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2022 Election: Jennifer “Jenn” Kagiwada

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  • Jennifer Kagiwada
Name on ballot:

Jennifer “Jenn” Kagiwada

Running for:

Hawaii county council – District 2

Political party:

No answer submitted

Campaign website:

Current occupation:

Legislative Assistant, Hawaii County Council



Previous job history:

Hawaii State Public Charter School Commission-Pre-K Instructional Coach; Hawaii Department of Education-Substitute Teacher, PE Coach; Friends of Heather Kimball, Campaign Manager; Self Employed, Education Consultant/Trainer; Center for the Child Care Workforce, Child Care Specialist; W4QCC/United Way, Executive Director; US General Services Administration, Child Care Specialist Region 9.

Previous elected office, if any:

Democratic Party Precinct Council Representative, Democratic Party Delegate to the State Convention (2018, 2022)

Please describe your qualifications to represent the voters of your county.

Being a good council member is about understanding the needs of your district and being able to craft solutions and get support from your colleagues to meet those needs. As the only candidate for District 2 who has worked at the county council, I have spent the past 20 months collaborating on legislation, working with county departments and meeting constituents needs. I’ve come to know the council members and if elected, I will be ready to get to work on day one on behalf of Hilo and Hawai’i County.

Through my policy and advocacy work in child care, I have been championing working families for decades. In addition, I’ve spent the past 5 years supporting the people of Hilo and Hawaii County through my work as Hawaii Island Coordinator for the Women’s March. As I continue to support strong, capable women to run for public office, I realize it is time for me to step up for our community and put my skills, values and knowledge to work for the people of District 2 and the County of Hawaii.

What is the most pressing need for the people you seek to represent, and what will you do to address that need?

Lack of affordable housing; here are some changes I would propose as a Council Member:

Utilize the County’s real property taxation authority to encourage maintaining and expanding low income housing stock, including, moving apartments and time-shares into separate tax classes to allow for bringing time-shares into the same tax class with other visitor accommodations. This would allow a lowering of taxes on apartment complexes that generally provide housing for residents, often lower-income residents, and increase benefits to homeowners who rent to low-income residents. I’d also advocate to increase taxes on short term vacation rentals (STVRs) and vacant homes.

Amend the County Code to increase housing stock overall, including making it easier to build Accessory Dwelling Units (ADUs) and cleaning up unnecessary and superfluous rules in the building permitting system to reduce time and costs for both the public and the county.

Look into changing or at least getting a better handle on the Low Income Housing Tax Credit Program (LIHTC). Currently we do not know exactly how many credits are out there and who has them.

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

My husband is an astronomer and I support the future growth of astronomy, including the building of TMT, on our island. I have witnessed the meticulous care astronomers, engineers and support staff take to ensure the environment on the mountain is protected. Astronomy is a clean, green industry with high paying jobs and the potential to inspire future generations and the world. If TMT does not get built, the future of astronomy and the potential scientific discoveries and jobs it brings seem uncertain on Hawai’i Island.

I absolutely believe that respect for the culture of Hawai’i, care for the environment and astronomy can co-exist on Mauna Kea. Over the years, mis-steps and mistakes have been made and it will take years to build trust among the residents of Hawai’i Island when it comes to the mountain. UH and TMT have been investing in this trust-building and must continue to due so with a special attention to listening for understanding. The community as a whole must come together to build mutually acceptable solutions. It will take time and effort, but it is worth it.

Rising inflation has significantly worsened Hawaii’s already high cost of living. What can be done at the county level to help residents cope with high consumer prices?

Given the current circumstances, poor, working and middle-class people of Hawai’i County cannot be expected to take care of all their necessary expenses without some support. In addition to my answers concerning affordable housing (above) and my answer below on the need for an accessible, high quality child care system, the County can help by urging the state to eliminate the GET on locally grown food; this would encourage food production, buying local and eating healthy foods. We can also work collaboratively with the state and federal governments to maintain an emergency fund (similar to the one during the pandemic) to help poor, low and middle-income folks with rent and utilities in an emergency situation to prevent evictions and additional houselessness.
Please see my answer (below) about diversifying the economy and good jobs.

What specific solutions do you propose to combat homelessness and to make housing more affordable to residents?

I have addressed this above, but will provide more specific information here.

There is a lack of political will to set fair tax rates on out of state investors, hotels, luxury developers, etc. I will propose a new property tax structure, or use exemptions to replace our current, regressive tax structure that punishes Mom and Pop landlords who rent to local residents at market value.

Our housing stock is shrinking and need is far outpacing our current rate of providing homes for our residents. I will create a vacant homes tax, work to regulate and enforce STVRs, and reduce profit incentive for REITS to evict our neighbors and raise rents.

I will keep the public informed about the administration’s spending of the $9.5 million per year, that was approved in Bill 111 in 2022, which is to be used to help our houseless residents in Hawaiʻi County and move them into housing.

