Tom Brower (D): State Representative, District 23, Waikiki
Current job: Full-time Legislator (House District 23: Waikiki, Ala Moana, Kakaako)
Residence: How long you've lived in the district: A Waikiki resident for 28 continuous years as an adult. Also lived there as a child. I was born in Honolulu and grew up on the New Jersey Shore (before Jerseylicious and Snooki). Being influenced by two places helped me to be creative and appreciative of different people.
Background: What qualifies you for the position? What else have you run for? Have you been in public office before and if so, what position? Elected in 2006.
I bring a diversity of experience to the table: 25 years in the private sector, 6 years in city & state government, and 8 years on the neighborhood board.
I hope my 4 years in the House as a full-time legislator have shown that I am open-minded and committed to working hard to finding practical solutions for our community problems.
Major issues: What are the biggest issue in your district/state and your proposed solutions?
I will share three:
1) The Economy: The recession has taken a toll on jobs, public schools, government services and residents' quality of life.
While government cannot solve all the problems, it can contribute to the solutions by becoming more efficient at giving people the resources they need (like education, infrastructure, and healthcare) to become empowered.
State departments in particular can become more efficient if they were held accountable for their actions. They should remove vacant positions from their budget with safeguards in place to ensure these positions are put back in later, if needed. I will continue to push for better, more responsive government.
Please also see my response to the next question.
2) Affordable housing: Some employed individuals are homeless because they don't earn enough to rent or buy their home. Condominium residents are seeing their maintenance fees (as a result of deferred maintenance on older buildings) and/ or lease fees (as a result of negotiations on expiring leaseholds) increase. They are concerned about being priced out of their homes.
3) Aging in Place: Hawaii's baby boomers want to stay in their homes where it's cheaper, more comfortable and where they've built memories. We need to look at pedestrian-friendly communities and to continue funding auxiliary services that help seniors with meals, chores, transportation and wellness/ social activities. We also need our condominiums to become more involved in this process by establishing a reasonable minimum standard of what services can be provided onsite, within staffing and budget restraints.
Budget philosophy: What is your budget philosophy? Do you foresee increases in revenue through tax hikes and fees or do you believe in cutting spending?
I have a fiscally-conservative approach to our budget.
I believe that major tax and fee increases would not stimulate the economy. Businesses need to be able to hold onto their workers and hire new ones. People need to be able to provide for their families and feel confident about increasing their spending in our local economy.
We should first consider eliminating certain tax credits instead of raising the GET to fund our social safety net (and other needs). The people who can get by without them should not be taking advantage of them at others' expense.
Taxes and fees: Do you believe Hawaii’s taxes should be lowered or increased? If you do plan to raise taxes and fees, which specific taxes or fees would you increase? Or would you sign a pledge that says you will not raise taxes? Hawaii's taxes should not be raised.
Rail: If the city has difficulty raising enough revenue for the rail, would you support state tax support for the rail project? At this time, I would not support a tax increase for the rail project.
Legalized Gambling: Do you believe gambling should be legalized in Hawaii in any form and if so, in what form? I approach this issue very cautiously because if gambling became legal, it may go in Waikiki. While it may generate much-needed jobs and revenue, we need to understand more about the social costs (like addiction, drugs and crime) before we bring it here. It lacks community support. For these reasons, I cannot support gambling at this time.
Public Education: What are your plans to support the public education system while ensuring accountability and results for our students? Do you support an appointed or elected school board? Personally I could support either one. I hope that we find ways to hold each of them accountable.
I support efforts to attract and retain qualified teachers, especially in underperforming schools. To this end, we should explore what education advocates have been proposing: individual or small group performance pay programs, to motivate teachers to continuously improve themselves as professionals. We can also look into how loans are repaid, and how prospective teachers to the public school system can be relieved of some of their burden.
Economic Growth: What are your plans to promote long-term economic growth for Hawaii?
Besides 1) running an efficient and fiscally-conservative government, 2) basing tax credits on re-prioritized needs, and 3) attracting/ retaining good teachers (all previously mentioned), we need 4) more job training and work opportunities so that new or displaced workers can work in more promising industries. Green jobs would simultaneously help lessen Hawaii's dependence on fossil fuels as it puts people back to work.
Crime: What is your solution to making Oahu a safer place to live and visit? Crime is a side effect of our economy's health: People take out on others their stress of dealing with our future's uncertainty. People get desperate in their attempts to provide for their families and themselves. For instance, more people have looked to our human services safety net to deal with domestic violence and child abuse issues, both of which are on the rise. For our residents' safety & well-being, the focus needs to be on the economy.
