Full Transcript: Colleen Hanabusa’s Interview

The Job Interview: Colleen Hanabusa

HONOLULU, Hawaii (HawaiiNewsNow) - With Hawaii’s primary election getting closer by the day, the five leading candidates for Honolulu mayor sat down for an extensive, hour-long job interview with journalists from Hawaii News Now and Honolulu Civil Beat in an attempt to find out which candidate was most qualified for the city’s top job.

Each of those interviews were recorded, and the videos are available at the top of this story and on all of Hawaii News Now's streaming platforms.

Below is the full transcript of Rick Blangiardi’s discussion with Colleen Hanabusa, Daryl Huff, Colin Moore, Chad Blair, Christina Jedra and Stewart Yerton.

Mahealani Richardson, Hawaii News Now:

Colleen Hanabusa, thank you so much for your time and for being here today.

Colleen Hanabusa, Honolulu Mayoral Candidate:

Thank you for having me.

Mahealani Richardson, Hawaii News Now:

We just wanted to jump into the questions. Why should you be the leader that voters trust to lead Oahu out of this pandemic crisis?

Colleen Hanabusa, Honolulu Mayoral Candidate:

You know, of course that’s the decision that the voters will be making. The reason is because in this time you cannot have somebody who’s gonna be learning on the job or somebody who has, as I’ve said, training wheels, that needs training wheels. You need someone that knows how government works because in this pandemic crisis it is about government. Government is not business, and I said this to the Chamber forum seeing, here I know that’s not the proper thing to say to them, but it is a Government is there for the purpose of helping people and to be the safety net. Sometimes government doesn’t do it well enough, but it’s the only entity that you can count on that’s gonna go in debt, it is in a bottom line situation, and that you can really keep their feet to the fire because you have a chance to let them in or out. So I feel that somebody who understands government, knows how government works, all levels of government.

Now during this pandemic, there is no question that you need somebody who understands how the federal government works, how to access the various various funding source, and somebody who actually understands federal laws because that is the entity, as we used to jokingly say, that can print money. And they are. You know I told the story once about, I remember when I first ran for Congress in 2010, and people like Chad who was covering it, I remember the opponents Republican opponents would say, this child is born with so many thousand dollars of debt. You notice that during this pandemic, as we go to the four, maybe six, seven trillion in debt, nobody’s mentioning that? And luckily I think we realize that this is what we need to get us through that.

Chad Blair, Honolulu Civil Beat:

Colleen if I may, just add to Mahea’s point. Yeah, you definitely have federal experience, you serve in Congress twice, you were the Senate President, so that’s at the state level. But what kind of municipal experience do you have? You never held position at that level, and if you’re mayor, you’re doing things like sewers and with pot holes, are you really gonna be able to start without training wheels on that job?

Colleen Hanabusa, Honolulu Mayoral Candidate:

Oh yeah, I believe so, because part of all of that is gonna come down to somebody who really understands how federal moneys work. Because even in situations like potholes and sewage and all of that, you need somebody who understands how to get the funding in and how procurement works, and I definitely understand that.

I understand also, having been Chair of HART and being on there for about 15 months total, I understand how the biggest procurement, the CIP project in this whole state’s history, operates. And to get to that level of understanding where we actually resulted with changing how the charter reads because it had the HART board really had no power, it comes down to knowing how government functions. And I also believe the most important thing in all of that is being able to first win the confidence back of the people. So no matter what we do, if the people don’t believe in government first and they don’t believe in whoever is leading the government, you’re not gonna be successful in doing that, and I think that being able to work through all of those different kinds of tasks is something that if you understand fundamentally how structure is, that you can do it.

Daryl Huff, Hawaii News Now:

Colleen, you know in using the HART board as part of your resume, I’m not really sure that that’s a good idea. For the brief time you were there, did you make any substantive change in direction or were you able to accomplish anything or did you just go in there see what the problems were and run away?

Colleen Hanabusa, Honolulu Mayoral Candidate:

No, you know — and I think this is the thing that people did not understand — that when I got on the HART board, first of all, there was a whole issue of how budgets were presented, and it really is transparency. I think the people who watched us would agree to one thing, transparency and understanding how and what HART had not done and what heart needs to do was a major accomplishment during the time that I was there. For example, I was the one who crashed the PMOC meeting ... And people didn’t even know... PMOC is the project management oversight consultant or contractor, they were, they’re part of the deal, they report to the federal government and they produced a monthly report. The HART board members didn’t get the monthly report, and then they would come in quarterly, and that’s the meetings that I would crash. For example, when...

Daryl Huff, Hawaii News Now:

(Inaudible)

Colleen Hanabusa, Honolulu Mayoral Candidate:

‘Cause he told us we didn’t have a right to know because we were the board, so we didn’t have a right to know, and I remember... Well, he’s with Civil Beat now when Marcel was covering us, I told him, “Marcel, don’t let anybody not give you this 11 x 17” is what I called them, and I was able to get it because I crashed that meeting. It was the best accounting of what was going on contrary to what we were being told as the board, in addition to that, because I knew the structure of the board, and the first thing I did, of course, was to read the charter, I realized that we were told in the charter that, “The HART board shall not in any way interfere with the administrative functions of HART.” I couldn’t believe it, I read it so many times that I have it in my memory.

So 2016 is when the people agreed to change that and by the next year — as you know, charter takes one cycle, to July 1, 2011, I mean 2018 to take place — the HART was given the authority to do rules, so that they could actually do that part of it. I think the most important part of it was being able to bring to people’s attention. You know I would come in with my little bag of my lunch because I would make HART board members on meeting go so long, and the reason why was because they weren’t being really honest with this, the whole issue of the tendents , you know the fact that you had the rusting and then there’s this whole thing about whether or not they were secure, the structural security of the Rail itself that came up, something called “Plitz”... I know it sounds crazy, but this shows you when I got into it, how much I got into it. “Plitz” were spacers that they put under the Rail to the concrete. What did they do? They took it out and they said, Oh we saved $5M”, and then when I was there, it was like, “You’ve got problems with plitz because the rail isn’t sitting properly” so they had to put it back in. And these are the issues, and more importantly than that, and one of the things that till today, they have not done anything about, is that the ownership of the “ROC”, which is the Rail Operations Center land. That was a transaction when Mufi Hanneman was mayor. And it really involves Department of Hawaiian Homelands, something else than many of you have covered, and there is no money transfer on that, and they’re supposed to be land transfer. They took too long to do it. So now you’ve got federal regulation that somebody’s gotta go negotiate or in 180 or 120 days, you have to take everything off because I...

