Ken Harding (R): State Representative, District 29 (Kalihi/Sand Island)

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Name:      Ken Harding

Current Job: Educator/Tutor, President & Co-founder, Tutorial Express, part of Urbatek Systems, a community service provider


Residence: A resident of my district in Kalihi since 1998, and a resident of Hawaii since 1967.

Background: I’ve been involved as a full-time educator and tutor for most of the past 15 years, specializing in language arts at the middle-school level; together with my wife, Kitty, we continue to operate a successful private tutoring service.  We generally identify ourselves as hard-working small business people.  I also have an extensive background in local broadcasting (owner/operator of KIVM radio) and print journalism (vice president, Crossroads Press, publishers of Pacific Business News).  I have been an independent small business entrepreneur since 1968.

While most of my work experience has been in the private sector, I have also spent ten years working in all three levels of the public sector.  I was a congressional page during my high school years (1955-1958) and after college became one of the first Peace Corps volunteers (Peru, 1962-1964).  Later, I served as Economic Development director for Kauai County (1980-1982) and also was a special assistant to the State Superintendent of Education (1989-1991).  During the past 14-years, I served continuously as an elected representative on the neighborhood boards of Manoa (2 years) and Kalihi-Palama (12 years).

I have also been an active citizen and local volunteer throughout my life and have never worked less than twenty hours a week in community service activities, many of them involving significant responsibilities.  I am a life-member of the Salvation Army’s Honolulu Advisory Board, and have been a member of Rotary for nearly 40 years, to mention only two of my affiliations.  I have served as an officer and board member of the Chambers of Commerce of Kauai and Hawaii, president and/or director of three Rotary clubs, and president of the board of deacons at my church, Central Union Church. For the past five years, I have been a community member of the School Community Council of Dole Middle School.

With regard to my educational background, I am a life-long learner (and achiever).  Trained as an anthropologist, I have two masters degrees (Stanford) and one undergraduate degree (Yale), and I am currently working toward a masters degree in special education.  My “real” education, however, has come from outside of the classroom, as a Peace Corps volunteer, radio station owner, and especially as a parent of four wonderful and exceptional children.

Major Issues: To my mind, the biggest issue affecting my district is “education, education, education.”  The dreams and aspirations of my fellow residents in Kalihi revolve around educating their children and grandchildren, and/or themselves.  Everything else, including economic development, housing, public safety, environmental issues, and government integrity is directly related to how well educated our citizens are and how effective our schools are.

With regard to public education, I do not believe in easy answers to complex problems, but I expect school leaders to adhere to the basic principles of accountability, with measured results, sound management practices, and the careful stewardship of public resources.  Because I respect the impact of high standards and effective leadership, as well as the motivation of creative incentives, I know that our schools can and must do better.

With regard to public education in Hawaii, we have created a $2 billion dollar a year bureaucracy that does not operate in the best interests of the students, their parents or their communities.  Structural change is in order, with an appointed board accountable to the Governor being preferable to the present dysfunctional system of an elected board.  Ideally, however, I would prefer to see an expanded elected board, with members chosen by voters in each of the State’s high-school complexes.

One of the biggest, most perennial of issues, is the lack of parental and community involvement.  While it’s easy to point fingers, the fact is we will never encourage more participation by continuously throwing up barriers to effective collaboration –which is the unfortunate result of the current set-up, with its dependence on a top-heavy framework, insulated from the general public.  Despite years of reform on the edges, the result is that we have created a monstrous system that is inaccessible, bloated and plainly out-of-touch with its constituents, despite a hidden abundance of dedicated teachers and motivated principals.

On a positive note, I believe Farrington could be a model complex, K-12, without waiting to see the impact of school reform initiatives elsewhere, and I will work hard to help that happen.

Budget Philosophy:

We need to be doing more with less, as we cannot continue to sustain the level of government services that we have enjoyed in the past.  The State Constitution mandates that we live within our means, financially, and requires the governor to balance the budget.  Unfortunately, political posturing resulted in the tragic loss of classroom “face-time” in the past year, with the fiasco of “Furlough Fridays,” and the unconscionable loss of instructional content for our children.

As a fiscal conservative, my philosophy is that people at the ground level are very resourceful in finding solutions to their most pressing problems – another argument for tightening the excessive girth of the DOE.  Bureaucrats do not always know what works best for others; such folks should be “recycled” to the front lines or forced to search for the nearest exit.  Indeed, we’ll find that ninety percent of the State’s educational budget can and should be pushed down to the school level, and not allowed to languish in some kind of vague overhead “bloat.”  The first refuge of the liberal mentality is to increase spending, without checking the consequences; my first refuge is to seek accountability, with results in mind.  Too often, the DOE focus is on process and not on results.

