Social Entrepreneur, State Legislator
Hawaiian Airlines, Big Brothers Big Sisters Hawaii, Hawaii State Capitol
State Representative - Kailua, Waimanalo
I’m incredibly thankful for the support of our community as I’ve stood up time and again to change politics as usual, take on the status quo, and successfully pass important laws to help local families, protect consumers, keep repeat criminals off our streets, create new transparency in government and elections, and score big wins improving our schools, roads, and environment.
I was born and raised here on the windward side and have spent a lifetime appreciating what makes our community the special place it is. Over the years I’ve been working with a number of local organizations addressing underserved and at-risk youth and substance abuse while serving on the boards of the Hawaii Meth Project, Breakthroughs for Youth at Risk, and as a member of the Juvenile Justice State Advisory Council. After suffering a stroke several years ago, I realized that our time here is short and we shouldn’t wait for other people to solve our problems. So after working hard to make a full recovery I promised myself I would stand up to tackle the most difficult issues, do the right thing for our community, and take on politics as usual.
Today I am 37 years old and part of a generation growing up here that is now getting married, finding homes, and trying to raise new families in spite of Hawaii’s high cost of living. Facing these challenges first-hand has helped me provide a valuable perspective in the legislative process others may not have, which can often mean understanding the difference between policies to address these issues that sound good, versus policies that actually work. I’ve also learned that while anyone can call for change and speak out against the status quo, it requires significant skill, stamina, and hard work to actually be successful changing it.
I’m thankful to have been able to stand up for our community and win many difficult battles. I was the first legislator to speak out against the NextEra takeover of our local utilities which would have significantly raised our local electric bills and sent our money to the mainland. I organized and led a coalition of over 40 other elected officials, both Democrat and Republican, working together to seek alternatives to NextEra. Together, we stood up for our community and won.
It is this kind of collaboration that has enabled me to successfully help lead the transformation of Hawaii’s environment and energy sectors despite intense opposition from some entrenched stakeholders. I passed a law I wrote which will require HECO to ditch expensive fossil fuels and generate 100 percent renewable energy by 2045, which is on track to save over $5 billion in the years to come. I’ve passed laws directing utilities to integrate more rooftop solar to enable more customers to reduce electric bills, directing all public schools and universities produce their own renewable power by 2035 to save taxpayers hundreds of millions of dollars, requiring developers to plan for sea level rise so taxpayers aren’t left footing the bill to adapt down the road, and this year making Hawaii the first state to commit to carbon neutrality and a zero emissions clean economy by 2045, which will bring new investment to local businesses and agriculture.
I also successfully negotiated the $100 million package to cool our schools over the last two years, and passed another $46 million bill to successfully have cooled over 1200 classrooms to date. I established the first grant programs on behalf of our students who want to grow their own food and reduce waste at their schools, and passed several other innovative bills that advance support for schools and educational policy for which the US Green Building Council Center For Green Schools awarded me as the recipient of their national “best policymaker” award for 2017.
Finally I’ve enjoyed considerable success in other areas of important policy, such as helping to lead the effort and pass several bills to end discrimination against our LGBT community. I’ve passed laws barring stalkers from acquiring firearms, protecting workers from being exploited by their employers, providing tax breaks for local farmers, keeping repeat offenders off our streets, requiring SuperPACs to disclose their secret donors, make elections fraud a felony, and successfully passed amendments that prohibit state contractors from making political contributions. Most of all, I’ve been fortunate to negotiate appropriations for millions of dollars for priority projects on the windward side including improvements to schools, parks, roads, local non-profit organizations, and $1 million for Waimanalo Health Center.
I feel these experiences provide a solid foundation from which to work going forward should I be elected in November.
