comscore 2022 Election: Nick Nikhilananda | Honolulu Star-Advertiser
Election

2022 Election: Nick Nikhilananda

  • Nick Nikhilananda
Name on ballot:

NICK NIKHILANANDA

Running for:

State House – District 13

Political party:

GREEN PARTY

Campaign website:

friendsofnikhilananda.com/

Current occupation:

Candidate for the Hawai’i State House of Representatives, D-13

Age:

71

Previous job history:

Educational teacher, academic instructor, lecturer, tutor; administrative assistant, legal secretary; escrow officer; paralegal researcher; carpenter; census enumerator; bus & taxi driver; logger; Political candidate; numerous volunteer positions and other employment.

Previous elected office, if any:

none since college

Please describe your qualifications to represent the people of Hawaii.

I am a 36 year resident of Maui County; 34 years in the 13th District. I possess an M.A. in Public Law and Urban Affairs from The American University in Washington, D.C., plus a B.A. in Political Science from Bradley University in Peoria, Illinois. I worked as a teacher in both the public school system with the DOE, plus I was the mathematics teacher and academic instructor at the Hawai’i Job Corps-Maui site. I also taught at Washington International College in Washington, D.C. I currently serve as an alternate member on the Pa’ia/Ha’iku Advisory Committee plus I have served on a few Boards of Directors and two Maui County Commissions, the Mayor’s Task Force on Higher Education and the Maui County Board of Variances and Appeals. For over nine years, I was the Producer and Host of the award-winning Maui Talks-TV, on Akaku: Maui Community Television. It was the longest continually running, 90 minute live public affairs call-in talk show on Akaku. I have a Hawai’i Facilitator Certificate, am a trained Mediator for twenty years and for 2 years I was a volunteer District Court Mediator in the Small Claims Division. Since 1987 I possess an inactive Real Estate Salesman License. For four summers, I was a Volunteer Counselor at the Imua Rehab Summer Camp for differently abled youth. My father was a triple amputee from WWII; his tenacity and perseverance were an inspiration for me. I have traveled extensively, having spent years touring the world, visiting over 50 countries on 5 continents, plus all 50 states of the United States. I possess a variety of life experiences and education. I am standing for elective office being that they are the individuals who have the greatest and most significant impact on all of the various issues I am passionate about over these many years of community activism and involvement.

What is the most pressing issue facing residents in your district and how would you address the problem?

The quality of life. The 13th District encompasses four islands; with three of the most remote areas of the State on three separate islands. They are bunched together to form one Representative District; only one other State House District in Hawai’i has parts of two islands! This is fundamentally and patently unfair to the residents. I testified numerous times at the recent reapportionment commission to change the districts in Maui County. They failed to address this significant issue. Each area is unique, from the water being diverted and stolen in East Maui and traffic which are important items on Maui. Lanai is faced with having one person own most of the island; impacting democratic ideals plus their traditions. Molokai is challenged with holding on to their way of life; a tight-knit community deficient in many social and governmental services. The entire district is lacking in economic opportunities and sufficient governmental and medical facilities. There are too many working families struggling. ALICE and unsheltered families and individuals are constantly growing in all areas of the district. We must develop affordable housing, which is lacking on all three islands. The growth of part-time owners, who do not live in the district nor Hawai’i, is hitting critical mass. Climate change is impacting the entire district. The cost of living is already impinging most everyone and is negatively affecting our standard of living. I will listen to input from constituents, research and learn as much as I can and be open to all quality suggestions. I will constantly be reaching out to the residents and doing whatever it may take to make positive change in my District and in Hawai’i.

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?