Moreover, we need to reduce the tax burden on small business in particular, and recognize that without a strong economy we will never be able to generate the public revenues to fund our educational priorities.  My focus as an elected official will be on producing positive results and eliminating excessive spending.  By working together, we can curb negative outcomes with creative solutions for the benefit of our children.

Taxes and Fees: As a small businessman, I believe the private sector carries an unfair tax burden in Hawaii, and that the tax load should be reduced; as the co-head of my household, I believe that each family should live within its means.  I fail to see much difference, between family and government, in terms of fiscal responsibility.  I don’t always go for absolutist remedies, but I think it is important to pledge to the people not to raise their taxes.  That requires that we control our out-of-control spending on all levels of government.  If we don’t exercise more fiscal restraint and discipline, America’s days as a great country will soon be over – an outcome, I feel, that is totally unacceptable.

My perspective is that the current US tax code, which dictates the federal tax structure, and consequently the state tax load, is inherently compromised and needs massive revision and simplification.  I strongly favor a blanket, “fresh start” tax load, spread evenly across the population, with few deductions:  the simpler the better.  And then, lets enforce it!  The savings would be dramatic and immediate, resulting in a massive, sustainable stimulus to the economy.

Rail: No, I would not support State tax support to bail out the rail.  I think the project was flawed from the start and will result in a devastating tax burden on local taxpayers, with a minimal improvement in traffic flow and a serious impediment to our quality of life.  I have followed the planning process carefully and each day I become more convinced than ever that this project is both a huge mistake and an open invitation to public corruption.  Other viable alternatives to improving traffic exist and should be pursued more vigorously.

Legalized Gambling: I do not believe gambling offers any net-positive gain for the people of Hawaii.  At best, gambling offers a temporary fix – a quick shot of public funding — for certain feckless politicians who are afraid of “biting the bullet” of fiscal responsibility.  With regard to education, a state lottery would amount to an “avoidance” measure enabling lawmakers to duck accountability – instituting a regressive tax in effect, that would further divide the rich from the poor, and right behavior from sleaze.

Public Education: Please see my answer under Major Issues.  To summarize, we need structural reform of the Board of Education, continued emphasis on accountability, retention of high-quality teachers in underserved areas, effective student record keeping, individualized student instruction, more equitable support for charter schools, and more advocacy at the school level for parental and community involvement.  My position is that any failure of public schools in a “crime against children,” and although our schools are not “failing,” they sometimes come close to it, and rarely reach a standard of success.  I come to the table, not as a knee-jerk critic, but as an incurable optimist about the potential of our youth.

Economic Growth: As I have stated elsewhere in this response, economic growth and quality education are closely intertwined.  Indeed, educational effectiveness is our primary policy for a sound economy; without a well-educated populace, we will never be able to maximize the inherent abundance of our economic opportunity.  This is especially true in a free and democratic society.

Rather than giving tax “breaks” to favored industries, inherently a “market distortion,” we should reduce the overall tax burden and regulatory climate for all businesses that operate within Hawaii.  I strongly favor investment incentives to spur access to the latest technology in information management, and strongly oppose adding new fees, taxes, and/or impediments to the cost of doing business across the Islands.  Subsidies too often are fleeting in their benefits and onerous in their obligations, and should be strictly avoided as a matter of public policy.

Destination marketing promotes results, but is more properly a function of the private sector rather than the public.  Foreign “junkets” blind the good judgment of public officials and are vastly oversold in their benefits.  They almost never result in permanent changes for the public good, but are the insidious tool of insider politics, murky in their public purpose and murkier still in their private dealings.  I know, because I was once Economic Development director for Kauai County, and saw for myself what goes on behind the scenes; I can attest that such practices have only gotten worse over the years.  If I am elected, my constituents can rest assured that I will not be wasting public resources on the wanton pursuit of false “opportunities” in the name of “economic growth.”

What about energy, especially alternative energy, and it’s potential for Hawaii?  My view is that less is more, that a lower tax threshold for all businesses will provide more benefits over the long-term, with fewer unintended consequences, than direct subsidies to typically unsustainable enterprises that usually cannot survive on their own.  Unfortunately, government has a poor track record in operating activities that are more properly served by the private sector:  public housing is a good example.

