Name on ballot:
State Senate – District 23
Previous job history:
Mortgage Loan Officer and Broker
Previous elected office, if any:
State Senator, 2014-present. State House, 2010-2012.
Please describe your qualifications to represent the people of Hawaii.
I was a community volunteer, organizer and leader for years before entering politics. I co-founded Keep the North Shore Country, which won the landmark Turtle Bay Resort case that protects Kawela Bay and over 1000 acres of rural Oahu from massive development. Today, we continue to fight for Kahuku residents against the unwanted and poorly designed wind turbines built too close to the property lines. As President of Waialua Little League, we saved the youth baseball program from bankruptcy and restored its vitality. As President of Let’s Surf Coalition, we halted illegal expansion of surf contests that reduced public access to our best surf spots. My community service and leadership experience well prepared me to effectively represent Oahu’s North and Windward Shores in the House and Senate.
While serving in the Senate, I have been a strong advocate for the preservation of agricultural lands, water rights, and residential communities affected by illegal vacation rentals. I led the efforts that recently saved Kawaihapai (Dillingham) Airfield from closure, improved legislation that protects public participation in the approval process for controversial projects, and I helped increase support for state parks, trails and beaches. We secured funding to finally build the new Kahuku football field, make Kahuku Medical Center improvements, perform the environmental study for the Koolauloa Resiliency Center, and provide additional support for many non-profits. Our district is large and diverse, and it needs committed and determined leadership. Passion, commitment, and experience matter.
What is the most pressing issue facing residents in your district and how would you address the problem?
The high cost of living, shortage of housing and poor maintenance of public infrastructure are major concerns.
The high cost of living is a perennial challenge that has no easy solution. The minimum wage will increase over the next six years and that will help some workers, but it will not change the fundamental causes of our high cost of living. I support eliminating the GET on food and drugs to reduce the cost of necessities for residents.
Large scale development in our district is limited by policy as most people understand the value of Keeping the Country Country and preserving open space. Still, there are areas designated for housing that remain undeveloped. Old sugar mill areas in Waialua and Kahuku are two examples where housing is already permitted, yet unfulfilled. The return of thousands of housing units from illegal short-term renting will help renters.
The terrible condition of our highways is finally being addressed, but erosion and system maintenance will be ongoing concerns. State parks will be better maintained as new fees at popular locations help fund system-wide improvements. Our small boat harbors will need better funding and staffing
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?
Inflation is a real problem for many and difficult for the state to mitigate. This year, the Legislature was able to help low wage earners by making the Earned Income Tax Credit permanent and refundable, and increased the minimum wage. This will help these employees increase their paychecks and tax refunds. We also appropriated $300 million for affordable housing support and budgeted a tax rebate for every taxpayer.
The Legislature would help residents struggling to keep up with higher cost of living by eliminating the general excise tax from food and medicine, and not charging income tax in the lowest tax bracket.
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 cars get more fuel efficient and electric cars become more popular, fewer gallons of gasoline are sold. This is good for the environment but bad for tax receipts needed to repair roadways. The state gas tax has not been increased in many years, yet labor and material costs have risen substantially.
Waiving the gas tax will not substantially reduce the cost of gasoline, but it will severely affect the highway funds needed for road maintenance. We should not suspend gas taxes.
Do you support or oppose efforts to slow or limit the number of tourists to Hawaii? Please explain.
I have been concerned about the number of visitors and adverse visitor impacts on our community for years. I began asking HTA about this in 2006 after the Laniakea “turtle” traffic began. A few years ago, I introduced legislation to reduce HTA’s budget if they did not slow the number of arrivals.
Hawaii does not have the infrastructure to comfortably accommodate 10 million visitors a year. Other visitor destinations provide clean public restrooms in high impact areas, effectively maintain trails, parks and public spaces, reduce rental car impacts with easy-to-use shuttle and public transportation alternatives, and impose user fees and scheduling systems. Our state parks department is beginning to do these things, and HTA is now developing better visitor management policies, but there is still a long way to go. Hawaii can and should be welcoming to visitors, but we would be happier and more welcoming with less visitors until the infrastructure and support systems catch up.
Can Hawaii’s tourism-dependent economy be diversified, and, if so, what can state government do to support the effort?
