Time sensitive: 5 reforms that will make a difference

On June 29th at 2pm the Hawaiʻi Commission To Improve Standards Of Conduct (CISC) is scheduled to discuss recommendations on campaign finance reform.

Will you join me in sending an email to StandardsofConduct@capitol.hawaii.gov in support of the below 5 recommendations?

If your email does not arrive in time for the 2pm meeting, not to worry – please send it anyway.

Do we need more evidence of the need? I think not. We have elected officials and big-money campaign donors under indictment. We have two state legislators who have pleaded guilty to accepting bribes. We have obscenely high campaign account balances, approaching $ 1 million held by some legislators. And we have as a regular occurrence legislators fundraising directly from special interests poised to benefit from the votes of those same legislators.

My hope is that the CISC will embrace and recommend to the incoming 2023 legislature and to our new governor all 5 of the below reforms:

*The full public funding for all State and County elections in Hawaii.

*Banning the solicitation or acceptance of campaign donations during the legislative session.

*Reducing the cap on campaign donations from from $6,000, $4,000 and $2,000 to $100, $100, and $100. Montana caps their maximum donation for state legislative races at $180 per election.

*Banning contributions from corporations and unions as 21 other states now do.

*Limit candidate campaign war chests. This is done in Alaska where candidates can only carry forward a small portion of their campaign account from one election to the next. This law was upheld by the Alaska Supreme Court which noted that when a candidate who is unopposed raises money and squirrels it away for a future election, they are effectively circumventing donation limits for that future election.

All 5 are important, but the reform that makes all other reforms possible is the public funding of elections. Ban and limit big-money special interests and replace it with public funds to be used to elect public servants beholden only to the public.

The State of Maine has such a program and it has proven to be a huge success.

Essentially, candidates for public office in Maine who wish to participate in the program must gather X number of signatures and $5 donations, which qualifies them then for public funding sufficient to run a credible campaign. The number of signatures and $5 donations is intended to prove the candidate is legitimate and varies depending on the race (gubernatorial, state senate or house, or county/city positions).

According to the National Council of State Legislatures (NCSL): “Today, 14 states provide some form of public financing option for campaigns…The two main types of programs states offer for public financing of elections are the clean elections programs offered in states such as Maine, Arizona, and Connecticut, and programs that provide a candidate with matching funds for each qualifying contribution they receive.

The “clean election states” offer full funding for the campaign, and the matching funds’ programs provide a candidate with a portion of the funds needed to run the campaign.”

Hawaii presently has a program that provides some matching funds. While this program is utilized by some candidates in some races, it is significantly underutilized, underfunded, and in general falls far short of the Maine “Clean Elections” model.

In Maine, over 60% of all legislators and 75% of democratic legislators participate in this program. In the Connecticut 2014 elections, both the Republican and Democratic candidates for governor and all the winning candidates for the six major statewide offices used their public funding system, as did 83.4% of the candidates from both parties who won seats in the state senate and the general assembly.

Arizona’s Clean Election system is largely financed by special surcharges on legal fines or penalties, such as parking tickets, speeding tickets and other civil law violations. Connecticut’s Clean Elections program avoids using taxpayer funding by deriving its money from general state revenues generated by abandoned property and unclaimed financial accounts. Maine funds its program through a general budget appropriation.

There is no question that special interest money has a corrupting influence on politics and government. There is no question that those entities who have the ability to supply the money have a significantly greater amount of influence on government policymakers.

And there is no question that the Commission To Improve Standards Of Conduct (CISC) is in a position to greatly influence the future of democracy in Hawaii. Please email them today and encourage them to do so: StandardsofConduct@capitol.hawaii.gov

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The Impudence Of 4 Hawaiʻi Senators

Did you read the latest on the impudence, arrogance, tone-deafness, or at the minimum very bad judgment surrounding 4 Senators and the notorious Hu Honua project? “Hu Honua Lobbyist Hosted Fundraiser For Senators Who Were Key To Energy Bill

Maybe you also read about the arrest of still yet another high-level elected official and his even higher-powered friends, who allegedly exchanged campaign contributions for political favors? “Keith Kaneshiro Charges Detail Abuse Of Power, Bribery And Conspiracy

The rules of the game must be changed. Hawaiʻi needs a complete overhaul of our campaign finance, ethics, and lobbyist regulations.

If you would like to help fight back and help change those rules, please join online the Our Hawaiʻi volunteer training tomorrow June 23.

Only by changing the rules, and getting rid of the corrupting influence of money in politics, do we have a chance to create the democracy we deserve.

We need publicly funded elections.

Voters deserve the right to vote on the issue of term limits for state legislators.

But seriously folks – do any of you really expect those who are now in power to take any meaningful action to restrict their own power?

Yes, there are a few and I can name them on one hand (well maybe on both hands if I include the House and the Senate and the various County Councils).

But a majority of those now in power will certainly never vote to make it easier for other candidates to run against them. Nor will they pass a bill to give you and me the power to vote for term limits.

We are now at a moment in time when the opportunity for systemic change is knocking. And we must seize that moment.

We have high-quality candidates at all levels – federal, state, and county, who are uniting around a powerful message that service in elective office is not for sale. (see a partial list of who have signed the “Our Hawaii” pledge below).

Gubernatorial candidate Kai Kahele has made campaign finance reform and getting money out of politics his #1 priority. Vicky Cayetano also has stated emphatically her support. Josh Green? Err…not so much.

