Issues

Civil Beat Candidate Survey

BIOGRAPHICAL INFORMATION

Name: Matthew S. LoPresti, Ph.D.

Office seeking: State House of Representatives, District 41 (‘Ewa & ‘Ewa Beach)

Occupation: Associate Professor of Philosophy and Humanities

Community organizations/prior offices held: Hawai’i State House of Representatives (two terms 2014-18), ‘Ewa Neighborhood Board (treasurer), Sierra Club, O’ahu Group Executive Committee (elected to two terms serving as Vice Chair and Political Committee Chair), Sons of the American Revolution, Hawai’i Society (Public Relations Officer), Navy League of the United States of America (member), Boy Scouts of America (parent volunteer for my two daughters’ Cub Scout pack).

Age: 46

Place of residence: Hoakalei/Ocean Pointe ‘Ewa Beach, HI

QUESTIONS:

1. Hawaii has been deeply affected by the coronavirus pandemic. Perhaps the biggest impact is to the economy and the tourism industry, which has been Hawaii’s biggest economic driver. Do you think state leaders have handled the response to the virus effectively, including the approach to testing and health care as well as the stay-at-home orders that have caused serious economic harm? What would you have done differently?

The state has not adequately responded to the crisis. Even when things went well, the communication was confusing and seemed to conflict with the messaging from the counties. There are two main reasons for our low infection numbers: (1) the personal sacrifices of everyday people who complied with stay at home orders (thank you!), and (2) our geographic isolation. Were it not for (2) our infection rates would still be very high.

We cannot remain closed forever, but we can control how we reopen. Like New Zealand, we should use our geographic isolation to our advantage. We must test anyone before they step foot on an airplane bound for Hawaii, followed by a rigorous track and trace program. I would have implemented such a policy early on. It is unacceptable that we do not yet have this in place. We cannot properly plan, much less govern with poor data.

While I’ve long been in favor of pre-testing folks before flying to the islands, the science is telling us that one pre-flight test alone is insufficient. A second test upon arrival is also necessary if we are going to safely reopen Hawaii. (This is an update to my responses to questions here, as they were written in mid-summer.)

I would have encouraged the use of empty hotels to temporarily assist those living on the streets and better coordinated the messaging of state and local government. This final failure caused much confusion and consternation amongst the public and failed to inspire confidence that our leaders knew what they were doing.

2. The state budget is facing record shortfalls. How would you balance the budget? What would you cut? What would you protect?

Maintaining a budget during at a time like this requires the wisdom to know what we can do without and the forethought to avoid pennywise but pound-foolish temptations.

Many of our state workers are already undercompensated. Perpetually poor compensation for educational professionals, for example, has resulted in thousands of unfilled education positions by highly qualified professionals and the nation’s worst teacher turnover rate. It would be foolish to compound this already critical problem, so I would protect their salaries and pensions. Many such workers and their families have still not recovered from the last time the state tried to balance the budget on their backs in 2008.

I would implement a hiring freeze, eliminate vacant positions, find efficiencies as suggested by ongoing performance audits, look to repeal certain GET exemptions, consider an income tax increase on the top 5% and impose a 20% salary reduction for appointed and elected officials while also holding off on their scheduled pay raises. Lastly, this crisis will not last forever and the state can borrow what it must to fulfil the state’s vital functions.

3. What do you think should be done to diversify the economy? What would you do as an elected official to make that happen?

Pursue major infrastructure projects by leveraging state lands along the rail route for genuinely affordable housing projects. With three growing seasons, focus on producing local food for local consumption. Hawaii should be a leader in developing clean renewable energy technology. Hawaii has genuine potential for growth in the development and implementation of emerging aerospace industries. With these last two, our children can have the choice of high-paying professional carriers right here at home.

Attract higher-paying tourists (not just focus on raw numbers) and find ways to make the tourism industry work for the working people by keeping more of enormous profits generated by our state’s largest industry in our state.

Lastly, we must protect fragile but successful areas of our economy. Failure to implement a plan to bring back the thousands of higher-paying international and mainland students who enroll in Hawaii’s universities will result in a catastrophic collapse of our state’s institutions of higher education. Not only do local universities provide a substantial contribution to the diversification of our state’s economy, they are essential to the development of an educated local workforce necessary to any economic diversification. Without maintaining strong local universities any discussion about economic diversification is just talk.

