Complete Statewide List of Candidates Endorsed By Pono Hawaii Initiative (PHI)

All General Election ballots have been mailed to all registered voters throughout the State of Hawaii.

Contact your County Elections Division (https://elections.hawaii.gov/resources/county-election-divisions/) if you have not received your ballot!

* For info on the various Charter Amendments statewide please go to https://garyhooser.blog/2020/10/17/charter-amendment-suggestions-kauai-maui-hawaii-and-honolulu-oahu/

Pono Hawaii Initiative – Endorsed Candidates

United States – President and Vice President
Joe Biden and Kamala Harris

United States House of Representatives
Kaiali’i (Kai) Kahele, Congressional District 2

Office of Hawaiian Affairs
Keoni Souza, At-Large Trustee

Lanakila Mangauil, Hawaii Island Trustee

Colette Machado, Molokai and Lanai Trustee

City and County of Honolulu

State House of Representatives
Adrian Tam, House District 22 (Waikiki, Ala Moana, Kakaako)

Trish La Chica, House District 36 (Mililani Mauka, Mililani)

Michael Chapman, House District 45 (Schofield, Mokuleia, Waialua, Kunia, Waipio Acres, Mililani)

Lisa Marten, House District 51 (Kailua, Waimanalo)

Matt LoPresti, House District 41 (Ewa – Beach, Gentry, Villages, Hoakalei, Ocean Pointe)

City and County of Honolulu Council
Esther Kiaʻāina, County Council (District III)

Will Espero, County Council (District IX)

Hawaii County

State House of Representatives
Jeanne Kapela, House District 5 (Naalehu, Ocean View, Captain Cook, Kealakekua Kailua-Kona)

Hawaii County Council
Matt Kaneali’i-Kleinfelder, Hawaii County Council (Puna)

Heather Kimball, Hawaii County Council (Hilo)

Maui County

State House of Representatives
Tina Wildberger, House District 11 (Kihei, Wailea, Makena)

Maui County Council
Keani Rawlins-Fernandez, Maui Council (Moloka’i)

Gabe Johnson, Maui Council (Lana’i)

Kelly King, Maui County (South Maui)

Shane Sinenci, Maui Council (East Maui)

Tamara Paltin, Maui Council (Lahaina)

*All Maui residents are entitled to vote for all council candidates and are strongly encouraged to do so.

*Maui residents are encouraged to “vote yes” on all Charter amendments. Information on the Charter Amendment pertaining to the County Managing Director provision can be found here: https://mauisgreenfutureproject.org

*Note: Maui voters should be aware of a well-funded campaign to defeat the Charter Amendments and the above candidates being run by pro-development forces operating in the shadows and managed out of Reno Nevada. For more info and background from a previous email I sent out to you read: SuperPac Targets Maui County Council (https://mailchi.mp/garyhooser/superpac-targets-maui-council-for-takeover-2625792)

Kauai County

Kauai County Council
Mason Chock, Kauai Council

Felicia Cowden, Kauai Council

Luke Evslin, Kauai Council

Billy DeCosta, Kauai Council

Mike Dandurand, Kauai Council

*All Kauai residents are entitled to vote for “up to 7 candidates” and are encouraged to vote for “all 5 candidates.”

“Each of the above Hawaii candidates has demonstrated clearly, by their past actions and present involvement in civic and community affairs, that they understand and embrace the principle of “people-driven” political leadership. In addition, each candidate has shown a high level of competence and experience in working with government and political systems. Most importantly, all are committed to pursuing a bold agenda in support of economic, social, and environmental justice.” Pono Hawaii Initiative (PHI)

All endorsed candidates together with links to their websites – can be found here: https://ponohawaiiinitiative.org/endorsements-2020

QUESTIONS? Why some candidates are being endorsed and not others. https://garyhooser.blog/2020/10/02/why-is-one-candidate-endorsed-and-not-another/

Please share this list widely with friends and family, and vote!

Best,

Gary Hooser (http://www.garyhooser.com)
Executive Director
Pono Hawaii Initiative

Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment

Affordable Housing Bill 2774 Is Beyond Counter-Intuitive

Thank you Kauai Councilmember Felicia Cowden for standing strong in opposition to passing out of committee Bill 2774. While the measure contains some improvements to the existing affordable housing ordinance, it also removes critically important affordable housing requirements in the town core of Lihue, Koloa, and Kalaheo and in multifamily housing developed outside of a Visitor Destination Area (VDA). Bill 2774 is clearly not ready for passage into law and should remain in committee for further discussion and refinements.

