Big Dog Politics & Post Pandemic Policy – Kauai Style

It was interesting to watch the recent mash-up between the big dogs – Honolulu Mayor Kirk Caldwell, Senate President Kauai Senator Ronald Kouchi, Kauai Mayor Derek Kawakami, and Lt. Governor Josh Green.

The Honolulu Mayor suggested last week that Kauai or “some neighbor island” might be the best place to test out the re-launch of the state’s tourism industry.

Kouchi threw the first punch saying, “I want to be clear to Mayor Caldwell. Kauai does not appreciate being identified as a potential test case to go bring in the tourists so you can make better decisions on Oahu,” (Honolulu StarAdvertiser)

Green, a likely opponent of Caldwell in the 2022 governor’s race also was quick with a body slam, saying he was “shocked at the idea of using the neighbor islands as a giant experiment to see if the virus kills people. It was a pretty stunning comment.” Civil Beat

Then on PBS Hawaii during a live “4 Island Mayor” interview program, Kawakami offered Caldwell a reasoned but sharp and direct rebuke saying, “We gotta be careful with our words…there’s already a situation where there’s a level of fear…when our people hear that we are going to be like a sacrificial lamb or the testing grounds…”

Mayor Kawakami is correct of course that “We gotta be careful with our words…”.

Caldwell has since acknowledged that saying Kauai might be the best place to “test” the relaunch of the state’s tourism industry, was a bad choice of words and a mischaracterization of his intent.

He should have perhaps said instead, that Kauai is in the best position to “lead”.

After all, it seems obvious that we are in fact in the best position to lead and are already doing so. Mayor Kawakami and the residents of Kauai are at this moment leading the effort to eliminate the spread of the virus among our local population with zero new cases of Covid infections occurring during the past 18 days.

Why wouldn’t we also lead the effort and set the example by slowly and thoughtfully reopening our local economy? Why wouldn’t we be the first to establish ultra stringent testing and screening protocols at the airport and then very slowly reopen travel to and from our island?

Who else is going to lead? Governor Ige? Mayor Caldwell? Are we to wait until Oahu gets it together before we venture out ourselves? If so, be prepared for a long, long wait and no telling what we will get on the other side.

If we allow Kauai to lead, think of the possibilities. Think of what we could do.

First, we make our island safe. This seems to be happening thanks to firm leadership and a population that cares about each other.

Next, we slowly reopen our local businesses.

Then with the help of the State and Federal government (funding and expertise), we establish at our airport the very best testing and health screening protocols available. We require health certificates from incoming passengers and continue the quarantine if needed.

Then and only then do we begin to slowly loosen the existing restrictions on incoming travel and closely monitor and track all incoming travelers (visitors and local residents). We adjust the plan moving forward tightening or loosening the requirements as needed to maximize the health protections of our community, while ever so slowly getting our economy back moving again.

But Kauai being Kauai, we will do much more than just open our doors while screening and testing for COVID. We will insist on the re-visioning and re-making of our visitor industry. There will be no going back to the same ole, same ole

Via changes in State and County laws, rules, permitting requirements, tax incentives, and disincentives, we can and must do things differently.

Hotels, resorts, airlines, and vacation rentals must be required to:
*Pay every worker a living wage and health benefits
*Purchase 90% of their restaurant items from local farms and ranches
*Educate all guests on cultural and local norms

We must also set strict limits on the number of visitor arrivals by:
*Freezing new resort development and reducing the number of vacation rental permits.
*Directly connect taxation of the visitor industry to the number of visitors served so that increasing numbers above a threshold, results in decreased profitability.

To ease our traffic congestion, we must dramatically increase the taxation of rental cars, utilizing those funds for public transportation.

In order to have at least one day a week free from the noise and activity brought to our public spaces by the visitor industry, we might also consider banning all commercial activity on all public lands, beaches, waters, and air space – on Sundays.

And of course, in all beach parks, we must set aside sufficient free parking designated for local residents only.

With bold, creative, and collaborative leadership – we could, in fact, accomplish all of the above and more. No, it’s not easy. Nobody said it would be easy. Leadership is not easy.

While Honolulu Mayor Caldwell stumbled on his words, his instinct was on target – Kauai should lead. And then, if they so choose – Oahu and the rest of the State could follow in our path.