4. Are you satisfied with the current plans to pay for the state’s unfunded liabilities? If not, how would you propose to meet pension and health obligations for public workers? Would you support reductions in benefits including in pension contributions for public employees in light of virus-related budget shortfalls?

The state has actually been making progress towards paying down this debt. It would not be fair to renege on promises made to government employees. The fault is not theirs but the politicians who made those commitments without adequately paying for them decades ago.

Those politicians reaped the political rewards of over promising resources they never planned to provide, but you and I and our children now have to pay for their short sightedness. These sorts of generational injustices are building up in many ways and it is very distressing to myself, to my generation, and to the generation I work and learn with every day as a professor. We need leaders who see the grand scope and consequences our decisions have for the generations who come after us; we have a moral obligation to leave them a better world and I will always do what I can to help make it so.

5. The state’s virus response effort has exposed deep rifts within the top levels of government, including between the Legislature and Gov. David Ige. He will be in office two more years, so what would you do to ensure public confidence in Hawaii’s government officials and top executives?

Transparency is key to accountability. If they are required to hold their decision making and hearings in public, they are more likely to behave themselves and overcome petty differences and personal agendas, focusing instead on the public good.

6. Recent deaths of citizens at the hands of police are igniting protests and calls for reform across the country, primarily aimed at preventing discrimination against people of color. How important do you see this as an issue for Hawaii? What should be done to improve policing and police accountability throughout the state? Do you support police reform efforts such as mandatory disclosure of misconduct records by police agencies and adequate funding for law enforcement oversight boards that have been established in recent years?

Every person deserves equal protection and representation before the law. As a country we have failed to live up this ideal and people are right to be upset and to demand justice. I cannot claim to know what it is like, as I am not a person of color, but I can listen and work to empower others.

In Hawaii, Native Hawaiians, for example, are overrepresented in our prison populations and they are more likely to be arrested and incarcerated. We need to take a hard look at the policing of these communities and why they are more likely to face harsher penalties than others who commit the same offenses.

As Vice Chair of the Public Safety committee I supported (and still support) the development of police standards boards. They must be fully funded. Police disciplinary record disclosure can help transparency and accountability and I have supported and introduced legislation requiring body cameras.

I authored and passed a resolution to further implement the use of Ho’oponopono (a Native Hawaiian form of conflict resolution) for non-violent offences. I believe that indigenous wisdom and methods can help victims and communities heal and overcome the root sources of crime.

7. Hawaii is the only Western state without a statewide citizens initiative process. Do you support such a process?

While I am a strong supporter of “people-driven” political action, as a matter of standing permanent policy, I am honestly of two minds on this issue. On the one hand, I support the idea in principal but, ultimately such a process is a sword that cuts both ways and the dangers of dark money hijacking this process are well-documented. It is for this reasons that I would err on the side of not supporting a statewide initiative process at this time.

The amount of dark money that flows in from other places to influence local issues via referendum process in other states deeply troubles me. This otherwise seemingly wholesome process of citizen engagement could easily become co-opted by dark money forces outside of our state with their own private agendas. Once we can more adequately shine light on money in politics, we could more reasonably consider a referendum process. There is a lot of work to be done before we get there.

8. Hawaii’s public records law mandates that public records be made available whenever possible. Gov. David Ige suspended the open government laws under an emergency order during the pandemic. Do you agree or disagree with his action? What would you do to ensure the public has access to open meetings and public records in a timely fashion?

No, I do not agree with the Governor’s suspension of open government laws and see no justification for his having done so. We should remove barriers, not impose them.

9. What should Hawaii be doing to prepare for the effects of climate change, including sea level rise and threats to the reefs? How big of a priority is this for you?