The logic is beyond counter-intuitive. Proponents are arguing that by removing the existing 30% affordability requirement, the result will be an increased supply of affordable housing. To be clear, affordable housing is by definition priced below market and no developer will voluntarily build, sell or rent any product below the prevailing market price. Contrary to its intent, Bill 2774 ensures that no housing built in these areas in the future will be affordable.

It is positively crazy to think otherwise. Nobody leaves money on the table. Without a government mandate to build below-market affordable units, no affordable units will be built.

So thank you Councilmember Cowden for being willing to speak out on behalf of local residents who struggle daily to pay their rents, and who have mostly given up all hope of ever purchasing a home for their family.

It looks from the outside as if the conversation at the Council is being driven through the eyes of urban planners and real estate developers. Missing from the conversation seems to be the strong voices of informed advocates who know and understand the core issues surrounding our lack of affordable housing. Urban planners want a vibrant town core, a walkable community, and maximum utilization of the infrastructure. I get it. Realtors and developers want to make money and limit government regulation. I get this too.

But what about local residents who work in those “town cores”? What about the secretaries, clerks, restaurant workers, maintenance staff, dental assistants, and super-market checkout folks? Where are they going to live? If Bill 2774 passes in its present form, they certainly won’t be living in a town core devoid of affordable units.

Gutting the affordable housing requirements from the town core areas is not the answer. The town core is where we need more affordable housing not less.

The property owners along Rice Street have already received a huge windfall to their balance sheets from prior Council actions which doubled and possibly quadrupled (utilizing the ARU provision) their properties’ potential development density. Increased density translates to increased property values. Now, these same property owners are poised to receive a second financial windfall through the passage of Bill 2774 and the removal of the affordable housing requirements.

The adage, “follow the money” seems appropriate at the moment. The public deserves to know who is benefiting from the Council’s actions. Any Councilmember can request a list of property owners who have benefited from the increased density approved in the past and who stand poised to benefit again from Bill 2774. Councilmember Kualii and Council Chair Kaneshiro, the co-sponsors of Bill 2774, would be doing a great community service by making this information public, and putting the rumors to rest.

To be clear, I do not believe any member of the Council is acting inappropriately, but I do believe the public deserves to know whose real estate values are going up due to the action by the Council.

My hope is that the Council will rethink the proposal now on the table. Passing Bill 2774 in its present form will no doubt make the urban planners happy. And yes, the owners of real estate in these areas will be smiling all the way to the bank, while the local residents struggling daily to make ends meet will be shortchanged.

Bill 2774 is on the Council agenda for tomorrow, Wednesday, October 21. Kauai residents are encouraged to share their thoughts on the issue via counciltestimony@kauai.gov

Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment

Charter Amendment Suggestions – Kauai, Maui, Hawaii, and Honolulu/Oahu

2020 General Election Charter Amendments

In response to the many requests I have received for thoughts on the various Charter Amendments being proposed by the four Counties:

My apology for the delay in pulling this together, AND regret that the below is a more or less “quick and dirty” response with not a lot of discussion or explanation. But it’s the best I can do for now! I encourage all to read the proposed amendments carefully, discuss them with friends and family if you can – and then VOTE!

But since you have asked, here are my thoughts…

Here is a link where you can read the actual Charter Amendment questions for each County https://elections.hawaii.gov/2020-ballot-questions/

Kauai County – Vote YES on all…but with some hesitation on two of them.

This link will put the proposed Charter Amendments into a better context by showing the exact language changes. https://kauai.gov/Portals/0/Boards_Commissions/Charter/2020%20Kauai%20County%20Ballot%20Questions.pdf?ver=2020-09-25-114750-023

Two of the proposed Kauai Charter Amendments call for reducing the qualifications needed to be the County Water Manager and the County Engineer.

From Civil Beat “• Questions 5 and 6 affect qualifications for manager and chief engineer of the water department and for the county engineer. The county has had trouble attracting and retaining qualified people in those two positions because the current charter requires that they be licensed engineers and county executive salary schedules have proven insufficient in attracting candidates…But Jan TenBruggencate, a Charter Review Commission member, said the commission had concluded that what both positions require more than an engineering background is experience in personnel management and overall public administration.”
https://www.civilbeat.org/2020/09/kauai-voters-will-decide-on-6-changes-to-the-county-charter/

The Garden Island “Charter Amendments Explained” for info:
https://www.thegardenisland.com/?s=Charter

Hawaii County – “YES” on all EXCEPT “NO” on #5

I spoke with many friends and associates in Hawaii County and the answers were consistent. Senator Russell Ruderman summed it up by saying, “I am recommending “YES” on all EXCEPT “NO” on #5 which would change the Council terms from 2 to 4 years.”