Daryl Huff, Hawaii News Now:

I gotta just interrupt you because I feel like this is in the weeds discussion that you tend to get into with folks, and it’s really hard for us to take up a “helicopter ride” up and get the bigger picture. Since you left, there’s been a criminal investigation has begun in all this effort to open up the books and look inside of HART. Did you see any evidence of criminality and did you do anything about that, ‘cause there’s now a criminal investigation into that.

Colleen Hanabusa, Honolulu Mayoral Candidate:

The criminal investigation of HART, it was really function or in a period of time when we tried to get information as well, and that was during the initial stages, and they were in both the state auditor and they would all tell you it’s “pre-HART” that they were looking at. So one of the things that I asked that when we were asked to vote on the budget, I told them I would not vote on a budget that didn’t show me where the carryover balance was. Imagine that, they presented us a budget that said it began when the full fund grand agreement was signed and that’s December of 2012. HART was receiving GET from January 1, 2007. and that’s where you hear the 700 and some odd million dollar figure, as I said, “There’s gotta be a carryover, how can they not be a carryover? What happened to all that money? And of course the other thing we was all these contracts that were let out.

Daryl Huff, Hawaii News Now:

Great, so what happened to all that money?

Colleen Hanabusa, Honolulu Mayoral Candidate:

That's what the investigation I think is about. And so we try to get that information to. We couldn't get that information.

Daryl Huff, Hawaii News Now:

Where do you think it went?

Colleen Hanabusa, Honolulu Mayoral Candidate:

I have no idea what happened, but that was not HART, and that was during the time that it was under DTS.

Christina Jedra, Honolulu Civil Beat:

You know Colleen when you were chair of HART of the board in 2015, a high level employee came forward saying that she faced retaliation for raising concerns about improprieties regarding the federal funds, and when I asked you about the previously, you said if there were really an issue, the FTA would have caught it, or corporation counsel would have caught it.” But why didn’t the buck stop with you in that case?

Colleen Hanabusa, Honolulu Mayoral Candidate:

Ah, she never came to me. The employee never came to me.

Christina Jedra, Honolulu Civil Beat:

But the board received a detailed report of her allegations.

Colleen Hanabusa, Honolulu Mayoral Candidate:

We had an investigation done actually, we hired, we hired in the allegations such as that, we normally what we do in that, now remember I'm a labor lawyer, what we would do is we'd go out and we'd contract somebody to do an independent investigation, we had an independent investigation done, and we, they did the analysis of what they thought, and of course, corporation council is involved in it, as well. That high level employee continued to work for HART, that's my understood. When I was there, she was still there.

Christina Jedra, Honolulu Civil Beat:

But regarding her allegations that something was funny with the federal funds, what did you do with that information?

Colleen Hanabusa, Honolulu Mayoral Candidate:

One of the things that I always felt was that HART did not pull down the federal funds, and that was something that I asked that people look into when we talk about the funding that HART has, or does not have, of course, you know that $750M is still being held by the federal government. But even the monies that we did have, there were about, I think, 200 some odd million dollars that were not pulled out, and the question was “Why?” And that’s separate in a part, because it’s a personnel matter, the question becomes one of “What can you say as to what your impressions may have been about what the allegations were?” but I can say that she continued at HART. The executive director did not.

Colin Moore, Hawaii News Now Political Analyst:

Colleen could I zoom out and just ask you this straight forward question. What’s your one big idea for the city? What’s the one big idea that voters should connect to your candidacy?

Colleen Hanabusa, Honolulu Mayoral Candidate:

I think that the voters should connect to is the fact that public confidence has never been as low as it is in the well and the state when I returned from Congress, but definitely in the city and county of Honolulu, and that as you know, public corruption was at the highest, the highest levels of government, primarily law enforcement, which it gives everyone a very uncomfortable feeling, and of course, people had a sense about what we’re doing with Rail as well. So I think what I would like people to feel is that, I say, without public confidence of people believing in government, again, we’re not gonna be able to move forward. How to accomplish that, is a way of saying to people, “Look, in order for us to succeed, we gotta work together towards a new normal and hopefully it’s a better normal, we have to re-define with the economic basis for Hawaii,” and we have to say, “Okay, what is the role of city government?' Because we have all these levels of government... “What is the role of city government?” I think what people... what my greatest... One thing that I wanna accomplish right out of the bat is for people to believe that it’s gonna be different, it’s not gonna be same old same old as we’ve had in the past, it’s going to be a different situation. And when you have somebody who understands how government works and understand that the only way government succeeds is with people’s by it.

Mahealani Richardson, Hawaii News Now:

Well, Colleen, are you the “same old, same old” because that’s what some of your opponents are saying.

Colleen Hanabusa, Honolulu Mayoral Candidate:

You know I don’t understand why people feel that I’m “same old same old”, because I think my political career has shown quite to the contrary. I think if you look at the changes that have come in government, they have come when I was there. For example, people like it’s coming back now, but the Felix Consent Decree, I remember Daryl carrying that. I was the one who co-chaired that whole thing and recognize them for though it’s a state issue, how the Department of Education worked and how one side that got the money doesn’t know what the side is that’s using the money and how they could lapse funds. So it’s the understanding of government and doing the change and transparency and government, especially on the state level, the reason why you have, for example, the paperless initiative that I started when I was president, and people can participate in government, that’s really critical to be able to participate in government. You don’t do transparency. And this is what I did with HART as well. I think the public confidence in HART actually went up if you look at the polls during the time I was there, people may be said, just, “We don’t like it, but finish it” because I think they felt that they were getting answers. And you know what, I think that’s what’s important. And that’s what people are looking for.