Protecting the environment is a driving personal and public concern for me. My service on our local Sierra Club’s Executive Board helped inspire me to run for the state legislature. Our family has transitioned to solar power and an electric vehicle. Despite their upfront costs, these choices were made for both ethical and economically sound reasons. We should make it easier for people to make environmentally sustainable choices. Carbon taxes are generally agreed upon by experts as one of the best ways to discourage fossil fuel use. Moreover, Hawaii could lead the way with a cap and trade market, utilizing our abundant natural resources as an enormous economic boon as carbon sinks on the international market.

High-density housing is increasing in areas we know for a fact will be underwater in just a few decades. It would be madness to not begin having the necessary, but uncomfortable conversations about which areas, if any, we are going to try to save by hardening shorelines or building seawalls, and which areas we will allow to naturally erode. Climate change is already here, and we need to codify the foundations for managed retreat now.

10. What do you see as the most pressing issue facing your district? What will you do about it?

The themes on which I will focus my efforts are four-fold. (1) Supporting our keiki and our public schools is first. Despite our great success in getting air conditioning in ‘Ewa schools and new buildings to deal with overcrowding, our schools are still over capacity, rundown, and we’ve needed a second high school for decades. Physical buildings need major renovations, the athletics complex needs to be redone, our teachers need pay increases, and our Title IX obligations to our girls requires serious and immediate attention.

(2) Traffic mitigation is also paramount. Completing rail, PM contraflow lanes on Fort Weaver Road, staggered work times, telecommuting, and moving state and county office jobs to the long designated, but never built office buildings in Kapolei would help.

We also need more attention to (3) caring for our Kupuna and (4) the overall cost of living. This means raising the minimum wage, requiring paid sick leave and paid family leave, as well as accounting for the millions in unpaid caregiving provided by family to family in our state.

It is unfortunate this comes at the close of the survey and with only 200 words to respond. Visit www.Matt4Ewa.com for details.

11. The coronavirus pandemic has exposed numerous flaws in Hawaii’s structure and systems, from outdated technology to economic disparity. If you could take this moment to reinvent Hawaii, to build on what we’ve learned and create a better state, a better way of doing things, what would you do? Please share One Big Idea you have for Hawaii. Be innovative, but be specific.

While I appreciate the idea of painting pretty pictures of a completely reinvented Hawaii, as a lawmaker I prefer to look real problems straight in the face and find practical solutions inspired by shared values. The values themselves are best expressed by poets and philosophers at greater length and in other venues, to which I am happily open.

This economic crisis is the perfect time to leverage public land along the rail corridor for genuinely affordable housing. Altering the patterns of development is largely what the rail system is supposed to bring about, so let’s stop talking about transit-oriented development and start doing it by investing in large workforce housing projects on state land. The state can provide infrastructure costs to help developers reach real affordable housing needs. Alternatively, we could ourselves finance projects directly – so long as they serve an immediate public good, like designated teacher housing. High and medium density housing projects for urban infill face enormous financial burdens because of increased upfront costs and risk, so the state should itself look to provide low-cost loans for low-priced housing. This is the time when large public works programs can do the most good. Let’s do it.

Matt’s responses to other questions and surveys:

Please describe your qualifications to represent the people of Hawaii.

Public service, for me, is a calling informed by my faith, my profession, and my commitment to helping others.

Ewa Beach in particular and West Oahu in general needs a strong voice to represent our interests, to speak up and take action on the issues that matter the most to my constituents. My foremost statewide concern is, of course, is the current health and safety crisis as well as its economic fallout, but in my district, where I live, we need a leader to focus on everyday regular issues too, like the state of our public schools, alleviating soul-crushing traffic, and our infrastructure that is either crumbling where it stands or nonexistent where it is needed most. Just because everything is on pause doesn’t mean that any of these issues have gone away – they are right where we left them and are waiting for us whenever it is that we return to our regular day-to-day lives. But we must not just go back to the way things were, because the way things were was a system that was failing working people living paycheck to paycheck, it was failing our children with underfunded schools and stressed out unsupported teachers (with thousands and thousands of vacancies due to our unconscionably low pay and low priority that our state actually places upon education), it was failing people who need real affordable housing closer to where their jobs are, it was failing to provide even the most basic worker protections that nearly every other modern nation has – like paid sick and family leave. The system was failing so many of us in so many ways before this crisis hit. What many voters and policy makers have now – I hope – is a shared clarity of the injustices built into the current system that need serious attention and which you the voter must hold legislators to account for in the months and years ahead. The worst thing that could happen once we find our way out of the current crisis is to just go back to the way things were and we need to elect leaders today that will do what it takes to make the changes necessary to get us back on track towards a more just society.