Read each of their positions on this critically important issue here in Civil Beat “A Year Of Embarrassing Scandal May Help Hawaii Finally Reform Campaign Financing

Read my blog piece: “Why I am supporting Kahele over Green

CD1 Congressional candidate Sergio Alcubilla likewise has made a firm commitment to not accept corporate PAC money and to fight to get money out of politics. From his opponent Ed Case, all we hear are crickets. Read Civil Beat’s “Political Newcomer Sergio Alcubilla Is Seeking To Out US Rep Ed Case

There are many other highly qualified candidates who are likewise committed to getting rid of the pay-to-play curse that has infected our politics, including the below Pono Hawaiʻi Initiative endorsed candidates who have already stepped up and signed the “Our Hawaii” pledge:

Governor – Kaialiʻi Kahele

Congress – Sergio Alcubilla

State Senate – Laura Acasio, Walter Ritte

State House of Representatives – Kim Coco Iwamoto, Amy Perruso, Natalia Hussey-Burdick, Shannon Lopeka Matson, Kathy Feldman, Elle Cochran, and Jeanné Kapela

Honolulu Council – Ikaika Hussey

Kauai Council – Fern Ānuenue Holland

Maui Mayor – Kelly King

Maui Council – Jordan Hocker, Gabe Johnson, Keani Rawlins-Fernandez, Carol Lee Kamekona, Nara Boone, and Robin Knox

Is your favorite candidate on the list? If not, perhaps reach out to ask them why. Please also consider attending the Our Hawaiʻi volunteer training tomorrow June 23 .

The Our Hawaiʻi Pledge states in part:
“Turn down political bribes in any form and reject all campaign contributions more than $100 from corporate PACs and lobbyists, and the executives of luxury and out-of-state developers, major landowners, hotel conglomerates, energy monopolies, and military contractors.”

Read the entire pledge, and learn more about the “Our Hawaiʻi” movement. Watch the short but very compelling video .

We have a political status quo that is both corrupted and corrupting, AND we are at a unique point in time when we can do something about it.

Please – take action as if our local democracy depends on it, because it does.

Review the candidates endorsed by Pono HawaiʻiInitiative (PHI) and help them win. This is the home stretch, ballots will soon be hitting the mail.

We must vote out those in power now who have allowed our local government institutions to sink this low, AND we must support and vote for those incumbents and newcomers who have made a commitment to get money out of politics.

We don’t have a lot of time. Let’s do this. Our children, our grandchildren, and our planet – will thank us for it.


Gary Hooser
Please encourage friends and networks to sign up for my email at https://policy-and-politics.mailchimpsites.com

Pono Hawaiʻi Initiative (PHI) pays for Mail Chimp but these are my words and my words alone. No candidate has given me permission nor approved my words nor is even aware of my words until I utter them on these pages 😉 No one pays me to write this stuff. I am not looking for a job and I have no issues, bills, resolutions, or anything at all pending before any government body that will benefit me. EXCEPT those that impact the future of my grandchildren and our planet.

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Kaua`i County Council: An argument over housing

I have a confession. For the first time in over 4 years, I watched an entire County Council meeting.

I’d be lying if I said that it was anything less than painful. Not boring. It was interesting and even fascinating at times, but tedious, painful to watch, and even more painful to listen to.

God bless them for being willing to serve.

The main issue on the table was Resolution No. 2022-22, proposing a Charter Amendment requiring a minimum of 2% of real property tax revenues to be dedicated every year for affordable housing. If the Resolution is passed by the Council a question will be placed on the ballot stating, “Shall two percent (2%) of real property tax revenues be earmarked for the purpose of affordable housing?”

Kaua`i voters would then decide yes, or no.

Maui voters have approved a similar proposal for 3%, and Honolulu voters will be given the choice in November to increase their existing .5% to 1%.

Kudos to Vice-Chair Mason Chock and Councilmember Luke Evslin for introducing it and persevering in their effort to make affordable housing a top priority for Kauai County.

The measure passed on Wednesday and is now scheduled for a July 20th Public Hearing.

While the vote was unanimous in support the reality is that Council Chair Arryl Kaneshiro and Councilmember Bill DeCosta are adamantly and ardently opposed.

They made clear they don’t like it, but voted yes to allow it to be scheduled for a Public Hearing.

Fortunately, Councilmember KipuKai Kualiʻi was in strong support and repeatedly emphasized the voters of Kaua`i deserved the right to decide for themselves whether affordable housing should receive dedicated funding, or not.

The depth of support for more affordable housing “today” could be felt in the voice and in the heart of Councilmember and former Mayor Bernard Carvalho, who cast a strong yes vote.

Councilmember Felicia Cowden, after an extended and detailed discussion, cast her vote also in support of the Resolution.

Chair Kaneshiro said he believes affordable housing is important, but that lots of County services were important. His preference is to budget “year to year” and he opposes the County making a long-term irrevocable commitment to building more affordable housing.

While his argument may appeal to the budget hawks of the world, what he is saying also is that the voters of Kaua`i County should not be given the opportunity to weigh in on an issue that is fundamental to our collective quality of life.

Councilmember DeCosta also said he believed affordable housing was important. His primary concern seemed to revolve around the risk that affordable housing would fall into the hands of new residents from the mainland. He seemed obsessed with the idea that people from the mainland were squeezing out locals and that the money proposed to be set aside for affordable housing would unduly benefit new residents from California or Idaho (two states he specifically called out).