It’s not “same old same old”, because “same old same old” we covered or “same old same old we do the same thing over again”, but I have a record of doing exactly the opposite, which is if there is a problem, I have no problems going in and I have no problems changing it. In the past, for example, it costs me a lot of friends, but you know we did Civil Service Reform, we did healthcare reform, and those were major things besides doing things like “Felix”. We did all of these different things, and we recognized what government needs to do and how government needs to address all of this.

Stewart Yerton, Honolulu Civil Beat:

Colleen you mentioned restructuring the economic base. What exactly are you talking about? And how could you do that as Mayor?

Colleen Hanabusa, Honolulu Mayoral Candidate:

You know that’s a that’s a really good question because the Mayor is always viewed as somebody who can only take care of sewage and landfills and things like that, and they don’t do anything else. You know, when you think about it, Honolulu, is he the the base of the state’s economy so, you know when I decided to run for Mayor, my Big Island supporters who I thought would tell me “Don’t do it”, actually came forward and said, “You should do it because we”,and this is pre-covid, they said, “We know we’re having a difficult time, and you need to do Honolulu because where Honolulu goes, the rest of the state goes.”

So what Honolulu needs to lead in, is to recognize that it can do things. For example, we need to do a new, we need to find a new economic base, however, in the meantime, Honolulu can take the lead in stabilizing what we have now and hopefully keeping us in some kind of a sense of balance because remember what Honolulu that the state doesn’t have, the state’s revenue base is GET primarily, and TAT is a huge hunk of it. Honolulu has 45 million of TAT, and it has real property tax as its base and a lot of federal monies, so what it needs to do to help do the first step, which is to stabilize us, so that we can begin to hopefully go out and find different kinds of economic engines that we can rely on is the fact that if you are able to tap federal funds and you understand the real property tax, and for the next, at least to the end of the year and hopefully to next year of The Heroes acts pass, we’re gonna be able to tap those federal funds and we gotta make sure that we’re able to do it properly.

Stewart Yerton, Honolulu Civil Beat:

Ok real property tax, out of the biggest 10 real property tax payers here in Honolulu are resorts and hotels. An enormous amount that they pay... Would you give a property tax break for those which have effectively been closed for the past few months? They want one.

Colleen Hanabusa, Honolulu Mayoral Candidate:

I beg to differ; the largest real property tax base is residential, it’s the people. So if we’re gonna give a tax break, it’s gotta be to me across the board, because yes, resorts have big, they do have big, big bills, if you wanna call it that, but let’s look at who they are, let’s look at who they are. Most of your big resorts are not owned by people here, they are owned off shore, they’re in a global economic base, so the question is, “How much are they hurting versus our people are hurting? Yeah, they may have the biggest bills, but they’re not all hotel and resorts

Christina Jedra, Honolulu Civil Beat:

Would you give a tax break to residents? Property owners?

Colleen Hanabusa, Honolulu Mayoral Candidate:

I'm saying that if we're gonna be... give tax breaks, they (residents) should be the front of the line.

Colin Moore, Hawaii News Now Political Analyst:

What about a policy like taxing vacant investor units? Some candidates have raised that as a possibility.

Colleen Hanabusa, Honolulu Mayoral Candidate:

You know it’s not only that the real property tax, there’s a board that meets, and then they published their report January of this year, and they said “They couldn’t get information from the city, so they couldn’t do it”. One of the things that they were promoting, but they didn’t get any buy-in yet, was the fact that not only that taxing base, but also if you have a transit vacation unit, you should have a tax category somewhere between residential and resort, because they said that’s the only fair thing to do. It may be tied to the number of days that that unit is “Let”, but I think that, yes, there may be that, but that means that to me... is not gonna be... those things all are gonna add up, but that’s not gonna be enough for us to come out of it now, and I think that’s our main issue now.

Daryl Huff, Hawaii News Now:

Can we get back to Stewart’s questions about changing the economic base. You talk about the mechanisms and the tactics, but I haven’t heard a single thing that you would change, where do you where do you adjust? What industry do you see growing. What industry do you see re-trenching? I mean, we’ve talked a lot about reducing the size of tourism and you support that, and how would you reduce that and then how would you. And what kind of industries would you support encouraging?

Colleen Hanabusa, Honolulu Mayoral Candidate:

Well, I think with tourism, we have an amazing opportunity now, and that opportunity is because of the fact that we’re almost rebuilding, so the question is, “How do we then determine what kind of tourism that we want?” I think that if you look at statistics or you look at studies that different people have done over the time, especially the University of Hawaii, you will find that many people are saying that the value of the money that the $10M tourist, 20 million tourists bring in is not the same as when we had less to tourists, but a higher quality to it.

Stewart Yerton, Honolulu Civil Beat:

How could you as mayor, change that?

Colleen Hanabusa, Honolulu Mayoral Candidate:

It’s gonna come down to who is the tourist industry that we’re gonna target. I think when you look at a lot of these figures, when we had great tourists, it was probably pre-the bubble bursting with Japan, and it was what they were purchasing. So then if you’re looking at that, the question is what kind of, what country other than the United States continent would come to Hawaii and what would be and what costs would that be in other words, how will we adjust in covid — because we still have to think about covid — for that. So I think we need to define that tourists space, we’re not gonna ever be void of tourism, we’re not, and I’m not sure that we can have different kinds of tourism because of the issue with covid, but we have an opportunity to really start to look at how we’re gonna do it, and that’s what...

Stewart Yerton, Honolulu Civil Beat:

What about the tourism industry workers? The union has said “One job should be enough,” that’s their motto, what about an increase of a minimum wage for the hospitality industry, is that something you’d support?

Colleen Hanabusa, Honolulu Mayoral Candidate:

Well if you're talking just about the hospitality industry and tourism, that minimum wage or that wage structure is actually collectively bargained, that's when everyone has to understand, it is by a contract.

Stewart Yerton, Honolulu Civil Beat:

But it's only a small part, relatively small part of the industry.