Tax reform is urgently needed, to recoup millions of dollars of multi-national and former agricultural now development corporations currently evading their fair share of taxes. Numerous wealthier individuals, who own more than one home and/or property in Hawai’i, could have their tax liabilities increased while we reduce taxes for lower and moderate-income individuals and families. The Hawai’i tax code is chock full of right-offs and deductions which solely benefit affluent individuals and corporations. Redirecting this largess to social service and educational departments, which would include assisting the thousands of house-less and un-sheltered residents. I would eliminate the State excise tax on food and medicine. Provide affordable housing for ALICE and other low-income individuals and families, while expanding childcare. For ALICE residents and lower and moderate-income families and individuals, I would drastically reduce their tax liabilities. We could institute various impact fees on visitors, perhaps a climate change surtax which could go directly toward education and/or environmental programs. We could encourage counties to look at adopting rent control on lower income individuals. Since close to half of all private property is owned by non-residents and investors, adjusting property tax rates accordingly, plus perhaps a fee on those who do not reside in Hawai’i. Possibly a State surtax. Too many of our homes are unoccupied for much of the year. We could institute free public transportation, which would have multiple benefits of reducing the number of vehicles on the road, helping the environment and lowering costs for residents of Hawai’i. Perhaps reducing the cost of university and eliminating tuition at Community colleges. We must reduce the cost of living for the residents in Hawai’i.

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?

The challenge with lowering or temporarily suspending the State taxes on gasoline is that it may have only minimal impact on the price at the pump. That is if the gasoline companies even pass on the savings to the customers filling up their vehicles, since they are currently making record profits and perhaps the high price of gasoline is solely a result of price gouging. Nevertheless, I am not against this, even though it may have limited if any benefits and consequences. The amount of money which is used for maintenance and improvement of the roads and highways would be decreased as a result of lowering the tax which goes directly to roads. Now is the time to invest in renewable energy and make our communities more sustainable.

Do you support or oppose efforts to slow or limit the number of tourists to Hawaii? Please explain.

People want to travel; I have been to over fifty countries and all fifty States. We live on the most remote islands on the planet. The last couple of years showed us in a dramatic way that in the past having too many visitors in Hawai’i has a negative impact on our quality of life, including seeing our environment suffer from overuse. We are now almost at pre-pandemic levels. We need to manage the number of visitors through increasing certain fees, while limiting the number of rental vehicles, hotels, timeshares and other visitor accommodations. Shifting to educational, cultural and ecotourism would diversify what is currently done. We will not eliminate tourism nor the visitor industry, nor should we. It is important that we find and develop other mechanisms for expanding our economy besides depending solely on the tourist and visitor industry. We already know that each island has a unique and sustainable carrying capacity, which when exceeded has a profound detrimental effect on the flora, fauna, aina and the local residents of Hawai’i. It has been surpassed throughout the State. Maui’s acceptable number is included in the Maui County Community Plan. Additional thoughts in the next section.

Can Hawaii’s tourism-dependent economy be diversified, and, if so, what can state government do to support the effort?


The last couple of years showed us in a dramatic way that in the past having too many visitors in Hawai’i has a negative impact on our quality of life, including seeing our environment suffer from overuse. When it is having negative impacts on Hawai’i residents, then it is essential we must focus on this challenge. We could manage the number of visitors through increasing certain fees, while limiting the number of rental vehicles, hotels, timeshares and other visitor accommodations. It is important that we find and develop other mechanisms for expanding our economy besides depending solely on the tourist and visitor industry. Educational, cultural and ecotourism would diversify what is currently done. We will not eliminate tourism nor the visitor industry, nor should we. We may increase various user fees, yet we must not limit our visitors to only “high end” tourists; working and middle class families and individuals have a constitutional and human right to also visit Hawai’i. Suggested areas for diversification may include high tech, education, health care and supporting local agriculture. We import ninety percent of our food; food sovereignty and security are significant concerns. We can grow our own food in a sustainable way, plus food security, independence plus export, plus regenerating the soil from years of misuse. We could offer tax breaks and incentives to our farmers, ranchers plus other locally owned agricultural and food production entities. Growing hemp is another field Hawai’i can be a world leader. High-tech is an option, through expanding our broadband infrastructure. Educational opportunities, since Hawai’i is a perfect location; UH is a leader in ocean science/marine biology, astronomy plus pacific island/Asian studies. Research potential in the local culture plus we are perfectly situated for the Pacific and Asian regions. Expanding movie, film and television production are also areas for growth. Expanding health care facilities, as has occurred in some foreign countries is a must. Renewable energy, with wind, solar, wave and technologies not even thought of as of yet, are further growth opportunities. We need to support small, locally owned businesses.