He continually stated that all you needed was a driver’s license to claim residency, and thus qualify for affordable housing benefits.

DeCosta’s assertions were repeatedly refuted by other Councilmembers and by the head of the County Housing Agency. It was stated over and over again that proving residency was only one factor out of numerous others that a prospective buyer or renter must comply with in order to qualify for an affordable “for purchase” or “for rent” unit.

The truth is that new residents represent an infinitesimal number of the folks who benefit from publicly subsidized affordable housing.

Why do I say observing the Council in action was a “painful” experience? Though the outcome was a positive one, the conversation and debate was tedious, and at times unpleasant to observe.

The meeting briefly fell into personal insult territory when Councilmember DeCosta accused Councilmember Cowden of “playing the victim” (his words). She earlier had made a comment about being an “outlier” after three amendments she had proposed were voted down 6 to 1. To her credit, she did not rise to the bait and respond in kind. The moment though tense for a few seconds, thus passed without escalation.

But please don’t take my word for it. Watch the meeting yourself. Start around the 2.5-hour mark and fast forward through breaks and lunch (and some of the more tedious conversation).

Most importantly, if increasing the supply of truly affordable housing on Kauai is important to you – submit email testimony ASAP to counciltestimony@kauai.gov – Share this request with friends and show up at the public hearing scheduled for July 20 at 8:30am.

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I’m not pulling any punches today. Regardless of where you live in Hawaiʻi, the outcome of these 3 races will affect all of us.

I’m not pulling any punches today. The time is too short and the need is too great – read on, please.

If you live in or around Ala Moana, Kaka’ako, or downtown Honolulu I encourage you to vote for Kim Coco Iwamoto. She is incredibly qualified, community-based, and totally committed to serving in a way that is “pono”. 

Regardless of where you live in Hawaiʻi, the outcome of this race and the two others listed below, will affect all of us.

Kim Coco is running against Speaker of the House Scott Saiki and came within 167 votes of beating him in 2020. We need to help push her over the top this time.

She is quoted in a recent StarAdvertiser article that her focus will be on “decentralizing the power that Saiki holds over his colleagues right now…I want more openness and transparency. I’m very much interested in holding whoever’s in leadership accountable to the body and not getting petty and vindictive. I want to get away from that petty schoolyard bullying.” 

What is she talking about?

Scott Saiki has been in office 28 years and as Speaker of the House supports, perpetuates, leads, or at the minimum enables a legislative culture that most observers on the inside, describe as toxic.

If you’re a State employee and you somehow cross him, he can and will make your life miserable. He will have those that carry his water attack your character, your credibility, and your work. The message sent to every state agency is clear and unequivocal. Fail to kowtow to House Leadership, and you risk paying a very high price.

Need proof? Ask State Auditor Les Kondo. Or read about it in Civil Beat here and here.

If you have the audacity to support his political opponent Kim Coco Iwamoto and you are an advocate or lobbyist with bills before the legislature, he will kill your bills.

If you are a member of the House of Representatives and you fail to support his agenda, you risk losing your committee Chair-personship, having your bills derailed, and losing valuable Capital Improvement Project (CIP) funding for your district.

This is the reality folks. Ask others who work in and around the Capitol. They will confirm what I say here as truth, of this I have no doubt.

In the Speaker’s defense, this toxic culture of fear and retribution has been supported and utilized by other Speakers in years past. But in the over 20 years that I’ve been working in and around the legislature, this is the worse I have ever seen it.

The unilateral decision-making, the secrecy, the deal-making, and the retribution toward those that don’t go along – is real.

Please make an online campaign contribution, or volunteer today to help Kim Coco Iwamoto defeat Saiki and end the current political climate. 

The fact that former Senate Majority Leader Kalani English and former Vice Chairman of the House Finance Committee Ty Cullen pleaded guilty to accepting bribes is further evidence of how far the institution has fallen.

Senate President Ronald Kouchi through his acquiescence is similarly responsible but much less so. Due to the nature of the Senate, the unilateral power at the top is much weaker than in the House. Senators serve larger districts and with 4-year staggered terms, they are more secure in their seats and less susceptible to the petty bullying that goes on in the House. 

Ask legislators in private and they will tell you. Rather than being a place where the climate is conducive to creativity and collaboration, the atmosphere in that big square building is fear-based, and the air heavy with apprehension.

Fortunately, in the Senate, there are also new candidates running who have the maturity and strength of character desperately needed and sufficient to hold the entire body accountable.

On Maui, Walter Ritte is running for election to Senate District #7 challenging Senator Lynn DeCoite. Ritte is a proven force of nature, grounded in community. On Hawaiʻi Island, Senator Laura Acasio is completing her first term and running for reelection against Senator Lorraine Inouye (in a district that has been consolidated via redistricting). Senator Acasio has proven without a doubt that she is incredibly capable, values-based, and unafraid to take on the status quo.

We need to take back our government.

Support, and yes make some level of financial contribution and help elect all three:  Kim Coco IwamotoWalter Ritte, and Senator Laura Acasio – and the world as we know it at the legislature will change for the better. Of this I am sure.  

There are other good people running for election on all islands and at all levels. A list of those I feel particularly strong about is here at Pono Hawaiʻi Initiative (PHI).

These opinions are my own and the candidates listed above are not aware and have not given permission or approval of what I have written. While PHI pays for the cost of Mail Chimp’s email hosting services – no one pays me to write this stuff.