Hawaii would do well to diversify away from such a heavy dependence on tourism, but this is a difficult place to do business. Our remote location and high cost of living create competitive challenges for many enterprises. Some say we should be able to attract high paying jobs with improved communication and technology; but it is difficult to attract and keep high wage earners with some of the highest income tax rates in the country. Likewise, our doctor shortage may be a result of high taxes and cost of living.
There are some industries, such as creative media, that should expand with the talented individuals raised in Hawaii. We must do more to ensure land, water and long-term leases are available to expand agricultural production. This will not just increase farmer viability, but also delivery, processing, sales and value-added economic opportunities.
State policies should be less focused on trying to predict the future and pick economic winners, and more on creating a healthier business environment by reducing business taxes, regulations, and hurdles, where possible, to allow entrepreneurs to pursue their visions, create jobs, succeed or fail, and ultimately, expand the economy.
What is your plan to increase affordable housing in Hawaii, and to help the counties deal with homelessness?
To the extent government is involved in housing development, the focus should be on long-term, affordable rentals. With extremely expensive land, smaller housing options should be developed. Density may be increased in new developments, but should not forced on existing communities.
For the homeless, constructing boarding houses or dormitories could provide low-cost housing options, with or without subsidies, to help people get off the streets and get a new start on life. The state continues to support Ohana Zones and funding for a myriad of outreach programs and wrap around services. This year, we created the Office of Homelessness and Housing Solutions to improve coordination and implementation.
What would you propose to help protect Hawaii residents’ health during the continuing COVID-19 pandemic?
This has been a very difficult two years for the entire world, especially the families who have lost loved ones. Fortunately, the development of vaccines, therapeutic medicines and high awareness of this contagious disease have improved health care outcomes. I am optimistic we can move forward without additional government restrictions, and I pray we will return to a civil society with less name calling and aggressive posturing.
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?
Public education, safety and health are important. Protection of natural resources and our environment are essential to both our long-term economic and personal well-being. Every year, new programs compete with existing priorities for limited funding. We should always be mindful of funding essential priorities before getting lured into funding the next new idea.
What, if anything, should state government do in response to the decision by the U.S. Supreme Court to overturn Roe vs Wade?
Hawaii was one of the first states to legalize abortion in 1970 and that law is still in effect. I do not think any changes to Hawaii law will be made.
What should state government do to support and improve public education in Hawaii?
Teachers are incredibly valuable to our children’s futures; they should be paid more. Reducing class size would greatly improve the learning environment. Better pay and smaller class size would help retain experienced teachers in the classroom and improve student performance.
What reforms, if any, would you propose to make local government more transparent to the public?
The Legislature approves billions of dollars in capital improvement programs every year. The cost, timeliness, and effectiveness of these construction projects is extremely difficult to follow after a contract is let. The state should have a publicly searchable database of all construction projects funded, the contractor, percentage complete, and estimated completion date, updated periodically.
Do you support or oppose the construction of the Thirty Meter Telescope on the Big Island and why?
I recently participated in a Senate fact-finding visit to Hawaii Island to meet members of the astronomical community and kia`i (protectors of the mountain). We came away hopeful that a respectful dialog between the stakeholders will continue and lead to better management of the mountain, respect for the host culture, and a copacetic path forward for astronomy.
I would like to see astronomy continue on the mauna, but there must be better communication, relationships and partnerships between the scientific community, the Native Hawaiian community, and the residents of Hawaii Island. The future of astronomy in Hawaii should not be framed as an all or nothing, Yes or No question. I support the new management authority that was created by the Legislature this year because I think it provides a path forward to build trust and respect, yet that may take some time.
Is there anything more that you would like voters to know about you?
I have been greatly honored to serve this amazing district and state in both the House and the Senate for 10 years. Before that, and even today, I have had the opportunity to volunteer, to be a community activist, and work for the residents of our diverse communities as President of Keep the North Shore Country. I have had the opportunity to stand arm-in-arm with amazing community leaders on nearly every important issue affecting our district. I believe that it takes passion, commitment, and experience, working together, to effectively protect and enhance our beautiful way of life in Hawaii.
Thank you for taking the time to consider my responses. I would love to hear your thoughts if you wish to contact me through my campaign website: GilRiviere.com
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