Name on ballot:
Robert Mikala Armstrong
State House – District 28
Previous job history:
I began my professional career as a medium market television and radio reporter/anchor and moved into public media station management. After twenty years of teaching (both in the USA and Asia), I moved to Hawai`i nine years ago and led several well-known non-profit organizations. Along the way, I have also worked in every phase of government (federal, state and local).
Previous elected office, if any:
I am currently a re-elected member of the Downtown-Chinatown Neighborhood Board
Please describe your qualifications to represent the people of Hawaii.
Besides a lifetime of relevant professional and volunteer experiences, I believe I am best suited to represent my District and the people who live here because of my knowledge, energy and demonstrated committed to solving the problems in the Center City. Six years ago, I was the marketing director for the first ‘Summit on Homelessness’ on O`ahu and have been active in resolving issues associated with it (as well as housing and crime) ever since.
My continuous vigilance on the Downtown-Chinatown Neighborhood Board calling for more police presence, efforts to eliminate graffiti, the repair of our broken city security camera system, and greater accountability of elected officials has led to our neighborhood coming back from the brink.
What is the most pressing issue facing residents in your district and how would you address the problem?
The fear of crime. While Honolulu’s numbers are still relatively good and Chinatown is certainly improving, my neighbors unfortunately sense they are not as safe as they used to be in the center city of Honolulu.
There are multiple reasons for this: the feeling of isolation resulting from the Covid lockdown, a significant homeless population who appear more mentally unstable or addicted, some news media outlets who just focus on the day’s violence and not the root causes of the problem, a 300+ person deficit in our City Police force, the increased use of more serious drugs such as methamphetamines and fentanyl on the streets, and the lack of resources for addiction, mental health, and emergency shelter.
I am committed to working on these issues to their conclusion and hope we can find real solutions with government, business and the non-profit communities working together upon my election.
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?
I would immediately eliminate all taxes on groceries, medicines and unemployment compensation. Additionally, a one-time $300 payment that will last for one or two trips to the supermarket is probably inflationary on it’s face. I would have preferred the legislature do the hard work of partially reducing some of the tax burden on homeowners which would have a much longer-term effect in our State and a much bigger chance of positively affecting the economy.
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?
Probably, but I prefer permanently tying reductions in the gasoline tax to the inverse rise of inflation as a much better long-term solution for State consumers. In addition, we should be encouraging the reduction of public transportation fares to spur usage rather than raising rates on July 1st!
Do you support or oppose efforts to slow or limit the number of tourists to Hawaii? Please explain.
If we continue to market Hawai`i as a ‘high-end’ destination, the effect will be to slow tourism once the current ‘pent-up’ demand following the pandemic ends at the end of this winter. I would like to see a greater push to develop sustainable eco-tourism here and toward people who want new or different cultural, culinary and artistic experiences while in the Islands.
Those who still oppose rail must realize it’s eventual development will reduce much of the burdens on our transportation system we currently experience. With a fully functioning system, we’ll have less cars on the roads, less congestion and a more environmentally sound O’ahu. During this pause in its growth, we should plan now for phase two which builds and finishes the system to both Ko’Olina and Manoa by 2035.
Can Hawaii’s tourism-dependent economy be diversified, and, if so, what can state government do to support the effort?
Besides refocusing our approach and marketing of the Islands, we can certainly diversify our economy too and help others in the process. We are at the pivot point between Asia and North America, North America and Asia, and all of the world to the South Pacific, so let’s use our tourism infrastructure to work with our neighbor countries to increase THEIR tourism (and cooperation).
That same perspective working with our educational institutions and employing a new global outlook that anticipates future trends and a more mobile workforce, should enable us to attract clean industry and manufacturing to those wishing to trade and understand these two continents, Oceania and it’s cultural practices.
State government needs to address our infrastructure needs, especially those at our ports. Many of our facilities are old and dilapidated and most crucially, we have only one ingress and egress point to the harbor. If global warming greatly accelerates or there’s an accident or a typhoon, we could be in deep trouble for a very long time. That work has got to start now to increase our facilities and our relevance so as to be the hub of shipping and shipbuilding in the future!
With the silt from a dredged and improved multi-point harbor, we could build an artificial island that houses a resort, amphitheater and casino (just like Marina Bay in Singapore). This way we would end illegal game rooms here and stop giving millions of dollars in tax revenue to the State of Nevada. I also favor Hawai`i joining a multi-state lottery system.
What is your plan to increase affordable housing in Hawaii, and to help the counties deal with homelessness?
If elected, I will call a Summit on Housing and invite investors, banks, builders, lenders, labor unions, HCDA, educators, economists, housing advocates, social service providers, State and City administrators, and interested citizens to develop a plan to construct federal, low-income and workforce housing immediately.
