 8 voucher.

As a member of the Board of Education, I had to comply with ethics regulations and the state Sunshine Law, which meant that I only engaged in discussions and decision-making during properly noticed, open meetings, and recused myself from proceedings when I had a financial conflict of interest. My ability to commit to a higher ethical standard than what House leadership currently requires of itself makes me the better candidate.

Other qualifications that favor my candidacy include these characteristics: I center my service from a place of gratitude; I am not afraid to let my colleagues know when we can do better; I enjoy speaking with people who have different life experiences, world views and opinions; and I do not let bullies or petty politics distract me from collaborating to implement solutions.

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

The two issues raised most frequently as I speak with neighbors and represent my community on the neighborhood board are homelessness and government corruption. My plan for addressing homelessness is provided below in response to a question on that specific issue; my plan to deal with corruption is based on the following understanding of what causes it.

The reason legislative leaders act as if they are above the law is because they have exempted themselves from the law: specifically, the state’s Sunshine Law and important Ethics Laws. And despite the public demand to stop corruption, they continue to welcome campaign contributions during legislative session — these are legal bribes for introducing, passing or killing certain bills. Legislative leaders use the cash from lobbyists to win their next election and the cycle continues.

Legislators who are also private practice attorneys can operate at an even deeper level of secrecy. The legal doctrine of “Attorney-Client Confidentiality” prohibits these legislator-attorneys from unilaterally disclosing who has hired them, what they have been hired to do, or how much they cash they have accepted as a “retainer for legal services”. If the two former legislative leaders who recently pled guilty to accepting bribes were also attorneys, they would probably still be in office.

Despite public demand to end corruption, legislators continue to solicit campaign contributions during legislative session, a practice that allows lobbyists to make cash donations precisely when bills important to them are being heard. These “pay-to-play” contributions give corrupt incumbents an advantage; when the win re-election with the help of those donations — the cycle continues.

In the wake of the bribery scandal, the Democratic Party of Hawaii adopted a Resolution “Urging Hawaii Lawmakers to Address Corruption at the Legislature” by 1) prohibiting legislators from accepting contributions during session, 2) requiring legislators to comply with all State Sunshine and Ethics Laws, and 3) restricting legislators who have been working as private-practice attorneys during the preceding six months from holding leadership positions because attorney-client confidentiality would bar them as attorneys from disclosing who may be paying them to get certain bills introduced, passed or killed.

Although meaningful in many ways, a resolution urging Democratic Legislators to behave ethically is no substitute for electing a candidate committed to doing so on their own. My plan to end corruption is to get elected and work with like-minded colleagues to promptly reform relevant House Rules and remove exemptions to the Sunshine and Ethics laws.

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?

Coping with costs beyond our control requires strong action aimed at reducing costs we can control. Housing represents the single greatest cost Hawaii residents struggle to meet, and the key to reducing this burden begins with the realization housing is a basic human need. Treating property like any other commodity has led to skyrocketing prices and a situation where 40% of Hawaii’s private property is owned by out-of-state investors and almost 14% of our housing supply (76,622 dwellings) is left vacant.

Adjusting property tax rates is the best way to provide relief. Although this is primarily the responsibility of county government, state legislators can drive the process by calling for 1) an increase in the owner-occupant tax exemption, 2) an expansion of the exemption to include properties occupied for at least 9 months of the year by Hawaii residents, and 3) an increase in property tax rates, so state residents who live in their home and landlords who provide long-term housing to state residents see no increase in property taxes while investors who keep properties vacant are charged a much higher rate.

More collaboration between county and state government is needed to deal with housing costs. I am committed to collaborating with the City and County of Honolulu on these issues.

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?

According to The New Yorker: “In the first three months of 2022, ExxonMobil pocketed $5.5 billion after taxes; Chevron gained $6.3 billion; and ConocoPhillips made $5.8 billion.” How much of rising gasoline prices is just price gouging? Instead of a tax break, the feds should be charging these oil companies a windfall tax and distributing the tax revenue to municipalities so they can provide free bus services and create bus-only express lanes for commuters. This solution would lower our greenhouse gas emissions and save commuters time and money.

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

We should limit the number of tourists to Hawaii and focus on increasing their daily spend rates. The pandemic reminded us how much more enjoyable our beaches and hiking trails are when they are not overrun with tourists. Ten million tourists a year puts a huge strain on our natural resources and infrastructure, a problem compounded now that Oahu faces a water shortage due to the Navy’s reckless handling of the Red Hill fuel tank leaks.