Our community needs a leader who will consistently stand up for our community, but we also need someone with a proven record of accomplishments who can understand and work with people from all backgrounds to bring needed change to our current system as well as to bring home needed resources for Ewa Beach. People all over my district, from all backgrounds and political persuasions have approached me of their own volition expressing their desire for me to represent them again for these very reasons. They know that I am an effective fighter for progressive causes and for our community. I feel that it is my duty to step up and dedicate myself to public service, and I am deeply humbled to know that I have the faith and confidence of so many in our community and across our state. I will do my utmost to honor your faith in my abilities to represent working families and put my community’s needs above my own.

What will be your top priority if elected?

The themes on which I will focus my efforts are four-fold. (1) Supporting our keiki and our public schools is first. Despite our great success in getting air conditioning in ‘Ewa schools and new buildings to deal with overcrowding, our schools are still over capacity, rundown, and we’ve needed a second high school for decades. Physical buildings need major renovations, the athletics complex needs to be redone, our teachers need pay increases, and our Title IX obligations to our girls requires serious and immediate attention.

(2) Traffic mitigation is also paramount. Completing rail, PM contraflow lanes on Fort Weaver Road, staggered work times, telecommuting, and moving state and county office jobs to the long designated, but never built office buildings in Kapolei would help.

We also need more attention to (3) caring for our Kupuna and (4) the overall cost of living. This means raising the minimum wage, requiring paid sick leave and paid family leave, as well as accounting for the millions in unpaid caregiving provided by family to family in our state.

Details on many of these issues are below.

As Hawaii faces the COVID-19 pandemic, what more can be done to protect residents’ health?

The state has not adequately responded to the crisis. Even when things went well, the communication was confusing and seemed to conflict with the messaging from the counties. There are two main reasons for our relatively low infection numbers: (1) the personal sacrifices of everyday people who complied with stay at home orders (thank you!), and (2) our geographic isolation. Were it not for (2) our infection rates would still be very high.

We cannot remain closed forever, but we can control how we reopen. Like New Zealand, we should use our geographic isolation to our advantage. We must test anyone before they step foot on an airplane bound for Hawaii, followed by a rigorous track and trace program. I would have implemented such a policy early on. It is unacceptable that we do not yet have this in place. Furthermore, we cannot properly plan, much less govern with poor data; track and trace programs are essential to this. This data should also be constantly available to the public.

I would encourage the use of empty hotels to temporarily assist those living on the streets and better coordinated the messaging of state and local government. This final failure caused much confusion and consternation amongst the public and failed to inspire confidence that our leaders knew what they were doing.

As for going back to school, the state must listen to parents and teachers concerns about what this means for health and safety. Many people feel that they are not being listened to and the set public health policy and standards should not be different from school to school or classroom to classroom. The children, teachers, staff, and families deserve a standard approach so that everyone is held to the same standards backed by the best science and advice of experts.

What more can be done to help residents who have been economically affected by the COVID-19 pandemic?

This crisis exposes the failing of our current system on so many levels (see my statement on why I am running). It especially exposes the antiquated systems state government still relies on. If they cannot even process claims in a timely fashion then help will be delayed at best if not outright denied by a failing system. The state needs to modernize the Unemployment Insurance system for starters. We also need to implement longer rent and mortgage protections for those who have lost their jobs and small business loans for those trying to keep jobs for their employees. Much of this needs to come from the Federal Government but our state also has excellent credit, we will clearly have to use it to do some of these things.

Last, but not least, we absolutely need to have paid sick leave, paid family leave, and better access to health care that is not reliant on a specific job. With so many out of work during this pandemic, they are also losing their health care – the system we have is actually making the pandemic worse. Furthermore, without sick leave, people are having to choose between losing their jobs but keeping colleagues safe, or possibly infecting colleagues but still being able to pay their bills. Our system is forcing people between options no one would want to choose; it doesn’t have to be this way. We need elected leaders who are smart enough to recognize these facts, moral enough to acknowledge that the system is condemnable, and brave enough to do something about it.

