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Choon James: Adding my two cents in Red

Why would anyone want to enter politics in today’s hyper-polarized environment? Seeking public offices to offer solutions and honest service is severely needed in our democracy! Not every one is into that political pool of polarization and name-calling.  Being hyper-polarized is not conducive to our democracy. I’m happy that there are candidates who focus on issues/solutions in a civil and thoughtful manner.

Civil Beat set out to answer that question by interviewing eight candidates who hadn’t run for elected office before this year. They said they were lured by issues like Hawaii’s high cost of living, climate change, a desire for lower taxes and the need for more efficient and transparent government. Yes!

And while those are subjects longtime politicians frequently cite as well, new blood might be the key to actually addressing them, some newcomers say. I submit that insanity is doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results. Are you happy with the direction Oahu is heading? Longtime politicians and bureaucrats had their chances, what have they done?

Zachary Stoddard CIty Council candidate 2018 elections stands and waves at Punchbowl and Beretania Street.

Zack Stoddard, a 31-year-old City Council candidate, works as a city planner.

Cory Lum/Civil Beat

Anti-abortion candidate Andrew Kayes, a nonpartisan candidate for the state House seat that covers the greater Kahului area, decided to pull papers after the Legislature passed a bill to legalize medical aid in dying, which he opposes.

Others say politicians have stopped listening to the constituents who elected them.

“I’ve just been frustrated with politicians and how they don’t seem to really care at all about working-class people,” said Zack Stoddard, a candidate for Honolulu City Council District 6 that stretches from Makiki to Kalihi. “That’s essentially the number one thing I hear from people.”

Stoddard isn’t a total stranger to local politics. Last year he was appointed to the neighborhood board for the Nuuanu and Punchbowl areas. He volunteered to fill a vacancy for the seat that represents his community during the first board meeting he attended.

He decided to run for the City Council after the District 6 incumbent, Carol Fukunaga, killed a bill to ban styrofoam food containers.

Stoddard said he was concerned about the influence of money in politics. He was one of a few new candidates interviewed by Civil Beat who said they are declining donations and paying their own way.

But Tina Wildberger, a progressive socialist Democrat who’s running to represent the state House seat district that covers Kihei to Wailea-Makena, has a different philosophy about campaign finance.

“I feel like if the people that know about me, care about me, and the people in my community don’t want to support my campaign, I don’t have any business being in that office,” she said.

Wildberger, who advocated for environmental issues and managed Kelly King’s successful campaign for a Maui County Council post, said her run was partly inspired by the #MeToo movement, the Parkland, Florida, school shootings and women’s marches.

In a way, Wildberger got in the race by accident. She had approached Rep. Kaniela Ing, a congressional candidate who will soon vacate the district Wildberger is running to represent, to pick his brain. Wildberger was still weighing a run when she got a call from a reporter who said Ing had endorsed her.

“If we were not experiencing the systematic dismantling of our democratic and environmental protections and protections against women … I don’t know that I would’ve been motivated this much to run,” she said.

Fresh Faces

Some other first-time candidates got into their races without any political experience.

Kelly Kitashima, a candidate running to represent Honolulu City Council District 8 that spans Aiea, Pearl City and Waipahu, became politically engaged when she was promoted to higher management at the hotel where she worked. She opposed efforts to increase taxes on the state’s tourism industry and began submitting testimony to officials.

Kitashima said she found a council run appealing because the office handles topics such as rail, infrastructure and property taxes — issues that affect people’s everyday lives.

Kitashima, whose kids play sports, was frustrated with the state of local fields.

“I am a mom, and I know it sounds so repetitive, but I’m just deathly afraid that my kids won’t be able to live here,” Kitashima said. “It kind of felt like I had to roll up my sleeves and step up.”

Kitashima, a self-described “local girl,” said she started tuning into politics when Donald Trump became president.

“I definitely would say I became a little bit more vigilant that year,” she said, adding there was “more media coverage around politics that you couldn’t ignore.”

Kayes, the candidate for Kahului’s House seat, is also new to politics. He said Hawaii’s political atmosphere is an echo chamber for Democrats. The pro-life physician was vehemently opposed to the medical aid in dying law passed by the Legislature last session.