Colleen Hanabusa, Honolulu Mayoral Candidate:

Right, but it’s the ones that are being affected the most. In terms of your big hotels that you’re talking about, that’s raising, the pay a lot of real property tax. Yes, I’ve always... It’s not the minimum wage, but I’ve been an advocate for a living wage. From the time I was in the legislature, that we gotta have a living wage.

Christina Jedra, Honolulu Civil Beat:

What's a living wage to you?

Colleen Hanabusa, Honolulu Mayoral Candidate:

A living wage is what a family should be able to live off of and pay their rent.

Christina Jedra, Honolulu Civil Beat:

So what is the number?

Colleen Hanabusa, Honolulu Mayoral Candidate:

I think it's about $20 and hour. It was, when I was looking at it, it was $11 and then it went up to $15 is not quite a living rage in Hawaii. and I think the living wage is around $17 to $20 depending... Cause you know the problem is, it really differs by islands, and we tend to do it.

Mahealani Richardson, Hawaii News Now:

Colleen, but what should Honolulu do specifically to really attract that high spending tourist that everyone says that we need right now?

Colleen Hanabusa, Honolulu Mayoral Candidate:

You know that’s an interesting question in because in actuality, isn’t that the job of the HTA. HTA was supposed to...

Mahealani Richardson, Hawaii News Now:

But the city plays a part of it as well.

Colleen Hanabusa, Honolulu Mayoral Candidate:

Well, the city would pay a part of whether the city would go into some kind of an advertising mode, but I think the most important thing is we need the information as to who they are, we can all guess as to who are the high end tourists and what do they want... But that's why I said HTA should have that study done as to who they are, and the city can do what its part in actually implementing it. But right now, you need that information 'cause covid... The world has changed, and I think we need to understand that. And that's why it is an opportunity, we have to have an opportunity to do things with good information coming forward.

Colin Moore, Hawaii News Now Political Analyst:

Would you consider a policy to raise more revenue from the tourists? We do have... Some people have suggested dramatically increase in the prices we charge for some local attractions.

Chad Blair, Honolulu Civil Beat:

Like Hanauma Bay, for example.

Colin Moore, Hawaii News Now Political Analyst:

You know, I remember when people rejected the $5 parking fee at Hanauma Bay. I remember that and I thought, “Well, that made a lot of sense.” And there was a question to me about, you know “Is there a kamaaina rate?” And I think we always have to keep in mind that we want our people to enjoy it too, and I think that there is a definite — since it was $5 way back when — definitely it should be something that’s adjusted and you know what, the quality of the experience should be increasing as well, because the more people have to pay, the criticism is gonna be that we’re gonna convert into a more of a high-end kind of tourist space. And that’s maybe something that I think if we decide as a community, that’s what we’re gonna do, because it makes more sense, then that’s what we should do and we should charge for those attractions. Definitely.

Christina Jedra, Honolulu Civil Beat:

Something that definitely is in the city’s control is the federal funds that Honolulu has received. As of now, they have $387M in CARES Act funds plus some other buckets of money. Do you think the mayor now is allocating that in the right way?

Colleen Hanabusa, Honolulu Mayoral Candidate:

I think the problem that... the CARES Act funds has of course three conditions, one is that you cannot use it to basically fund anything that was originally in your budget, so it’s a revenue shortfall, it has to be Covid related and they don’t really want to quote “use it for anything other than that”, and I think the mayor is taking it too literally, I’m not sure that I would agree with him. However, there are huge pockets of monies that are also coming in that do not have those restrictions, and of course, CARES Act funds is the end of this year. The hugest pocket of money is the 53-07 one coming in from FDA, that’s for TheBus, now that specifically permits the use of the money for quote unquote “for your personnel costs” which is very unusual because 53-07 money (inaudible) for operations. So those operations cost at, and I think the city is estimating that it may be about 80-something million, the total amount they receive is $91M, so when you think about those moneys being released and that’s to July of next year, it gives you breathing room.

I also think that as an attorney, one of the things that I always look at is if the federal government says there’s a restriction on the use of money, the question is, “Okay, what’s the penalty?” I’m not seeing you violate the law but the question is, “What’s the penalty?” So that’s, of course, what I looked at first, when I thought about the CARES Act funds, “So what’s the penalty if we start to use this money?” There’s a covid link but you know you may be pushing the envelope, and I think in these times you gotta have a leader who pushes the envelope.

Christina Jedra, Honolulu Civil Beat:

Can give an example of what "pushing the envelope" would be?

Colleen Hanabusa, Honolulu Mayoral Candidate:

Well, for example, it would be using the CARES Act funds for possibly something that's in the budget that you're not getting now that you're gonna compensate. It would be something like real property tax, and it would be like how to assist, for example, in the tourism industry, and how to do that.

Christina Jedra, Honolulu Civil Beat:

What about families that are saying, “Hey, we need some help, we need some money in our pocketbooks right now?” What is your response?

Colleen Hanabusa, Honolulu Mayoral Candidate:

I think that I would push that envelope too because you know what, it’s not something in the budget, it’s not a city budget issue, and it is covid related, and I would push that envelope because as I was saying, Well, you have to think about “What’s the penalty?” The penalty is not that they come after you, the penalty is that it converts to a debt that the city owes to the federal government, to the Department of the Treasury at the rate of 1 percent.

Christina Jedra, Honolulu Civil Beat:

So you'd be willing to take that on?

Colleen Hanabusa, Honolulu Mayoral Candidate:

I would take that on and I would say, “Okay, $387M , just give me a nexus to covid that no one can come back and tell me “that was in the budget”, and if these issues, the people issues are not in the budget, not like that.

Daryl Huff, Hawaii News Now:

Let me ask, how do you feel the covid crisis was handled by our leadership. You know you ran against David Ige and lost, and you're gonna have to deal with him as Governor if you become mayor. What do you think of his performance? The Mayor's performance? What was the worst thing you saw happen and how do you feel about how its overall handled?

