A look at Councilmember Kym Pine for Mayor

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Kym Pine is the only candidate running for mayor that is currently holding elected office. Unlike former mayor Mufi Hannemann or former U. S. Representative Colleen Hanabusa, she is currently in office.

Pine has held office for the last 15 years, serving as a member of the Hawaii House of Representatives for 43rd District from 2004-2012 (four terms). She was elected to the Honolulu City Council representing District 1 in 2012, serving two terms.

At the outset of her first City Council term, Pine was supportive of Mayor Kirk Caldwell. More recently, however, she has publicly distanced herself from him.

During the COVID-19 crisis, she repeatedly expressed frustration with Caldwell and Gov. David Ige over their apparent disconnect with the public and inability to manage a cohesive message to the public. She has publicly stated that she is a “an outsider to Honolulu politicians” and challenged Caldwell over the mismanagement of HART. She publicly supported protesters of Caldwell’s failed $32 million sports complex in Sherwood Forest.

She also supported the neighborhood boards in opposing 13, 260-foot wind turbines in the Palehua Agricultural Lands, considered sacred Hawaiian lands.

Pine’s party loyalty has drawn scrutiny. She was elected to the State House as the first ever Republican for the Ewa Beach-Iroquois Point area, but resigned from the Republican Party in 2016 because she said that “many of the national party’s new priorities had diverted from her long-held philosophical beliefs about inclusivity and progress,” according to Wikipedia.

Some hardcore Democrats don’t trust her; some hardcore Republicans don’t trust her. Many call her inauthentic.

At some point, Eric Ryan, a controversial cyber-bully, began helping Pine during her first run for City Council. It is unclear if the work was state (she was still in the State House) or campaign (she was running for her first term in City Council) related, but the relationship deteriorated. Ryan claims Pine refused to pay him what he was owed.

Ryan launched a full-scale smear campaign in 2012 during her run for City Council, labeled “Kym Pine is a Crook.” Ryan had been in trouble for his cyber attacks before, according to Civil Beat, which labeled him a “serial slanderer.” He became the subject of a TRO from Pine, and ultimately, was arrested for his efforts.

As a result, Pine introduced landmark legislation that enabled law enforcement to better fight cyber crime in Hawaii. There are murmurs that he is still active on social media using the Hawaii Republican Assembly organization.

She also started the Hire Leeward Job Fair after Hawaii Medical Center closed, laying off 1,000 people, which is now in its seventh year. Those were her most effective efforts during her four terms in the House, where, being Republican, she was part of an ever-shrinking minority that has suffered dramatically after Republican Gov. Linda Lingle left office.

Her record, built largely during the last eight years at City Council, shows that she champions some progressive causes that might make Republicans uncomfortable and others that would make liberals squeamish.

She also authored Bill 10 that ensured gender equality in allocation of park permits for sports after female surfers complained that they could not obtain permits for female surf contests on the North Shore.

However, that effort was first led by her city council colleague, Ann Kobyashi and Pine has been criticized for using social media to “take over” her colleague’s initiatives as if they were her own.

In her first term at City Council, Pine served as the powerful Chair of the Zoning and Housing Committee, garnering mumblings that she was “too close” to developers, tying that to her campaign contributions. Many claim that the expediency of council approval of zoning changes was directly proportional to donations to her campaign.

That support has not exactly translated to dollars in Pine’s run for mayor. Nor has it resulted in any endorsements from powerful unions, which have largely been doled out to her mayoral competitors, Colleen Hanabusa, Mufi Hannemann, Keith Amemiya and Rick Blangiardi. Either they have a short memory or the perception was not a fact. It can’t be “what have you done for me lately” because none of the people they endorsed are in a position to do more than promise…

In her second term, she was named chair of the Council on Business, Economic Development and Tourism. During her term, the Honolulu City Council has passed legislation to limit short-term vacation rentals, Bill 85 and Bill 89. Mayor Kurt Caldwell signed Bill 89, limiting the number of legal rentals and their location, but vetoed Bill 85, which would have added additional restrictions.

Pine has been a supporter of the rail. When the voters approved the rail in 2008, it was estimated to cost $5 billion and scheduled to begin opening in 2018. At that time, though voters approved the rail, Pine voted against the funding, saying that she did not believe that the cost estimates were accurate.Today, because of systemic issues including an incomplete EIR and poor planning for utility relocation, thanks to then-mayor Mufi Hannemann – that price has doubled – with no end in site. The Honolulu rail project is the largest public works project in Hawaii’s history – and maybe the largest boondoggle, as well. It has the highest per capita price tag of any public works project in US history.

But Pine has supported the rail project, citing a mandate by the voters from 2008. She has voted “aye” on every proposal for funding at the Council.

The rail, which begins in her district in West Oahu, could bring relief to her constituents from the daily hours-long drive to Honolulu for work. But critics say that the rail is not going to have enough riders to justify the enormous price tag, which may be a reality with changes that have occurred during the pandemic, including remote working.