There is an important lesson here:  give money directly to intended beneficiaries, and they will do a better job of spending it wisely than if you give it to government bureaucrats, no matter how well-meaning they might be! I moved from being a “bleeding heart liberal” (in my 30s) to a compassionate conservative when I began to realize more clearly what really happens between the allocation of scarce resources to their actual receipt by beneficiaries, when such distribution goes through an intervening agency.  The agency soon creates its own agenda and the recipient eventually gets less and less of the intended piece of pie.  That is why we call it “bureaucracy”; and if you haven’t noticed, its unrelenting creep over the past several decades has been gradually choking off Hawaii’s business prospects for the future!

Crime: Drug distribution and illicit drug use are the source of decline in urban safety and wellbeing.  We list on the Internet, as well we should, residences of convicted sex-offenders who are guilty of hideous crimes against children; but we should also consider listing illegal drug users as well, as their insidious habits undermine the future of of far more children in their surrounding neighborhood.

Prevention is the most effective policy of community-based law enforcement.  I am a big fan of community policing, and strongly advocate the importance of building positive personal relationships between officers of the law and young children.  They need to know that the law is their friend, and is on their side; all too often, in the inner-city, the opposite perception reigns, that the law is the enemy, resulting in a chronic situation in which ordinary people fear authority.

Respect for the law is well marked on the rear panel of every HPD police car:  Integrity, Respect, Fairness.  Respect for the law requires fair and evenhanded enforcement, and applies equally to the enforcement of laws regarding traffic, substance abuse, and firearm controls.

Second Amendment:

Hawaii has many traditions that support the ownership of firearms, and I am one who supports the Second Amendment of the U.S. Constitution.  But there are limitations and responsibilities that go with the right to bear arms, and I strongly support the strict enforcement of gun laws and ownership registration.

Perhaps because of my long association on two Neighborhood Boards, and my voluntary enrollment in a Community Police course, I generally have a high regard for the professionalism of the Honolulu Police Department and the way they enforce our laws.  Abusive exercise of authority is always a threat in a free society, but I am well assured that systems are in place to ensure fair enforcement practices.

Thus, I do not see Second Amendment issues being a very strong factor on the local scene, especially in my district.  As a State Representative I would be sensitive to such issues in remote, rural areas, and as national policy with regard to the protection of our ports and shorelines from foreign penetration.

Homeless: Homelessness, sometimes called being “houseless,” is a very complex topic requiring compassion and maturity for a fair examination, and a reluctance to jump to quick conclusions.  In fact, there are no easy solutions.  Most people don’t like the usual side effects homelessness, and are disgusted and offended by its unsanitary, unhealthy aspects.  But, as someone who has been personally involved through my church in working on these issues for most of the past six or seven years, I know that such reactions are cheap-shots and are essentially useless as the basis for public policy.  Unfortunately for some who would look for fast remedies, the existence of thousands of homeless persons on Oahu raises fundamental issues of Constitutional rights for individual citizens on the one hand, and challenges the very fabric of social well-being on the other.

Faith-based organizations have shown enormous leadership in this area – through the social sector of the economy — and as such must be part of the solution.  On the other hand, public agencies have a frustrating, if not dismal track record in dealing with the problem, in Honolulu as well as in other cities.  The role of public officials can often be immeasurable in drawing attention to a problem and mobilizing necessary resources in dealing with it.  Should the City or State make public lands available as a place of refuge for homeless individuals, especially children?  Yes, IF, in my view:  yes, IF we recognize that this is an area where services should be contracted out on a grants-in-aid basis.  The wrong remedy, in my view, is to create a whole new government agency to deal with this problem.  It is certainly a proper role for the government to facilitate access to government services, and there are many helping agencies in all three sectors, public, private and social, offering services that would be beneficial to persons in need of a roof over their head.

And that is the good news at the heart of this problem:  homelessness involves real people and is rarely permanent.  The milk of human kindness not only exists, but goes a long way in resolving such problems.  How much does a smile cost, or extending someone the warm hand of friendship?  I admire office-holders from either party who voluntarily give of their time to help out those in trouble in order to learn more; one of their lessons, I think, is that throwing more money at the situation does little to address the problem’s root causes. But facilitating communication does.

Compact with Micronesia:

This is a very major problem in my community, as we have many Micronesians living in HD29, many in the public housing projects in our area.  In particular, there are also related problems involving gangs, poverty, cross-cultural stresses, and intergenerational divides, as well as glaring problems in health, education, and public housing.

It is easy enough, to lay the blame for the cost of dealing with the social ills of Micronesians on the Micronesians themselves, as is often done, or on the inadequacies of the federal government in addressing acute issues.  The cost of such services is staggering, estimated by the Lingle administration at more than $100 million a year.  The state is correct in claiming that the Micronesian situation puts an enormous tax burden on Hawaii’s population.  Some have suggested that we just eliminate the Compact with Micronesia and wash our hands of any responsibility.