League of Women Voters – Voter information on Hawaii County Charter Amendments
https://drive.google.com/file/d/18HhPmr_fD-Rz09E4LJIt_M9p5DeqePPE/view

Charter amendment price tags: Most of the 16 proposed amendments will have minimal financial impact, county says

https://www.civilbeat.org/2020/09/hawaii-island-voters-will-decide-16-county-charter-amendments/

Maui County – Vote YES on all 7

Note: There is a heavily funded effort being spearheaded by an off-shore SuprePac pushing a vote no. I strongly encourage voters to read the amendments and make up their own minds. The groups opposing the amendments are operating entirely in the shadows and have refused to divulge exactly who is behind that effort and who is putting up the money. In addition the vote no campaign is based on total misinformation, fear, rumor and innuendo.

https://www.mauicounty.gov/2395/Proposed-Charter-Amendments-2020

Charter Amendments

Home

City & County of Honolulu – There are 4. My suggestion would be to vote YES on all.

https://www.civilbeat.org/2020/10/campaign-corner-read-up-on-honolulu-charter-questions/

https://www.civilbeat.org/2020/10/ballot-questions-could-bolster-ethics-watchdogs-staffing-and-spending/

Proposed Charter Amendments

Click to access REV-2020_Proposed_Charter_Questions.pdf

Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment

What does Dred Scott have to do with it?

In March 1857, the United States Supreme Court in Dred Scott v. Sandford, 60 U.S. 393 (1856) issued a 7–2 decision against Dred Scott.

Dred Scott was born into slavery in Virginia around 1799. He sued for his freedom after his owners moved from Missouri a “slave state” where slavery was legal, to the “free state” of Illinois, claiming that since slavery was not legal in Illinois, he should thus be made a free man.

In an opinion written by Chief Justice Roger Taney, the Court ruled: “A free negro of the African race, whose ancestors were brought to this country and sold as slaves, is not a “citizen” within the meaning of the Constitution of the United States.” Justia U.S. Law

The Court ruled that since he was not a citizen, he could not benefit from the laws of citizenship and thus could not be a free man.

If anyone is wondering about the power of the United States Supreme Court and what impact it can have, please think about the “Dred Scott Decision” for a while. Discuss Dred Scott with your children, and your co-workers – if you can do so without crying.

While our country has much to be proud of, there is also much that we should be ashamed of. The “Dred Scott Decision” stands as a stark example of how an interpretation of the law by a majority of the nine U.S. Supreme Court Justices, can have far-reaching impacts.

Four years after this decision the Civil War broke out. After the Union’s victory in 1865, the Court’s rulings in Dred Scott were voided by the Thirteenth Amendment to the US Constitution which abolished slavery, and the Fourteenth Amendment, which guaranteed citizenship for “all persons born or naturalized in the United States, and subject to the jurisdiction thereof.” Wikipedia

The right to privacy is not mentioned in the Constitution. The right to healthcare is not discussed in the Constitution either. A woman’s right to make decisions over her own health and reproductive rights are also not expressly protected in the Constitution. The list of “rights” that most of us take for granted is long, and all are subject to interpretation by the nine justices who sit on the U.S. Supreme Court. Only five votes are needed to either expand, maintain, or possibly take away our health care, take away our personal privacy, and take away a woman’s right to choose.

This is why the appointment of a new Justice is so important. This is a lifetime appointment. The current Supreme Court nominee Amy Coney Barrett is 48 years old could potentially shape future court decisions and our lives, for the next 50 years.

We need to get this right. To be clear, this is not about how great a student she was in college, nor about how brilliant she is as a legal scholar. What matters the most are her core values and the lens through which she looks at the world. The interpretation of law is not science or math where the total of a column will always be the same, regardless of who is doing the counting.

Laws are subject to interpretation which is why Justices write OPINIONS. The meaning of the words upon which the law is based are always subject to interpretation. Each of us has a slightly different world view depending on our life experiences. None of us are free of some sort of inherent bias that impacts every decision and every choice we make.

While people loath raising the question of religion when evaluating the suitability of Judge Barrett to an appointment to the U.S. Supreme Court, her personal world view is without question shaped in large part, by her faith. Regardless of which particular religion it may be, a devout follower is hard-pressed to simply shunt aside the teachings of their God. This is not a judgment of the character of Amy Barrett, but merely a statement of fact.