Gary Hooser
Former Hawaiʻi State Senator
Why I’m Supporting Kai Kahele over Josh Green?
Why Sergio over Ed Case?

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Kaua`i County Council: Affordable Housing Initiative Back On The Table

There is good news, bad news, and more good news.

The good news is that Kaua`i Councilmember Luke Evslin and Council Vice-Chair Mason Chock are giving it another go. Undeterred by being shut down in a previous 4-3 Council vote, they have re-configured and resubmitted a two-part proposal to generate much-needed dedicated funding for affordable housing.

This is actually how it’s supposed to work. They listened to the concerns of their colleagues, adapted the proposal to alleviate those concerns, and are putting it once more on the table – hopefully, this time achieving unanimous support from all 7 Councilmembers.

The proposal is in two parts, with each part standing on its own – yet related in concept and implementation.

There is Resolution No. 2022-22, and Bill No. 2872.

Resolution 2022-22 proposes a Charter Amendment requiring a minimum of 2% of real property tax revenues be dedicated for affordable housing. If the Resolution is passed by the Council a question will be placed on the ballot stating, “Shall two percent (2%) of real property tax revenues be earmarked for the purpose of affordable housing?”

The decision will then be left up to Kaua`i voters on November 8.

Our friends and neighbors are getting priced out of their rentals with literally nowhere to go. Our homeless shelters are full and every affordable public housing project has a waiting list.

The dedicated funding source being proposed will allow the County to invest in much-needed infrastructure improvements (sewer and water). At the moment, if an affordable housing developer seeks to partner with the County on a project, the answer is “we need to wait and see if we can find the funds”. With a dedicated fund, the County Housing Agency can proactively seek out partnerships and opportunities.

Voters in Maui County have approved a 3% fund similarly dedicated toward affordable housing. Voters in Honolulu will be considering a proposal in November to increase their existing fund from .5% to 1%.

Why wouldn’t the Kaua`i County Council approve letting Kauai voters choose to have this same option at 2%?

Bill 2872 is related but independent. When/if the Charter Amendment passes, Bill 2872 can be used as a funding mechanism to generate the 2% that is needed for affordable housing. If for some reason the Charter Amendment does not pass Bill 2872 can still be used as a funding mechanism to generate funds for affordable housing and/or other purposes.

It’s important to note that Bill 2872 does not increase taxes. It simply creates a “3 tiered” system to allow the Council should they choose to do so in the future, to adjust the tax rate of properties that are not owner-occupied and/or not rented long-term.

Basic Translation: Bill 2872 if passed would allow the County to charge vacant investor-owned homes valued at $3 million, $20 million or more, a higher rate than a home with a similar use valued at $1 million or less.

The actual proposed tiers:

(A) Tier 1: up to one million dollars;
(B) Tier 2: in excess of one million dollars up to three million dollars;
(C) Tier 3: in excess of three million dollars.

Makes perfect sense. Bill 2872 does not increase taxes but only increases the options and flexibility available to the County when evaluating future tax decisions.

But yes, there is some bad news.

The bad news is that both of these measures are scheduled for 8:30am on Wednesday, June 15 and so if you are/were going to submit testimony to counciltestimony@kauai.gov – you best hurry up!

The other good news is you can and should, email ALL Councilmembers even after this deadline has passed as there will be other hearings and other votes. Please share your thoughts and encourage their support of both Resolution 2022-22 and Bill 2872 – councilmembers@kauai.gov

Of course, if you are someone who owns a second or third home that you leave vacant or rent short-term to tourists on vacation, perhaps you might feel differently. You of course are also welcome to share your thoughts with the Council as well.

This is what democracy looks like.

To view the Council meeting or meeting archives, visit http://www.kauai.gov/webcastmeetings

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Statewide List Of Endorsed (State and Congress) Candidates – Pono Hawaiʻi Initiative 2022

Check out the 24 candidates below that have been endorsed by the Pono Hawai’i Initiative. Change indeed is gonna come!

If you are interested in helping, see the list of candidates and campaigns below and sign up directly. Otherwise, please complete this volunteer form and we will gladly play matchmaker!

A financial contribution, no matter how small, made directly to the candidate’s campaign is also hugely helpful. And/or help PHI continue our work by making an online contribution to Pono Hawaiʻi Initiative (PHI).

Speaking of money: In the interest of full disclosure, no one pays me to write this stuff. No candidate has requested, approved, or is even aware that I am sending this email/blog out until it arrives in their mailbox. My support and opinion are not for sale.

Drum-roll, please!

Kai Kahele – Governor
Kai Kahele is the best choice to be our next Governor.
For background and for those that are curious read: Why I’m supporting Kai Kahele over Josh Green. (https://garyhooser.blog/2022/06/03/why-im-supporting-kai-kahele-over-josh-green/)

Sergio Alcubilla for Congress CD1
The Sergio Alcubilla Campaign for Congress has just received multiple full-throated endorsements from: The Hawai’i State Teachers Association (HSTA) Hawaiʻi teachers union drops endorsement of U.S. Rep. Ed Case in favor of Sergio Alcubilla(Hawai’i Public Radio), AND the American Federation of Labor and Congress of Industrial Organizations (AFL-CIO), the International Longshore and Warehouse Union (ILWU), and the Hawai’i Ports Maritime Council – with more to come! For further background read: Why Choose Sergio Alcubilla Over Ed Case?

Jill Tokuda – Congress CD2
Jill Tokuda is a solid Democrat with the experience we need now in Washington DC. I’ve known and worked with Jill Tokuda for years. She will serve us well.

