Why I’m Running for Governor
The decisions we make today will have a life-changing impact for not only us, but our children and the generations to come.
We cannot continue with the status quo to solve problems. We must create new approaches to respond to the COVID-19 pandemic which strains our healthcare system and disrupts our economy; the lack of affordable housing and the high cost of living; the challenges of our public education system; crime and homelessness; unresolved Native Hawaiian issues; and climate change. The list goes on and on.
The pandemic has taken center stage and exacerbated deep, systemic problems. We need new strategies to proactively plan for the “new normal” and provide clarity instead of simply reacting to the constant changes brought about by COVID-19. This has to be done if we are to even begin addressing other issues.
We need out-of-the-box thinking, resourcefulness, and collaborative, humble, thoughtful and decisive leadership. Those who know me and have worked with me will say that this has been my leadership style for the past 34 years. I am known as being someone who is a problem solver who gets the job done. If I’m elected to office, I will listen to diverse viewpoints and collaborate with subject experts to formulate plans to move Hawai‘i forward.
For All People of Hawai‘i
In my business and volunteer roles, I have always listened and worked with others to improve lives. If I become your Governor, I will work with all sectors: government, businesses, unions, and nonprofit organizations to create viable solutions that address Hawaii’s challenges and get the job done with a sense of urgency.
Thirty-four years ago, I co-founded United Laundry Services, a commercial laundry company that serves healthcare centers and hotels. As its President, I’ve had the honor and privilege of providing leadership and strategy to this company, which has grown to become Hawaii’s largest laundry services provider. I developed a business model that encouraged innovative and progressive thinking, and we pushed the boundaries of our original vision to achieve greater goals. Today, we operate facilities in Hilo, Kona, Kahului, Lahaina and Honolulu.
The company’s success was built on my belief and practice of working collaboratively, listening to others’ opinions, being decisive, and treating employees with respect. I plan to bring this experience to the governorship, applying my decades of lessons learned to partnering with all areas of government and our community to forge effective and efficient solutions that make a positive impact across our state.
Hawai‘i has been good to my family and me. I feel so fortunate to live, work and have raised my children in our beautiful state. I feel a strong obligation to give back and do my utmost to improve the lives of our people at a higher level. It goes beyond one person to make a difference. Together, we can do this.
Cost of Living: Vicky’s Affordable Housing Plan
As the most isolated populated land mass in the world, it is no surprise that Hawaiʻi’s cost of living is the highest in the nation. The lack of affordable housing is a big contributing factor. That Hawaiʻi has become a hot international market for housing has driven up prices, compounding the problem. For example, in 2020 68% of the homes sold on Maui were investment purchases, up from 51% in 2016.
Since 2020, single family home prices have increased by 63% on Kauaʻi, 23% on Oʻahu, 24% on Hawaiʻi Island, and 35% on Maui. That same year, the average sale price for a single-family home in Hawaiʻi was $870,000, by 2021 it had increased to $1,050,000.
For those residents who cannot afford to buy their own homes, the alternatives are either to rent or move to states with lower housing costs. Ominously, in recent years, Hawaii is one of the few states that has experienced an actual reduction in population.
The need for affordable rentals has been ongoing for decades and it has become a crisis. An Aloha United Way study estimated that 42% of Hawaiʻi households did not earn enough income to cover all the necessities of daily living. Under Covid the number shot up to 59%. The state Housing Finance and Development Corporation (HHFDC) concluded there is a shortage of 50,156 housing rental units needed for people of all incomes.
The US Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) has determined it is reasonable for families to spend up to 30% of their total income on housing. However, due to the high cost of housing in Hawaiʻi, it is not unusual for families to spend up to 50% of their total income on housing. Obviously, those that spend 50% for housing ten to be lower income working class families.
Because Hawaii’s high housing cost is the biggest expense in family budgets, increasing access to affordable rental housing to all residents will improve the lives of a substantial number of Hawaiʻi families.
Past efforts by state and county governments to deal with the affordable rental crisis have been wanting. Simply put, something must be done, something big.
Therefore, in addition to accelerating housing projects that are specific to Native Hawaiians and are taking place within the Department of Hawaiian Homelands (DHHL), I would make the availability of affordable rental housing my highest priority. I propose a massive five year recurring statewide affordable rental housing plan to significantly increase the number of affordable rental housing units for Hawaii’s families. Here are the basic elements of my plan:
1. Rent-to-Own. At the heart of my plan is a unique state funded Rent-to-Own Program. This is a “workforce development” program that targets workers in occupations such as, police, firefighters, nursing, teachers and skilled workers who are necessary for a community to grow and prosper. Too many have already moved to the mainland. This program will help families that are unable to come up with a down payment to buy a home but are able to afford to pay the rent in lieu of mortgage payments. The units will be built and financed by the state (see below). All the tenant has to do is rent the unit until the debt on it is paid off, at which time the tenant will be offered title to the unit, and if title is accepted, enter a 55-year lease with the state for the land. If the tenant wants to sell the unit, it will be subject to a shared appreciation agreement with the state, which entitles the state to a portion of the net proceeds. This concept gives the tenants unable to afford a down payment the opportunity to own their own home without moving to another state.