Our top challenge is addressing Hawaii’s high cost of living. Recent data shows that while Hawaii enjoys the lowest unemployment rate in the nation, we simultaneously have among the lowest rates of financial solvency, with half of all families unable to afford basic food, housing, and healthcare, leaving too many families homeless. Acknowledging this disparity is critical to addressing the myriad causes for it, and mustering the political support necessary to make the bold changes needed to fix it.
This year I supported the unprecedented $50 million the legislature put toward addressing homelessness, and we have already seen our homeless count drop by about 20 percent over the last two years. We must keep this support coming to tackle homelessness in our communities. But we also need a bold rethinking of our tax code and economic framework for a real long-term change, though it will take time to do right. While that is happening, we can move forward on intermediate steps such as making the earned income tax credit refundable, providing for cheaper and better higher education and vocational opportunities, addressing the affordable housing shortage, and through a significant change to enable cheaper access to healthcare for all ages. Reduced access to meaningful healthcare and long-term care only raises costs to everyone as more people end up in the emergency room.
A second priority which is often overlooked, yet critical, is transportation reform. Kailua and Waimanalo are both suburbs, and as a result most families must still commute to work. This results in ever-growing traffic, a higher cost of living, and most concerning of all, an endless stream of annual accidents and deaths - nearly all of which are avoidable. Children and seniors are regularly killed on Kalanianaole Highway in Waimanalo, and at intersections throughout Kailua. After speaking with families of victims, I’ve already appropriated tens of millions in funds for traffic reduction and traffic safety improvements in the district which have already been completed or are now underway, but there is more to be done.
The city of Stockholm once faced similar traffic challenges and decided to reduce pedestrian and driving fatalities to zero by changing the way their roads are designed. They have been incredibly successful and accidental death rates have plummeted. There is no reason we can’t also end traffic-related deaths in our community. Our kids’ and seniors’ lives are more important than anything else, and we can save them if we choose to. It’s what I intend to do.
A third huge priority for Hawaii is dealing with climate change. I passed a law in 2014 which established Hawaii’s Climate Initiative, and it’s first sea level rise report released at the end of 2017 found that we will likely lose over $19 billion in coastal infrastructure in the decades to come. Recent updates by the City and County have found that urban Honolulu will likely begin experiencing regular flooding of the urban core at high tide within the next 15 to 20 years. Low lying areas of Kailua and Waimanalo will be equally impacted and homeowners will no longer be able to afford flood insurance, get mortgages, and taxpayers will be on the hook to pay for road and bridge reconstruction. Hawaii’s fresh water supply is expected to begin drying up as wind patterns change. Deaths from increasing temperatures can now be counted. And we are of course subject to more frequent and intense hurricanes and natural disasters which will raise insurance rates and could cost the state billions.
We cannot wait to begin making changes. The longer we delay the higher the cost to local taxpayers and to our economy will be. This year I passed a law requiring all Environmental Impact Statements to consider sea level rise, but there is more to be done. Next is ensuring our immediate risks and potential for flooding are actually mitigated, and that means significant investment in risk avoidance infrastructure similar to other places with similar risks such as lower Manhattan, among others.
My top priority will be addressing Hawaii’s high cost of living. As I mentioned above recent data shows that while Hawaii enjoys the lowest unemployment rate in the nation, we simultaneously have among the lowest rates of financial solvency, with half of all families unable to afford basic food, housing, and healthcare, leaving too many families homeless. Acknowledging this disparity is critical to addressing the myriad causes for it, and mustering the political support necessary to make the bold changes needed to fix it. This is one issue which affects everyone.
The biggest thing I can do for constituents is to offer them opportunities to get involved with any of these issues which are so critical to our community. I only got involved once I realized individuals can make a difference. I want to get more people involved just the same. After all, real leadership is acknowledging that one cannot solve our greatest problems by themselves, and instead engaging others to get involved to solve our greatest problems together.
Just a big mahalo to everyone who has stepped up to get involved in our community. The truth is no elected official could ever achieve anything all by themselves. Success is built on everyone coming together, so thank you for making all our wins possible!