Senator Laura Acasio – State Senate District #1
Hawai’i Island – Hilo, Pepeekeo, Papaikou, Hilo, Keaukaha, Kaumana
Senator Acasio is totally awesome. She is smart, articulate, courageous, and values-driven. We need to keep Senator Laura Acasio in the Senate. Please help her if you can.

Walter Ritte – State Senate District #7
Maui – Ha‘ikū, Hāna, Kaupō, Kīpahulu, Nahiku, Pā‘ia, Moloka’i, Lāna‘i
Walter Ritte is a legend. His election to the Hawai’i State Senate would change the very nature of the way they do business, and our Public Trust Resources would sleep much better at night, knowing that Walter Ritte, a true warrior, was protecting them.

Ian Ross – State Senate District #11
Mānoa, Makiki, Punchbowl, Papakōlea
Ian Ross is that proverbial “young emerging leader” that is ready, willing, and capable of representing his community and all of our communities in the Senate. I have to say that I know and like his opponent former Senator Carol Fukunaga as well. But there is a time to set aside the old guard and bring in the new – and now is just such a time.

State House of Representatives
Without exaggeration at all: The election of the below list of candidates would fundamentally change the nature of the entire State Legislature.

The election of a just single individual candidate such as Kim Coco Iwamoto would have a hugely positive impact on the institution as we know it today. For proof of this read Who really deserves credit for the $18 minimum wage increase?

I’ve written before about the incredible Natalia Hussey-Burdick – Read: We should all be so lucky as the residents of Kailua are today.

There are so many shining lights running for election, incumbents and challengers alike that need our support.

There are newcomers like Sam Peralta and Kathy Feldman who are stepping up to challenge entrenched DINO incumbents. We are fortunate to also have Jeanne Kapela and Amy Perruso who as sitting Representatives now, are both fearless in their support of protecting our natural environment, the rights of working men and women, and the underserved 99%.

There’s too much to say about all of those listed below to fit in a single email. I encourage you to check them out, do your homework, and offer them whatever support you can.

House District 3 – Shannon Matson
Panaʻewa, Keaʻau, Orchidland, Hawaiian Acres, Kurtistown, Mountain View

House District 5 – Jeanne Kapela
North Kona, South Kona, West Ka’u

House District 9 – Sam Peralta
Kahului Maui

House District 11 – Terez Amato
South Maui

House District 13 – Mahina Poepoe
Haiku, Ko’olau, Hana, Kaupo, Kipahulu, Paia, Lanai, Moloka’i

House District 14 – Elle Cochran
West Maui

House District 19 – Kathy Feldman
Hahaʻione, Kuliʻouʻou, Niu Valley, ʻĀina Haina, Kahalo, Waiʻalae

House District 22 – Dale Kobayashi
Manoa, University, Moiliili

House District 24 – Adrian Tam
Waikiki, McCully, Moiliili

House District 25 – Kim Coco Iwamoto
Ala Moana, Kaka’ako, Downtown

House District 26 – Valerie Wang
Makiki, Makiki Heights, Papakōlea, Punchbowl, Tantalus

House District 27 – Gary Gill
Alewa Heights, Nuuanu, Pacific Heights, Pauoa, Papakolea, Punchbowl

House District 30 – Sonny Ganaden
Kalihi Kai, Pearl Harbor, Hickam

House District 39 – Corey Rosenlee
Ewa, Waipahu, Kunia, Ho’opili, Waikele

House District 42 – Makana Paris
ʻEwa, Kapolei, Villages of Kapolei, ʻEwa Villages, Kaupeʻa, Kanehili Homesteads, Hoʻopili

House District 46 – Amy Perruso
Wahiawā, Whitmore Village, Launani Valley

House District 50 – Natalia Hussey-Burdick
Kailua, Kāne’ohe, Marine Corps Base Hawai’i

The collective power of these 17 individuals running for the State House is sufficient to change the very culture of the Hawaiʻi legislature. My hope is that it goes from a toxic fear-based environment to one that fosters creativity, collaboration, and inclusiveness.

Imagine what could be if we offer them a modest contribution of our time and money, tell our friends and family about them – and then just show up and vote on August 13.

If you are interested in the process and thought that goes into candidate selection please read this short blog piece: Which Candidates Should Be Supported?

Additional names will be added in the future and Council races in every County are next on my list – starting with the strongest of strong support for Ikaika Hussey who is running for the Honolulu City Council District 6!

Please help make our collective dream a reality.

Forward this list to your friends and neighbors, volunteer to help, hold signs, put a sign in your yard, knock on doors, help telephone bank, and yes – make a financial contribution to the individual candidates.

Please also if you can, make an online contribution to PHI so that we might continue our work within the legal confines of our 501c4 nonprofit status. Note: Due to our political and legislative advocacy work, donations to PHI are not tax-deductible.

Let’s do this. We have only about 45 days until votes will start being cast and 60 days until it’s all over.

Gary L. Hooser http://www.garyhooser.com
Gary Hooser Blog https://garyhooser.blog
Pono Hawaiʻi Initiative (PHI)

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What’s going on in Koloa?

The battle unfolding in Koloa is oh so typical of what happens way too often on Kaua’i and throughout the islands.

Big landowners use their local connections and political clout to convert agricultural land to urban use, promising jobs and homes for local residents in return for their development “entitlements”.

