Name on ballot:
State Senate – District 11
Former State Senate Legislative Aide
Previous job history:
Legislative Aide, Hawaiʻi State Senate; and previous to that Public Policy Manager, Alzheimer’s Association – Hawaii
Previous elected office, if any:
First-time legislative candidate. Current Neighborhood Board Chair, Makiki/Lower Punchbowl/Tantalus
Please describe your qualifications to represent the people of Hawaii.
– Born in the district and resident of the district.
– Economics degree, the University of Hawaiʻi at Mānoa
– Neighborhood Board Chair, Makiki/ Lower Punchbowl/ Tantalus Neighborhood Board 2019-present
– Former Public Policy Manager for the Alzheimer’s Association – Hawaiʻi
– Former Legislative Aide and bill drafter at the Hawaiʻi State Legislature
– Member, Mānoa Lions Club
– Volunteer, Manoa Albizia Working Group
– Member, Shutdown Red Hill Coalition
What is the most pressing issue facing residents in your district and how would you address the problem?
Housing and Homelessness. I’ll work to enact legislation to increase housing and decrease homelessness through the measures below.
Housing – I support:
– Protecting our residential neighborhoods from monster homes and the proliferation of illegal vacation rentals.
– Adopting the ALOHA Homes plan to provide Hawaiʻi residents with affordable housing.
– Building more affordable rentals.
– Focusing on development in urban cores and protecting our low-density communities from sprawl.
– Encouraging more development of housing below 140% AMI.
– Exploring options to tax vacant, out-of-state property and their owners.
Homelessness – I support:
– Taking greater advantage of Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services 1115 waivers and CMMI grants to utilize Medicaid funds for supportive services around housing, potentially saving $300,000,000 in Medicaid spending per year.
-Reversing the trend of homeless shelters shutting down and making sure more people experiencing homelessness are sheltered and not on the street.
– Establishing more facilities and programs similar to Hawaiʻi Homeless Healthcare Hui to expand access for individuals with mental illness.
– Ensuring rental assistance programs are available to help more individuals and families from losing their housing in the first place, especially during disasters such as the ongoing Covid-19 pandemic.
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 October, many people will start to qualify for the earned income tax credit (EITC). EITC is a refundable tax credit, which means that even some struggling families that don’t owe any tax can still receive a refund. Additionally, in October, the minimum wage is being raised for the first time since 2018 and will go from $10.10 to $12.
Consumer prices, inflation, and supply chain disruptions hurt everyone’s budget. We need to focus on the things the state can help with. The highest cost for most residents is housing. We need to adopt proposals such as ALOHA Homes, develop more affordable rentals in urban cores, and support transit-oriented development. In the more immediate term, we should adjust the low-income household renter’s credit, which was created in 1977 and hasn’t been modified since 1989. The income eligibility cut-off can be increased, and the credit can be raised to aid those who most need it.
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 also feel the pain at the pump. I’m a driver too. Even as crude oil prices continue to come down, gasoline prices are still rising. As a result, giant oil companies are making obscene profits on the backs of everyday people.
The state gas tax is 16 cents per gallon costing the average driver $6 a month, according to the Hawaiʻi Department of Transportation (DOT). This would cost the DOT $6-7 million, which I believe is better used to provide desperately needed maintenance for our highways.
The gas tax burden does fall unevenly and regressively (more impactfully) on working-class families and small businesses struggling to get by. The state should create more tax credits or grant for those overburdened by taxes. Recent legislation made the earned income tax credit (EITC) permanent, and this is a step in the right direction toward making our tax code fairer.
Hawaiʻi spends billions of dollars each year importing petroleum for energy. Unfortunately, the price of this energy is far from stable. We’ll have a brighter, more prosperous, and cleaner future by accelerating our transition to renewable energy.
Do you support or oppose efforts to slow or limit the number of tourists to Hawaii? Please explain.
We cannot hope that limitless tourism will continue as our main economic driver. Tourism is and will continue to be an economic cornerstone for the foreseeable future. We should continue to encourage a tourist mix that includes visitors who want to learn deeply about our significant contemporary and historical, cultural uniqueness and tourists who will support our service economy. To this end, we should utilize fees and other tools to stop or slow the continuous growth in the number of visitors each year to a manageable level that balances our economy, the quality of life of locals, and environmental impacts.