Colleen Hanabusa, Honolulu Mayoral Candidate:

You know in the beginning, I thought that they sort of all had this denial of the crisis, and I guess because I had run, there were a lot of physicians who are coming to see me on the side saying that "We gotta shut down, that's the only way, or is this is gonna get out control." So I think that that's something that I didn't think they handle well and they were saying that they weren't being listened to. I think that was wrong. You always gotta er in favor of the science and the experts who are doing it.

Mahealani Richardson, Hawaii News Now:

But can you still say that now, because we have one of the lowest infection rates in the nation?

Colleen Hanabusa, Honolulu Mayoral Candidate:

Well that’s what I was gonna get to, Mahea. The issue though is that the uniqueness that we have in Hawaii is our geographic... just the way... not our geographic location, but our geography, we are islands. So yes, eventually we were able to undo all of that because we could shut down. So the shutting down and the quarantine was a major component of what we’re able to come up with. I think that our economy is gonna, especially the tourism aspect of it, is not gonna pick up until we are able to address the safety issues for not only the workers and the public who may avail themselves of places like Waikiki, but also for the tourists who may come in, that they have to feel that we have it under control, and of course, the vaccine is the one thing that I think we all will agree would take care of it. Short of that, we have to have a very good testing protocol, like the 72 hours now that they’ve released. I, I wonder whether or not, and I’m glad that they’re giving the industry enough time to prepare for it, I wonder whether “72 hours pre is sufficient”, because Alaska model that they’ve basically planned this around, has another test and that’s within five days, so what should be, I think part of the scenario is that there should be a subsequent test, or if you’re here for three days and you go home, well, but in any situation, we gotta have good trackers or tracers because we gotta know that if they test positive and we need some kind of affirmation after they return that they’re fine, we have to know how to catch it. That’s gonna be, I think what would sell everybody that we are doing things correctly.

Stewart Yerton, Honolulu Civil Beat:

Colleen, you mentioned it’s gonna take a while for tourism to pick back up. Meanwhile, we have maybe 150,000 people unemployed statewide, the bulk of them here on a Oahu, what would you do to help those people? The CARES Act money is running out for them, the federal $600 a week extra that they’re getting is gonna go away soon, the PPP money is, will have been spent. What would you do to help that huge number of people here out of work, less income and probably really struggling?

Colleen Hanabusa, Honolulu Mayoral Candidate:

I think that this is the time where the one thing we need is an infusion of capital, and I don't know if you looked at the Heroes Act, which is... I used to call it CARES Act 5, but it's after CARES Act 6. And that's what we have to have. We have to have somebody who can go up to basically Congress and tell them "You have got to fund this" because there's like you say, to be able to do that, especially the way the funding structure is within the state and the county, your bonding the ability to borrow is usually tied to CIP, except the state legislature has given Governor Ige the ability to borrow from the federal government, so we're either gonna borrow money or we're gonna have to figure out another way to infuse it, there's no other way, we are going to have to borrow money and get that money to of the people.

Stewart Yerton, Honolulu Civil Beat:

Do you think enough of the Heroes Act money is actually going to the people? Because I understand the Republicans don’t want the $600 a week extra anymore.

Colleen Hanabusa, Honolulu Mayoral Candidate:

Well, you know I'm hoping that what we will find is that the Republicans who actually ended up supporting the $2.2T CARES Act, which I did not think we'd see, will, see the light and then we're gonna have an intervening election. Elections do amazing and interesting things to people's minds. So hopefully, we will see that because we're not the only ones who are who are under the situation, other states are as well, and they are all "bottom line", especially those in Congress, their Congress passed it of course, 'cause democratically controlled... no political influence.

Mahealani Richardson, Hawaii News Now:

Actually, we wanted to move on to homelessness. I know, Christina, you've done a lot of stories on that.

Christina Jedra, Honolulu Civil Beat:

Yeah, it's cited as the number one issue of concern for residents in the National Community Survey, and the recent Point in Time count shows the numbers really haven't changed much. We still have 4,400 at least homeless people sheltered and un-sheltered, so are you the candidate that's going to end homelessness on this island once and for all?

Colleen Hanabusa, Honolulu Mayoral Candidate:

You know, I’d like to be able to tell you, “Of course, I’ll be the one who’s gonna end it”, but I’m not sure that we’re ever gonna completely end homelessness. And the reason is because homeless is not a broad, broad brush category where the resolutions for everybody is the same, it’s not. So I am the candidate, however, that understands that and recognizes that in this time of the pandemic, you have to look at it and say, “Hey, this has given us another opportunity” because you know those little pop tents for people who may have been exposed the coronavirus, the have to leave their stuff outside, they come in, they’re doing it voluntarily because, “What are they afraid of?” They’re afraid that they have this coronavirus. That 14 day quarantine period, you can have them overdosed with Social Services, because the problem with the chronically homeless is they don’t necessarily want help, but this is a situation where they want help.

So having gone through 2006 when the homeless population shifted to the Waianae Coast, I will tell you the one thing that I learned from that experience is “Unless they want help, you can’t force it on them.” They just won’t do it. It’s like when I was in the Senate, one of the issues were for people who are mentally ill, who may not wanna take their prescriptive drugs. Can you force them to take the prescriptive drugs? That was a huge debate. You can’t force them to do anything that they don’t wanna do. Especially in the 9th circuit’s ruling on “Sit-Lie”, for example, unless we have adequate shelters, it’s deemed to be cruel and unusual punishment that you can’t let them have a place to sit and lie on the sidewalk.

So, what you need is a mayor who understands the nuances of all of it and saying, “Okay, this is an opportunity, let’s take this now”. We have to have shelters built, that’s something that we should use. We should use CARES Act money for because I’ll tell you what the CARES Act money, which is supposed to address covid, many people are expected to become homeless because of that, so start doing something now, start looking at empty buildings and doing things.

You know, one of the last things I did when I was in the Senate is we saved Kukui Gardens, which is up by Ala Wai, Alapai, you know that whole area, and we did not let it go on quot unquote “market”. We kept half of it so that we could keep about 800 people off the streets. Those are the kinds of things that we got a look at. And that was a project that was sponsored and promoted by FACE in addition, and it was you know it was with the legal administration, we convinced them.