Worse still, HART, the acronym for the Honolulu Authority for Rapid Transportation, is the subject of a federal investigation. HART and its employees have been served with a wide swath of federal subpoenas, leading to a $200,000 budget item to pay for legal representation.

Pine has blasted fellow candidate Mufi Hannemann, who was mayor when the rail began – and publicly, and passionately, stated that she hopes that the Feds jail those who are responsible. But his role in all this is a subject for another article.

Fellow candidate Choon James, responded to her rant in a recent debate, saying that Kym should go to jail for voting for the rail.

It should also be noted that Pine has not enjoyed a base of contributions from many of the usual suspects seeking political influence. Not, for example, like Keith Amemiya who has the A-list of Bishop Street contributions for some inexplicable reason, being that he is a political neophyte without any discernible qualifications for the executive position he seeks.

At this date, Hannemann’s campaign report shows a deficit of $1,600; Blangiardi’s report is not yet on the website. Colleen Hanabusa’s list has quit a few influencers, as well, many of them the same Bishop Street law firms she has been affiliated with in the past and visitor industry peeps.

Kym Pine seems to be out of favor with unions, the visitor industry and many of the larger corporations, which seem to be largely backing Blangiardi, Hannemann and Amemiya, perhaps because of her Republican past.

To get a better idea of who Pine is we must look at her voting record and her public actions.

That record includes votes against Civil Unions while at the State House. Recently, she stated that she opposed the domestic partnership bill because she favored marriage equality. At the Council she has introduced some environmental efforts such as the “Keep Hawaii Hawaii-A Promise to Our Keiki” initiative, the first-ever Styrofoam ban and phase-out of plastics, a resolution seeking a 4-day, 10-hour work schedule for city employees to reduce commuting and pollution and the “Keep Hawaii Hawaii” visitor pass to fund impacts from tourism.

Pine has consistently supported her constituents’ efforts to clean up Leeward Oahu beaches and parks, though she has been criticized by those who say she has not done enough to fight crime, drug addiction and homelessness in the area.

One of her initiatives included a $23 million project that allocated funds to each of the nine districts to spend on homelessness in ways that were appropriate to the district, including facilities rest stops, shelters and outreach centers. This funding was mostly unspent.

Pine also supported legislation to regulate short-term vacation rentals, which has proved to be elusive and lacks enforcement. The same is true of legislation she supported to regulate Monster Homes.

Enforcement problems with both issues can be traced to the Department of Planning and Permits, which is tasked with enforcement and is struggling.

The Department is woefully understaffed and mismanaged, causing permitting nightmares for homeowners. It can take two years to get a permit to upgrade a bathroom. Pine has said she has plans to streamline the process, by putting the onus on building inspectors instead of on permitting in cases where they are licensed architects or contractors.

In 2019, she ordered an audit of DPP. That audit, like most in Hawaii, was a scathing exposé. It revealed the poor performance matrix, interdepartmental silos that often resulted in duplicating approvals, the unwillingness to adopt modern technology, preferential treatment for politicians and appointment scheduling that favors big construction. The department, like much of Hawaii’s government, is in complete disarray, due in large part to mismanagement at the top and a culture of status quo.

Pine also ordered an audit of Parks and Recreation. That audit, released in June, documented lack of routine maintenance. It showed that the city doesn’t document work that is done and most of the maintenance occurs as a reaction to deterioration of facilities rather than true maintenance. Vandalism continues to be high.

To understand Pine one might have to see which way the wind is blowing. Her voting record shows she does not vote with a political ideology or philosophy. She relies largely on the sentiments of her constituents and her conscience, having no permanent allegiance to a political ally or organization. Her allegiance is mercurial, depending on what is best at the moment. That can be scary for many voters, who sometimes look to politicians for their predictability and responsiveness to special interests. In short, she can be seen as a loose cannon.

Since COVID-19 locked down the state, it has been a challenge for politicians to reach voters. Council Member Pine was among the first to adopt online zoom town hall meetings and she has averaged about one per week. She has interviewed everyone from Kalani Souza, a Native Hawaiian Practitioner, to Honolulu Chamber Ex. Director Sherry Menor-McNamara. During the darkest days of COVID-19, she interviewed with Lt. Gov. Josh Green when Mayor Caldwell was at war with him. She held a particularly difficult town hall with a group in South Korea, where COVID-19 infections have seen significant control through massive contract tracing. She talked to restaurant owners, salon owners, dance studios and gym owners, listening to their questions and concerns and even offering assistance to provide relief. Her most recent town hall featured musicians, including Amy Hānaiali’i Gilliom and Hawaii Symphony Orchestra Director Dave Moss.

Pine is a complex politician. She is unpredictable. She is flexible. She has clearly spent her time in office learning the finer points of the politics of governing, if not political finesse. But she is not a mystery, like Blangiardi and Amemiya, who have no political legacy. She is also not a history, like Hannemann and Hanabusa, whose best days may be behind them. She is an open book that voters should at least look at before deciding, based on an old idea or a slick PR campaign.

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