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About garyhooser

This blog represents my thoughts as an individual person and does not represent the official position of any organization I may be affiliated with. I presently serve as volunteer President of the Hawaii Alliance for Progressive Action (H.A.P.A.) I am the former Vice-Chair of the Democratic Party of Hawaii. In another past life, I was an elected member of the Kauai County Council, a Hawaii State Senator, and Majority Leader, and the Director of Environmental Quality Control for the State of Hawaii - in an even earlier incarnation I was an entrepreneur and small business owner. Yes, I am one of the luckiest guys on the planet. Please visit my website AND sign up for my newsletter (unlike any email newsletter you have ever gotten, of that I am sure) - “Come to the edge.” “We can’t. We’re afraid.” “Come to the edge.” “We can’t. We will fall!” “Come to the edge.” And they came. And he pushed them. And they flew. - Christopher Logue (b.1926)
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20 Responses to Big Dog Politics & Post Pandemic Policy – Kauai Style


    yes. one of the most remarkable things with tourist activity/ helicopters not going..omg is so quiet1 it is a like a mosquito constantly buzzing your ear ! can they just operate 5 days a week? and boat tours too..give the locals a chance to get out.. ! have some excellent points.. this is a good wake up for our island and a perfect opportunity to adjust. t thank you for your thoughtful commentary. pam


    • garyhooser says:

      Thank you Pam for the comment. Am thinking similar thoughts and it seems that one day a week at least would be welcome and much needed. To have the entire weekend free from commercial use would obviously be better…but of course a harder sell to the business community 😉 At the end of the day an overall “cap” on visitor numbers would accomplish a similar result across all areas of impact (traffic etc). A “cap” is more challenging to design and implement (legally) which is why I suggest perhaps an escalating tax structure might be the way to go.

    • jeni says:

      Yes it has been so quiet! I pray to God that we collectively can demand at least one day a week of rest from the helicopter noise. To hike and boat and walk and swim in PEACE.
      Let’s make it happen!

    • jeni says:

      Yes it has been so quiet! I pray to God that we collectively can demand at least one day a week of rest from the helicopter noise. To hike and boat and walk and swim in PEACE.
      Let’s make it happen!

  2. Kimberlee Stuart says:

    Another blog opinion of yours that I wholeheartedly concur with. Was reading a pledge for visitors to bend Oregon last night. I was thinking how helpful that would be for our island acknowledging what is necessary around everything from parking And recycling to beach safety and especially respect for the host culture.

  3. Raj Kreisler says:

    I appreciate your insightful and forward thinking measures. It is amazing to go out on the island and not encounter “traffic”!!! On the rare occasion we have had to go to Kapa’a, it is astounding to just “cruise” through town. Same for leaving Puhi to get home to south side. It will be hard to get back to “normal”.

  4. gail Breakey says:

    Hi Gary,
    If Kauai does open for tourism, PPE for flight attendants and front line people in tourist industry; require those flying to wear masks…take temperatures of people boarding planes… think this can help minimize transmission. Thank you for this blog. Gail Breakey, Honolulu

  5. Scott Lindman says:

    Great insight. Reckon we need to “open with aloha”. The only way visitors will be welcome is if residents feel safe. Leadership needs to be provided and consensus built so we can feel safe and visitors feel welcome. The aloha spirit cannot die. Our mayor has shown the leadership capability to make Kauai able to again lead the state. Imua

  6. Dhyana Dunville says:

    Thank you for your thoughtful response to the challenges all of us here on our beautiful island of Kaua’i are currently facing. Many of us see this time as an opportunity for some very positive changes in creating a more balanced and self-sustainable economy that isn’t so heavily dependent on tourism. I agree with all of your suggestions on how this could be accomplished and I’m sure that many in our community have other great ideas that could be implemented. As you said, there will be no going back to the same ole, same ole. This is our time to create an island that can serve as an example of how humans can live in alignment with each other and nature. I’m praying that’s just what we’ll do!

    Mahalo for caring for Kaua’i and her people,
    Dhyana Dunville

  7. Paul Perry says:

    *Purchase 90% of their restaurant items from local farms and ranches”

    I do not believe there is enough ranch/farmland to do this. The volume of product alone that can not be sourced from local farms could exceed 10%-potatoes, sugar, rice, flour,…
    Meats: Beef, chicken, fish?