Daryl Huff, Hawaii News Now:

You just mentioned the inability to forcefully medicate the homeless, it came up when you were in the state senate. That was quite a while ago, only recently they changed the law again, so you can. So you didn’t fix that problem when you had the opportunity back then, you also mentioned earlier that you took on The Felix thing right now we have a terrible problem with special education in the state, still. My question is, as you know, we’re both baby boomers basically, and these problems, these chronic problems that have not been solved, are still here, and meanwhile, the young people are the ones that are driving change, why is it not time to hand the reins over to another generation?

Colleen Hanabusa, Honolulu Mayoral Candidate:

The question is, the question is, in this time, in this time of the covid, and I believe that the only way that we’re gonna get out of this is with people who understand the government structure and what to do. You can... you can try to do... or what is this “change idea”. You cannot just simply say, “We’re gonna do change”. And what is changed? What are is, what are the changes that, you’re gonna come back to the same thing. What is the critical function of government? What does government do? You’re not running a corporation here, you’re running a government, you’re running the City and County of Honolulu. What is the essential functions of government of the City and County of Honolulu? What are you gonna change?

Daryl Huff, Hawaii News Now:

But what have you changed? That’s my question.

Colleen Hanabusa, Honolulu Mayoral Candidate:

What have I changed?!

Daryl Huff, Hawaii News Now:

In all your time in government, positions of power, what have you changed?

Colleen Hanabusa, Honolulu Mayoral Candidate:

We’ve changed civil service, we’ve changed the health fund for the retirees as well as for the people who are in the state, they have probably the best healthcare in the system. We’ve changed... Felix is something that is gonna evolve, but I said at the end of Felix, the problem that we have is the fact that at that time, we did not have a handle on Autism and that Autism and Related to autism, we were gonna have a problem. But you know, you can do change and you can do, you can say, “This is the problem and this is the resolution”, but it takes the implementation, and that’s exactly why you need me Daryl, because you need somebody who can actually do it. It’s not a situation of, “Okay, you did... you do did a legislative thing and then so... well, you didn’t follow through on it.” When you’re a legislature, you’re a legislature, when you’re an executive, you’re an executive, and that’s why I’m running for mayor, and I think I’m your best shot, because I understand the legislative process, I understand what tools, we do have, and I also understand what needs to be done as a result of that.

Chad Blair, Honolulu Civil Beat:

Colleen, a lot of people are curious why did the Hawaii State Teachers Association endorse your campaign? I mean the Department of Education is a state agency. You're running to be Mayor of the city and county, did you make some sort of promise to the teachers, as you know, the thing that they care about the most is getting more money for their members?

Colleen Hanabusa, Honolulu Mayoral Candidate:

And I think you may have missed a statement. The one thing I did do for the... well, I represented the Teachers Union, and as you know, one of the things that happened to the Teacher’s Union was when the State Ethics Commission said that they had to pay to uh... that it would...some of them felt that it was...

Chad Blair, Honolulu Civil Beat:

Oh for those trips right?

Colleen Hanabusa, Honolulu Mayoral Candidate:

Right and when you’re fourth and eighth grade in a public school, those are important trips. They can go neighbor island, some of them is the first time they’re off this island, they come to Washington, DC. And parents were the ones who funded these trips and some of them at great expense, and they told the teachers that “They couldn’t take the quote ‘free part’ of it”

Chad Blair, Honolulu Civil Beat:

So they endorsed you because you want that won that challenge for them?

Colleen Hanabusa, Honolulu Mayoral Candidate:

No, they also remember the times that I did Felix. I also did — even if Daryl doesn’t think we did very much — we also did the air conditioning of Maili Elementary School, and in addition to that, the Sea-rider Productions is really my baby. Everybody knows, that’s something that I took on, and before, even before I was in the legislature, it became a passion of mine because I’m from Waianae. And that was the one thing that I knew that they could succeed at. And I mean they were amazing. And people tell me, “Well, why did you do it?” and I said, “You know” I don’t mean this as a joke, but “I think pride, pride and hope are the most critical parts of anybody’s success, especially the younger generation and the students”, so for me, when Waianae couldn’t win football anymore, I seriously, I mean, that was our pride, I may have been going to another school, but I would go to Waianae football games because I knew we’d win right, but we couldn’t do that anymore ‘cause Kahuku came in a little bit too strong, so we have to build... we have to build pride or the kids, they go, we’re gonna lose the kids.

Christina Jedra, Honolulu Civil Beat:

Colleen if, elected mayor. Do you have any intention of directing city funds to schools?

Colleen Hanabusa, Honolulu Mayoral Candidate:

I don’t think it’s a matter of directing city funds to schools, but I do believe that one of the things that we have laying vacant and underused, that there must be a way that we can tap in are our parks, during the day, especially look at the way parks are, they’re in neighborhoods, right? Why can’t we use that more effectively to interface with schools, and the reason I say that as I did before, when I did Maili Elementary, I asked “Why is it that the school is next to this park?” And the reason why was because back in those days, the times of Frank Fasi, they actually, a city built schools. They built schools. And that’s why I thought it was really smart. So you built the school next to a park and you didn’t have to have all that playground because you had playground space that they would come in and the use and you could have after school activities and so forth. I think there are a lot of resources that we need to interface with them and and it, it’s part of the educational process.

Mahealani Richardson, Hawaii News Now:

Colleen we wanted to move on to some other topics, and we've seen our government leaders struggle with the conflicts that have erupted because of the movement at Mauna Kea. What do you tell those nervous developers who have already been given the green light by government... police who say they've been made to look like the "bad guy" as they enforced the law, and native Hawaiians who are willing to be arrested for what they believe in, what do you tell those three groups?

Colleen Hanabusa, Honolulu Mayoral Candidate:

You know this was an issue, and I think you may have asked a question of us when we were doing the debate as governor and the governor’s election, at Kamehameha Schools, interestingly, and I said then “The main problem with Mauna Kea is gonna center on who owns the road”, and I said, they’ve got to understand who owns the road because without doing that, Mauna Kea isn’t gonna be resolved, and I think people thought I was kind of flaky, but let me tell you that’s what it’s come down to.