Should public worker furloughs, pay cuts or downsizing be used to help the state deal with lower tax revenues and higher expenses during the pandemic? Why or why not?

Maintaining a budget during at a time like this requires the wisdom to know what we can do without and the forethought to avoid pennywise but pound-foolish temptations.

The possibilities alluded to in your question, should be avoided precisely because many of our state workers are already undercompensated. Perpetually poor compensation for educational professionals, for example, has resulted in thousands of unfilled education positions by highly qualified professionals and the nation’s worst teacher turnover rate. It would be foolish to compound this already critical problem, so I would protect their salaries and pensions. Many such workers and their families have still not recovered from the last time the state tried to balance the budget on their backs in 2008.

I would implement a hiring freeze, eliminate vacant positions, find efficiencies as suggested by ongoing performance audits, look to repeal certain GET exemptions and impose a 20% salary reduction for appointed and elected officials while also holding off on their scheduled pay raises. Lastly, this crisis will not last forever and the state can borrow what it must to fulfil the state’s vital functions.

Hawaii’s tourism-dependent economy has suffered greatly due to the pandemic. If elected, what would you propose to support and diversify the state’s economy?

Obviously tourism is important, and we need to safely reopen that sector, but we also need to diversity the economy beyond just tourism. But how? Here are some ideas that I have:

Pursue major infrastructure projects by leveraging state lands along the rail route for genuinely affordable housing projects. With three growing seasons, focus on producing local food for local consumption. Hawaii should be a leader in developing clean renewable energy technology. Hawaii has genuine potential for growth in the development and implementation of emerging aerospace industries. With these last two, our children can have the choice of high-paying professional carriers right here at home.

Attract higher-paying tourists (not just focus on raw numbers) and find ways to make the tourism industry work for the working people by keeping more of enormous profits generated by our state’s largest industry in our state.

Lastly, we must protect fragile but successful areas of our economy. Failure to implement a plan to bring back the thousands of higher-paying international and mainland students who enroll in Hawaii’s universities will result in a catastrophic collapse of our state’s institutions of higher education. Not only do local universities provide a substantial contribution to the diversification of our state’s economy, they are essential to the development of an educated local workforce necessary to any economic diversification. Without maintaining strong local universities any discussion about economic diversification is just talk.

Is there anything more that you would like voters to know about you?

Interestingly, this survey didn’t even ask about affordable housing or climate change. I believe that these are the single greatest quality of life, and existential issues facing our state and the world.

On affordable housing: This economic crisis is the perfect time to leverage public land along the rail corridor for genuinely affordable housing. Altering the patterns of development is largely what the rail system is supposed to bring about, so let’s stop talking about transit-oriented development and start doing it by investing in large workforce housing projects on state land. The state can provide infrastructure costs to help developers reach real affordable housing needs. Alternatively, we could ourselves finance projects directly – so long as they serve an immediate public good, like designated teacher housing, for example. High and medium density housing projects for urban infill face enormous financial burdens because of increased upfront costs and risk, so the state should itself look to provide low-cost loans for low-priced housing. This is the time when large public works programs can do the most good. Let’s do it.

On Climate Change: Protecting the environment is a driving personal and public concern for me. My service on our local Sierra Club’s Executive Board helped inspire me to run for the state legislature. Our family has transitioned to solar power and an electric vehicle. Despite their upfront costs, these choices were made for both ethical and economically sound reasons. We should make it easier for people to make environmentally sustainable choices. Carbon taxes are generally agreed upon by experts as one of the best ways to discourage fossil fuel use. Moreover, Hawaii could lead the way with a cap and trade market, utilizing our abundant natural resources as an enormous economic boon as carbon sinks on the international market.

High-density housing is increasing in areas we know for a fact will be underwater in just a few decades. It would be madness to not begin having the necessary, but uncomfortable conversations about which areas, if any, we are going to try to save by hardening shorelines or building seawalls, and which areas we will allow to naturally erode. Climate change is already here, and we need to codify the foundations for managed retreat now.

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