    • garyhooser says:

      Thanks for the note Paul. From my research, there is plenty of land available for basic greens and salad vegetables. In addition, the land available for cattle grazing and grass-fed beef across all islands is also significant. Yes, there are many items that would be a challenge to produce here in Hawaii but the requirement could/should be phased in at say 15%/20% per year and could be capped at 80% or 90% (whatever is deemed the maximum that is reasonable). The many details, of course, would need to be developed but the principle I believe is a solid one and “doable”. Also…Hawaii had no problems producing plenty of sugar if the past. Rice as well…

  8. Paul Perry says:

    Availability is one thing. Affordability is another entirely. There’s a reason industries left Hawaii. Sugar, pineapple. Primarily due to land values and labor cost. I guess they weren’t OK with decreased profitability.

    Then there’s the dairy industry, which went from over 150 to 3. We actually tried to bring that back to Kauai. The best I could find on the failure of that was Governmental regulation and community (and resort) push back.

    But the biggest issue I have with your direction is dictating to businesses who they can buy from.

    Not trying to be confrontational, but I have to ask, what percentage of your food do you buy from local producers?

    • garyhooser says:

      Thanks again for the note Paul. You raise good issues and I don’t take it as confrontational at all. It is a fair question, but it is important to note that I do not profit from the commercialization of “the commons” (natural resources). A fair question but the comparison is not apples and apples. Commercial enterprises require government permits to operate because they have impacts on public resources and they can absorb the additional cost by passing it on via increased room rates etc. Hotels and resorts profit off our public resources, thus the permits that allow them to do business here can require them to do certain things that have public benefits in return. Individual residents who purchase food for consumption (and not resale) cannot pass the increased cost on to anyone. Back to your question. I would guess that approximately 30% to 40% of the food consumed in my household is “local grown”. This includes most of our fruit and vegetables, eggs and increasingly our starch from Ulu. We are fortunate to have banana, mango, avocado, ulu, tangerine, star-fruit, lemons, limes, oranges, pineapple, dragon fruit and papaya growing in our yard. We purchase extensively at farmers’ markets. The non-local items consist mostly of the meat, chicken, and processed foods – almond milk, peanut butter, jams, nuts, cereals, frozen, sauces, alcohol etc. Frankly we don’t eat much meat but do consume a fair amount of chicken that is not local. There is no shortage of “local beef” if we were beef eaters. We are fortunate to be able to purchase fresh fish fairly frequently from local fisherpeople. So…yes absolutely I can do more and as a result of your prodding I will do so and report back on my progress. There is no reason a complete solid meal could not be 100% local including salt and sauces and alcohol for those that consume. Steak or fish (locally available), hearty salad (locally available), solid starch (Ulu or Kalo locally available – avocado – local sweet potato increasingly being grown here), deserts (a plethora of choices), beverage (lots of juices to choose from, local wines, rum’s, coffee, etc) – and of course local chocolate as well. Agree grains, oils, and various spices, are not generally available. So…what is the magic number that is realistic if the transition is done incrementally over time? Certainly 80% is doable and I would think 90% (based on budget spent). In any case, the public economic benefits would be huge as the money spent on local agriculture is recirculated in the economy (rather than shipped to California or China).

  9. Daniel McLafferty says:

    Yes! I’m all for Kauai leading the way out of this pandemic. Oahu needs to be shown how it can be thoughtfully done. We can’t allow a tourist stampede to reinfect our people.

  10. Linda Shigeta says:

    I am a retired Kaua’i State worker. Kaua’i has been a place used for successful pilot programs in the past. Now it is suggested again. I take great pause on this suggested pilot project. Kaua’i has Magnificent beauty but it is dwindling because of the many tourists accommodations , activities & our intense large reliance on them. Money has bought Kaua’i and will continue to do so. Tourism is our big business. We need to become sustainable for our own citizens. Everything does not need to be shipped in case of disastrous calamities. Shipping will always be a need but we need to be able to farm more for our people on island.
    I wish you luck with these ideas. Please pause and take it slow. Aloha
    With this grandiose project I am fearful concrete will cover our Kauai & we will look like another concrete jungle in the future. Some call that progress.
    The rural nature is what draws tourist to our island. We have enough high rollers on Kaua’i. Bring diversity of economics here do not rely on tourism so strongly.
    I am not saying I disagree but this sounds frighting to me.

    • garyhooser says:

      Hello Linda and thank you so very much for taking the time to offer your thoughts. I agree 100% that any expansion of the visitor industry and travel should be done very slowly and only with strict protections in place. I also agree that we cannot and should not do tourism the way it has been done in the past and that we need limits on the number of people that come here. We are on the same page I think. Best, gh

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