2. Rental Housing for nā kupuna. Mid-level high rise tower units designed exclusively for the elderly. Safety, fire sprinklers, and easy access to elevators will be high priorities.
3. Public Housing for Low Income Families. With population growth, housing has changed from single-family homes to various livable spaces, which include high-rise apartments that incorporate practical shared spaces for entertaining. We must build affordable residential housing for the many working individuals and families that have lower incomes.
4. Cost Control. To keep costs down, I propose building affordable rental units solely on state land. Unlike the private landowner, the state’s objective is to provide needed services not to make a profit. A statewide inventory for appropriate state lands should be immediately taken and identified. A good start is to request recommendations for land sites on the various islands from legislators who represent them. The 100-acre Aloha Stadium and 14-acre Oʻahu Prison sites are appealing examples of state lands suitable for development of affordable housing projects.
5. Construction Costs. I believe that time is money. No where is that more apparent in construction, which is often tied up in permitting delays and requirements at county and state jurisdictions. As Governor, I will work with the counties to streamline outdated requirements that prevent developers from moving forward in creating affordable housing in a safe and timely manner.
Additionally, I will encourage the pursuit of more design-build construction methods for State buildings. Design-build has proven to be timely and under budget. Examples include the Hawaiʻi Convention Center and several public schools that were built between 1996 and 2002.
6. Red Tape. Developers and contractors repeatedly complain that bureaucratic red tape has caused unreasonable delays, driving up the costs of development and construction. Complaints of delays of construction projects are common. I would lead with a sense of urgency. To speed up action by the bureaucracy, I will propose the legislature enact, by law, a time limit of the approval of construction permits and plans. There is no need for civil servants to redo the work of professionals. The fact that a professional engineer or architect has stamped his or her approval on plans should be given serious consideration by bureaucrats. Delays cost money.
7. None of what I have proposed can be accomplished without the support of the State Legislature. I am a strong believer in collaboration, I believe in listening to the opinions and advice of others, particularly those with experience and greater knowledge. Therefore, my first step would be to present the plan to the State Legislature, listen to their input and concerns. Consider their recommendations with an open mind and invite them to join me as partners in this worthy venture.
That is the leadership style and philosophy I adopted 34 years ago, when as its president I helped build United Laundry Services from a small company with only 25 employees, to grow, prosper and become Hawaiʻi’s biggest commercial laundry with branches in Hilo, Kona, Kahului and Lahaina, employing nearly 1,000 workers. It is the leadership style I offer to the people of Hawaiʻi.
The coronavirus pandemic has immensely disrupted our health, our hospital and elder care system, and our local way of life. It is imperative that we curb the spread as quickly as possible to protect health and safety. We must provide clarity, consistency, and communication across the state and have a system that is timely and responsive to changes. Masking, social distancing and vaccination are essential tools to break the chain of infection. We cannot afford another lock down. Protecting public health while respecting people’s rights is essential. Creating a plan and working with the legislature and counties will be top priority. As a state, we also need to plan and be prepared for future pandemics.
Our islands have seen the effects of global climate change that contribute to coastal erosion, sea level rise, and flooding. We have witnessed the deterioration of our roads and bridges, the shrinking of our beaches, and the degradation of our coral reefs. Climate change threatens our way of life and the quality of life in the Islands. We can no longer kick the can down the road. While we fulfill our responsibilities of reducing carbon emissions, we must also address the negative impacts on our infrastructure and natural resources. We must develop a viable plan to protect our islands against the effects of climate change and preserve our ‘āina and way of life for future generations.
Kindness and compassion often start with how we treat animals, whether they are in the wild or domesticated. The way in which we respect and care for them reflects how we treat one another. Every animal deserves to be treated humanely. We must protect animals—who have no voice—and do more to prevent and end animal cruelty and suffering.
Economy and Sustainable Tourism
Tourism has always been, and will continue to be, our number one industry. However, we need to redefine tourism and, in particular, focus on sustainable tourism. We must factor in the needs of our residents and our natural environment, which make Hawai‘i a world-class destination. Creating a plan for sustainable tourism will require collaboration between the hospitality industry, business sector, unions, community groups, and government. We need to welcome our visitors in a way that is sustainable for Hawai‘i and is not disruptive to our residents.