What is your plan to increase affordable housing in Hawaii, and to help the counties deal with homelessness?

It is estimated that close to 40% of families in Hawai’i are barely able to maintain a moderate standard of living. Thousands are houseless, live in vehicles, have no permanent home or are unsheltered. Yet there are tens of thousands who are doing quite well. A community can be judged on how it treats its most vulnerable members. I am passionate about doing something with affordable accommodations and the homeless. Those people unsheltered have various differences and they are not a homogeneous group. It includes family households, unaccompanied young adults, veterans and the largest percentage are individuals experiencing chronic homelessness. Some live in vehicles, others stay with friends and families when possible. A large percentage have some form of substance abuse or addiction, along with many who need psychiatric assistance. I would also move to eliminating at the state level all types of anti-vagrancy laws, plus the laws against living in a vehicle until we have sufficient housing. Stress the “housing first” concept. Housing is a large portion of most people and family’s expenses. In a recent Civil Beat article, the situation for un-housed, un-sheltered, houseless and individuals living in a vehicle has actually been growing in the last few years. We must reevaluate our zoning and land use regulations while allowing denser development in high-opportunity areas for affordable housing plus what is permitted on plots of land, while taking the environmental impact as the first consideration. Without paving over paradise, and taking more prime agricultural land for development, there are items which could be done to provide more affordable housing, both for purchase and rent for our residents. I support additional funding and matching legislation throughout the State, since permitting, planning and land use rules are mostly a county responsibility. An example of positive legislation is HB2345, which purpose is to facilitate and establish funding for the development of affordable housing for teachers on a certain parcel of land. Something similar could be done throughout the State and include healthcare workers and other civil servants. We must recoup money, perhaps in the form of taxes and fees, from those coming to Hawai’i, purchasing houses for cash and thus raising the price for everyone. We must lower taxes for low-income people and raise taxes on those who can afford to pay higher taxes. We must encourage counties to adjust zoning rules plus raise property taxes on second, third, fourth and more homes, plus include a few for non-residential home ownership plus establishing multi-tiered levels of property taxation. We can offer incentives to each County to fast-track affordable developments which offer ALICE individuals and families special options to buy and rent these units. Affordable housing must remain so in perpetuity. We could retrofit abandoned and unused buildings, plus incorporate various building materials. Essential items for one’s household have increased, yet wages have not kept up. We are now in a situation of inflation, with wages slowly going up yet not keeping pace. I have been an advocate for creating a “living wage” for many years. Ironically this legislative session, the minimum wage was raised, where it will reach $18/hour by 2028, yet $18/hour is currently not satisfactory for Maui County and all of Hawai’i. The legislation which was recently passed does not reach that threshold for six more years. However, at the same time we have a significant cross section of the population who have an extraordinarily higher standard of living. Despite steady economic improvements according to traditional measures, in Hawai’i there has been little improvement and general living standards have been stagnant for the last few years. I recently worked for the Census Bureau, and it was found that in Maui County, which has the highest percentage of empty housing units [condominiums/apartments/houses] in the State, not including hotel rooms or timeshares, which is approximately one in five houses. A unit is considered vacant as ones owned by individuals who do not live in the house/condo/apartment, or ones not leased long-term by Maui County residents. An additional progressive idea is that of investigating the feasibility of a Universal Basic Income for the residents of Hawai’i Nei. Creative/innovated thinking is required.

What would you propose to help protect Hawaii residents’ health during the continuing COVID-19 pandemic?

The State needs to continue to offer scientifically based accurate health guidance while pursuing a more holistic view. Support our understaffed and overworked healthcare workforce, including nurses, doctors, healthcare providers and all medical staff. Focus on the reduction of spread utilizing prevention as the main focus. Accept where some within the community are. Promote buy-in rather than intimidation while respecting their views if and where possible.

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?