As the COVID-19 pandemic continues, what more should the county government do to protect residents’ health?

The county could and should make well ventilated, outdoor spaces more accessible and easier for businesses, government and others to provide. Sliding walls and large windows that open spaces to the fresh air, outdoor seating and gathering spots and providing overhead shelter from the rain can be encouraged and supported through easier permitting and technical assistance provided by the county.

The county should also work with the state and federal governments continuing to make vaccines available and accessible to all who need them.

The county should encourage the state to make paid family leave a state law.

I advocate for supporting the certification, training and inclusion of Community Health Workers in Medicaid and contracts with the state as one way we can bolster our lagging health care system, especially on the neighbor islands.

What should county government do to help residents who have been economically affected by the pandemic?

One of the biggest system failures highlighted and exacerbated during the pandemic across the US, in Hawaii and here in Hawaii County was the collapse of the child care system.

Developing and maintaining a county-wide, high quality, accessible, child care system would positively impact the entire community by: supporting brain development in the most critical years, increasing prosocial behaviors and cognitive growth, mitigating high family stress levels, advancing shared cultural learning, reducing costs for low and middle income young families, providing good jobs, reducing crime, increasing graduation rates, and reducing absenteeism of employees due to child care problems.

When it comes to early childhood education and child care, we need to switch our mindset from one of regulation based on a free market system to one that advances early care and learning to make the very best outcomes a reality for our entire community. Other countries such as New Zealand and Japan have developed and funded child care systems based on societal good. Smaller municipalities like Reggio Emilia, Italy, have shown what is possible if there is public and political will to make it happen. We could do the same.

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

The County Council must abide by the Sunshine Law which makes council and council member actions much more transparent than those at the state legislature. The more relevant issue for my office will be communicating with people in Distrcit 2 and engaging and informing people on a regular basis. I plan to send out a weekly online newsletter highlighting issues of importance and informing residents of upcoming legislation that may effect them. I will also enable folks to make their voices heard on policies that relate to their everyday lives by posting timely information on social media, encouraging them to testify at council meetings and by sharing my personal phone number so that folks may reach out with questions or concerns-just as I have during this campaign.

Do you think more needs to be done at the county level to manage tourism? If so, what would you propose?  

We can better manage our tourism in Hawaii County and keep our resident experience a positive one by restricting and regulating short term vacation rentals, keeping them out of agriculture and residential areas and making sure existing ones follow the rules or pay a heavy price; institute green fees for tourists, using the money to help fund our infrastructure and environmental needs; educate tourists on what is pono and what is not; support local businesses in developing ecotourism destinations and events which encourage visitors to give back to the land while they are visiting; limit the amount of new visitor accommodations being built but encourage and support tear downs, renovations and rebuilding for already established hotel and resort areas; support new industries and jobs to increase our economic development and rely less heavily on the tourist industry. When we aren’t sure what to do, err on the side of supporting local residents.

What would you propose to help diversify the island’s economy beyond tourism?

There are lots of jobs in Hawaii, Hawaii County and the Hilo area. We need doctors, nurses, teachers, child care workers, government employees, farmers, etc. Everybody knows this and yet the problem persists. Training and apprenticeship programs are helpful but but the problem is we need to make these good jobs-jobs that support working families and jobs that allow people to pay their bills and stay in Hawaii. If we stop subsidizing our tourism industry and out of state developers with low taxes and sweetheart deals, we could use that money to invest in the jobs we need filled in order to have a thriving and sustainable economy.

It is about pay, but it is not just about pay; it is also about affordable housing, attainable child care, paid family leave, accessible health care, quality public education and state and county infrastructure.

What can county government do to mitigate the affects of sea-level rise?

First, we need to support efforts to protect vulnerable populations and our infrastructure located in effected areas. Providing support for ecosystem-based adaptations, like a watershed management plan for Hilo Bay, should be considered first when looking at mitigating the affects of current sea-level rise. Using our county PONC program to preserve low-lying lands as open space and encourage new development in the mauka areas would also be a good strategy.

Preventing further sea-level rise by reducing carbon emissions should be part of all county projects and departments. Improving public transportation will help reduce carbon emissions that contribute to see-level rise. I am 100% behind the efforts of our new Mass Transit Administrator and I think we can do more to increase ridership. I would like to ask the high schools on our island to have their students ride the bus as part of an excursion or even as an assignment. If we can get our young people used to riding public transportation, we can really tailor the system to meet the needs of our residents. For areas not serviced by mass transit, encouraging ride-share programs could also be helpful.

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

If elected, I will work for the County and District 2 as my full time job and be available to the the people I represent. I will work for the people of Hilo making hard work, persistence and collaboration the tenets of my office-the same way I have run my campaign. If our problems could be solved easily, someone else would have already solved them. Being a council member means checking your ego at the door, listening for understanding and bringing in others for true collaboration to improve the lives of our people.

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