At the same time, Hawai‘i needs to diversify its economy. This includes developing sustainable agriculture, which contributes to food security and supports our restaurant industry. We need to have greater communication and collaboration between the public and private sector, including the state, the university, farmers, restaurants and the visitor industry.
Hawai‘i can be proud of the high quality healthcare standards offered to our residents. We have excellent hospitals, skillful medical technicians and nurses as well as exceptional doctors. However, the entire system is being challenged by the COVID-19 pandemic. Hawai‘i has a vaccination plan and, currently, the governor and mayors are focused on getting more people vaccinated. What is missing and needed is a plan to deal with living with the pandemic for the foreseeable future and a plan to deal with the uncertainties of the next crisis.
Meanwhile, Hawai‘i faces a less visible but real crisis: We have a shortage of doctors, particularly on the neighbor islands. Physicians are leaving for the same reasons others leave: high cost of living, better employment and professional opportunities on the mainland. The University of Hawai‘i John A. Burns School of Medicine (JABSOM) is highly rated among the nation’s best medical schools. We need to stem the tide while supporting JABSOM in producing physicians who will stay and work in Hawai‘i, particularly on the neighbor islands.
Education is critical to equal opportunity. Whether our young people choose college or a trade, we owe our youth a quality education that will enable them to live, work and compete anywhere in a rapidly changing world. And although such changes may require the public education system to adapt, innovate, and teach new concepts, the basic skills of reading, writing, arithmetic, and critical thinking are constants that remain unchanged. These are essential for success, whether a student aspires to become an engineer or lawyer, or a carpenter or electrician.
Developing that quality public education system will require political leaders and parents to listen and engage those who know education best: teachers, principals, and key stakeholders of the system. Additionally, we must do more for our youngest children through a universal preschool system. It is imperative to get our keiki on the right educational path from an early age.
The cost of housing in Hawai‘i is the highest in the nation and a major reason for the exodus of many residents who are moving to other states. Past efforts by the state government to promote home ownership have not proven successful. Moreover, studies show that between 25% to 30% of American citizens will be lifetime renters. Those who rent include many who live paycheck to paycheck. These people particularly need our state government’s help.
The development of affordable housing rentals will be a top priority. Creating effective strategies for an affordable rental plan will require consulting with a wide variety of stakeholders, including builders, contractors, developers, trade unions, community groups and nonprofit organizations.
Cost of Living
The cost of living in our state has spiraled out of control. The high costs of housing, energy (electricity), food, land, and transportation—combined with low wages—create financial hardships for many. This situation makes it impossible for many in our younger generation to even consider staying in Hawai‘i as their home. This is not only a matter of separation for many families, but it has a long term negative impact on our state as we lose some of our best and brightest to the mainland. We have to stem this tide to ensure the future of our Hawai‘i.
Safety in our Society
There are two areas that are of great concern in our communities: Crime and Homelessness. Both of these issues affect the safety of our residents and visitors. And, both issues are complex and require dedicated resources.
We know that partnerships are key when addressing homelessness. We will engage businesses in the process of finding solutions so that homeless individuals on the street will not simply be moved from one location to another. We need to work together to create a better plan.
Partnerships are also valuable to curb crime. There is no doubt that criminal activity has become increasingly brazen with more home armed invasions and younger individuals going on crime sprees. We have seen more violent acts among our most vulnerable—our kūpuna and homeless individuals. It will be important to reach out and discuss these issues with the counties and bring solutions to effectively address safety in our society.
Native Hawaiian Concerns
The Thirty Meter Telescope (TMT) protests revealed that there are many deep seated issues affecting Native Hawaiians. The discussion revealed the unique position that Mauna Kea offers to the world of astronomy and the opportunities for local astronomers to excel. There is tremendous value in a world-class telescope to be positioned in Hawaiʻi for our children and generations to come. As Governor, I will meet with all stakeholders to ensure that both astronomy and cultural traditions are respected and managed appropriately for the benefit and prosperity of all involved.
It is also a priority to meet with Native Hawaiian leaders to learn what concerns them most and explore the possibilities of what can be done to resolve these challenges. I also commit to following through on policies that passed during the 2022 Legislature for the progress of our Native Hawaiian communities, specific to the Department of Hawaiian Homelands.
Arts, Culture and Our Island Way of Life
Hawai‘i is a melting pot that celebrates our host culture and a wide variety of ethnic cultures. The Arts are an important part of our island way of life, bringing us together as a people. Whether it’s music, dance, art, photography or video, the creative arts enable us to express our thoughts, values, and shared experiences. They educate, inspire, and uplift us. The Arts create a conducive environment where people can thrive, respect, and enjoy each other.