What do we want those we just elected or re-elected to actually do during the coming year?
Personally, I’m looking for changemakers, not just placeholders.
Yes, balancing the budget is important but there’s an algorithm for that. We need more than just balancing the budget, much more.
Pie in the sky you say. Our politicians will do what they’ve always done. A few will propose the changes to public policy (bills) needed to move us forward. Others will argue in support of maintaining the status quo saying that there are too many unanswered questions and the risk of unintended consequences is too great. Most will simply wait to see which way the wind is blowing. They will talk about it, strike a pose for the camera, speak with force and passion, and then they will do nothing. They will simply hold the space, vote to balance the budget and show up at the next community event or ribbon cutting.
It doesn’t have to be this way. But to change things, we must get more involved and we must reach out to our elected leaders, via email, telephone, and in person – and let them know of our expectations and priorities.
Truly affordable housing – must be everyone’s priority. There are many tangible things that can be done on the County and State levels to make this happen. Increased investment in sewer and water infrastructure, tax incentives, density bonuses, and a focus on the redevelopment of existing urban areas make sense. What doesn’t make sense is expanding development into virgin agricultural lands, building more highways, and sacrificing the environment to generate increased profits for developers and landowners.
Another huge priority and the one reform that makes all other reforms possible is publicly funded elections. Several states offer this option for State and County elections and it’s well past time for Hawaiʻi to join them. Big money influence on local elections must be dramatically reduced and publicly funded elections will help make this happen.
“There is no money for affordable housing and no money for publicly funded elections” will be the placeholder’s retort. The changemakers know of course, “When they tell you there’s no money, what they’re really saying is, it’s not a priority.”
There is of course money available for all kinds of things – stadium re-development and endless cost overruns for the rail system are just two that come to mind. Oh, and don’t forget the $7 million drug treatment center in Līhuʻe that’s just sitting there empty.
There are many who profit from our islands but who are not paying their fair share. Real Estate Investment Trusts (REITs) export their untaxed profits to the continent. Mainland real estate investors pay lower property taxes here than back home, wherever they may be from. No hotels are closing up and going away because our taxes are too high. Tell me again why are we giving these guys a break?
If the electorate (you and me) let the elected know what our expectations are now, before the next legislative session or the next Council meeting – perhaps 2023 can be different. And if 2023 is no different, in 2024 we can encourage and support others to run and replace the do-nothing placeholders with do-something changemakers.
What we absolutely don’t need is more politicians flooding the airwaves and our mailboxes bragging about how much money they brought home to the district – much of this is automatic and would happen regardless of who is sitting in that chair.
We need to see instead, election brochures from incumbents bragging about the increased availability of affordable housing, the establishment of publicly funded elections, real steps made toward reducing greenhouse gas emissions, expanded mental health services and increased local food production.
The key of course is active community engagement, and that must start today – before the swearing-in. And it must continue relentlessly until the elected do what we the electorate are asking them to do.