Gubernatorial Candidates Meet on Maui (published in Maui Weekly)
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Challengers present platforms and comment on the issues of concern to Valley Isle residents.
by Katherine Kama‘ema‘e Smith
Education is a key campaign plank for Hawai‘i’s gubernatorial candidates. After eight years of disappointment, teachers, parents and local communities rejected Gov. Neil Abercrombie, once the great hope of the state’s education system. It is now the hope of the state’s voters that a judge and educator, such as James “Duke” Aiona; an engineer and legislator, such as David Ige; or a businessman and former mayor, such as Mufi Hannemann, can improve the state’s schools and increase student achievement.
The state’s gubernatorial candidates also know that Maui County generates a hefty chunk of state revenues with its robust visitor and hospitality businesses. Three of four candidates for governor attended the only forum on Maui where the candidates will appear together—the Maui Native Hawaiian Chamber of Commerce 8th Annual Business Fest, on Thursday, October 2. Libertarian Candidate Jeff Davis was not present.
The Maui Native Hawaiian Chamber of Commerce (MNHCoC) does for Maui what the League of Women Voters does for the Mainland—provides forums where candidates may address a large segment of the community in person or via public access TV. The MNHCoC does not endorse candidates or issues, but provides educational forums for all topics that influence the Maui economy and Maui businesses. Its mission is to “promote and sustain our Hawaiian culture, nurturing a strong community of Hawaiian valued and to enhance opportunities for success in business and education.”
This event was a public forum—not a debate. It began with each candidate briefly presenting his qualifications and key issues. Then, Moderators Mahina Martin and Ron Vaught posed important questions to the candidates that were submitted by the audience in writing. All three candidates were given opportunity to answer the same question. All questions that were not asked during the forum were sent to the candidates. Their written responses will be posted on the MNHCoC Website at www.mnhcoc.org.
Aiona a retired judge, was elected lieutenant governor with Gov. Linda Lingle, whom he said, he supported but did not agree with on all points. In the intervening years in his legal practice, he defended juveniles in family court. He was also an administrator of St. Louis Academy, involved hands-on with private education. To fulfill his personal kuleana to mentor young people, he also taught a graduate course in government relations at Chaminade University. To understand the problems with Hawai‘i education, Aiona enrolled as a substitute teacher for a local elementary school and helped teach fourth-graders.
“Teachers—good teachers—were leaving,” said Aiona. “I tried to encourage them to stay. I did not fill in for teacher sick days or vacation days. One day a week, I was called in because teachers had to attend mandatory training sessions and meetings. We need to take a new path. We need to let our teachers teach, and encourage parental involvement to make education work.”
Aiona said that school principals are currently acting as managers, not administrators.
“In Hawai‘i, education is 40 percent of the state budget, and there are many inefficiencies and waste, ”he said. “I want an independent audit of both finances and management; I want to change governance of the system.”
When asked if his plan for an audit included an organizational audit of positions, roles and redundancy, he said, “I think that’s part of a management audit.”
Ige is not an educator, but an electrical engineer who has been in business and serving in the state Legislature for 29 years. As chair of the Senate Ways and Means Committee, Ige supported a 4 percent Department of Education budget cut as well as cuts to other state agencies to help the state weather the recent recession.
“In the last weeks of the primary campaign, we knew that the tide was shifting and that we were going to win,” said Ige. “We didn’t know how big the margin would be, but we thought we would win.”
Of the three candidates at the event, he appeared to have the clearest vision for schools.
“I don’t really think that a centralized system directing things really will have the kind of impact that empowering the schools, and getting the best leaders to lead our schools will have,” he said. “I want to empower schools and ensure that those closest to the children have the authority and resources to make the decisions about the education and programs, curriculum and learning, because those closest to the children are in a position to make those decisions.”
Ige is not calling for more audits. He said that there have been lots of financial audits, and the documents supporting the strategic plan say all the “right things.”
“What I’m talking about is actions taken—ensuring that the walk follows the talk,” said Ige. “So much time and resources have been spent on things outside the classroom. If we talk about empowering schools, then we should ensure actions taken and policies implemented really reflect that philosophy.”
Hannemann: “We have the best teachers, the best principals and the best students in the nation,” said Hannemann. “People are upset because they were promised a lot of things that never panned out. We have to make decisions at the school level instead of this top-down. We have to make sure they are getting the tools and funding that they need—the best facilities and equipment and the best salaries. We are the fifth worst in the nation at supporting our teachers. It’s a travesty. Our teachers have the most impact on our children and we have to empower them. Teachers have the most important role in our lives aside from our parents.”
He spoke about helping Michael Kukikawa in 2012, the first Molokai student to attend Harvard, and how his success as a student influences the hopes and dreams of other students.
“Michael proves that we have the talent and the will to educate our students,” said Hannemann. “Our educators need to know that the governor is going to get out of the way and let creativity come into the classroom. Our job is to work at the grassroots level to encourage students, families teachers and administrators to create a motivated workforce for Hawai‘i.”