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


Absolutely. Thousands of Hawaii-based community members, businesses and organizations examined this question to come up with initiatives aimed at creating a more resilient and diverse economy. Their proposals, outlined in the Aina Aloha Economic Futures Playbook for Policymakers, fall into these categories: “1) Achieve a Circular Economy, 2) Develop & Invest in Regenerative Businesses, 3) Invest in Local Food Systems and Aina Abundance, 4) Prioritize Community and Aina Well-Being in Decision Making, 5) Empower Community-Based Resource Management, 6) Advance Economic Equity in Hawaii, and 7) Address Injustices Against Native Hawaiians–Land Back Initiatives.” (See https://www.ainaalohafutures.com/.)

State policymakers and decision makers can read, adopt and implement these processes and solutions. If elected, I will make this a priority.

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

Over the past 28 years, homelessness has gotten exponentially worse in my district. Some neighbors express fear, but most are heartbroken. The juxtaposition of people curled up on sidewalks and vacant condos in the luxury high-rises above emphasizes the futility of existing policies.

I joined hundreds of volunteers taking the 2022 Point-In-Time count, which is used to survey all unsheltered individuals statewide on a given day. The data we collected showed that 22% are unsheltered because they could not afford to pay rent; 24% of the adults experienced homelessness as a child; and 38% reported having a mental health illness.

Housing-first programs that include in-patient services, including drug treatment, are an effective option for individuals with mental health challenges, those who need help managing the transition to a sheltered lifestyle. It’s easy to dismiss these folks by claiming they don’t want shelter; the truth is, making this transition without proper support is difficult when you have so many challenges.

Everyday, more and more individuals and families are slipping into homelessness. We need to keep those who are housed in their homes. We can do this with emergency housing subsidies and a hotline people can call for help. Many of us have friends and family to help us get through the tough times, but when you do not have those personal safety nets, then the government must step in. If we do nothing until after people are on the streets, it becomes harder and more costly to get them rehoused.

The mayor’s point person on homelessness admits to having only enough temporary shelter beds for just half of the unsheltered population on Oahu. As for permanent housing options, not enough private landlords are willing to accept Section 8 or rent to formerly homeless tenants. Again, if there is an absence of support, then the government must step in and buy or build more apartment buildings and contract with service providers to manage these resources.

We need affordable housing that local families can actually afford — and local builders can afford to build. No one can outbid luxury developers for land, labor or materials; so affordable housing construction is put on hold or costs are driven up and out of reach for local residents. Until everyone is housed in housing they can afford, we need a moratorium on building more luxury condos, most of which will just be sold to out-of-state investors and kept vacant.

We can pay for everything mentioned above by collecting a surcharge on “empty-homes” or vacant habitable dwellings.

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

We need to be mindful of both the mental health and physical health of Hawaii residents. We now have two and a half years of data from around the world that can be used to inform public health policies moving forward. Understanding that the COVID-19 vaccinations did not protect us from contracting or spreading COVID-19, we need to also focus on strengthening our holistic immune systems by getting enough sleep, eating well, reducing stress, laughing more.

My daughter and I still choose to wear masks in certain social situations, especially if we know we are around immunocompromised individuals because we do not want to inadvertently pass COVID-19 or other illness on to them. This is the longest period of time that my daughter has not gotten a cold or other illness.

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 would not have to return to a scarcity mindset if we ask corporations and the top 1% to pay their fair share of taxes. We can close tax loopholes and tax giveaways like the one enjoyed by real estate investment trusts (REITS), which own some of the largest, most profitable hotels, shopping centers, storage facilities, and office and apartment buildings in the state.

In addition, there may be $100M of back taxes owed to the state by certain corporations operating in Foreign Trade Zones within the state that were recently discovered by the Department of Taxation. My opponent in the Democratic primary introduced a bill, not by request, HB1926, that sought to waive all these corporate taxes, past and into the future.

At the same time our legislative leaders grant corporate tax benefits and waivers, the costs of operating government stays the same or increases, which means the financial burden shifts to those who are already paying their fair share. Legislative leaders try to make up the difference by pitting understaffed and underfunded departments against each other.

Everyone who has ever been frustrated by how long it takes state workers to process permits, payments and applications needs to understand the impact hiring freezes and austerity measures have on our core government functions. We get what we pay for: if we want faster service then we need to hire more people and have the right technology in place to streamline operations.

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

The Hawaii Constitution specifically protects citizens’ “privacy”, which includes the right to have an abortion. This does not mean that every pregnant person has actual access to abortion services; people living on Lanai, Molokai, Kauai and Niihau do not have reliable access to abortion services. Hawaii can do more to ensure that if a pregnant person chooses/needs abortion services they have immediate, safe and secure access to this medical procedure.

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

Improving public education in Hawaii starts with the delivery of full-funding for quality services and facilities from preschool through college; it continues with giving DOE and UH system administrators the power to determine how those funds will be spent, including which capital improvement projects take precedence.