I would support demanding that our State tax system is revamped to collect revenue and eliminate corporate tax right-offs from multi-national and former agricultural, now development companies, wealthier individuals, especially those who own more than one home and/or property in Hawai’i, while reducing taxes for middle and low income individuals and families. Since our funding for our public schools comes from the State general fund and not property taxes as is true in most other jurisdictions in the country, this would take some adjustment. Counties could be encouraged to allocate some portion/percentage of collected property taxes, especially from high-end plus non-Hawai’i residents, toward education. Maui County has introduced a tiered property tax system, which could be expanded, something that I have been advocating and am a proponent of for years. Immediately demand we eliminate excise taxes on food and medicine. We must develop additional dedicated funding sources for public education while increasing access to healthcare. Additionally, a major investment in affordable housing, assisting our un-sheltered residents plus immediately move toward food independence and security by supporting local agriculture. I would lower funding and support of traditional tourism and encouraging alternative and holistic visitor experiences. Support local businesses through tax adjustments and other incentives. Consider free community college tuition plus eliminating public transportation fees, which will encourage ridership and help our environment. Do all we can physically to deal with climate change; we can afford not to. Assist our senior residents and Kupuna with healthcare, housing and transportation. Expand our use of solar, wind and all forms of renewable energy.

What, if anything, should state government do in response to the decision by the U.S. Supreme Court to overturn Roe vs Wade?

First and foremost is to incorporate a woman’s total self control over her body in the State of Hawai’i Constitution. A fringe religious belief is inappropriate in deciding what a human being, in this case a woman, does relating to her access to contraception, healthcare and all of her medical needs. Women are not baby machines to be forced to procreate for the State and this must be clearly stated in our Constitution! How reprehensible that the government demands that a woman, and in some cases a minor, is forced to carry a fetus to term. There shall be no limitation as to what a woman decides to do in consultation with her medical providers. The State must recognize that personal choice is a decision for a woman! Currently women in Hawai’i do not have equal access to all medical procedures. There shall be NO restriction whatever; it is not a matter of “choice”; it is a human right!

What should state government do to support and improve public education in Hawaii?

Too much money is being siphoned off to by the huge State DOE bureaucracy, administrators and personnel not in the classroom. This is partially due to the single educational structure in Hawai’i, the only State with such an antiquated system. Restructure the DOE by diversifying and decentralizing educational power so that each County has more independence for creative, innovative programs. One size does not fit for all. Let us establish more regional and local control. Currently the majority of the money comes from the general fund, which is primarily State tax revenues. It appears the monies, a little over $2.1 billion, has been relatively the same for the last few years, going up slightly. State bonds are the major source for CIP projects. We must develop additional dedicated funding sources for public education. Creative innovations are forced to meander through the bloated bureaucracy, which naturally discourages fresh input from numerous sources. More money needs to go toward teachers and the physical plants and less to those not in the classrooms and superfluous. This is not to say that there is no need for administrators and professional support staff; it is the balance which is fatally flawed. We must be especially cognizant of the financial disadvantage some of our students have and provide programs and strategies which address their particular needs. Each and every student needs to be treated in a holistic manner, so as to provide for them the best chance of success. Teachers teach differently as do students learn differently. Where possible, this must be taken into account and the best environment and support services have to be provided. Restoring universal preschool is overdue. We cannot solely raise taxes or charge visitors to pay for the DOE. We must restructure our tax system, minimizing waste. Ensure that our public educational departments receive adequate resources for both teachers and students. Increase funding for the physical plants, so girls have sports and other services equal to the boys. Having taught in classrooms too hot for anyone, especially young individuals, is unacceptable! The turnover in educators, teachers and staff is unacceptable; as a result of low pay and poor working conditions, providing more funding so teacher salaries and compensation reflects the State’s high cost of living. Financial support and tax relief where appropriate, which would include student loans and various educational costs. Create programs so that qualified educators can rent and/or purchase affordable housing. Childcare plus paid family leave are other critical legislative needs. Establish additional funding and perhaps an audit so the citizens of Hawai’i know that their money is going to progressive, positive programs and not being wasted. Another source would be educational block grants which have various criteria as to how they may be spent. Bonds are always a method for raising necessary monies. Municipal bonds are probably the most practical and utilized method for raising necessary monies, especially for school construction. The added benefit is that for the investor, they are tax exempt. We need to develop creative methods and mechanisms to raise the necessary capital to construct the needed schools for our system. We also need to support and take advantage of federal programs to reduce school bond interest rates. There are also local school construction bonds. Local School Construction Bonds are typically used to finance a building or capital project. We could use them to construct new facilities or renovate existing buildings. The laws governing them, and the amounts of the bond vary throughout the country. Qualified Zone Academy Bonds (QZABs) can also be used for renovating school buildings. They are administered by the Internal Revenue Service as a provision of the tax code. These bonds provide interest savings for financing school renovations and repairs but cannot be used for new construction. It is criminal and malfeasance on the part of the DOE to be so far behind in maintenance, new construction plus providing air-conditioned schools. It is incumbent upon our legislature and the Department to be creative and research what may have been tried in other jurisdictions. An important possibility would be to consider alternative and new revenue streams. When taking this into consideration, we must demand that the funding is adequate. State legislation may have to be considered. Another area is the idea of privately owned, and/or public/private partnerships in the construction of new school facilities, which can provide a combination of financing, ownership and use arrangements to facilitate construction. If it is true, as most people say, that public education is a priority, then it is necessary to look at as many alternatives as possible. A variety of funding strategies for building options must be included. There are numerous Federal monies; programs such as funds for modernization, emergency repairs, new construction and maintenance. Other programs include the Credit Enhancement for Charter School Facilities Program and the State Charter School Incentive Grants Program. The Department of Agriculture has dedicated funds for kitchen improvement. through the Equipment Assistance Grants for School Food Authorities. The Department of the Interior has programs, as does the Department of Defense. The Department of Health and Human Services’ Head Start program includes grants that can be used for purchasing, renovating and constructing facilities. The Energy Department’s State Energy Program grants provides funds through competitive formula grants.FEMA provides monies for public school facilities for areas where floods and natural disasters have occurred. The Department of Agriculture has a small Rural Community Facilities Program to help rural communities improve their facilities.