Yes, some in leadership positions who consider themselves devout in their faith, are able to set aside the teachings and values of their faith and make decisions based on the law. But this is certainly a legitimate area of discussion when evaluating her suitability for a lifetime appointment the Supreme Court of the United States of America. Is Amy Coney Barrett able to do this?

For Judge Barrett or her supporters to say that her decisions will be based only upon the law as it’s written, is disingenuous. Each Justice views the same law, looks at the same facts, and hears the same arguments. But yet there are almost always differences of opinion among the Justices who come to different conclusions, ultimately settled via majority rule.

The American people are in the midst of choosing their President. Millions of votes have already been cast. This appointment is being rushed through the process because the President and his enablers in the U.S. Senate do not trust the vote of the American people.

For if they did trust us, they would wait another 18 days to at least hear what we have to say.

*First published in The Garden Island Newspaper, Hooser Policy and Politics – 10/15/20

Posted in Uncategorized | 1 Comment

Open letter to Kamala Harris – pre-debate notes from the heart

To: Kamala Harris
From: Gary Hooser – on behalf of my grandchildren

Dear Kamala,
While we have not met in person, I am compelled to reach out and share with you my thoughts, which I know are held by many others across the nation.

Wednesday is your night Kamala, and we need you.

Yes, we need you to push back hard against the Trump administration, but what we need now more than ever before is a message of hope and inspiration. America is oh so tired of the bickering and divisiveness.

Kamala, we need you. Yes, today, this week, at this particular moment in time, we need you more than ever.

No single person will ever be able to replicate the deeds, nor fill the space left by the passing of Ruth Bader Ginsberg. But when one leader steps away, others must always step forward.

The world both literally and figuratively is burning. The apocalyptic skies of the West Coast only make that sense more real, more threatening. The urgency of the moment is inescapable.

Now is when we need to be reminded that we are all in this together. We need to know also that there is a bold plan and strong leadership ready to take us to the other side.

We are in the midst of a global pandemic, and our economy is on the edge of collapse. Sparked by violent acts of racism, and fueled by the ever-increasing economic disparity between the 1% and everybody else, the world is going to hell in a hand-basket. Live, in real-time.

In this pervasive atmosphere of uncertainty and fear, everyone, it seems, seeks a scapegoat. Good ole boys from the heartland and Deep South blame the urban “elites” from the North and West. Too many “haves” blame the “have nots”; the “have nots” often blame each other. Agent provocateurs on both sides are manipulated by those in power who benefit from the unrest and uncertainty.

We need you now Kamala to bring us together, and inspire the hope of a future where we set aside our differences and start pulling together.

Unfortunately, a great majority of us are fearful of the future and have no confidence in the government responsible for leading us out of the mess they led us into.

We need you to speak to that fear. Remind us again that we have crossed longer bridges, and climbed higher mountains in the past. We have survived two world wars, numerous plagues, and countless dictators that have in the past sought to destroy our very humanity.

We need a plan and a path forward that will rebuild our economy, give us our jobs back, and rejuvenate our planet. Inspire us Kamala. Take the Green New Deal, move the pieces around if you must, shoot it full of steroids, stick it in a box, repackage it, and then launch this forward-thinking bold initiative to restart our economy and protect our planet. Do it please with gusto and the pyrotechnic enthusiasm it deserves. Call it “Help For The Heartland” or “The Biden Plan” or anything that will enhance its curb appeal to middle America.

Joe is doing an excellent job reassuring us that he is a solid, decent, and capable man who can get the ship of state back on track. And boy do we need that. But of course, we need more.

What we need at the moment you can and must give to us, and that is of course hope and inspiration for the bright future we all know deep down is waiting. Each of us knows in our hearts that “this too shall pass” but we need a clear voice and a fierce commitment to lead that comes from our leaders at the top. That leader is you Kamala, today more than ever.

Yes, Joe is our rock, but you Kamala must be our light.

Sincerely,

Gary Hooser (http://www.garyhooser.com)
On behalf of my grandchildren.

Posted in Uncategorized | 7 Comments

Why is one candidate endorsed and not another?

What criteria are used by most organizations to determine endorsements?

Sometimes an endorsement decision is driven by a single individual but most often there is a committee or a board that will make endorsement recommendations.

The endorsement process and rationale vary slightly from organization to organization but essentially it boils down to three main factors.

1) Is the candidate viable? Can they win? Are they running a winning campaign?