Finally, we should consider how specific new fees can help us invest in maintaining and improving our parks and beaches and mitigate some of the taxing impacts of tourism.
Can Hawaii’s tourism-dependent economy be diversified, and, if so, what can state government do to support the effort?
I recognize the unique role of tourism in our economy, but we are also hitting a maximum number of visitors per year. I’ll support local businesses to help them flourish and support the creation of well-paying jobs to support Hawaiʻi’s families.
If elected, I would represent the areas around the University of Hawaiʻi at Mānoa. I’ll be a vocal supporter of encouraging businesses to connect with the student talent, technology, critical research, and knowledge coming out of the University system. We should also be leveraging state funding provided to the school and students to give Hawaiʻi a leg up on our national and international competition.
I support developing an innovative economy by:
1) Establishing long-term funding for business accelerators such as Blue Startups and XLR8HI. The goal would be to grow the number of accelerators through success and increase the specialization to improve the results.
2) The state can help kick-start entrepreneurs by encouraging students to pursue education in engineering and entrepreneurship at the college and university level and by advancing technical trade education. There has been little investment in innovation in Hawai‘i compared with the continent. Lower levels of investment have slowed innovation and are an enormous hurdle.
3) Develop innovation districts, and enhance and incentivize innovation and innovation hubs.
4) We should lean into incentivizing innovation technology and techniques in the sectors we thrive in, such as foods, travel, tourism, accommodations, and hotel tax law.
5) We should also incentivize disaster survivability innovations to minimize tragedies and the impacts of climate change. We can use focus on sustainability and resiliency by incentivizing innovation to export local drought-resistant plants, saltwater aquaculture foods, salt water tolerant cash crops like seaweed agriculture, and geothermal energy installation techniques.
6) We have innovation hubs on Oʻahu, Kaua`i, Hawaiʻi, and Maui. Let’s do more to connect students and entrepreneurs to see examples of how they can work within the current innovation system to benefit their businesses and grow.
7) We could take hubs further and follow other states that have successfully implemented innovation districts, such as Silicon Valley, California, and Silicon Prairie, Texas. Innovation hubs are often located in rundown urban areas. Areas that have widespread business closures can become hotspots for crime and arson. We should utilize real estate for production and growth by transforming them into innovation districts. Despite our limited land, we have underutilized areas, customers, and the startup culture to offer business owners and attract movers and shakers who desire to grow industries.
What is your plan to increase affordable housing in Hawaii, and to help the counties deal with homelessness?
If elected to the State Senate, I will be supporting and working on the following innovative ideas to address our housing crisis:
1) ALOHA Homes Proposal – The ALOHA Homes proposal would create moderate-cost homes for sale to Hawaiʻi residents who own no other properties. Units would be built on non-ceded lands in high-density urban areas. Studies have shown that this housing is reasonably priced, safe, and comfortable for working families. It would also have safeguards in place to prevent the first purchases from being able to resell the units for large profits, helping to keep the units affordable into the future.
2) Encouraging a higher percentage of the current housing development to below 140% AMI.
3) Exploring options to tax vacant, out-of-state property and their owners will encourage more of the 75,000 vacant homeowners to live in their Hawaiʻi homes, rent them to residents, or sell them. Even in places where similar taxes have been tried but not successful at reducing the number of vacant homes, it at least creates a new tax stream that can be used to fund the creation of affordable rentals or other similar projects.
4) 2022 has been a landmark year for housing funding for Native Hawaiians. We should continue to properly invest in the Department of Hawaiian Home Lands (DHHL). Not only does this help us meet our obligations to Native Hawaiians, but because DHHL can restrict sales to Native Hawaiians, it ensures that homes built don’t go to out-of-state speculators or investors.
A critical next step is using state resources to assist and coordinate with our counties to reduce wait times for housing permitting and review times for regulations. Home developers, remodelers, and counties need clear, verifiable rules, free of unreasonable obstacles, graft (bribery), and undue delays. Additional state assistance to counties for permitting and regulation should continue until we eliminate the backlog for local families.