“I felt like our state was better than this, and I was shocked and I pulled papers within a week of that happening,” he said.

Donald Trump’s ‘Silver Lining’

Many new candidates disagree with President Trump’s politics, but said it’s a good thing that more people who aren’t career politicians have started running for office.

“The silver lining of this administration is that he made (running for office) so accessible to the everyday person that we realized we don’t have to have a Harvard law degree to run for office, we need community members,” said Natalia Hussey-Burdick, a Democratic candidate for a House seat in the Kaneohe area.

Hussey-Burdick has quite a bit of political experience for a first-timer — the 28-year-old has served as a community advocate and legislative clerk and held positions in the Democratic Party.

Natalia Hussey-Burdick says she sees another side to politics as a legislative clerk.

A self-described “political nerd,” said she had always felt she was too opinionated and unpolished to run for office.

She changed her mind after attending the Kuleana Academy bootcamp hosted by the nonprofit Hawaii Alliance for Progressive Action. It’s free for prospective candidates or their staff members, but attendees who end up running are expected to fundraise and donate $1,000 to HAPA.

State Sens. Laura Thielen, Russell Ruderman and Donna Mercado Kim and Reps. Gene Ward, Andria Tupola, Nicole Lowen and Matt LoPresti spoke at the program Hussey-Burdick attended.

Democratic Party executive director Laura Nevitt told the participants that “women will give themselves 100 reasons why they shouldn’t” run for office. That resonated with Hussey-Burdick.

Choon James, a longtime testifier at the Honolulu City Council and now a candidate to represent District 2 on the North Shore, decided to run because she wasn’t happy with the way the field of candidates was shaping up to replace term-limited Councilman Ernie Martin.  Being involved in civil and public affairs for over 3 decades and testifying at the City Council for the past ten years have taught me me a few things about Honolulu Hale! In fact, the only two city council candidates this election year who have been steadfastly participating at Honolulu Hale are Natalie Iwasa CPA, CFE and I.

It also helped that her kids moved out of the house.  I’m an empty nester. My children are grown and are leading success and happy lives of their own. This allows me the opportunity to be more involved unlike my other friends with children or who have to take care of their parents and so forth.

James has been involved in environmental issues and the North Shore’s push to “Keep the Country Country.” I’ve also been a successful and experienced small businesswoman for 30 years. I’ve been involved in protecting private property right, social, economic and environment justice issues. She supports term limits for elected offices and caps on homeowners’ property taxes if they’ve lived on the property for 15 years.  Our residents have severe concerns of being priced out of house and home. They want to live in their homes in their golden years and they want to pass on the home to their children. California enacted Proposition 13 in 1978. What are we waiting for? I will also work with the other 8 city council members to provide incentives for those who rent long term to local residents. We should also focus on increasing the rental inventory, instead of luxury condos to mitigate our housing problems.

She’s not looking to run again if she loses. I’m offering my candidacy as a Citizen Candidate. I do not accept donations from lobbyists or Corporations. I’m paying my way. I’m not running to protect my job. No one is making me run to become a status quo at the City Council. I’m running because I offer an independent voice for ordinary people. The residents’ happiness, welfare, and prosperity come first. I will put residents FIRST!

“I can say as a citizen candidate I honestly have no fear and I have no favor,” she said. “I’m getting old and I’m getting impatient.” Yes, after decades of being an activist and an advocate in land use, economic, social and environment issues, I have seen first hand the workings of Honolulu Hale. I see  how status quo and the oligarchy continue to make life more miserable for our residents, not better. I’ve seen our residents having to work 2-3 jobs to sustain themselves. I’ve seen how the public treasury has been plundered and causing the costs of living to increase. If you are happy with the direction Honolulu is heading and happy with the escalating costs of living, then I’m NOT your candidate.

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Choon James: Honolulu Civil Beat Question – City Revenues

5. Does the city need to boost its revenue? If so, how should that be done?

Why do I think of Nobel Prize Economist Milton Friedman who stated that if you put the government in charge of the Sahara Desert, it would run short of sand in five years?