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

Campaign finance reform and public financing of elections are possibly the most potent changes which could bring about a more equal playing field. It is horrendous the huge amount of money necessary to stand for elective office, and the impact it has after one is elected. The influence of money in politics is out of control. Term limits are long overdue, so we have citizen servants and not career legislators. The Legislature exempts itself from the same Sunshine Laws which County governments and others are required to follow. I would push for the recording of all votes, and the accessibility of such votes, public televising of hearings as much as possible plus continue accepting testimony via closed circuit and remotely from neighbor islands. Committee chairs have too much and excessive power. One urgent change is where they “gut and replace” the contents of legislation at the last minute to something different than what was contained within the original bill. I would seek out like-minded colleagues and press for these needed changes in the power of lobbyists, and the extravagant fundraising which goes on. I would demand that any funds which are raised through PAC’s, corporations or businesses be made public. Community meetings need to be held more frequently in legislators’ districts, with not only power point presentations, but also sufficient opportunity to ask questions and get honest answers. There must be other rules which are hidden from the public. Accountability is a must and needs to expand.

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

Cooperation is really a necessary part of our human nature. There was a wish to create a community-based management authority including environmentalists, native Hawaiians, regulatory agencies, and to collect rent. The University of Hawai’i currently manages and has been responsible for development on Mauna Kea. In the recent session of the State Legislature, a new entity was created to manage the summit of Mauna Kea. It established a five-year transition period during which a new governing body will co-manage the area with the University. After that, this new authority will be the sole manager. A major challenge with the Thirty Meter Telescope is the manner in which the development of the summit was undertaken with the appearance of disrespect to the native Hawaiian community plus the lack of coordinated planning for the construction. The Thirty Meter Telescope was a top-down decision. Many do not want the TMT to be built on Mauna Kea, as the site is considered sacred land to Native Hawaiians, who want to protect the mountain; it’s Hawaiian, and they feel they should decide what happens to it plus that the summit already houses too many observatories. There are a number of reasons for the opposition, and very simple demands including concerns about environmental damage, concerns about the use of the land by the observatories essentially rent-free, no further development and most importantly, Mauna Kea’s status as a sacred site to the indigenous Hawaiian people. Though many see the TMT as something that will provide an impetus for high tech business on the island, others feel it is not in compliance with the law. It requires projects to pay fair market lease value for the land they use. There’s an exemption in the law for the University of Hawai’i, which manages the telescopes on the mountain. At one time it was believed that only one telescope would be built on Mauna Kea. However, in the first few years, numerous telescopes were built, and trust has been broken. There is a need for cultural sensitivity to special places and the indigenous culture. In the old culture there were ways to get around restrictive rules. The TMT project people have attempted to be culturally respectful. We must find virtuous solutions. The creation of the Thirty Meter Telescope will cultivate research and development and hopefully contribute to newly discovered things or further our knowledge in space. The construction of the TMT on Mauna Kea can benefit the future generations of Hawai‘i, as well as those who are currently in the career of astronomy. There are technical advantages to building the TMT, but this must not be the only consideration. The mentality of science at all costs could erode public support for science. Yet one needs to consider the perspective of the Hawaiians claiming that the land is sacred and should not be disrespected. We need to find balance for astronomers and the Hawaiian’s spiritual connection to Mauna Kea. The need for cultural sensitivity to special places and the Hawaiian culture is of paramount importance. Thus, at this moment and time, I do not support the construction of the TMT. Whether this can be resolved or not, it is necessary for all of the various interested parties come together to considered if there is a way for the Telescope to be constructed in accordance with the cultural, spiritual, religious and environment