Furthermore, it is crucial that the state work with our counties to help get people off the street and into shelters and homes where they can receive the support they need. People experiencing homelessness often have undiagnosed or untreated mental health disorders that present complex barriers to helping them find housing security. Many others are addicted to drugs or alcohol. Chronically homeless people make up 3.61% of Medicaid users, and up to 61% of the $2 billion budget goes towards offering them healthcare. Unfortunately, the healthcare they receive is often the most expensive and least effective, such as frequent emergency room visits. I want to find ways to work with medical providers to front-load more of these resources towards mental health services and better access to medicine before things become a crisis. This can be especially effective as wrap-around services at locals such as shelters or tiny homes.
A couple of other ideas that I believe would be helpful are establishing more facilities and programs similar to Hawaiʻi Homeless Healthcare Hui and ensuring rental assistance programs are available to help more individuals and families from losing their housing in the first place, especially during disasters such as the ongoing Covid-19 pandemic.
I have some experience working on the issue of homelessness. As a former executive board of RYSE, a 501(c)3 non-profit organization operating a youth access center and shelter services in Kailua. I learned about how organizations like RYSE can reverse teen homelessness and prevent it from becoming adult homelessness by teaching life skills including, economic lessons, how to take care of one’s mental health, and providing the community that homeless youth can miss for many different reasons. Furthermore, I saw how crucial it is to have leaders that support significant investments such as the Ohana Zones program.
In 2021 I worked with Senator Stanley Chang and Representative Adrian Tam to pass a bill that finally enabled shelters to allow unaccompanied homeless minors to stay in shelters and off the street at night. Previously, most sheltered had to turn away unaccompanied minors at 8 p.m. each evening.
We all want to reverse homelessness, and most especially youth homelessness, and I have relevant experience and track record doing just that.
What would you propose to help protect Hawaii residents’ health during the continuing COVID-19 pandemic?
Right now, 200,000 workers in Hawaiʻi go to work without paid sick leave. For many, missing a week or two of work means falling behind on their bills or missing a rent payment. In 2020, the federal government invested in helping establish paid sick leave for most workers under the Families First Coronavirus Response Act (FFCRA) 2020. It granted many employers tax credits to provide paid sick taken by employees related to COVID-19. Unfortunately, this policy ended.
Right now, the state should step up and ensure all employees have access to paid sick leave and offer tax credits to businesses to help cover the costs. We can look at future more robust paid leave models, but our high COVID-19 rates require more immediate action. We don’t want workers to have to choose between pay or staying home against doctor’s orders when sick is a common-sense solution. This will ensure all workers can call out if they feel ill or test positive for COVID-19, giving economic security and helping businesses weather the pandemic.
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 top spending priorities are addressing homelessness, supporting the creation of more affordable housing and rental units for residents, investing in renewable energy and climate change mitigation infrastructure, supporting our schools, and improving teacher pay, and supporting kūpuna and caregivers.
What, if anything, should state government do in response to the decision by the U.S. Supreme Court to overturn Roe vs Wade?
There are several things that the state should do soon. First, it should act quickly to pass legislation protecting abortion providers and patients from bans, lawsuits, and penalties in other states. Other states, such as California and New Jersey, have already taken steps to do this. Furthermore, Hawaiʻi must brace for a potential increase in the need for reproductive services by visitors to ensure that we also have adequate access for residents, primarily where fewer overall resources exist outside of urban Honolulu. Finally, while it would be largely symbolic, our legislature should pass a resolution calling upon Congress to codify Roe and reproductive freedom into federal law, repealing the filibuster if necessary.
What should state government do to support and improve public education in Hawaii?
We are failing to live up to our obligation to the next generation. Society reaps enormous rewards when it invests adequately in education. Increased graduation rates, increased adult earnings (especially students from low-income families), decreased poverty, and reduced crime are all attributable to improved spending on education. However, these benefits take time. A sustained funding increase must come before the substantial, measurable, economic, and societal benefits.
My three priorities for our public education system are 1) Smaller student-to-teacher ratios. 2) Higher salaries for public school teachers. 3) Improving facilities, focusing on fairness for neighborhoods with fewer resources.
