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Tuesday, April 23, 2024 75° Today's Paper


2022 Election: Michelle Kwock

Michelle Kwock
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Name on ballot:

Michelle Kwock

Running for:

State Senate – District 13

Political party:


Campaign website:


Current occupation:




Previous job history:

City Planner, Environmental Scientist, Budget Analyst (State Senate), Library Manager

Previous elected office, if any:


Please describe your qualifications to represent the people of Hawaii.

Born and raised in Hawaii, I have experience working in both public (at state and local levels) and private (environmental consulting) sectors. Besides paid work, I also volunteered with various nonprofits such as Hawaii Bicycling League, American Red Cross, Aloha United Way, AARP, and Habitat for Humanity to better the lives of vulnerable populations (children, elderly, and houseless). July was Bike Month in Hawaii and I am happy to be part of the team distributing free helmets to anyone stopping by at SALT at Kaka’ako.

With a public health background, I am eager to promote age-friendly and healthy environments, reduce waste, and support those of low income and middle class. Some of my past projects include interviewing the public on their usage of parks for improvement purposes, collecting air/water/soil samples to test for contaminants, and tabling at events to educate the public on environment and health topics. I believe it is important for young people to gain experience outside the classroom, learn what is working or not, communicate ideas clearly, and be a part of decision making.

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

Ensuring both kupuna and keiki who require extra care receive the help they need without feeling burdensome on their families and friends remains a pressing issue. According to DBEDT, the age 65 and over population is projected to increase to 22.6% of total population by 2030, forcing many working individuals to give up employment in exchange for their new role as caregivers. While the state launched the Kūpuna Caregivers Program a few years back in support of our caregivers, its requirement of maintaining employment of 30 hours per week disqualifies many who may not be able to leave the sides of their elderly parents or family members and who may not be in a profession where working remotely is an option. If the employment requirement may be done away for those who are unable to work remotely, the Kūpuna Caregivers Program will likely be able to offer assistance to those who do need the extra help. 

Caring for our keiki means requiring employers to provide or subsidize childcare for age five and under as well as guarantee acceptance into state funded pre-kindergarten programs. It would be a huge help to working parents who do not have dependable relatives and grandparents nearby to assist. Similar to the SNAP program, the government could separately offer prepaid cards for all eligible keiki and kupuna caregivers to purchase groceries and healthy items as appreciation for their hard work.

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?

Ideas that come to mind include getting rid of paying general excise taxes on medical services and healthy foods like vegetables and fruits, increasing telework opportunities to save on commuting costs, and subsidizing both keiki and kupuna care. The state could consider broadening the Double Up Food Bucks program so those of middle income are also eligible to purchase local produce at a 50% discount.

As the economy slowly recovers, the unemployed will need additional training to land a job that pays a livable wage. Currently, the Hana Career Pathways program at the community colleges is a good start to train people in high demand areas and guarantee interviews with local employers. In the long run, high school and college curriculum gets revamp to align with the job market so that every graduate is employable.

We also need to help those with disadvantages like new immigrants with language barriers, former inmates, and disabled individuals find suitable jobs or start their own business. Waioli Kitchen & Bake Shop is a shining example in which employees are those recovering from drug and alcohol are given a second chance of becoming productive citizens in society.

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?

No. While I understand a lot of people depend on their polluting vehicle for commute on a daily basis, the cost of gasoline prices may lead many to switch their current mode of transport to a greener form such as electric bicycles and electric mopeds. In fact, the state has a new rebate program by offering an incentive of $500 or 20% off the cost of these electric options. If elected, I will expand the program so that every resident is entitle to one rebate. If bike storage is an issue, residents will have the option to rent from Biki once electric bicycles are added to its fleet. Due to expensive gasoline prices, now is the perfect time to ditch the vehicle and try bicycling to lower one’s carbon footprint and save money too.

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

I am opposed because tourism remains a major sector in Hawaii’s economy. However, let’s emphasize ecotoursim by educating visitors about our native species at our parks and beaches, promoting bird watching throughout the islands, and offering cultural classes like hula and lei-making. Visitors are encouraged to use bike-share and purchase locally made products such as those featured at the Made in Hawaii Festival. When visitors have a great experience in Hawaii, they might also want to give back by participating in community service. Certainly, we need extra hands to clean up the environment.

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

Besides emphasizing ecotourism, the state could support the younger generation to become entrepreneurs and assist with marketing efforts. How about an online booklet listing local vendors and giving people a small discount after spending a certain amount at each vendor? If people find this idea appealing, let’s continue to encourage online influencers to showcase their findings on social media.

As the economy shifts to working from home, the construction industry will bloom by repurposing abandoned office and retail buildings into workforce housing and coworking spaces. In the process, each building is required to become LEED certified which simultaneously helps Hawaii achieve its 100% renewable energy goal by 2045. Meanwhile, electric vehicle charging stations are added for the convenience of owning electric cars and bicycles.

Finally, the state needs a beautification program by hiring additional workers to clean up graffiti impacting local businesses, cut weeds blocking one’s view of the road, and pick up litter like cigarette butts and plastic wrappers off the ground. When the environment is pristine again, we might attract movers and shakers to relocate or return to invest here for a better Hawaii.