To appease the public, the environmentalists, the neighbors, and various do-gooder segments of the community – Those same big landowners agree to a range of conditions attached to the approval by the initial state government agency- the Land Use Commission.

In the case of the current Koloa situation, this occurred in 1977 when the Moana Corporation petitioned the Land Use Commission (“LUC”) to amend the district boundaries and reclassify 457.4 acres in Koloa, Kaua‘i from an Agriculture designation to an Urban District.

At the time, Moana proposed building houses and apartments that would be affordable to 40 percent of Kaua‘i residents. They also proposed golf courses, transient vacation rentals, shopping centers, tennis courts, and more.

Here we are 45 years later, with different owners, different developers, and different County regulators, saying the promises made in 1977 don’t mean squat.

While the County looks away, wishing this whole thing goes away, the developer literally blasts away – destroying the evidence (and the critical habitat of endangered cave spiders) along the way.

It’s really standard operating procedure for big money developers dealing with small-town government agencies.

Meridian Pacific Ltd, the general contractor behind the Koloa project in question has financed, designed, developed, constructed, leased, managed, and owned across the United States, an aggregate total of over 20,000,000 square feet of hospitality, industrial, retail, office and residential income properties for a total value of $4 billion (per their website).

The County of Kauai’s operating budget for fiscal year 2022 is $243 million.

Predictably, the contractor hires politically connected consultants and then pushes the regulatory envelope and the regulators as hard and as far as possible, claiming their legal right to do so.

The regulators, feeling both the political pressure from the insiders (who the contractor so astutely hired to guide them through the process) and the very real legal pressure from the contractor – too often simply cave in (pun intended).

In this case, the contractors are using explosives adjacent to areas of known historical and cultural significance, ancient caves, and known habitat for the endangered Kauai Blind Wolf Spider and Kauai Blind Amphipod, both endangered species.

According to a citizen’s legal action, COMPLAINT FOR DECLARATORY RULING AND INJUNCTIVE RELIEF; SUMMONS filed on May 11 against the County and related development entities, the County received letters from the US Fish and Wildlife Service stating that the property now under construction was likely habitat for both species. But instead of taking the USFW letter seriously, looking deeper into the issue and possibly incorporating protective measures, the County issued a mass grading permit that has allowed the developer to use explosives on the property.

Further, according to the legal documents filed with the court, the explosions likely exposed a cave in the adjacent property. The County has been informed of the explosions and the cave opening but according to the plaintiffs, SAVE KOLOA AND FRIENDS OF MĀHĀ’ULEPŪ, the County has done nothing.

Meanwhile, the developers, contractors, consultants, and investors plow ahead laughing all the way to the bank. No doubt they are also chuckling behind the scenes at the impotency of the County regulators and the naivety of the general public who are trying so hard to protect historical and cultural resources, ancient caves, and a blind cave wolf spider of which possibly only 30 exist on the entire planet.

But I’m thinking, he who laughs last, laughs best. The County has the legal authority and the responsibility to enforce the law and permit conditions governing this development. The Mayor is the executive responsible for making sure the people staffing the various regulatory agencies do their job.

So for those folks concerned about this issue and who support the County following the recommendations of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, and in general ensuring that this development is done in a manner that honors both the intent and the letter of the law – perhaps contacting Kauai Mayor Kawakami is a good place to start at 808-241-4900 and mayor@kauai.gov. As always please keep all communications professional and courteous!

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Why I’m supporting Kai Kahele over Josh Green

Since coming out in strong support of Kai Kahele to be Hawaiʻi’s next governor, some have asked: Why Kai Kahele and not Josh Green?

If the answer to that question interests you, read on. Otherwise, go to the beach and enjoy your weekend!

While I do not know Vicky Cayetano, I have worked with both Josh Green and Kai Kahele and I’ve spent a fair amount of time trying to determine – Through what lens do each of them look at the world?

From personal experience and from a basic review of the campaign websites of each, I believe that Kai Kahele is far more concerned than Josh Green about issues of campaign finance reform, protecting our public trust resources, agriculture, food sustainability, climate change, closing down Red Hill and reducing the over-all foot-print of the military in Hawaiʻi – All issues near and dear to my heart.

Green barely mentions these issues at all. Please read the websites of both Green and Kahele and see for yourself.

Both candidates acknowledge the dire situation that now exists concerning the lack of affordable housing.

The past very aggressive support of Green by the Pacific Resource Partnership (PRP) and Hawaiʻi Regional Council of Carpenters (the largest construction union in the state) is a barrier difficult for me to overcome.

In 2018 PRP and the Carpenters via their “Be Change Now” Super PAC invested over $1 million into ensuring Green’s win, positioning him to run for governor today. Civil Beat – Carpenters Union Makes Josh Green A Million Dollar Candidate For LG

No one spends $1 million without expecting something in return. At the minimum, they expect a friendly ear, an open door, and decisions in the future that lean their way.

And in fact, immediately after winning the Lieutenant Governors’ race, Green hired a top Carpenters Union insider to be his chief of staff.

Full disclosure: I made my bones in politics fighting against big development and have always erred on the side of environmental protection and the preservation of our public trust resources. My other bias is on getting money out of politics.

On both counts, Kai Kahele comes out on top.

I’ve been in the room and have seen him up close take on Alexander & Baldwin in defense of the water and people of East Maui. I’ve watched him more recently step up on the Red Hill issue. Without question, his strong voice and unrelenting persistence in support of the grassroots-led movement paved the way for the entire congressional delegation and Hawaii’s political establishment in general to follow.

