Friday, Sept. 30, 2022|
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The state of Hawaii will select a new governor on Nov. 8, replacing David Ige, who has been serving in the role since 2014.
On Wednesday, three Democratic candidates – Josh Green, Kai Kahele and Vicky Cayetano – appeared in a livestream interview with the Honolulu Star-Advertiser ahead of the primary election on Aug. 13. The candidates discussed their policy positions on key issues including COVID-19, affordable housing, Maunakea, tourism and the legalization of marijuana.
During the interview, there were heated disagreements between current Lt. Gov. Green and U.S. Rep. Kahele regarding their stances on Maunakea, campaign financing and the handling of the Red Hill fuel leak. Cayetano prioritized her ethics plan, advocating for term limits for lawmakers, campaign finance caps and more affordable housing.
Josh Green has been serving as lieutenant governor since 2018, becoming the COVID-19 liaison and leading the Safe Travels program and vaccine rollout. Green first came to Hawaii 20 years ago from Pittsburgh, serving as an emergency room doctor in Ka‘u, a position he still maintains on weekends. During his time as lieutenant governor, Green navigated the challenges of the Red Hill fuel leak and ran on a platform of addressing chronic homelessness, citing his professional experience related to addiction and mental health.
Kai Kahele of Hilo entered the race late, announcing his candidacy in May. He previously served in the Hawaii Senate from 2016 to 2020 and succeeded Tulsi Gabbard in 2021 as a member of the U.S. House of Representatives for Hawaii’s 2nd Congressional District. Kahele is also a commercial pilot for Hawaiian Airlines and a lieutenant colonel in the Hawaii National Guard.
Vicky Cayetano is known for having built the state’s largest laundry company, United Laundry Services, where she served as president and CEO. Born in the Philippines, she came to Hawaii in 1982 and was the first lady alongside her husband, Gov. Ben Cayetano, from 1997 until 2002.
The three candidates agreed creating and providing affordable housing would stabilize the local workforce and support opportunities for Hawaii’s younger generations.
Green called for the development of 50,000 housing units on state land and collaborations with the Department of Hawaiian Home Lands, where he said $600 million is available to jumpstart the development of affordable housing.
“There are 27,000 Hawaiian families that would benefit from this if we get our act straight on DHHL,” said Green, opting for stronger regulations on illegal Airbnbs.
Cayetano advocated for working with the Legislature to declare a state of emergency to fast-track the development process.
“Our system is broken,” she said. “At the heart of it is a dysfunctional process that is layered with bureaucracy that takes an eternity for any affordable housing to even be built.”
Her affordable housing plan consists of three components: rent to own, designated workforce housing, and creating affordable rentals.
Kahele said he would issue a 100-day innovation challenge, where proposals and concepts from nonprofits, state, city and county governments, residents and private partners would work together on ways to tackle the crisis. He spoke against a proposed stadium in Halawa on Oahu, advocating instead for 10,000 homes to be built on the site.
“The next generation is looking to leave Hawaii because they’ve lost hope,” he said, adding housing is a requirement for maintaining a resilient workforce across all sectors.
All three candidates favored diversifying the economy to shed reliance on tourism, with both Green and Cayetano addressing opportunities related to medical tourism, or individuals who travel to receive specific medical treatments.
The ideal number of tourists per year was addressed by the candidates, with Kahele strongly opposing the 10 million per year prepandemic levels, feeling that amount of tourism stressed environmental resources for residents.
“We have to look at diversifying our economy,” he said. “Otherwise, we’re going to continue to depend on tourism for generations to come, and that is something that is unsustainable for the state.”
Green advocated for fewer tourists willing to pay more as a means of sustaining the state’s economy, something he believes is achievable by prioritizing culture and charging visitors a climate impact fee of $50 for each visitor over the age of 12.
“That could bring as much as $500 to $600 million dollars into our state each year,” he said, adding funds could be invested to address climate change and to create environmentally conscious housing. “That will decrease the number of tourists that come in from the low end, so we’ll have fewer tourists overall with this additional revenue.”
Cayetano advocated for working with the Hawaii Tourism Authority and reducing the state’s overall dependency on tourism.
“In order to do that, we need a better business climate,” she said. “One that will work with businesses, not in an adversarial situation.”
COVID-19: mask mandates in schools
Both Kahele and Green favored ending mask mandates in public schools, while Cayetano favored exploring other possibilities to keep students and staff safe.
“I can’t believe that, with technology we have today, that we can’t find other ways to be able to allow our children to attend school, not have to wear the masks, and still be able to keep them and the teachers safe,” she said.
Kahele placed the responsibility on parents and students.