Next, we need to focus on removing our homeless from areas of aesthetic, cultural or economic importance for the enjoyment of residents and visitors. Although many homeless people are not dangerous, their presence at popular beach parks, near businesses and on sidewalks and bus stop benches may discourage others from frequenting or using that area. Families don't want to bring their children to parks where the "good" picnic tables have been taken over by rough-looking "campers." We need to address this perception of safety. I have been promoting the idea of a homeless safe zone, a place away from these areas where homeless can be (more details later).
Crime is a problem even during times of economic prosperity. I'm most concerned about criminal behaviors in juveniles, especially as it pertains to drug abuse. More needs to be done to keep our kids from experimenting with "ice," which eventually turns everyone into lifelong criminals.
Second Amendment: Would you support concealed carry or more freedom for law abiding firearms owners, do you feel the current laws should remain in place, or do you believe stricter gun laws should be in place? I believe in better enforcement of our current laws. I would be open to exploring more freedoms for carrying firearms (within reason).
Homeless: What is your solution to homelessness? When a natural disaster strikes, government reacts quickly to provide people shelter. Why should the response be any different for an economic crisis that results in homelessness?
As a legislator, I understand first-hand that homelessness does not offer easy solutions. The reality is we will never be able to build enough shelter space to house the State's estimated 4,000 homeless, and it is inhumane to keep shuffling them around. "No loitering" laws only work when people (including those that refuse shelter) have a place to go.
While not a new idea, I explored the feasibility of homeless safe zones last December, after speaking with advocates and service providers. With the House of Representatives' adoption of H.R. No. 62 (2010) — and continued community-sponsored discussions— homeless safe zones are being recognized as a cost-effective, compassionate alternative to homelessness.
The homeless need a decent night's sleep so they can better utilize the daytime hours to find jobs and get their lives back on track. Safe zones would make it easier for homeless service providers to track/ care for their clients and control infectious diseases, like hepatitis. For law enforcement, it would be easier to remove the homeless from "unauthorized" spaces.
We have the manpower but a plot of land has not yet been identified for the pilot project. I envision a minimum of amenities provided, such as 'reasonable' night security and bathroom facilities.
This will be a work-in-progress and adjustments can be made, as needed.
Compact with Micronesia: Micronesians are able to freely move to Hawaii, which they are doing in large numbers to take advantage of the public education system, medical services and other government benefits. But the governor and other public officials say they are taxing Hawaii’s resources and costing the state more than $100 million a year. This is a federal decision, but would you share your view on whether the Compact with Micronesia should remain in place, should there be some parameters put on the Compact or do you have other solutions?
A) We need our congressional leaders to secure more funding for our federal obligation to CoFA migrants. Hawaii's taxpayers are overburdened with the costs of providing them healthcare because CoFA migrants end up moving here and living on the streets or in heavily subsidized housing, and enrolling their kids in our public school education system. Homeless service providers say they help more homeless CoFA migrants than they do local residents because the former are here with children (families take priority over individuals).
If migrants are "taking advantage," it is our fault for not closing that loophole. Perhaps for the duration of the recession, we should explore the possibility of capping the amount of resources or the timeframe for which they can be used.
B) More importantly, instead of helping CoFA migrants one by one as they come here, our resources would be more wisely spent on helping CoFA governments rebuild their infrastructure and empowering CoFA residents that way. This would be a more viable long-term plan than sending all their residents here.
Akaka Bill: What is your position on the Akaka Bill? Do you believe it will unite or divide Hawaii? What is your vision for how the Akaka Bill will change Hawaii?
I support the Akaka Bill. Native Hawaiians need more access to government-sponsored programs. They have higher rates of crime, incarceration, drug abuse, and health risks than non Native Hawaiians. Congress has already provided federal recognition to other indigenous peoples of America.
Jones Act: Opponents of the federal Jones Act say it increases the cost of living in Hawaii through a shipping duopoly while supporters say it is needed to ensure port security and American jobs. While this is a federal decision, would you share your view on whether you support an exemption for Hawaii from the Jones Act or should it remain in place?
There are good arguments on both sides for the Jones Act. I generally support it but am open to hearing more about the issue and hope that a possible compromise can be worked out.
Endorsements you would like to list: N/A
Any additional comments: N/A
Mail: 469 Ena Road, #2701. Hon., HI 96815
Web site address: www.tombrower.com
Campaign Slogan: "Democracy is at its best when challenges are embraced instead of avoided."
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