Hawaii State Representative, District 41 / Associate Professor of Philosophy and Humanities at Hawaii Pacific University
Hawaii State Representative (2014 - present)
As the only candidate in this race with legislative experience (two terms as Ewa Beach’s State Representative for House District 41) I worked well with House Leadership, our departing Senator, Will Espero, and Governor David Ige’s administration to add air conditioning or heat abatement to all hot classrooms in my district as well as in James Campbell High (JCHS), Ilima Intermediate, and Kaimiloa Elementary schools. Ewa residents have been asking for this for an eternity and I delivered on this most important issue for my district in my very first term in office. To be more precise, in just my first year as a legislator (2015), I worked with House leadership to insert Capital Improvement Program fund requests for millions for A/C upgrades to Ewa Elementary and Ewa Beach Elementary Schools into the House Draft of the budget, which was ultimately passed. Furthermore, in my first term and continuing into my second term I again worked well with my colleagues as a member of the Finance Committee to secure the necessary funds to address over-crowding throughout Ewa’s schools; in particular I helped secure $27 million to build a major addition to James Campbell High School to add new science and Hawaiian studies classrooms for our keiki. Additionally, regarding traffic issues, since taking office I have been asking for added lanes and sidewalks to Ft. Weaver Rd., because Ewa’s major artery suffers severe congestion during peak hours. This year, the legislature appropriated $33 million in Capital Improvement Program funds to do just that. I’ve held the first Lawmakers Listen event in Ewa bringing House Leadership to field tough questions from constituents as well as an Ewa Traffic Forum which brought State and City transportation officials to do the same. I also arranged a meeting between the Chair of the House Finance Committee and school officials, parents, neighborhood board members, and concerned citizens to ask for more resources for Ewa Schools. This year, millions more were appropriated to add classrooms to Ilima and begin plans for a JCHS athletics complex which includes a synthetic track and field, additional restrooms, and a girl’s locker room. Much more needs to be done and with my successful track record in my first two terms, I want to expand my work on Ewa’s schools to do even more for those additional schools in Senate District 19. Ewa has seen so much growth without the added infrastructure necessary (like schools and roads) and I have a proven record of helping our community to catch up in receiving the attention and resources our community deserves and needs. Ever since my fist day in office, I have received requests for assistance to help address community issues throughout Ewa Beach (Senate District 19) because even though people were not in my district, they knew that I was a man of action who they trusted to get things done for our community. I believe that I am best qualified to represent all of Ewa in the Senate, because frankly, I’ve already been doing just that for four years.
I should add that I was also promoted by my colleagues to chair the House committee on Veterans, Military, and International Affairs and Culture and the Arts. It is rather unusual for a House member in only his/her second term to be given a chairmanship, and I believe that this speaks to both my colleagues’ confidence in me to help lead on matters of statewide concern, as well as my ability to work well with others in the legislature.
I’m tempted to say simply this: traffic, traffic, and traffic. Ewa residents can spend over two hours in their cars commuting to town and back. That is why I continue to push for ways to alleviate the bottlenecks. The $33 million Ft. Weaver expansion will help, as well as $2.5 million appropriated this year to improve the Ewa/Kunia H-1 onramp. However, more jobs must be created in Ewa, Kapolei, and the Leeward side of the island so that people will not have to commute into town. That is why I have always advocated for anything that would create more west-side jobs such as the Kapolei Jobs Initiative.
The other two major issues of concern are the state of our schools, which I have spent four years helping to improve (see above) and affordable housing.
This year the legislature allocated $570 million to build 25,000 affordable units by 2030, fulfilling the promise we made to begin addressing the state's housing crisis. We also committed $50 million to help people transition out of homelessness and into permanent housing. We passed a measure to implement Ohana Zones which would try an unorthodox approach to dealing with homelessness. More can be done. We need to take a serious look at the permitting process that contractors and builders have to go through and find ways to reduce red tape and expedite things so that they can build up badly needed affordable housing as quick as possible. Building up within the urban core, while keeping the country country, is the only conscientious way to deal with Honolulu’s ever-increasing population. Part of this strategy should include the state investing in infrastructure in and around the state’s properties along the transit route. This will attract affordable housing developers who already face enough challenges as it is with financing for vertical affordable housing construction. I have been in dialogue with affordable housing developers who suggest that this is perhaps the most direct and most urgent need to help attract affordable housing projects where they are most desperately needed.