“Working together with the Board of Education and the state superintendent, as your governor, I would put that to an end immediately,” he said. “That’s something that the individual should have a choice to make, and a parent should have a choice to make.”
Green reflected a similar viewpoint, stating: “I do not support any further mask mandates for children,” citing low rates of hospitalization among the age group. “Their development and their needs outweighs the mask wearing in schools.”
Both Green and Kahele spoke out against vaccine mandates for state employees, while Cayetano favored addressing the mandates on the basis of profession.
“I think that vaccine mandates make sense in certain professions,” she said, mentioning hospitals and other medical professionals.
Kahele took a stronger stance, stating: “No, I do not think we should have vaccine mandates in our workforce,” adding it should be a choice while simultaneously encouraging everyone to get vaccinated.
Green clarified that he never supported vaccine mandates as lieutenant governor and, instead, said he supported vaccinations through science and advocacy.
“I went and vaccinated people myself to help them get safe, to lead by example, and to set the policy,” said Green. “But it wasn’t through a vaccine mandate, which I knew would alienate other people.”
Maunakea and TMT
The issue of Maunakea and the Thirty Meter Telescope resulted in the strongest divide among the candidates. Cayetano spoke in favor of building the TMT and working with the opposition as much as possible, Kahele opposed the proposed telescope as it currently stands, and Green avoided taking a position altogether.
“A simple yes or no answer is not adequate for complex problems,” said Green, citing issues resulting from a lack of respect and trust throughout the development and approval process, includingresources originally promised.
“I support astronomy on Mauna Kea,” said Kahele. “But I cannot and will not support the Thirty Meter Telescope as it is currently proposed.”
Kahele promised instead to navigate and support the underlying native Hawaiian issues that exist involving both TMT and other issues throughout the state.
“I do believe in Maunakea and the Thirty Meter Telescope and will do everything to ensure that we can work together to make sure that the Thirty Meter Telescope is completed,” said Cayetano, adding: “I believe that we do need to recognize the anger and frustrations that have been raised by the Native Hawaiian community.”
Both Kahele and Green favored the legalization of recreational marijuana in Hawaii, while Cayetano favored legalizing medicinal use while keeping recreational use illegal.
Green added revenue received from legalizing marijuana could be put toward supporting law enforcement, drug treatment and behavioral health challenges throughout the state.
lieutenant governor running mate
Cayetano favored allowing governors the option to select their own running mates for the lieutenant governor position, while Green and Kahele spoke against the concept, favoring instead the public’s ability to provide diversity and differing opinions for the Cabinet. Kahele added competition between candidates would result in the best candidate for the position.
Restoring public trust in state
Both Green and Cayetano favored term limits for those elected to the Legislature, along with the banning of fundraising for lawmakers currently deciding on key bills, as ways to restore the public’s trust in government officials.
Cayetano mentioned concepts from her ethics plan, which includes capping the total amount of fundraising for individuals during campaigns.
“I want to level the playing field and encourage people who really want to serve the public,” she said. “We need to find ways to do this. Campaign finance reform and ethics go hand-in-hand.”
Kahele prioritized campaign financing and election reform policies, stating he would include both as part of his governor’s package for the 2023 Legislature if elected.
Kahele questioned Green about campaign contributions in relation to Green’s handling of the Red Hill fuel leak, as well as his outside sources of funding from mainland corporations. Green, in turn, addressed Kahele’s previous acceptance of donations from Dennis Mitsunaga, who is currently indicted for bribing state legislators.
“I hope that going forward, instead of making accusations against one another, we’ll actually talk about the issues,” Green said.
Kahele refuted Green’s claims, citing his current campaign as a pivot from his past, noting he is not accepting any donations above $100 from any individual and is running on the tagline: “Hawaii is not for sale.”
Handling of COVID-19
Cayetano questioned Green’s leadership related to his handling of COVID-19, citing what she referred to as his “confusing messaging” throughout the pandemic, which she believes resulted in Green’s removal from the governor’s COVID-19 committee in March 2020. She advocated for unification between different state departments.
“By taking strong leadership, we were able to have the lowest rate of COVID in the country and the lowest mortality rate,” Green responded, also citing the state’s high vaccination rates.
Green confronted Cayetano about her year serving as chair of the Chamber of Commerce Hawaii, claiming she fought against living wages and paid family leave, which Cayetano denied, calling it “misinformation.”
“What we did was look at, and successfully lobby for, an adjustment in the unemployment insurance,” Cayetano responded, stating the action helped a variety of local small businesses.
Additional debates and town halls will take place with the candidates leading up to the primary election on Aug. 13.
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