*The incumbent normally has an advantage with this criteria, but not always.
*A candidate will often be asked to describe “their path to victory.” How much money have they raised? How many votes do they need to win and what is there plan to get those votes?
*The likelihood of a candidate not succeeding in one particular race may be weighed against the possibility of long-term electoral success and other factors.

2) Does the candidate share the organization’s core values?

*This is determined via “past actions” and/or a questionnaire/interview.
*Has the candidate supported/opposed issues important to the organization?

3) Can the candidate be trusted to “do the right thing” and “vote the right way?

*No candidate will bat 100%, and vote on every issue correctly, every time.
*Every organization will have a bias as to what “voting the right way” means.
*Most candidates will not promise 100% compliance and most endorsing organizations don’t expect the candidate to be a rubber stamp. However, on the “big issues” and when it is “crunch time” on important issues, the organization will expect the candidate to “vote their values” upon which the endorsement is based. “Their values” means the values the candidate professed when seeking the endorsement, and that are aligned with the values of the organization making the endorsement.
*While some will refer to an expectation of “voting the right way” as a “quid pro quo” in actuality the endorsing organization is simply expecting the candidate to be the person they said they were, upon which the endorsement was based.

Why is one candidate endorsed and not another?

*Sometimes, a candidate does not want to be endorsed.
*Some organizations do not endorse in uncontested races (only one candidate running).
*A candidate may not be on the organization’s “radar” and perhaps did not “reach out or seek the endorsement” and thus may not be considered.
*Prior experience with a candidate may make it clear no endorsement is warranted.
*The organization may want to limit endorsements so as to “target” limited resources.
*The candidate may have an obvious bias against the organization’s goals and values.

For both the organization and the candidate, the endorsement process is often a challenge to navigate, especially in a small community. Often the general public observes their candidate/friend as a “good person” but they don’t see or understand the importance of the criteria listed above. But for most organizations, it’s not enough to be just a good guy. The lack of an endorsement does not question what is in a candidate’s heart but does question their viability as a candidate, and whether or not their core values and historical actions align with that of the organization.

Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment

SuperPac targets Maui Council for takeover

Heads Up! This is important – regardless of whether you live on Maui, or not. Please read through until the end, and help if you can.

A new SuperPac based in Reno, Nevada has launched a $120,000 effort to elect a pro-development/pro-corporate slate of new candidates, essentially attempting to take over the Maui County Council. The “Hui O Maui Citizens for Change” SuperPac chairperson and treasurer is Grant David Gillham, who registered the organization using a Reno, Nevada address.https://csc.hawaii.gov/NCFSPublic/ORG_Report.php?OR_ID=20874

You can read the names of those candidates, and see the exact SuperPac budget breakdown by reviewing the recent “Electioneering Report.”https://ags.hawaii.gov/campaign/files/2020/09/Hui-O-Maui-Citizens-for-Change-09-25-20.pdf

Soon Maui will be flooded with social media, radio, newspaper, and direct mail support for this effort to take over the Council.

It is interesting that the largest company being paid by this SuperPac is a public relations communications company by the name of COMMPAC. One of their prominently featured clients is A&B. And for what it’s worth, the president of COMMPAC is married to the president of the Hawaii Chamber of Commerce. And of course, A&B is on the Board of the Chamber…Ahhh what a tangled web indeed…

So, just who is the man leading the charge trying to change the face and actions of the Maui County Council? Who is Grant David Gillham?

According to an article in the Sacramento Bee: “Grant Gillham is a special kind of consultant, the sort chemical company executives would hire to kill legislation that seeks to ban the profitable but toxic substances they produce.

A former Air Force AWACS pilot, Gillham worked for Republicans in the (California) Capitol in the 1990s, left in 1998 to campaign against a tobacco tax initiative, and later represented Lorillard Tobacco in California and other Western states.

Gillham flies below the radar but has relationships with the most effective lobbyists in this town and in virtually every other capital city in the country. If you need bills killed here, or in Carson City, or Helena, or Albany, Gillham is a one-stop hitman…”.

A description from his own speaker bio: “Mr. Gillham provides clients with deliberate advice on political timing, overcoming regulatory hurdles, swaying public perception, and how to develop relationships with the right persons and agencies in government.”