So when we talk about how do you assure people that if they get a permit, for example, that the permit is valid, and how do we move forward with groups like native Hawaiians, and how do you take care of police that have to enforce... I think what they all want is they wanna sense that the person in charge understands and knows what they're doing. The reason why I said that was because I said, "If you don't resolve who owns the road, you're gonna have a major problem with whether or not you can remove protesters, for example"

Mahealani Richardson, Hawaii News Now:

So do you think that Governor Ige and Mayor Caldwell, didn't understand the issues and found themselves in the middle of these conflicts?

Colleen Hanabusa, Honolulu Mayoral Candidate:

I think Governor Ige didn't understand the issue of Mauna Kea, and I think that and he didn't understand what it represented. What Mauna Kea represented to me was, for the first time I've ever seen a major movement, 'cause as you know, I've done Hawaiian affairs from the time of Rice versus Cayetano, all the way through, and I represented the Waianae Coast, which has the largest percentage of native Hawaiians, whether you define them less big ends or small ends. So this is something that's dear to my heart, or like when I raised the issue in on HART. And what about who owns the Rail Operations Center, which is Department of Hawaiian Homelands.

These are very important issues. So I study these issues and I understand the nuances of it. I don’t think that they do, and I think the problem that Mayor Caldwell has had, for example, Sherwood Forest, which he has now backed away from, is the fact that you cannot, you cannot do these things and let it sit, and that’s the problem, or with the windmills, the people feel that the EIS and what was permitted is not what was actually being built, so there’s got to be accountability on the part of government. I don’t understand why, if you’re gonna have a project that affects a neighbor, especially if you’re the city like Sherwood, if you’re gonna have a project that have affects the neighborhood, you have to notify people.

We have a requirement, if you're a private person and you wanna put up a liquor store, a liquor establishment and you're within so many the radius of somebody, I think 500 feet or something from a school, you have to notify everybody around there that this is what's going on, it's transparency, and it's the knowledge as to what is happening, I think that's the problem that government has failed, and in this particular case, in those situations, Mauna Kea is something that you knew... once the decision was made by the Supreme Court, and I think it was 2015, was the first one, that you have this window of time where you have to bring people to the table and get some concurrence or understanding, they just kinda let it sit for that period of time.

And then the movement took on a life of its own, for me, I've never seen the native Hawaiian community get together like that over a single issue, and I think that that is what you know now with the marches, and even with Black Lives Matter here, a lot of the people who are marching are native Hawaiians, it's the sense that we don't matter, that's why I said I called it broadly "public confidence", but it really is a sense for an individual that "We don't matter". I think what we will make that change is if they believe that they have a mayor or someone who really understands. You know I can go on about what the losses where they've messed up and all of that, but I think what they want is somebody who they know understands, people may not have agreed with me when I was in the legislature or even in Congress. But the one thing people always agreed on is that if you wanted an explanation and you have the time to listen, I will give you one, and I will tell you why I feel a certain thing is a certain way.

Chad Blair, Honolulu Civil Beat:

Colleen, I wonder if what Mahea's getting to is that what those folks want with TMT, with the Sherwoods, with the wind turbines in Kahuku, is they want someone to listen to them and to actually do something in their favor, and instead that is not really what's been happening, and you could talk about the road, you may have been pressing it and determining that would be the blockage point at the TMT, but in fact, I'm seeing a movement that's driven by people saying, "You're not listening to us, are you really gonna be the leader that we want?"

Colleen Hanabusa, Honolulu Mayoral Candidate:

And I think that that’s exactly what I’m saying. I’m saying that in order to listen to people and whether or not you agree or you don’t agree with it, it’s the ability to explain to them “Why?”, and I think that’s where government is lacking, you know, when you think about it, right? For example, I was waiting on TMT’s road issue to see beneficiaries, because it is. Now up to the 9,000-foot level that’s all owned by... that’s all part of the original Hawaiian homes commission grant of 9 of 1821, or whatever it was, that’s part of that, that’s what, they didn’t do anything. There is no transfer of that land to the Department of Transportation, Department of Transportation gave that land to none other than the the the county or the state, the state to build the road. But what’s missing is the distance from Hawaiian Homes, who owns that land technically, or the beneficiaries that owns that land to the State Department of Transportation.

Mahealani Richardson, Hawaii News Now:

Colleen... Clearly, you've studied that issue, but we wanted to switch gears a bit and we wanted to ask you, can you describe one of the most difficult periods of your life and how did you lift yourself out of it?

Colleen Hanabusa, Honolulu Mayoral Candidate:

I think the most difficult periods of my life was when you lose an election, and this election was the Senate election in 2014, and it’s lost by just a mere 1,700 votes, and you have people who... I’ve had a woman come up to me, I think she was at the country club, I was going to meet some people for dinner, and she told me, “You know, I’ve always felt you were a fighter, so why aren’t you fighting for this this election?” And I told her then, and I said, and this is why it was so difficult. I said, “If it was just me, I would. I would — because you know that’s when we found ballots on Maui, and there were all these issues about how and we had the hurricane and the different places closed, that should have been open and different ones that were open were should have been closed, and I said, “But it’s not about you. When you run for office, it’s about the people who support you”. I said, “If I don’t say ‘We need closure on this’”, I said, “I’m gonna have supporters who’ve given it they’re all who have nothing to gain, who are coming up to me saying, ‘Do you think if I made three more calls it would have made a difference, do you think if my sign wave for four more days it would have made a difference, or do you think it...” and I said, “You can’t do that, you can’t do that.”

So it's difficult as it is to make a decision, and all the people who have invested in you, you have to come to a point where you realize, it's not about you, it's about them. And how do they do and what do they get from standing in the hot sun sign waving for you, they don't get anything except a "Thank you", I mean you know, yes, they believe. I mean, that's the ultimate form of belief, probably more so than people can write big checks who write be checks to everybody, but it's, it's that's a difficult time when you have to weigh and become somebody who realizes that it's not you anymore, it's others and what they have done for you.