On money in politics, Kahele’s mantra is “Hawaiʻi is not for sale” – not to the military, not to big land owners and developers, and certainly not to the moneyed political elite.

Kahele is accepting no more than $100 from any single donor.

Green is accepting $6,000 contributions, the maximum allowed by law.

Read the campaign spending commission reports (CSC) – enter candidate name in “view reports”, click on candidate name, and search “contributions”. See for yourself who is giving money to who.

The CSC reports will show the major donors to the Green campaign are:

A whole lot of rich people claiming to be “Not employed”

A whole lot of lobbyists, attorneys, bankers, and Bishop Street regulars

A whole lot of PACs and Corporations

A whole lot of people who don’t live here.

*Note: According to the CSC report, there are numerous people giving $3,000 – $6,000 to the Green campaign and claiming to be “Not Employed”. This, in my opinion, is a clear indication of the campaign’s lack of respect for the principle of full transparency.

The Kahele CSC report does not yet list contributions or contributors because his announcement for the governor’s race was made only recently.

But when the report is filed on July 14 (the next deadline for both candidates).

You will see Kahele’s major donors are:

A whole lot of regular local Hawaiʻi residents giving $100 or less.

My reasons for supporting Kai Kahele are based on my personal experience working with him and with hundreds of other politicians over the 16 years I’ve spent serving in elective office.

The bottom line for me is that I trust Kai Kahele. I believe his core values and the lens through which he looks at the world is aligned with my own.

I believe that he is by far the best choice to be Hawaiʻi’s next governor.

If you agree with me please make an online contribution of $100 or less, today. Let’s prove to the world that big money does not rule politics in Hawaiʻi.

Gary Hooser
Pono Hawaiʻi Initiative

PS: No, I’m not bothered nor concerned that during this past year Kahele voted mostly by proxy, attended meetings remotely, and spent much of his time here in Hawaiʻi. Given the state of the world, I think I would likely have done the same. The vast majority of meetings by legislatures everywhere have been conducted remotely over the past two years or so. In my opinion, most of our political leaders err on the opposite end of the spectrum spending too little time with their core constituencies, and too much time schmoozing with lobbyists and special interests.

PSS: Read Kahele’s statement on the military in Hawaiʻi. He is of course a commissioned officer in the U.S. Military but yet he says “The Military’s footprint and negative impact on our communities must begin to shrink.” He then goes on to pledge as governor to “ensure that Red Hill Bulk Fuel Storage Facility is fully de-fueled and decommissioned…” He pledges to fight for the return of Mākua Valley and recognizes the total injustice of $1 per year leases granted now to the military. He also restates his opposition to the HDR-H radar facility at PMRF on Kauaʻi’s west side.

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Hawaiʻi politics: 3 ugly truths, 3 easy solutions

Will your state legislator be truthful with you when answering these 3 questions? Will they seek proactive and positive solutions or will they deny there’s a problem and look the other way?

Ask your Senator and your Representative directly via email:

1) Do some legislators solicit campaign contributions during the legislative session from individuals/entities that have issues/bills pending on which that legislator will be voting?

2) Do some Committee Chairs and their members meet in private, for the purpose of making a decision on matters referred to that committee?

3) Do some legislators, Committee Chairs, and/or members of legislative leadership kill bills based on personal and/or political reasons, not based on the content of the proposal?

If they answer yes, then ask them if they are prepared to support these solutions or do they have other alternative solutions to offer? If they answer no, they are lying to you.

In my experience gained through serving in the State Senate for 8 years, on the County Council for 8 years, and as a legislative policy advocate on the outside for another 8 years I believe that the manner in which the peoples’ work is being conducted today at the State Capitol is too often both unethical and illegal.

Perhaps it has always been bad, but it’s worse today than I have ever seen it. Or, it may be that it has taken me years to open my eyes to the political corruption, unethical, and illegal actions. In any case, things are bad.

Here are 3 actions that could be taken by the legislature to stop this unethical and illegal activity.

1) Ban the solicitation and acceptance of campaign funds during the legislative session. Many other States ban this practice. It’s not about banning events, it’s about banning asking for or accepting money during the legislative session.

2) Require the legislature to follow the State Constitution Article III Section 12. This is the 60,000-pound gorilla in the room: Too many decisions are made in the dark, away from sunshine and public oversight – and it’s against the law. The Hawaii State Constitution Article III, Section 12 states:

Every meeting of a committee in either house or of a committee comprised of a member or members of both houses held for the purpose of making a decision on matters referred to the committee shall be open to the public.

It’s common practice now for committee members, certainly the chairs, to meet in private “for the purpose of making a decision on matters referred to the committee.”

They meet in private, negotiate in private, and agree on the outcomes in private, emerging from the closed private meetings to announce the outcome, then formally vote at the public meeting.

This clearly violates the State Constitution and fosters a climate of secret deals being made in secret places. The publics’ business should be done in public.

3) End the unilateral power of a committee chair by requiring publicly recorded votes by committee members on decisions to hear, kill, or pass a bill. 

Some Chairs will kill a bill simply because a friend, colleague, or member of leadership asked them to do so. We know also that some do it for cash stuffed into envelopes, trips to casinos, and fancy dinners.

Chairs will kill bills by just not scheduling them for a hearing or if a measure is scheduled, they will kill it by simply stating that the bill will be “deferred”. In both cases, no public votes are cast by the committee affirming the Chair’s decision.

