HILO — One candidate wants to cut government bureaucracy. Several touted their experience in state government. Another calls herself a democratic socialist, a third wants to repeal taxes.
There are a lot of choices in the race for lieutenant governor, and on Monday evening, five Democrats, two Republicans and one Green Party candidate tried to stand out from the crowded ballot during a forum sponsored by the League of Women Voters of Hawaii County.
There were few surprises during the one and a half hour forum that had the large group answering questions from moderator Sherry Bracken in rapid-fire succession.
When it came to a question about how to handle the current lava crisis in Puna, the three state legislators were in agreement about the need for a special session and more state money for housing those displaced in the emergency. Candidates suggested using vacation rentals and foreclosed homes as temporary housing, in addition to rapid construction of tiny homes.
Even the less-government Republicans agreed this was a time when the government should step in and provide core services.
Of the Democrats on their priorities:
Kauai Mayor Bernard Carvalho Jr. touted his years as mayor and “boots on the ground” experience as important for the job of lieutenant governor. Carvalho said experience as an administrator is different from legislative experience, saying that experience sets him apart from other candidates.
Oahu state Sen. Will Espero pledged to be active and engaged, visiting every public school in his first two years in office, if elected. He’s also pushing for affordable housing.
“I want to be the housing czar for the next administration,” Espero said. “I want to implement the bills that we have passed.”
Kona Sen. Josh Green, a physician, said he’s best prepared to deal with homelessness and the drug addiction epidemic plaguing the state.
“I intend to take ownership of the homeless crisis,” Green said, adding that getting roofs over people’s heads is the first step in getting a handle on high Medicaid costs.
Oahu Sen. Jill Tokuda said she’s concerned that families are being priced out of paradise. This affects younger residents and especially teachers, she said.
“We have to … run government as we all do at our kitchen table,” Tokuda said.
Former Civil Rights Commission and state School Board member Kim Coco Iwamoto, the self-proclaimed democratic socialist, said corporations get too many tax breaks, which is making the state too poor to fund important programs such as education.
“The Legislature has been basically toeing the line of corporate interests,” Iwamoto said. “We need someone here who is going to represent the public.”
On the Republican primary ballot, Oahu shipping business owner Marissa Dipasupil Kerns is all for repealing taxes.
“Working with the Legislature and the governor,” Kerns said, “we need to repeal these taxes these guys are creating. … it has to be across the board. … We’re getting tired of these taxes. … I will fight for you. ”
Government research analyst Jeremy Low said the office of the lieutenant governor is underused. He’d serve as an unofficial inspector general to rout out problems, he said.
“There’s so much bureaucracy in state government, so much waste and fraud,” Low said. “We need to vote for people who have different ways of thinking.”
Former longtime Honolulu city employee Renee Ing is running on the Green Party ticket. She said affordable housing should be built on state land.
“If you build on public land, that should be affordable forever,” Ing said. “And it should stay affordable. Don’t slap the public in the face and say, ‘no you can’t have it anymore,’ after 15 years.”
The candidate with the most votes on their partisan ticket in the Aug. 11 primary will go on to the Nov. 6 general election.
Lieutenant governors in Hawaii have little actual power, although they do become acting governor when the governor is away from the state or unable to perform duties. The lieutenant governor is also the de facto secretary of state, granting name changes, certifying documents for travel abroad, processing land transfers between state agencies and serving as a repository for various official documents.
But the real appeal of the office — it’s seen as a stepping-stone to the governorship or other higher office. Three of the 13 lieutenant governors in state history went on to become governor: George Ariyoshi, Ben Cayetano, and John D. Waihee III. U.S. Sens. Mazie Hirono and Brian Schatz also served as lieutenant governors.
Nonpartisan candidates Ernest G. Magaoay and Paul F. Robotti will appear on the general election ballot and weren’t part of the forum. Republican Steve Lipscomb could not attend the event.