In addition, to “Hui O Maui Citizens for Change” Mr. Gillham was/is also a key player in the Maui Timeshare Ohana Political Action Committee (now One Ohana Political Action Committee). In the past, this committee received $125,000 each from the Ocean Resort Villas PAC and Ocean Resort Villa North PAC, which are affiliated with owners of timeshares at The Westin Ka’anapali Ocean Resort Villas. They also received funding from the American Resort Association and are presently sitting on over half a million dollars of PAC money. This is not the first time big money SuperPacs have attempted similar efforts to influence the Maui Council – Maui News Article. https://www.mauinews.com/news/local-news/2014/10/super-pacs-spend-heavily-to-promote-maui-candidacies/

This all begs the real question:
Who exactly does Mr. Gillham work for?
What is their ultimate agenda?
#followthemoney

The candidates being targeted by the pro-development forces on Maui are, of course, the best of the best. They are driven by doing right by the community, first and foremost. Unlike far too many others, they do not live and breathe based on the beck and call of the big corporations.

Why are these exceptional community leaders being targeted? Well for starters, the existing majority on the Maui County Council actually had the audacity to increase taxes on the resort industry. They also have taken strong steps to protect the environment and they insist that affordable housing be truly affordable and developed in a manner that respects the residents and their community.

Further angering the corporate forces who historically have always called the shots, is the fact that the Maui County Council is attempting to elevate the importance of sustainable agriculture, and they are willing to discuss the possibility of limits on the visitor industry.

All are reasons why we need to collectively step up and help these candidates who are in fact willing to do the right thing, for the right reasons, and thus have drawn the ire of big money.

Regardless of where you live, please if you can, offer the champions listed below whatever help you can. Each and every one of them is an exceptional human being who wakes up every morning wanting to do good for their community. They work hard and they are working hard now, but they need our help and support. Whether it be $20, $200, or $2,000 – all are welcome and greatly needed. Ballots will be mailed out very soon, so fundraising help is needed NOW.

Where Maui goes, all Hawaii will follow – of this I am sure.

Please help with an online contribution, today if you can.

Keani Rawlins-Fernandez http://votekeani.com
Maui County Council Vice-Chair, and Chair Economic Development and Budget Committee

Kelly Takaya King https://www.kellykingformaui.com
Maui County Council – Chair of Climate Action and Resilience Committee

Shane Sinenci https://votesinenci.today
Maui County Council – Chair of Environmental, Agricultural, Cultural Preservation Committee

Tamara Paltin http://www.tamarapaltin.com
Maui County Council – Chair of Planning and Sustainable Land Use Committee

Gabriel (Gabe) Johnson https://gabe4council.com
Candidate for Maui County Council
Gabe is solid and his election together with the reelection of the 4 listed above, would provide assurance that the Maui County Council would continue moving forward and implementing public policy that is good for people and the planet.
We really, really need Gabe to win – so help him please if you can.

Last but certainly not least for Maui County residents only:
Please consider voting YES to all 7 proposed charter amendments!

Sincerely,

Gary Hooser – http://www.garyhooser.com
Pono Hawaii Initiative (PHI)

Full Disclosure: Pono Hawaii Initiative has a dog or two or five…in this fight. You can see our complete statewide endorsement list here. https://ponohawaiiinitiative.org/endorsements-2020

Note: If you received this message “forwarded from a friend” please consider subscribing directly at https://garyhooser.com/#four

Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment

County authority and “workarounds”- policy wonk stuff:

So just what can the County Council do anyway? Increasingly, this is the question I am getting from friends and neighbors. Frequently it is preceded by “I know they are responsible for balancing the budget, for setting property tax rates, and that they regulate land use, but what does that mean and what can they actually do?”

These three areas of responsibility (and others) are granted to the County via the State constitution.

The short answer is the County Council can do the basics and live essentially within the status quo, or they can think “outside the box” (but within their constitutionally granted authority) in pursuit of solving the problems and challenges facing our community.

A responsible Council ideally will do a little bit of both.

Balancing the budget means establishing priorities. For example, historically the County has provided far more support for the tourism industry than they have for agriculture. The purchasing choices made by the County also are essentially public policy decisions with significant potential implications.

Regulating land use means the County has the authority to determine just about EVERYTHING when it comes to what specific parcels of land may be used for (hotel, residential, agriculture, commercial, etc). This power includes what exactly may be constructed on the land, where it may be constructed (setbacks etc), and more.

Today and in future columns, I will explore a collection of “out of the box” alternatives to setting public policy utilizing these three areas that the County clearly has the legal authority over. I will start with the power of the County to regulate property taxes.

The primary source of funding for the County comes via the property tax. The Council sets the tax rates, and the overall structure governing the collection of property taxes. With some small exceptions, the State retains all other taxing authority. For example, the County cannot implement an income tax, sales tax, airline tax, car rental tax, or a hotel room tax, etc.

However, there are “workarounds” if the Council, with support of the Mayor, was inclined to expand the scope of their taxing authority.

