Name on ballot:
Valerie C. Wang
State House – District 26
Director of Sales & Marketing at Kaiser Permanente Hawaii
Previous job history:
Former President of Makai HR
Former Senior Sales Consultant at TriNet
Former Vice President of Sales & Marketing at Bid Network Online
Previous elected office, if any:
Please describe your qualifications to represent the people of Hawaii.
I have 18 years of experience in the private business sector, with experience covering an array of industries including Non-Profit, Health Care, and HR. There are a lot of similarities between the slow to change bureaucracies of a private business & the government. Within that structure, my efforts have been successful in bringing about change where others have failed. I also currently serve on the Board of Advisors for a food pantry managed by Feeding Hawai’i Together & on the Board of Directors for Bizgenics Foundation – an entrepreneur program for keiki. I also volunteer with the City & County of Honolulu Department of Homelessness, and have worked on some volunteer projects with HDTC.
What is the most pressing issue facing residents in your district and how would you address the problem?
So far in this campaign, I have knocked on over 2,500 doors and the most common response I’ve gotten so far are people just being excited that someone is actually coming to them and asking about their concerns. Whether it’s homelessness, rising rents, or inflation; the number one goal of my campaign is to bring this community’s voice back to the capitol.
Of all the concerns shared, the top concern shared is the homeless. To address homelessness, we must look at the root causes. Unfortunately, the solution is not one-size-fits-all. People are homeless for a number of different reasons, and to truly address this issue, we must tackle each root cause separately and with purpose. We must look at affordable housing, Hawaii’s rising cost of living, drug addiction, and mental health & wellness. We must look at redefining “chronic homelessness” so that our City & State programs can help individuals sooner. We must build more transitional villages, that works with homeless communities, not homeless individuals. We must remove government red tape that is preventing so many incredible non-profit organizations from doing the work that they need to do.
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?
In order to help our citizens during these times, we must make Hawai’i more self-sustaining so our basic needs are met. Basic needs like food, water, and shelter. One proposal I have to tackle rising housing costs is to tax unoccupied houses. The tax revenue will then be used to build affordable housing and provide tax credits for local residents looking to buy their first home. Discussions of diversifying the economy have been around for years and often focus on the technology sector. However, for the purposes of this discussion, investing into agriculture and aquaculture to feed our people is also something I support. The vast majority of our food is imported from the mainland despite the fact that we have the land and seas to feed many of our people. The Native Hawaiians supported a similarly sized population to our own with sustainable fish farms and local agriculture. If we begin investing in that direction, we can create a more resilient 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?
I think that is an option worth exploring, as is any proposal that can lower the skyrocketing cost of living, however we need to remember 2 things.
1) This is part of a larger problem with Hawai’i and good public transportation. Our bus system rated relatively well in the nation but there are not enough bus routes to meet the needs of our communities. In addition, the rail is both a long way from completion and not well situated to help with commutes for locals.
2) The state tax on gasoline is used to repair roads and maintain other crucial infrastructure. There are many communities on the periphery such as Tantalus that already have problems maintaining the roads as is. A loss in revenue will either require funds being drawn from elsewhere or a dangerous level of neglect on our roads.
Do you support or oppose efforts to slow or limit the number of tourists to Hawaii? Please explain.
Yes. I have knocked on thousands of doors so far in this campaign, and many people I have spoken to, whether they work in the tourist industry or not, say that increased numbers of tourists make life difficult. We also conducted our own poll and of those who responded, 72% believe we are too dependent on tourism and 48% do not want tourism to come back to pre-pandemic levels (40% voted in favor, and 12% were undecided).
In the last two years since reopening, we have already started to see issues with increased traffic and strain on local resources like fresh water. Tourism will always have a vital role in our local economy, but even more vital than that is the well being of the people who actually live here. We must find ways to diversify our economy so we are not so dependent on a single, extremely elastic, industry.
Can Hawaii’s tourism-dependent economy be diversified, and, if so, what can state government do to support the effort?
Yes. We do this two-ways.
(1) Through properly developed tax credits & incentives, we can incentivize new industries to call Hawaii home. In the past, the tax credits that were created did not incentivize the right behavior. We need tax credits tied to job creation and payroll, similar to the federal R&D tax credit. Industries we can target include technology, alternative energy, and aquaculture / agriculture. We have already seen the technology industry thrive in Hawaii since the start of the pandemic. The issue is that most of these jobs went to mainland folks who moved to Hawaii. We need to work with our local schools and universities to develop local talent, and then also work with tech companies to incentivize them to hire from our local talent pool. Which brings me to point #2…
(2) We work with the DOE and our local universities to provide tailored curriculum, internship opportunities, and training programs to help develop talent for the industries targeted. I believe technology and agriculture are two prime candidates for this kind of diversification.
What is your plan to increase affordable housing in Hawaii, and to help the counties deal with homelessness?