As a BOE member in 2010, I saw how the legislature’s tendency to micromanage DOE activities undermined accountability within the system. We need to build greater management capacity in the BOE, DOE & UH and leave legislators to come up with ways to maximize support for our collective investment in education.

Imagine if we provided every public-school student with an individualized education plan and the professionals needed to meet their needs, something most private schools do not offer. Imagine expanded elementary after-school enrichment programs that go beyond A plus day care to provide classes like chess, music and art. Innovative approaches that take advantage of existing infrastructure to turn our schools into community enrichment hubs will attract the resources needed to elevate our public education system.

Lastly, we need to restore universal preschool into the DOE and open enrollment to age 3, to start. During my tenure on the BOE, Hawaii secured a federal Race to the Top grant to expand its preschool services; Hawaii was at the forefront with the only statewide public preschool available to 4-year-olds. But by 2014, the House and Senate education chairs and the governor gutted the provision that allowed 4-year-olds to enroll in the program. (See https://www.civilbeat.org/2014/11/kim-coco-hawaiis-4-year-olds-adrift-in-elections-aftermath/.)

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

While the legislature enacted the Hawaii Sunshine Law to ensure transparency in government decision-making, the legislature exempted itself from the law. This exemption needs to be repealed so legislators cannot continue to make backroom deals on behalf of undisclosed clients and donors.

Public records should be digitized so when requests for information are made, digital files can be shared with the person making the request, The current per page photocopy charge is ridiculous and obstructionist.

The silver lining of the pandemic was that long sought-after online testimony became a standard practice. Now citizens can watch hearings and provide testimony from another island, without hiring a babysitter and buying a roundtrip plane ticket. This must remain the standard for all public meetings, with digital recordings of these meetings posted and stored on YouTube or similar platforms.

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

My daughter’s favorite topic is space exploration, so I spend a fair amount of time looking at images produced by the Hubble Space Telescope and tracking the development of the James Webb Space Telescope and the Extremely Large Telescope (39.3 meters) under construction in Chile. The scientific advances gained through these bigger and more powerful observation platforms provides consolation for the loss of a lesser 30-meter telescope.

Understanding my position on the construction of TMT, requires some context. My great-grandparents immigrated to Hawaii from Japan to work on the sugar plantations, to make a better life for themselves and their offspring. Throughout modern history, foreign investors have used industrial agricultural settlements to politically marginalize and physically displace indigenous peoples around the world. Even if the first generations of immigrant labor were not conscious of their role in these environmentally and culturally destructive practices — as a fourth generation descendent-beneficiary, I am aware of my responsibility to use my “inherited” resources, privilege and access to remediate these injustices.

So today, we have another set of foreign investors who want to construct an 18-story building on conservation land, that has enormous cultural importance to Native Hawaiians and environmental importance to all residence on Hawaii. When will the settler majority in Hawaii stand in solidarity with kanaka maoli, specifically the cultural practitioners who malama aina Mauna Kea?

I remember when many settlers joined the successful fight to stop HECO from erecting 100-foot electrical towers along the Waahila Ridge, conservation lands above Manoa Valley. No one accused those protectors of being “anti-science” or “anti-electricity.” An alternative site was found then, just as an alternative site has been found for TMT.

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

In 2018, I heard Ernie Lau of the Board of Water Supply inform a room full of business leaders that the Navy’s leaking fuel tanks at Red Hill posed a serious threat to Honolulu’s fresh water supply. I took this warning to heart and immediately became part of a grassroots movement determined to de-fuel and shutter the storage facility. Despite our best efforts, we could not get legislators to take action; after three years of trying, I joined four others to initiate a “citizen suit” to compel the Navy to address the problem.

This legal action prompted Hawaii’s congressional delegation to finally issue a public statement calling for the closure of Red Hill. A few days later, the Navy reported that another significant leak had occurred.

At the same time Ernie Lau was warning everyone about the Navy’s neglect and negligence, our state legislative leaders were giving the Hawaii Chamber of Commerce Military Affairs Council over $1.25M worth of Grants-In-Aid funding, which was then used to lobby against bills that would mandate the monitoring, regulating or shutting down of the Navy’s Red Hill fuel tanks. Instead of taking action to protect Oahu’s drinking water from contamination, our legislators used taxpayer money to fund the efforts of lobbyists who ultimately ensured that tens of thousands of Hawaii residents would be poisoned. Only after our aquifer was contaminated and people were poisoned, did those same legislative leaders finally passed a bill calling for the shut down of those Red Hill fuel tanks.

This alone is enough reason to elect new legislative leaders.


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