Colin Moore, Hawaii News Now Political Analyst:

Colleen you've been a public official in the public eye for a long time. When was the last time you changed your mind about something important?

Colleen Hanabusa, Honolulu Mayoral Candidate:

I haven’t been there that long, (laughs) 18 years, I know. And people think I’ve been around forever, when I tell them, No, I haven’t you know. Sylvia Luke and I were elected the same time...

Colleen Hanabusa, Honolulu Mayoral Candidate:

That's okay, because it must mean you hear too much about me, or gives you that impression. So you know, I've changed my mind on, one thing that I've changed my mind on is... and not completely, but let me explain this to you.

You know, one of the things that we all have to deal with was the Ala Wai flooding, when I got elected about, 15, 16 years ago was when the flood came in and destroyed the bottom floor of Hamilton Library and all of that. So that’s something that we lived with. So when I was in Congress, the Army Corps had a plan, and on Army Corps, of course, said that it was passed by the community, and then I actually went to testify for their plan because it was the first time that they said any member of Congress showed up to them to testify. The result was that they actually front-loaded the $345M and set it up so that it is actually a loan from the our section because they tagged us on and we tagged ourselves on to Puerto Rico so we don’t have to pay right away.

So I thought, “This is a good deal.” I came back and then there was all this uproar about the Ala Wai. And the council actually went in and did their own study, so I met with the advocates about it because I said, you know, I felt that this is what we need, ‘cause they would tell you an army corps’ position, and I think it’s probably some of the climate change guys will agree with me that Waikiki is threatened more from the Ala Wai side than it is from the sea-level rise side. And the other reason is, you don’t fool with mother nature, you hear that, but it really is true, Ala Wai canal was built basically, so you could have Waikiki so that it’s a drainage canal right, and then and then Waikiki Beach was built so that we could have a beach that’s not natural, but we did all of this, we, people did this, not us but people did this, and now we’re gonna pay the price. So in talking to them, I say, “Well, what is it? Is it? What if we dredged? Because is it the level of the water? ‘Cause certain parts of the Ala Wai is only 2 feet deep, so do we dredge.

Is it because like everything else we are guilty of in this day in the city is we don’t do maintenance, well, that’s my greatest fear. That’s one of my things that I wanna tackle. We don’t do maintenance work, so because of that, What is it? So, you know, as they go through it, and I said, well, I said, well, “The real issue is, what are we gonna protect against? Do we protect against the perfect storm and the 100-year flood all coming converging at the same time, or do we look at this and say, ‘If we know we have good science and if we’re doing maintenance on it, can we do something less than the taking of the lands?’”

I think, I think I've come to the conclusion that you don't need the six foot walls, you don't need the plan, but you do need to do something, so I feel that my responsibility, when I become Mayor, is to make sure that the federal funds are still available, so we can do the alternative plans because it's not something that congress appropriated, it's something that went on the top of the Army Corps list, so hopefully we'll be able to do that, but that's something where you gotta listen to what people are saying and you gotta understand that in fact, yes, there is an alternative, but we also have to be honest to the people and say, they're planning for the perfect storm, 100-year plus high tides and all of this, and we're not doing anything. So we need, we need to understand that this is the risk factor, and then we have to keep reminding people, cause I think what happens over time is people forget. So we have to keep doing and we have to maintain and we have to do all of that, so with that.

That’s something that I felt after 15, 16 years of watching this, saying “We finally got a resolution, people should be happy”. People weren’t happy because we were affecting their lives, but there’s another way of looking at it, so yes, I changed my mind from that it has to be that way to “Hey let’s work on a solution that the community is gonna live with, and we’ll do exactly what we need to have done.

Mahealani Richardson, Hawaii News Now:

Colleen, what is your favorite song and why?

Colleen Hanabusa, Honolulu Mayoral Candidate:

What is my favorite song? Gee, I would never have expected that. Yeah, you know I, I... I guess I don’t... I grew up, I grew up being raised by my grandparents, so my favorite songs growing up were really Japanese of kind of songs, so there’s one about... They call it “Akatonbo”, so it’s a dragon fly, and it talks about the sun setting and all of the... and the reason I remember that, so my grandmother used to sing it to me, ‘cause Waianae, in my opinion, has the best sunset, so as it’s the sun was setting, she would sing me that song, and so that’s my favorite song, but it has nothing...

Chad Blair, Honolulu Civil Beat:

Can you hum a few bars Colleen? Can you?

Colleen Hanabusa, Honolulu Mayoral Candidate:

(humming and singing) You’re luck that’s not my day job. (Laughs) Don’t vote for me, or don;t vote against me because of that.

Yeah, I remember that. And then maybe it’s just a time, I grew up in a plantation house and life seems simple. I even remember, I remember when my grandparents had their first in-house toilet put in, ‘cause it was a plantation, so they actually had a outhouse, and I remember that and my grandparents ran a, my great-grandparents ran the plantation furo. That’s the where you would take a bath. And then people, I don’t know how much they paid, a couple of pennies or something, I remember they weren’t doing it when I was born but I used to watch and say, “What is this big structure?” And they said, “Oh, that’s great grandpa’s furo that he ran for the plantation. And I thought, “Oh, wow.” You know so yeah, so I think that kind of a, and I’ve told people, “Growing up in Waianae and the experience there is really something that has shaped me,” and it’s not only the appreciation for native Hawaiians and what... because they are... they dominate the area. They were very...

Mahealani Richardson, Hawaii News Now:

Colleen...

Colleen Hanabusa, Honolulu Mayoral Candidate:

... always nice.

Mahealani Richardson, Hawaii News Now:

Finally, we are all here for our future, what are three words that the future generations will use to describe you? Just three words.

Colleen Hanabusa, Honolulu Mayoral Candidate:

See probably, well, it would be hopefully, "Listened. Sustainability. And Belief in us."

Mahealani Richardson, Hawaii News Now:

Colleen Hanabusa. Thank you for your time.

Colleen Hanabusa, Honolulu Mayoral Candidate:

Thank you.

Mahealani Richardson, Hawaii News Now:

We really appreciate it.

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