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

There are numerous issues I have been speaking about for years and now many are saying the same and/or similar things. Being a visionary and having a future focus is important and not to give up; to be tenacious on those changes which are necessary for society. I have testified at numerous committees, hearings, community events. I had an award winning live call-in TV talk show for nine years, where numerous issues were discussed. I am not encumbered to either corporate controlled major political party. I am an educated, informed and independent community and environmental activist, who sees non-violence, social justice and local control as urgent. I have been a future thinker; with many items I have advocated for and championed are now either law or the language of the majority of candidates and residents of both Maui and Hawai’i. Examples would include advocating for a public transportation bus system when in one race, the two other candidates, each representing the two “major” political parties, when our local elections were partisan, were both against it! Thirty years ago, using the term “houseless” rather than “homeless”; when the local daily newspaper would change the word when printing various articles of mine. Speaking about the importance and fragility of our environment for over thirty years; now most everyone speaks about “climate change”, using technology for public testimony; now, as a result of the pandemic, everyone supports expanding its use. Visionaries are necessary for progressive change to occur. When I first stood for office thirty years ago, “affordable housing” and “homeless” were two of the major issues of the day. Sadly, we are at the same place today. Advocating structural changes, including campaign finance reform, public financing of elections, and Ranked Choice/Instant runoff voting. Taxpayer reform, to recoup millions of dollars of multi-national and former agricultural now development corporations currently evading their fair share of taxes. Then redirecting this largess to social service and educational departments, which would include truly assisting the thousands of house-less and non-sheltered residents. I have testified for years to institute a “tiered” property tax structure, which the Maui County Council finally adopted a few years ago. I have supported additional funding for public school’s physical plants, so girls have sports and other services equal to the boys. Having taught in classrooms too hot for anyone, especially young individuals, is unacceptable, and I also spoke about this, the turnover of educators, teachers and staff is unacceptable, as a result of low pay and poor working conditions in the public schools. Plus, I urged recognition that Substitute teachers are not “sub” but many are highly educated and qualified individuals and to include them in HSTA or a sister union! I am fortunate to have a small home on 2 ½ acres of mostly tree covered jungle in Huelo, currently living with my dog Radar, who I got from the Maui Humane Society four months before the lock down. I also have my cats Tiger, Lehua and Baby, plus a score of free-range chickens. I grew up with dogs, all four over the years were Beagles, and Radar is my fourth dog on Maui; Kiko, Brandi and Makai’a, after my first dog, Jubal, who I got on in college. I played trumpet in high school and college and use to play a lot of tennis. I have traveled around the world, have a universal perspective, plus years of university and additional trainings and academic credentials. I grew up with a father who was a triple amputee from WWII, which taught me a lot about perseverance, along with my mother who met and married him after his injuries.


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