If a publicly recorded vote of individual committee members was required to kill a bill, then the unilateral power of the Chair would be greatly diminished, the democratic process greatly enhanced, and the attractiveness of bribery greatly reduced.

Yes, a majority of the members who sit on a committee can request and require a vote or a hearing. However, a legislator making such a request risks retaliation from the Chair. Making public votes to hear, kill or pass bills mandatory removes the very real threat of retaliation.

According to the Brennan Center for Justice at NYU School of Law, approximately 25% of state legislative chambers across the United States, in both red and blue states, require committees to hold hearings on every bill referred to them or if requested by the sponsor. If the volume of bills is such that it makes hearing every bill impractical, the committee members themselves could caucus on and select which bills are to be heard, with their actions and votes tallied for public review.

The above proposals are not overly complicated or difficult to implement. Item #1 is easy. Item #2 and #3 require the adoption of a legislative budget and schedule to allow for the extra time and the additional staffing that may be needed.

Item #2 requires that lawmakers follow the law and comply with the State Constitution Article III Section 12.

What a novel idea. Lawmakers following the law.

Gary Hooser

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Kauaʻi Property Tax Policy – Go Big & Go Bold

Why does Kauaʻi County have the lowest property tax rates for hotels and resorts in the entire State of Hawaiʻi?

What public purpose does it serve to charge the Hyatt’s, the Marriotts, the Hiltons, and so many other off-shore foreign corporations less money than any other County in Hawaiʻi?

As of fiscal year July 1, 2021 to June 30, 2022 the hotel and resort tax rate (per $1,000 of valuation) by County: Honolulu $13.90, Maui $11.75, Hawaiʻi $11.55, and Kauai at $10.85.

Kauaʻi charges $3.05 (per $1,000 of value) less than Honolulu.

The taxable value of Hotel and Resort properties on Kauaʻi is $2,667,497,850.

Stay with me for a moment please while I do the math.

Increasing Kauaʻi’s hotel and resort rate to equal Honolulu’s rate would bring in over $8 million every year that could be allocated for affordable housing, homeless shelters, youth programs, drug treatment centers, and more.

$8 million more with just a stroke of a pen. All paid for by off-shore corporations that are already paying this rate for their properties located on other islands.

Wait. It gets better.

Let’s not forget Transient Vacation Rentals (TVRs) which are essentially individual homes operated as mini-hotels but located in residential areas.

What if Kauaʻi did what Maui does and charged TVR’s the same tax rate or even slightly more than hotels and resorts?

The total taxable value of TVRs on Kauaʻi is $3,830,495,450 (yes, that’s more than hotels and resorts).

Increasing the Kauaʻi TVR rate to that of the Oʻahu hotel/resort rate would generate an additional $15,513,505 annually.

Let me spell it out.

If the Kauaʻi County Council had the courage to increase property taxes on hotels, resorts, and TVRs to the same level now charged by the City and County of Honolulu – our community would benefit to the tune of over $23 million annually.

That’s $23 million per year above and beyond what is now coming in and used to run the County.

That’s $23 million per year for affordable housing, homeless shelters, youth programs, drug treatment centers, and more.

That’s $23 million per year that could be used for much-needed infrastructure improvements – sewer, water, roads. Did I say potholes? Think about how many potholes $23 million would fill 😉

And remember, that money would 100% be paid for by people on vacation, who don’t live here, but yet who benefit from and utilize our collective public resources. People who are already paying that rate when they island hop. 

What’s there not to like?

Unfortunately, when a very modest proposal to increase TVR property tax rates by only $1 and estimated to raise $4.5 million was introduced last week, it was shot down by the Council in a 3 to 4 vote.

The three reasons given by the four “no” votes were essentially: We don’t need the money right now. How can we be sure the money will be spent on affordable housing? What about the impact on local residents who also operate TVRs?

Our County desperately needs additional funding. Affordable housing while being our top priority, is only one of many critical areas in need of support. We have a languishing youth drug treatment facility, homeless shelters at capacity, thousands of cesspools where we need modern sewer systems, and our only landfill is perpetually at capacity.

These are urgent needs, not simply wants.

As to the fortunate local residents who own a second home they operate as a TVR? They should just pass the costs on to the tourists who are renting the place, just as every other hotel does.

While good people can look at the same information and come to different conclusions, for the life of me I cannot understand the resistance of those four council members.

Honolulu does not have fewer tourists visiting because taxes are too high. Ditto for Maui. Raising our property tax rates to match the Honolulu rate will not have one iota’s impact on the tourism economy here on Kauaʻi.

Kauaʻi could have $23 million more to spend each and every year, tourists and hotels would pay the price, and local residents would benefit.

Tell me again what’s there not to like?

Tell me again why you voted no for a basic $1 increase that would have yielded $4.5 million during its first year specifically intended for affordable housing and in subsequent years could be allocated toward whatever needs the Council deemed a priority?

To be absolutely clear, the Council, not the Mayor has the legal responsibility and authority to establish the County budget. The Mayor will submit to the Council the administration’s preferred budget, but the Council has the final say and can amend or approve as they see fit.

Kauaʻi Charter Section 3.10. Annual Budget and Capital Program. The council shall enact an annual budget ordinance, which shall include both the operational and capital expenditures for the fiscal year and the method of financing same. The council shall provide sufficient revenues to assure a balanced budget.

Source for tax info:

Click to access ratesfy22.pdf

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