HONOLULU, Hawaii (HawaiiNewsNow) - Kym Marcos Pine has a vision for Oahu with far less tourism and far more homegrown jobs.
In fact, the mayoral candidate believes that there is no single change that would improve the lives of Hawaii families today and into the future more than creating a sustainable, diversified economy.
In a one-hour interview with Hawaii News Now and Honolulu Civil Beat, the City Councilwoman spoke at length about how she would seek to foster new economic growth outside of the tourism sector — but offered few details on how she’d actually make that happen.
She pointed to opportunities in agriculture, cybersecurity and the military, while also acknowledging that her suggestions would require significant negotiations and, in some cases, legislative buy-in.
“When I say diversify the economy, you have to make each section of your economy strong enough so that when one fails the whole world doesn’t end around you,” she said.
“That’s what happened with tourism.”
And what will likely still be happening when Oahu voters cast their ballots in the primary election Aug. 8.
The question: Will they support a mayoral candidate who wants to dramatically decrease the size of Hawaii’s tourism industry — returning to, as Pine calls it, “the tourism of the ’80s” — during an unprecedented economic crisis and when tens of thousands remain out of work?
Pine doesn’t just think so. She’s banking on it.
During her interview with HNN and Civil Beat, she didn’t hold back on her distaste for what tourism in the islands has become — a game, she says, of ever-increasing arrivals with no consideration for Hawaii’s natural resources or the quality of life of its residents. She’s determined to stop it.
And she believes the COVID-19 pandemic is a perfect vehicle for reimagining tourism in the islands.
For one, she suggested that “smaller, cheaper hotels” that close because of the economic crisis be converted into affordable housing. She also said hotels should be subject to additional environmental and other regulations that would increase the price of a hotel room — and then in theory decrease the total number of visitors who make the trip.
[Read Civil Beat’s coverage: Kym Pine: The New Face Of ‘Working Families’ Or Just The Status Quo?]
At the same time, she said, she’d more heavily police vacation rentals and work to keep them in resort areas and out of Oahu neighborhoods.
When pressed on how she’d accomplish all that, though, Pine said it would take time.
How do you actually influence the mix of tourists who come in, Pine was asked. “No longer approve cheap hotels anymore, only approve the higher spending hotels that can show that they can manage their own tourism set,” she replied.
“A smaller hotel is not gonna want to keep track of all these different rules. They’re gonna say, ‘I’m just gonna go Cancun, Mexico. It’s so much easier to do it there.”
Pine is running as someone with years of experience in Hawaii politics and a history of being a vocal critic of the Caldwell administration.
On the campaign trail, she has sought to position herself as an underdog out to serve the people and leveling zingers at her opponents along the way.
But at a time of deep frustration with Hawaii’s cost of living and consternation about its economic future, Pine can’t call herself an outsider intent on shaking things up (like opponents Keith Amemiya and Rick Blangiardi). And she doesn’t have the name recognition of the two other mayoral candidates who are pointing to their political experience as an asset — Mufi Hannemann and Colleen Hanabusa.
That’s left Pine with the very tough job of educating voters about herself and her platform without many of the traditional tools. Voter forums can’t be held, sign waving was out until very recently, and going door-to-door isn’t possible.
So instead, Pine has sought to use her City Council seat to take a stand on bigger issues.
She applauded, for example, the city’s decision to scrap a park development plan for Sherwood Forest that prompted large protests and even arrests. And at a time when communities are increasingly coming into conflict with development projects, she’s pledged to be the mediator mayor.
During the one-hour interview with HNN and Civil Beat, she pushed back at the notion that every conflict doesn’t have a win-win solution and said developers need to ensure they’re having substantive conversations with communities to head off bigger problems later.
[Watch interviews with the other top contenders for Honolulu mayor by clicking here.]
“You can always reach consensus. If you’re coming with a pure heart and really care about the issue and really care about the person talking to you,” Pine said.
The Councilwoman also acknowledged that the dire financial situation the city finds itself in will mean tough decisions going forward, including potentially scaling back on big projects and even pausing construction of Honolulu’s beleaguered rail line.
At the same time, Oahu is still facing all the problems it had before the COVID-19 crisis: A high cost of living, a homeless crisis, aging infrastructure and a lack of opportunity.
And those issues will likely be exacerbated in the months to come.
When asked how she would help make Honolulu a more livable city and convince young people to stay rather than head to the mainland for jobs, Pine said her run for mayor was as much political as it was personal.
“As one of the youngest candidates that’s running, I’m fighting for my future and my daughter’s future too, and I can guarantee you if we implement a lot of the things like ensuring that we had enough affordable housing and ensuring that would have a more diverse economy that we can feed ourselves, that they have a chance here to not lose hope.”
She added that she’s the only candidate for mayor who is actively tackling the COVID-19 crisis as an elected city official and understands what’s already been done — and what needs to be done going forward.
“No one has handled this crisis. No one has talked about forming new economies while we’re going through this at the same thing, other than tourism, right?” she said. “And so I have the experience and the readiness to ensure that there’s very little transition when I start on day one.”