At their core, all three of these issues come down to one category: quality of life. We need to help ensure genuine affordable residences. These residences need to be near locations with adequate transportation infrastructure, near people’s jobs, near enough to commercial and recreational opportunities, and in places where the schools afford our Keiki a quality educational experience.
My highest priority has always been to serve the people of Ewa. When I first ran for office, and ever since, my message to the people of Ewa has always been, “Your priorities are my priorities, because the job is to represent you.” I do not, and have never been there to represent a political network, nor special interests, nor some personal agenda. I do not run my own business or non-profit. I do not cater to specific private interests and have no history with special economic sectors or the entrenched political power structure in this state. And yet, as previously stated, I have delivered for the people of Ewa in the form of millions of dollars for public infrastructure improvements especially in schools, highways, and roads while being responsive to the concerns of ALL of Ewa Beach. I have never cared whether a constituent comes to me with an issue that may be City or Federal rather than State related, or if it is geographically within my district or not, I pride myself on being responsive in a timely manner to all concerns of the people of Ewa and it is them – the good people of Ewa Beach – who will continue to be my highest legislative priority.
On top of continuing to do more with school and transportation public infrastructure as mentioned above, I look forward to doing more work on the following broader issues.
We must continue to protect our natural resources by curbing the use of chemicals and pesticides that can harm animal and plant life and seep into drinking water. Measures such as the chlorpyrifos ban as well as the removal of oxybenzone from sunscreen, which became law this year, are steps in the right direction. But these measures and these goals face fierce opposition from strong pesticide and chemical lobbyists, such as one of my opponents. It is bad enough that these forces are part of the establishment class in our political ecosystem, but to see their agents running for office to fight back against the progress our state has made towards environmental and health protections for our keiki, our aina, and our food supply is disconcerting in the extreme.
As an educator, education has been and always will remain a priority for me: my wife is a public-school teacher, I am Chair of the Asian and Pacific Studies program and an Associate Professor of Philosophy and the Humanities at HPU, and both of our daughters are in public elementary school. In addition to further physical improvements to classroom conditions (which has heretofore been my focus and major success area), we need to also focus on recruiting and retaining quality teachers and improve their working conditions by not requiring them to get bogged down in excessive paperwork, data collection, and administering assessments. Reduce the load of unneeded bureaucracy placed on teachers and put them back in the classroom to improve their sense of purpose and place and give the students the time and attention they deserve. With quality education can come a 21st century workforce that has a shot at making it in a future economy and hopefully will be able to raise families of their own in our islands.
The State and City have already done much to address homelessness and we are seeing the first signs of a decrease, but much more can be done. I would continue to support affordable housing and social services initiatives. But these problems are also tied to economic justice issues, and I will continue to fight to raise the minimum wage to at least $15 an hour and secure paid family and sick leave as well. As a working family, my wife and I have lived from paycheck to paycheck for as long as we have been married (only lately have we personally been able to find a bit more security) so we know the anxiety a sick child, missed work, needed car repairs, or other emergency expense bring to the vast majority of families in our islands. Too many emergencies in a row can quite literally result in a family missing rent or mortgage payments and ending up on the streets or being forced to move to the mainland. If it weren’t for our local family ties and financial support (my wife is born and raised here) I know that we would not have been able to afford even our modest townhome, we would not have been able to afford to have a second child, and I’m fairly certain we would have been forced to move away to the mainland by now. We live these realities every day, along with my constituents and they deserve someone in officer representing them and their lived experiences, not a career special interest lobbyist who has made a living fighting against public health, environmental, and quality of life issues that are so fundamentally important to the vast majority of members in our Ewa community.
This year, I’m proud to have strongly supported Hawaiian Humane Society’s 2018 grant-in-aid funding request to supplement the construction of their planned West Oahu location. This proposal has received strong support from the ‘Ewa Community and lands have been secured for its location near the intersection of Fort Weaver & Old Fort Weaver Roads. The $300,000 grant will supplement an estimated $7.5 million construction budget for the facility with funds coming from various other sources. The West Oahu campus will provide critical services such as animal admissions, adoptions, lost & found, animal care and sheltering, youth education and a long-sought-after community off-leash dog park. This is just one of the reasons why pet owners, veterinarians, and animal lovers support my candidacy.