For example, while the County does not have the authority to implement a “hotel room tax,” the County could significantly increase the property tax on hotels/resorts and achieve a similar outcome. The hotel/resort will pass-on all tax increases to the visitor so the net result would be similar – the arriving tourist is taxed more.

Similarly, the County does not have the legal authority to tax rental cars directly however it does have the authority to tax the land upon which these cars are parked and/or rented out from. An increase in property taxes on these lands would also be passed on to the renters of these cars, thus effectively simulating a tax on rental cars when it is actually a tax on the property upon which the rental cars sit.

Since the County taxes owner-occupied residential property at a preferred rate, it is reasonable to believe that they could tax locally owned businesses also at a lower rate. And since the County also takes into consideration the income of some property owners when calculating the taxes owed, it is also reasonable that the County could do the same with business, commercial and industrial property.

In other words, the County has the legal authority and taxing mechanisms in place to establish a tax structure that benefits small locally owned business while shifting the burden to large off-shore owned corporate enterprises (think Walmart and other large enterprises).

Yes, there are “workarounds”. If done thoughtfully, the County budget could benefit substantially from very targeted tax increases. In addition, such action could create and support other positive societal impacts, like reducing the number of rental cars on the road and supporting locally owned small businesses.

There are many variables used to determine the amount of property taxes ultimately due by a property owner. An owner-occupied home, a market-based residential rental, a residential property used for commercial purposes – all pay a different amount. Resorts, vacation rentals, industrial, and commercial properties also have varying tax rates. Similarly situated agricultural lands, depending on many factors including what they grow or do not grow, will pay different amounts.

Most importantly, the existing County property tax structure utilizes a property’s “use” as a primary factor in determining the appropriate tax rates and classification for individual properties. This element of “use” could be structured in any number of ways to achieve budget objectives, to incentivize or dis-incentivize various “uses” and activities, and to ensure a progressive property tax structure.

Those who live here full time, those who choose to rent their properties at “affordable” rates, and those whose businesses are based here and whose profits remain here – should pay the least. Those who have more should pay more.

While at first glance it may seem that the fundraising capacity and County regulatory authority is limited. Remember: There are always, “workarounds.”

Posted in Uncategorized | 1 Comment

Kauai: Sheltered from the storm

We are in the midst of a global pandemic, and our economy is on the edge of collapse. Sparked by violent acts of racial injustice and fueled by the ever-increasing economic disparity between the 1% and everybody else, people across the United States and around the world are gathering and marching by the tens of thousands.

In a pervasive atmosphere of uncertainty and fear, everyone, it seems, seeks a scapegoat. Here in our United States, good ole boys from the heartland and Deep South blame the urban “elites” from the North and West. Too many “haves” blame the “have nots”; the “have nots” often blame each other. Agent provocateurs on both sides are manipulated by those in power who benefit from the unrest and uncertainty. Those with guns, engorged by testosterone and arrogance, are convinced they stand on, and must defend, the side of justice.

Meanwhile, the media, both mainstream and live-streamed from the streets, focus and thrive on the amped-up, anti-hero wanna-be; the 15 seconds of a fame-seeking bad actor, and other sideshows made for YourTube. Sadly, the outcome is increasingly real violence, real bullets, and real deaths.

The world, as they say, seems to be going to hell in a hand-basket. Live, in real-time.

Unfortunately, a great majority of us have no confidence in the government institutions responsible for leading us out of the mess they led us into.

In Hawaii, we have so far escaped the social unrest and violence that have torn apart communities on the continent. While there is broad-based dissatisfaction with our state government’s management of the COVID-19 crisis, our problems have not been compounded by police shootings, looting, or riots.

We can and we should engage in the greater dialogue, and vote in the coming presidential election. I am hopeful the conclusion of that election will be one that honors our constitution.

For today, and for the foreseeable future, my thoughts are to think global and act local. I hope you will join me.

Mayor Kawakami has done a good job keeping Kauai County safe. While the rest of Hawaii has to a great extent been rife with dissatisfaction over their local government’s management of the COVID threat, most of us here on Kauai give our Mayor high marks for both style and substance. His recent personal and direct involvement in defusing and ultimately ending the standoff between community and cult is another example of his excellent hands-on and relatively low-key style of leadership.

Moving forward, I am hopeful that Mayor Kawakami will remain focused first and foremost on protecting the health of our community. There is no doubt tremendous pressure from the visitor industry and others in the business sector, both large and small, to open up our island to air travel. There is talk of “visitor bubbles”, pre-testing, post-testing, and all manner of possible protocols that might allow visitors to return safely. But at the end of the day, I believe the community response to any such proposal at the moment, would consist of just three words.