That is not possible, however, since the Compact is the result of an international treaty negotiated between FSM and the US, and the added fact that Micronesia was a major factor in the U.S.’s victory over Japan in World War II.  Through no fault of their own, the people of Micronesia have found themselves in a very untenable situation extending through most of the six and a half decades following the end of the war.  The rights of the people of FSM, the Federated States of Micronesia, now an independent, sovereign nation with special historical ties to the United States, are embedded in the Compact.  Although the Compact can be changed in the future, it must be honored at the present time, and is not subject to arbitrary change.  I believe the federal government has an obligation to equalize the Compact’s financial impact on Hawaii, but one could say, “good luck” in bringing that about!

Meanwhile, thousand of Micronesians now live in Hawaii, mostly on Oahu, and many in HD 29, attending our schools, visiting our hospitals, and living in public housing.  And even though they have special privileges in both nations, citizens of FSM but not citizens of the United States, unless they were born here. In reality, they are effectively voiceless in America, unable to express their legitimate concerns, which are many and riveting.  Increasingly, many Micronesians, in fact, are US citizens and their families are being grossly torn apart by a tangle of often conflicting federal and state jurisdictions in both the US and FSM.

Social problems associated with the various language groups from Micronesia (there are eight major language groups in the region, further complicating the situation) are very pervasive and, on a human level, quite piercing.  Micronesian involvement in Hawaii’s contemporary scene is extensive on every level, economically, socially, educationally, and medically.  Successful resolution will take far more than changing the terms of the Compact.  My view is that you can’t turn the clock back, and that Hawaii needs to deal with any related problems with whatever resources it can muster, including any justifiable help from the federal government.  My view is greatly shaped by my experience in the Peace Corps (albeit in Peru and not Micronesia) but I find my outlook is not noticeably different from that of friends who either served in Micronesia in the Peace Corps or who teach Micronesians in Hawaii, or who have had extensive teaching experience with Pacific Islanders elsewhere in the region.

I don’t know what the legal outcome of the situation will be in the future, but I do know that the issues involved are complex and enduring and will not be resolved until terms of the Compact are fully respected by the American government.  One other thing:  Micronesians living in Hawaii have social needs as great as those of any other ethnic minority, but they do not have a vote (locally) and are often ignored by (local) elected officials.  This is really a matter of social injustice, and as such simply should not be tolerated in the United States of America.

Akaka Bill: Now that the final round of negotiations has taken place between the Governor’s office and the Congressional delegation, it appears that most of the coalition members supporting the measure are once again united.  You can include me in that coalition.  Although I am aware of the complexities of the issues surround sovereignty, I believe that proposed Akaka law will lay a fair and equitable foundation for moving Hawaii forward into the future.

I am deeply concerned about the consequences that likely will emerge if we fail to bring about some resolution to these long-standing issues.  This is so typical of deep-rooted cultural issues that seem so very intractable to us, especially when dealing with the century-old effects of colonialism, military power and geopolitics.  Is there any right way forward, one may ask, in untangling such thorny issues of social justice?  Even if the right choice for the future is unclear, one can be sure that there are only wrong choices available, if one is only going backward or going nowhere.  I think, frankly, that we have no choice but to seek a solution going forward, and soon.  The Akaka bill represents a viable solution, I believe, and I will support its passage.

Will it change Hawaii?  Yes, I’m certain of it, but am not entirely certain just how. I do know that I’m not afraid of the consequences, by doing the right thing.

Jones Act: The opponents in this case are correct.  I have long believed that the Jones Act increases the cost of living in Hawaii, and disagree strongly with apologists who claim it will ensure port security and protect American jobs.  The position, supported for decades by Hawaii’s union-backed Congressional delegation, is that the long-standing Jones Act saves American jobs; I disagree with this position as a short sighted approach to economic development, considering it economically self-serving and morally indefensible.  The special interests in Hawaii that support the Jones Act, from both management and labor, represent some of the most powerful forces in modern Hawaii.  Unfortunately, they have colluded together to force innocent families into paying ransom prices for everyday items.  It is unconscionable to hold the whole State of Hawaii hostage to the uncertain vested interests of the few.

Endorsements: I have neither sought not encouraged endorsements by interest groups.

Contact Information:

Ken Harding

1443-B Kamehameha IV Rd.

Honolulu HI 96819


225-4045 (Cell)

My slogan is:

“Elect Ken Harding…because he can do a better job!”





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