Policy Director - State House; Graduate Assistant - Georgetown University; News Editor - Ka Leo O Hawaii
State House Representative
Hawaii is my home. My grandfather and his family owned a small grocery store in Kalihi, my father worked at the Post Office downtown for most of his life, and my mother moved to Nanakuli from New York when she was 35 because she fell in love with our state. I was raised to love this place, and like many local families, I’m fighting to be able to stay here. The cost of housing, student debt, child care expenses, and electricity costs are pricing many of us out of the places that we grew up.
The struggles facing everyday families to afford the cost of housing living in Hawaii are struggles that I live through every day as well. That’s why I first ran to represent Mililani in the State Legislature. I looked around didn’t see elected officials fighting hard enough for the issues that affected our families on a daily basis. As a State Representative, I worked hard to find and implement bold and actionable solutions to the problems that my constituents face. I worked to close insurance loopholes, tax out-of-state real estate investors, push for creative ways to provide affordable housing, and to ensure the top earners in the state paid their fair share of taxes.
I have legislative experience, and I’m a known problem solver. But, most importantly, I’m qualified because I know the problems our families are facing. I understand how critical it is for our member of Congress to focus on infrastructure projects, affordable housing, energy independence and the many federal issues that impact the quality of our daily lives.
The top three challenges that I hear about most often from my constituents in Mililani are the same challenges that I’m hearing from the people I’m meeting in communities throughout Congressional District 1. Those challenges are: 1) Finding housing that’s affordable; 2) Hawaii’s lack of good infrastructure and the resulting traffic, and 3) The high cost of education from preschool through college.
My priority is my constituents. As a U.S. Representative, my job would be to voice Hawaii's concerns on all the big issues facing us: safe classrooms, homelessness, income inequality, immigration, healthcare, lack of housing, deteriorating roads and sidewalks, the costs of education. We need our next member of Congress to go to Washington prepared to bring our perspective to every issue.
My campaign has focused heavily on bold, actionable solutions to lowering our cost of living and securing federal funding that will help us achieve a better future. Hawaii is leading the country on renewable energy and climate issues, and the federal government should invest in modernizing our grid and innovating renewable technologies here.
As one of the most expensive housing markets, we should also be leading the rest of the country on affordable housing solutions. I am proposing that we increase our investments in federal grant programs and work to focus those programs on municipalities that are finding responsible solutions to housing shortages. Federal funding can help our local developers and renewable energy experts work together to build climate-resilient, green homes that are affordable for all of Hawaii's families.
It takes courage, creativity, and a track record of legislative success to hit the ground running on all of these issues. Congress is not a courtroom or a board room. Success isn't measured by the best or the loudest argument. Our next member of Congress needs to know how to build relationships in a system where everyone has competing priorities, unique districts and equal votes. In my experience as a legislator, I've found that working hard and sharing the credit goes a lot further than prepared speeches and strong arguments. With that mindset, I think I can make tangible progress for the people of Oahu.
Every day, I meet voters who call Hawaii home, but can't afford to live here any more. We are in the process of losing an entire generation of local residents because our political system has failed to meet our everyday needs. Over half of my graduating class has moved to the mainland because they couldn't afford to own a home, have children and pay their student debt without a six-figure income.
Our residents getting priced out of their communities is a problem that every level of government should be focusing on, and as a member of Congress, that focus could do a lot to improve the lives of my constituents. Federal investment in renewable energy and green transportation that's accessible to everyone can lower electricity and daily transportation costs for our families. Encouraging innovation in housing and development can lower the cost of a home. Ending predatory student loan practices and supporting our state colleges can help set our graduates up for success instead of a lifetime of debt. And, as lifelong resident of Leeward and Central Oahu, I'm reminded how badly we need more federal support for traffic mitigation and transportation alternatives. Every one of those changes could make a big impact in our everyday lives.
If you're not from Central Oahu or you don't follow politics closely, you're most likely to know me for one of two things. First, you may know me because I spoke out against Donald Trump at the Hawaii Women's March and lost my leadership position at the Legislature in a very public battle. In 2016, I was the youngest woman in the United States to hold a legislative caucus leader position. I used my voice and my profile to call attention to the intolerance and hate that I saw in Trump's candidacy. It cost me a position, a list of donors and, at the time, I thought it might have cost me a job that I love.
It cost me something because I was an elected Republican, which is the other thing you may know about me. But, you might not know why. When I first got back from graduate school with expensive students loans at the start of the recession, I found a job filing papers at the Legislature. As I watched the people in power, they didn't seem know or care that people outside the Capitol building were losing jobs and homes. It looked like the legislators in power were controlled by the wealthiest people in the State. It looked unfair. And, at 25, I blamed an entire party for the actions of a few legislators at the top. I thought that if the Democratic Party wasn't paying attention to my friends, family and community, maybe the Hawaii Republican Party would.
As a legislator, I moved bills to reduce taxes on our low-income earners, raise taxes on the wealthy, tax out-of-state real estate investors, increase rental subsidies and expand women's health coverage. Those are not traditional Republican talking points, but my goal was to bring a voice to the Legislature that would value my community over special interests and make real progress on issues of economic justice. I had the right goal, but I was in the wrong party.
Speaking out against Trump during the 2016 election and at the Hawaii Women's March was the last step in a long journey.
Next, I petitioned to join the Democratic party. Like many, I was excited about energy that was shaking up the Democratic establishment and pushing for a renewed focus on the inequalities in our economy. I spent a lot of time talking to my constituents about the move then I spent a lot of time talking with Democratic party members about supporting my membership. I had to be voted in by a committee because I was an elected official. Before that vote, party members pulled up all the votes I took and tested me on every single point of the party platform. When my votes diverged from the platform, I had to explain why.
My membership into the Democratic party wasn't guaranteed. I had to earn it and prove that these values aren't just talking points. The Democratic party took some criticism because of the intensity of the process, but I supported it. The scrutiny and the transparency should be a part of the job when you run for office. And, making a decision to switch parties shouldn't be easy.
My journey in politics was uphill in uncharted territory. But, that's what makes me uniquely qualified for this office. We don't know what the new Congress will look like, but we do know that our nation is facing challenges that we've never seen before. We need someone who can work hard and deliver results for Hawaii regardless of the circumstances. Someone with the courage to push for progress even when it's difficult. Someone who's willing to do things the hard way if it means we can have our best chance at a better future.