What reforms, if any, would you propose to make local government more transparent to the public?
We should keep public video testimony at the legislature. This is a fantastic innovation to come out of the pandemic. This development will remain important for neighbor island residents, parents, ill individuals, and working families who don’t live close to downtown Honolulu.
I also believe that many problems around transparency and accessibility are related to our short legislative session. We should extend the legislative session to provide more time to hear from the people and solve the state’s problems. This would give ample opportunity to change the 48-hour agenda notice to something that provides adequate public time. Short turnarounds are prohibitively complex for the public to navigate and submit testimony in time, significantly influencing lobbyists and insiders.
Do you support or oppose the construction of the Thirty Meter Telescope on the Big Island and why?
Like many people, I feel a deep sense of wonder and appreciation for the Universe whenever I see space images. I may have gotten it from my grandfather, who served as the Director of Space Vehicles for NASA in the 1960s. Telescopes on Mauna Kea have aided our knowledge of our place in the universe, and our galaxy’s neighborhood, the Laniakea supercluster, is named in Hawaiian for the work of telescopes in Hawaiʻi.
I am in strong personal support of the Thirty Meter Telescope and the incredible scientific discoveries that it would bring. However, I don’t want to see hundreds of protestors handcuffed and dragged away. This would cement alienation and distrust with another generation of Native Hawaiians. It would hurt our shared sense of community and negatively impact the reconciliation and righting of other historical wrongs.
I believe there is a way forward together. According to a Civil Beat poll in 2020, 92 percent of Hawaiʻi residents agree there should be a way for science and Hawaiian culture both to exist on Mauna Kea. And that cannot include alienating our indigenous neighbors and friends. We in Hawaiʻi live in a multi-cultural democracy that requires we receive at least some buy-in and support from our diverse communities.
Even if it looks difficult right now, I remain optimistic that tensions will continue to decrease over time, and a compromise, that recognizes the deep cultural significance of Mauna Kea can be found. I believe that there is a path forward where we can continue to be a leader in astronomy research globally, provide better land stewardship, and make sure Native Hawaiians are heard and respected.
Is there anything more that you would like voters to know about you?
I was born in my district and raised by my single mother on Kaua`i. Life with a single mom wasn’t always easy, but we made it work. I worked my way through high school and college in various jobs such as a senior living facility, a computer repair shop, at Costco, and other jobs. I am a proud graduate of the University of Hawaiʻi at Mānoa with a degree in economics. Today I have the honor of serving as the Chair of the Makiki/ Lower Punchbowl/ Tantalus Neighborhood Board.
We are in a defining moment for Hawaiʻi. The pandemic has highlighted deficiencies and long-standing problems, and our elected leaders were caught off guard. Action and support didn’t come fast enough. As a result, working families have been hard hit by the COVID-19, profound economic hardships, and our keiki have fallen perilously far behind in school. As a community leader who has successfully rallied my neighbors in grassroots efforts to change policies, I am running for State Senate to offer a fresh perspective and real solutions.
I want to help my community to be better served by the decision-making processes that will change their lives. Many people are cynical about Hawaiʻi’s future, a byproduct of people feeling ignored by our current leaders and not seeing enough substantive progress being made on many important issues. Skyrocketing housing prices are pushing lifelong residents to move away. An ever-growing unsheltered homeless population that too many residents risk falling into when the next paycheck does not go far enough. Workers often must continue going to their job even when they are sick because Hawaiʻi still does not ensure everyone has access to paid sick leave.
Many of my friends from school and college have moved away or are considering moving. Some express to me that they are unsure if they’ll ever be able to own a home, start a family, found a business, or find a good-paying job in Hawaiʻi. I’ve knocked on thousands of doors, and many of my neighbors have expressed similar concerns. It is easy to feel cynical during moments like these.
Even at a moment like this, I retain a strong sense of optimism. I believe our leaders are obligated to be optimistic because only optimism can generate new ideas, provide the bravery to try something new, or offer a brighter future. If elected, I’ll work tirelessly for the people of Hawaiʻi for that promising future.
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