I’ve spent time talking to homeless (houseless) folks residing in my district and from those conversations, I have found a very useful fix that we can implement. Many homeless people have only been on the streets for 3 – 6 months, however most state assistance programs do not kick in until they have become “chronically homeless” at 12 months. This is nonsensical because people who are only recently homeless should be the ones who can most easily and cheaply be helped.
To increase affordable housing we must look at zoning capacities, infrastructure costs, and permitting turnaround times. In Makiki, we are almost at 100% of capacity by what we have zoned in our neighborhoods. This means, per our zoning laws at the moment, we cannot increase supply. This will increase housing prices. Time adds costs to any project, so the more efficient government can be (without sacrificing quality), the lower our costs will be, which will in turn lower prices. We must also look at our supply chain and push for out of the box ideas on how we can lower supply costs.
What would you propose to help protect Hawaii residents’ health during the continuing COVID-19 pandemic?
Diabetes and obesity are two very common underlying health issues that make a person more susceptible to COVID-19 and other diseases. There are several methods we can take to address this such as limiting access to sugar sweetened beverages from a young age. But a far more pressing solution must be studying ways to eliminate “food deserts” — communities where access to healthy, nutritious food is extremely difficult. When working people struggle to make ends meet through two or three jobs, the easiest source of food are fast food restaurants where the only vegetables are the lettuce in a Big Mac or the shreds of celery and carrots in a mac salad. We must make it easier for people to buy affordable and quick nutritious meals.
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?
My three top priorities for state spending are Education, Affordable Housing, and Diversifying the Economy. These are, of course, issues that are related to each other. Here is one example. In order to diversify the economy, we must improve our education system so that technology and agricultural jobs will be filled by Hawai’i residents. The overarching goal of these priorities is to create a Hawai’i that looks out for its people and is more resilient to global crises, such as the COVID-19 pandemic.
What, if anything, should state government do in response to the decision by the U.S. Supreme Court to overturn Roe vs Wade?
Hawai’i has a long history in protecting abortion rights, being the first state in the union to legalize the procedure in 1970. The state government should use this national flashpoint as an opportunity to increase access to abortion across the state. In particular, many rural communities and several of the neighbor islands have no abortion clinics whatsoever. This is an issue that must be corrected.
What should state government do to support and improve public education in Hawaii?
Like we invest into the infrastructure of our roads, we too must invest into the infrastructure of our education system. Our schools must be properly funded so that they provide proper ventilation, access to mental and physical healthcare, and clean drinking water. For our teachers, Hawai’i currently has a federally funded program that offers to pay off the student loans of healthcare providers. We should implement a similar program for our public educators. Like doctors, teachers provide an immeasurably public good and should be supported. Finally we must also invest in internet infrastructure both at school and at home so that our keiki can learn and compete in the 21st Century world.
What reforms, if any, would you propose to make local government more transparent to the public?
First off, it should be standard protocol for representatives to recuse themselves from voting on a bill if there is a conflict of interest, and members should have the ability to identify potential conflicts that their peers may have, without fear of retaliation. I also believe that we should begin moving towards publicly funded elections. The easiest way right now for large interest groups to influence politicians is to make donations to their reelection campaigns. Eliminating that incentive structure is crucial to stopping corruption.
Do you support or oppose the construction of the Thirty Meter Telescope on the Big Island and why?
The last news reported on the Thirty Meter Telescope site that I read was that the permits necessary for construction had expired (1). This is sacred land to the Native Hawaiian community but also represents an opportunity for Hawaii to be a global leader in astronomy, to continue supporting our schools and pushing STEM curriculum, and will bring $1.4B to our local economy. There are multiple telescopes on Mauna Kea that need to be removed and cleaned before TMT is built. TMT must be planned and built in partnership with the Native Hawaiian community and leaders to ensure the land is properly treated and respected throughout the entire process.
(1) Source: https://www.hawaiinewsnow.com/2022/06/07/no-imminent-construction-tmt-without-storm-water-permit/
Is there anything more that you would like voters to know about you?
This campaign is about putting the people first and about bringing everyone back together. I’m running to rebuild trust with the government. I believe in a future where communities and neighborhoods are working together, hand in hand with the government, to solve our problems.
This campaign is about our community and not about me.
With that said, we’ve decided to donate my entire government salary back to local non-profits that the community chooses (one can vote in an online survey at our website valeriecwang.com). Some folks have asked how I’m able to do this. The State House of Representatives position is a part time and seasonal position. Many representatives have second jobs outside of their house position. If elected, I am fortunate enough to be able to continue working outside of the House, which allows me to donate my government salary back to local non-profits.
And finally, I wanted to share that the most important thing you can do is to get involved with your local community anyway you can. Times are difficult, but I believe the last few years have proven that we cannot wait for others to come and rescue us. It’s up to us to vote, attend neighborhood board meetings, and look out for each other to make sure our people and our Aina are well cared for.
View more candidate questionnaires or see more 2022 Hawaii elections coverage.