Don’t do it.

Our island is now relatively free of COVID-19. While we still wear our masks and keep our distance when in the store or at the beach, we do not want to return to a full lock-down. The economic pain for our community is real, but we do not need to move backward after having come so far.

The ramping up of “contact tracing,” seems to only now be getting up to speed. The number of daily cases on Oahu remains in the triple digits, while Big Island and Maui cases continue to climb.

Kauai is in a good spot, and we should strive to stay there. The state of the science with regards to testing is moving at lightning speed. In another few months the tests will be faster, cheaper, and most importantly, more accurate. It makes sense to sit tight for now and wait.

And while we wait, we patronize our local businesses. We buy from local farmers and local markets. We eat at local restaurants, and we donate if we can to local organizations. We look out for each other, and we help our neighbors. We cut the sarcasm and the constant criticism of each other. If needed, we get off of social media entirely. We show respect to one another, and we live aloha.

Posted in Uncategorized | 1 Comment

What does Donald Trump’s banner have to do with it?

We are living in extraordinary times surrounded on all sides by uncertainty. Fortunately, our home is on the most isolated island of the most isolated island chain in the middle of the Pacific ocean.

In this time of social upheaval, it is good that folks from the outside cannot just jump on a Grey Hound bus and come into our community, as they have streamed into Kenosha, Wisconsin, and Portland, Oregon in recent weeks.

We don’t need or want the hate and divisiveness here. Yes, we have a similar diversity of opinion, and we have similarly strong feelings on similar issues, but so far aloha has prevailed – mostly.

The vandalism of the Trump banner on Kuhio Highway in Kapaa saddens me, and I am hopeful that this negative destructive behavior does not spread further.

You will find no greater opponent to the re-election of Donald Trump, than me. I believe that his re-election would plunge the United States even deeper into the turmoil and darkness which now seems to permeate all corners of the continent. While it seems a cliche, I truly do believe that the election of November 3rd is the most important one of our lifetime.

But we must not allow President Trump nor his supporters, to goad us into negative behavior that accomplishes nothing except to justify their claims against us. As former first lady Michelle Obama has said, “When they go low, we go high.”

It is a slippery slope from the destruction and defacement of a Trump campaign banner, to the vandalism of other candidate banners of those who might support his re-election. Then, it could quickly devolve into a “tit-for-tat”, first among Kauai candidates and supporters, and then among our friends and neighbors who may have differing opinions.

No one should be afraid to put up any candidate’s sign in their yard. We here on Kauai are better than that. We can and must show aloha and respect each other’s political choices. We may not understand how our neighbors could come to the conclusion they come to, but we must respect and honor their choice to think differently.

As someone who has been in the thick of many important and contentious issues over the past 25 years, I have come to conclude that good people can look at the same facts and circumstances, and come to different conclusions.

This does not mean we must accept injustice, racism, the loss of our freedoms, or the poisoning of our environment. To the contrary, we can and we must join with our brothers and sisters across the planet to fight back against these things.

The battle in a civil society however must take place first at the ballot box, then in the halls of government and in the courts. And yes, the battle must sometimes also be taken to the streets in the form of peaceful protests and if necessary civil disobedience.

Stifling the free speech of your neighbor while destroying their property in the dead of the night, is not the answer.

With COVID taking its daily toll, the economy in a free fall, the November elections looming only months away, the ongoing racial injustice caught on video seemingly on a daily basis, and the increasing violence occurring on the streets of cities across the nation – the prospects of a positive path forward seem dimmer each day.

But of course, we must not let these challenges overwhelm us, and we must instead rise to the occasion as a community, regardless of how others act elsewhere.

At my core, I’m an optimist and know that this too shall pass – all of it. The time of COVID will pass and eventually, both our physical health and the health of our economy, will recover and improve. The coming presidential election and the strife and discord that now seems ever-present will also pass.

To be clear, optimism without pragmatism is simply naivety that is sure to result in disappointment. Thus, we cannot stop the work.

Now more than ever, we must pull together. Now more than ever, the importance of accountability, forward-thinking, decisive, and informed leadership at all levels – is critical. We must vote, and we must actively take ownership of our government. We must take civic responsibility seriously.

Now more than ever we need to live with mutual respect, civility, and aloha. For our community to survive and to grow stronger during these extraordinary times, we must remember first and foremost that we are all ohana, and that we are all in this together.

Posted in Uncategorized | 1 Comment