Q: Do you support Hoʻopai ‘ana (self governance) for Hawaiians?
Hannemann: “I am committed to and open to a community moratorium on the process. As governor, I would want to see more consensus—and a new governor can make an impact. Let’s take two steps back and get educated. Non-Hawaiians don’t know what it’s all about. I will work on the Hawaiian side and the non-Hawaiian side at the grassroots level.
Aiona: “I and my lieutenant governor running mate, Pastor Elwin Ahu of Hope Chapel Metro Honolulu, bring a Native Hawaiian perspective to this issue, and one of consensus and collaboration. My experience as a judge and mediator applies to this issue and many others. Kana‘iolowalu Native Hawaiian Roll does not represent a majority of people who consider themselves Hawaiian. Thirty-five percent is not consensus. I will look to the past and the present and humbly try to bring all together.”
Ige: “A grave injustice was dealt in 1893. The Department of Interior Hearings prove that we need more dialog, listening sessions and educational programs all around the state. This issue affects all the people in Hawai‘i and the open and fair process has to be understood by all people groups. We need to move forward as a state.”
Q: Instead of budgeting $130 for Kïhei High School, DOE only budgeted $30 million. What can be done?
Ige: “I worked with Maui Rep. Kaniela Ing and Sen. Roz Baker on funding for Kïhei High School, and I will continue to support this project.”
Aiona: “Of course we should be building more schools. This problem highlights trust and respect. Actually, funding for public education by 4 percent with the current Legislature. Mr. Ige talks out of both sides of his mouth.”
Hannemann: “Kïhei High School should be fully funded. Legislators don’t know how things pan out and work. The governor has to put Kïhei High School into the state budget and let the Legislature know that it is a top priority. This going back and forth will not do it.”
Q: What are your plans to support the economy of Neighbor Islands?
Hannemann: “I will be creating a “Hawai‘i Council of Leaders” like my Honolulu Council so Neighbor Islands will not be left behind. I’d like to like to overhaul the tax system. How can we make it more business friendly? I want to bring back the interisland ferry for small business owners and farmers. I want to set up public/private partnerships so we don’t have to rely on public funding to get things done.”
Aiona: “I embrace small government, less regulation and lower taxes. The economy of Neighbor Islands runs on small businesses. Government needs to get out of the way of small business.”
Ige: “It has been reported that we have millions of dollars in unreported and uncollected taxes. Bringing that in should do a lot for the Neighbor Islands.”
Q: How will you support affordable housing?
Hannemann: “Price points are too high. The state needs to be a facilitator, not a builder, and make permitting easier. We need to make grants and low-interest loans more available. Perhaps state land put to use for long-term leases would help. Get the military to build more housing so military employees are not competing for housing. The time for talk is over.”
Aiona: “The affordable rentals plan that shifts revenues to affordable home trust fund works. This model can be replicated on the Neighbor Islands. One of the current problems is that loopholes in the affordable housing regulations that allow developers to delay requirements or build the affordable housing at another location than was originally approved. I have done a study that identifies cash-down payments as the biggest barrier to families entering affordable housing. Next week, I will be introducing my plan to help low-income families save for that down payment and buy their affordable home.”
Ige: “This is one of the most pressing issues and we are ready to take action. One billion dollars is available for down payments through the state of Hawai‘i Hula Mae Program and the Down Payment Assistance Program. The state needs to make available state lands for rental assistance developments throughout the state.”
Q: What is your one greatest achievement that qualifies you to be the next governor?
Hannemann: “Putting together a team [as Honolulu’s mayor] to improve our community. We accomplished so much for Honolulu: rail, trash, curbside recycling, sewer infrastructure repairs, ended the EPA lawsuit and saved Waimea Valley from development. I am proud that I was able to capably run a group of 52,000 employees.”
Aiona: “As lieutenant governor, I was trained to run the state. I am trained and prepared for governorship. I assisted Gov. Lingle, and was permitted to work on some of my own statewide projects: social work agencies, drug abuse, and the Up-Links After School Program for middle schools, with counseling, activities and transportation.”
Ige: “In my 29 years in the Senate, I am most proud of working on getting rid of archaic rules that hindered the legislative process. The gridlock that hampers the U.S. Congress cannot happen here because of that work. I took the Senate paperless and opened public access to our work through the Website. I made our budget process paperless. I want to be sure that people are a part of the government and restore your voice.”
Akakü Maui Community Media presented live coverage on channel 55 and filmed the entire forum. To find out about rebroadcasts of the event, visit www.akaku.org program listings for Channel 55.
Photo: Gubernatorial candidates pull together for a quick photo at Grand Wailea Haleakala Ballroom, site of the Maui Native Hawaiian Chamber of Commerce 8th Annual Business Fest. L to R: State Senator David Ige, former Mayor of Honolulu, Mufi Hannemann, former Lieutenant Governor Duke Aiona, with MNHCoC President Doreen Napua Gomes, and Immediate Past President Kai Pelayo, Director of Operations for Grand Wailea Resort.