 I’ve been participating in the city budget process for ten years. There are misguided fiscal priorities like the $1.2 Million consultant from NY and $20 Million to upgrade the Ala Moana Park that irritates local residents to no end.

 There are also systematic failures in the budgeting system that limit the Council’s ability to control budget priorities and spending.

 Huge amounts of funds were expended into consultants, planning and design renderings for the Blaisdell Center Master Plan but recently, Mayor Caldwell said he would hold off. So,  are we going to repeat another expensive master plan again down the road?

 One of the best lines I heard was Budget Chair Ann Kobayashi telling HART CEO Dan Grabrauskas that she took risks with her own money, not the taxpayers’.

Our residents work very hard for their money. Our job is not to plunder the city treasury but to protect it.

Choon James: Answers to Civil Beat Questions

                                                      CIVIL BEAT QUESTIONS

1. How do you think the city should pay for the operation and maintenance of rail once it’s built?

Shouldn’t this O & M costs be addressed at the initial stages?

This flawed Rail project began with Parsons Brinckerhoff (PB) executive Wayne Yoshioka being appointed by Mayor Mufi Hannemann as City Transportation Director.

City then contracted with PB to design the rail route. City then hired InfraConsult LLC to coordinate with PB. (Three PB principals formed InfraConsult prior to the City’s contract).

HART, the semi-autonomous transit authority, was formed with nine appointed directors with no transit background. (Mr. Robert Bunda, fellow candidate, joined the HART Board in 2013.)

The 2012 federal Porter Report stated that Oahu had the ability to pay for its rail project, but must forgo other expenses!

 HART recently shifted this unknown O &M duty to the City Transportation but retained the lucrative Transit Orient Development (TOD).

Earlier, Mayor Caldwell and HART disputed city council’s jurisdiction over HART fiscal decisions. Today, Caldwell and HART want the council to sell $44M bonds to appease the FTA!

 Experts have questioned the ridership estimate of 119,600 trips per day. It’s nearly twice the ridership per kilometer of Miami’s heavy rail – a metropolitan area five times the size of Honolulu.

This ridership estimate is also little higher than Atlanta’s with a population six times the size of Honolulu, according to Erick Guerra, assistant professor of city and regional planning at the University of Pennsylvania.

The Tren Urbano in San Juan, Puerto Rico achieved only 23% of its ridership projection. Rail bonds contributed to its accumulated $74 Billion bankruptcy.

When will the oligarchy stop this fiscal insanity and reassess this runaway project?

Honolulu Mayor Kirk Caldwell’s Media Shenanigans

The Honolulu City and County Mayoral Race is in full swing.

The embattled and incumbent Mayor Kirk Caldwell has raised millions of dollars to fund his campaign through social media. The island is now besieged with blood-sport  advertisements all over the air-waves. It’s up to the public to discern the facts from fiction.

caldwell-rail

Embattled Mayor Caldwell’s campaign is primarily based on social media propaganda.

This, in turn, has resulted in some memes that should air on the Jon Stewart Show. They’re too witty and too funny.

An example: Mayor Kirk Caldwell used a photo version of this August 2016 Greet the President event as his official photo for President Obama’s “endorsement”.  Keep in mind the office of the Honolulu Mayor is non-partisan.

It will be interesting to find out which staff member churned out that generic endorsement.

We question President Obama’s personal knowledge about it because Mayor Caldwell’s past four years as Mayor of Honolulu is a chronic record of violating civil rights and persecuting the most vulnerable in society. (Various federal judges have ordered the city of Honolulu to pay for damages, attorney fees and settlement.) We cannot believe that President Obama would condone such actions that undermine social justice and equality.

This photo below, taken by Civil Beat, in a the quick protocol greeting by government officials in August 2016 at Hickam Air Force Base.

caldwell-obama-security

The Caldwell Campaign’s efforts to crop and paste their photos to augment the Obama endorsement prompted the public to create these other memes.  (“Pilau” is the Hawaiian word for “rotten”. “Hewa” is similar.)

caldwell-obanma

 

 

caldwell-obama

 

caldwell-obama-general

 

caldwell-obama-endorse

 

caldwell-obama-1