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

I support increasing taxes on high earners and non-Hawaii residents who own a vacation home in Hawaii, then using the funds to assist first time homeowners. Meanwhile, renters will continue to receive financial assistance if they meet income eligibility. After abandoned buildings are repurposed into affordable workforce housing, Hawaii may be able to retain those belonging in the middle class. Another solution we could expand on is increasing accessory dwelling units or ADU on single-family lots instead of developing into rural areas. ADU is especially beneficial to multigenerational households as members could stay together on the same lot but under a different roof with a space to call one’s own.

To address homelessness, the state needs to accelerate housing projects similar to the development of Kahauiki Village and Kamaoku Kauhale until every houseless individual is off the streets and into shelter. Once sheltered, sustainable resources should be made available by connecting them to jobs and additional training as well as access to medical care, transportation, and internet. Additional funding is also provided to the Crisis, Outreach, Response and Engagement (CORE) program to cover all the counties besides Oahu and ensure government is proactive about tackling and preventing homelessness.

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

I would encourage employers to allow employees to work remotely if doing so does not impact business. Meanwhile, government improve public services from converting remaining paper applications to online forms which will contribute to the convenience of both applicants and the reviewers. Not only saving the applicant commute time, online submissions minimize the need for in-person interaction and decrease the workload of reviewers. Typically, any paper form submitted consists of printing multiple copies for various reviewers and scanning the original for document filing.

During the COVID-19 pandemic, I was involved with tracking and distributing test kits to various nonprofit organizations, homeless shelters, and the Federally Qualified Health Centers. I propose that the state continue to purchase test kits and distribute to vulnerable populations at no cost for early detection of COVID-19 and follow up with those eligible for therapeutics. Although Covid restrictions no longer applied, it is important to remind the public via printed signs and social media to avoid crowded places, wear masks, and stay home when feeling sick.

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 priorities include subsidizing both the Kupuna Caregivers Program and childcare, adding protected bike lanes and storage, broadening the Double Up Food Bucks Program, improving public services online, and implementing statewide beautification projects. These beautification projects include hiring workers to clean up graffiti impacting local businesses, cut weeds blocking one’s view of the road, and pick up litter like cigarette butts and plastic wrappers off the ground. Overall, I strongly believe funds should go towards addressing the most pressing issues identified to improve quality of life for residents.

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

Hawaii would continue to support women who need abortions by ensuring access to abortion services in rural communities and providing free transportation to clinics. In addition, funds are set aside for abortion service providers to prevent uninsured women from going into debt. Women from out of state are also welcomed to seek abortion services in Hawaii. Despite the latest decision, women deserve to choose whether to keep their unborn child and the government should not interfere on the matter.

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

First, we need to pay every teacher a competitive salary and schedule sufficient time during the day to plan lessons and attend training sessions. In schools, funds are used to ensure textbooks are up to date with one set reserve for classroom use while each student is able to bring their own copy home. Meanwhile, disadvantaged students are offered free tutoring after school.

We need to provide funds for school libraries to increase their materials as well as support both extracurricular activities and field trip opportunities. Nurturing a love for reading is important by starting early. In order to compete against screen time, an incentive system is set up to reward students with points after finishing a book and points are then redeemed for school supplies and other prizes.

Ideally, each student is involved with at least one extracurricular where one feels belonging to a community such as caring for the vegetable garden onsite or writing for the student newspaper. Both educational and recreational field trips should be incorporated into the curriculum for all grade levels, allowing students to explore different interests and careers. The private sector is encourage to build connection with schools and hire students as interns.

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

The Legislature has a website at capitol.hawaii.gov to inform the public but not everyone uses the internet to obtain information. Some legislators send updates via email and mail though the public may be too busy to read up on bills that affect their livelihoods. Informed individuals cannot commit to attending hearings and drafting testimonies online. Instead, legislators should diversify communication platforms and methods targeting the public of all ages. This include using social media such as Instagram and Twitter for the younger generation and hosting in-person socially distanced events at community parks and recreation centers for the older generation. Legislators are receptive to being interviewed by the media on any issue. Anyone with technology and transportation barriers are welcome to write letters and call with their concerns and suggestions.

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

I support the construction of TMT because building it will not only demonstrate Hawaii’s commitment to discovery of scientific knowledge beyond planet earth, but its presence will also contribute to diversifying the economy in terms of perpetuating the science and technology sector and bolstering an interest in STEM careers. In the long run, this project might help slow the exodus of residents when STEM growth occurs and occupies a bigger part of the economy. Hawaii is extremely lucky that Mauna Kea is an ideal site for TMT and the government needs to ensure this project becomes a reality.

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

I attended public school from kindergarten to high school and am passionate about improving the quality of education for all students, starting with pre-kindergarten. Outside of work, you’ll likely find me riding bicycles and reading nonfiction books. As current president of the City and County of Honolulu Toastmasters, I wish to encourage everyone to join one of the Toastmasters clubs in Hawaii to build your communication and leadership skills. Before casting your vote, please take some time to read my written pieces published in Honolulu Civil Beat to learn about some of the issues I care about. Let’s give the younger generation a chance to lead and make Hawaii a better place for everyone.

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