The 2022 change-in-command election, in which Hawaii voters will decide who should sit at the helm of state government, occurs at a time when many chronic problems have grown worse — and at a time when the economic outlook is uncertain.
All of these concerns require more than oversight. They demand leadership, and the Democratic Party team of Josh Green and Sylvia Luke, as governor and lieutenant governor, are the ones best prepared, with an affirmative agenda and legislative connections that will help them realize their plans for the good of Hawaii.
Among the problems they seek to address, affordable housing is paramount, given today’s disappointingly slow pace. Even with the transit-oriented development potential of Oahu’s rail project, little affordable housing is in the pipeline on state-owned land. Fulfilling TOD potential should rank high on the next governor’s job list.
Climate change and sea-level rise is posing a clear and present danger to the state’s shoreline roadways and to residential areas along the coast.
A once-distant threat to water supplies from the Navy’s Red Hill underground fuel storage tanks has become a reality, challenging state leaders to press for a timely, safe defueling.
There is tourism to shepherd, and homelessness to remedy. There are post-pandemic struggles in the public schools to correct, and large projects such as the Aloha Stadium redevelopment to move to long-overdue completion.
The Democrats are vying for the offices against GOP gubernatorial nominee Duke Aiona and his running mate, Seaula Tupa‘i. Former Lt. Gov. Aiona and Tupa‘i, a Hilo pastor, have been campaigning on a moderate Republican platform.
For example, they point to lower taxation and deregulation as a means to empower the private sector to provide more of the housing that Hawaii residents sorely need.
Aiona also has signaled a willingness to leave social issues such as abortion rights to the lawmakers. Although this more modest vision of the governor’s role might appeal to some, in this case it ignores the reality that the governor has a veto pen, which means Aiona’s pro-life position does remain a relevant issue in this campaign.
Further, housing does require government intervention to ensure financing for affordable units, which the private sector is not inclined to provide otherwise. Services needed for the homeless, too, do take an assertive administration to coordinate the agencies and private and nonprofit partners involved.
On this front, it’s the Green-Luke ticket that lays out the policies equal to the challenges Hawaii faces.
These include what is probably Green’s marquee issue, the development of shelter and health services for the homeless. By championing the kauhale model — a communal setting for the homeless — he has demonstrated advocacy for the neediest residents, driving projects to completion.
On affordable housing, his 10-point plan includes a crackdown on the state’s estimated 25,000 illegal vacation rentals, a state-subsidized homebuyers’ loan program and working with counties to lower construction costs by reviewing water, sewer and other fees imposed on builders.
On managing tourism, he would assess a $50 visitor fee as a means of raising revenue for upkeep of public places frequented by tourists and kamaaina alike.
Aiona opposes what he sees as a threat to the state’s bedrock industry. But the consensus now is on keeping tourist arrivals in balance with the islands’ carrying capacity. The fee is worth exploring, to find a fair way of collecting what is essentially another tourist tax.
Among Green’s education initiatives is the development of a universal public pre-kindergarten program, a commitment that also figures prominently in Luke’s platform.
Green has lots of projects he’d like to tackle. The imperative for this team, though, is to set priorities. These plans will take money, and there could be an economic downturn altering the trajectory of any governor’s initiatives.
In addition, the Democrat has said he would favor executive orders to carry out specific policies, including one to protect abortion rights for women in Hawaii. That’s well-intended: Leaders should defend Hawaii’s long-standing positions on such social concerns.
Generally, though, issuing orders can’t substitute for fostering a cooperative relationship with lawmakers, which is key in making important, lasting change.
The coming four years certainly will raise new hurdles for those on the state Capitol’s fifth floor. But Josh Green and Sylvia Luke have argued, persuasively, that they have the best agenda to meet the moment.