I would also conduct a census of my District (Chinatown, Downtown, Iwilei, Sand Island, Kalihi and Liliha) to find every available piece of land and abandoned or unused building for that construction. Additionally, we need to eliminate time-consuming and needless bureaucracy that serves as an obstacle to putting people to work building needed housing units and hopefully, bring down the price of housing here by creating a greater supply than demand. If we don’t, we are going to lose our middle class AND the next generation.
Regarding homelessness, this is an issue I’ve been involved with for six-plus years. First, I fully support Housing First, which establishes a roof over one’s head before other issues can be solved. The research is clear that it works. I also think the City’s current C.A.R.E. program is very promising and seemingly effective.
After our homeless have a place to be safe, we need to address the complex issues of mental health and addiction. We currently have inadequate treatment for both problems, which are the primary reason for homelessness. Like sewer systems, this infrastructure must be built because if we don’t, we’ll end up paying more in crime, emergency room visits, and the degradation of our quality of life. Additionally, for an individual who is out of his or her mind, it is impossible for them to “enjoy” any meaningful civil rights, so we’re not abridging them by getting them drug or alcohol treatment or by addressing their brain illnesses with prescribed and supervised pharmaceutical treatments.
What would you propose to help protect Hawaii residents’ health during the continuing COVID-19 pandemic?
Generally, I think the State did a very good job in managing the Covid-19 pandemic and would urge residents to get vaccinated, boosted and be vigilant by wearing a N-95 mask when in crowded settings.
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?
Housing, Economic Development, and Education
What, if anything, should state government do in response to the decision by the U.S. Supreme Court to overturn Roe vs Wade?
As with the recent firearms decision by the Supreme Court, I’m not sure what can immediately following such a ruling. However, it is an important reminder to voters that a Presidential candidate (even though one might disagree with some positions or mannerisms) has monumental consequences for years, if not generations, later on the Supreme Court. President Trump was a disgraceful leader and a man who lost both races by substantial margins, yet he now has three conservative choices on the Highest Court. As a result, women’s reproductive safety, the rights of gay and lesbian citizens, and the prevalence of guns in our society are ALL exacerbated now.
What should state government do to support and improve public education in Hawaii?
Pay teachers more and build a prototype rent-to-buy condo exclusively for new teachers or those in challenging positions in District 28. The complex would be built near shopping and transportation hubs in the Center City, so they can easily commute to their schools and create a community of educators who support one another and their families.
I would also like to see the election of the nine main State Board of Education members by 2024 and requiring all candidates to run publicly financed campaigns to reduce any hint of persuasion or impropriety.
What reforms, if any, would you propose to make local government more transparent to the public?
Personally, I have always posted my address, email and phone number so that constituents can contact me and believe all elected representatives should do the same.
The State Ethics Commission needs a secure budget and real power to enforce laws and prosecute those who violate the public trust. Training in Sunshine Law and Freedom of Information Laws should be mandatory for all elected officials and state employees and an Ombudsman should be installed in pivotal State Departments such as Labor and Taxation.
Citizens need immediate and physical access to the State Capitol and their legislators.
The complex itself needs to be redeveloped (after 60 years) to better accommodate public forums and testimony with hearing rooms expanded and redesigned.
An Office of Public Information needs to be established in the State Capitol and run by a third-party who is tasked with providing DAILY and weekly updates about legislation, schedules, lawmaker interviews. and deep dives into the issues that affect the State. Eventually these efforts will become an Island-centric C-SPAN-like channel called ‘The Hawai`i Channel’ and made available to all citizens via a subcarrier of our State’s public television system. It will also be available online and on social media platforms 24/7.
Finally,I find it ironic the Governor recently gave high school journalists more press freedoms following a long period of “emergency powers” whereby he and his office avoided the professional press and often refused comment on pressing issues during the pandemic. A full accounting of how emergency powers should be implemented needs to be studied and enacted with the next Legislature.
Do you support or oppose the construction of the Thirty Meter Telescope on the Big Island and why?
Yes, I support the development of this clean, lucrative technology for our economy but more importantly, I strongly believe the construction of a new world-class scientific telescope on Mauna Kea is very much in keeping with our Hawaiian ancestors’ trust in and investigation of the heavens as a system of inspiration and a way of navigation across the South Pacific.
With that we can control access to the top by only cultural or scientific practitioners, continue the decommissioning (and ban on further growth) of older telescopes, and develop a new museum and cultural center at it’s base for education and appreciation of the importance of this place to the Hawaiian people.
Is there anything more that you would like voters to know about you?
I am running because the incumbent has been “missing in action” for many years and has an undistinguished record of accomplishment. He has attended one neighborhood board meeting in two years and then was combative, defensive and condescending.
We need to elect public SERVANTS who understand it is a privilege to serve and represent his constituents in the State Legislature. Whether as an investigative journalist, an educator or a non-profit leader, have routinely put others before myself means and worked hard and energetically for the betterment of society. I will do that as your State Representative, if elected, and deeply appreciate your trust and confidence in me. I will be ‘in your corner.’
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