Name: Steve Lipscomb
Age: 54
Current occupation: Retired U.S. Air Force pilot, full-time candidate
Political experience: First political campaign

The duties of the lieutenant governor include legal name changes, certifying and processing documents, managing official documentation for the public, and becoming acting governor when the governor is away from the state. What would you do outside of these duties to bring value to the office?

First, let me say I am a political outsider – like most of your readers – and as such, I will not pander to special interests in Hawaii and I will not sit idle in the Lt. Governor’s office waiting for something to do (as has been the case with Lt. Governors in the recent past). Special interests close off competition and as a result, drive up the cost-of-living for most Hawaiian families. What I mean by that is: most residents of Hawaii suffer from extremely high costs-of-living, most of which can be attributed to the high cost of housing.  In fact, many here must work multiple low-paying jobs just to afford a place to live; one Harvard study places rental cost in Honolulu at 50% of income for 30% of workers in Hawaii, whereas the general recommendation is that rental costs should be between 25-35% of income. The current government’s ‘solution’ to this is to tax and spend on a slow growth of subsidized housing; instead, the real culprit is the lethargic pace that available land is made available both from available sources and from regulation.  Another culprit for the high cost-of-living is the additional shipping costs we must bear because of the Jones Act shipping restrictions which the current government has protected so that Hawaii residents suffer costs at thousands per year so that, supposedly, a few shipping jobs will be protected; I say ‘supposedly’ because a waiver of shipping restrictions would probably lead to more economic activity in the Islands than at present and raise wages for these workers.  Yet another cause is the lack of well-paying jobs.  Hawaii needs to become a business-friendly State and diversify the economy to encourage economic prosperity and resiliency.

My vision for the office of Lt. Governor is to vastly improve its productivity by working in close daily coordination with the governor to ensure the most pressing problems are being effectively addressed. However, the focus areas I will champion as lieutenant governor are my “Three E’s” – economy, education and environment.

In addition to this accomplishment, as Lieutenant Governor I will make it my duty to champion my “Three Es” – Economy, Education and Environment – which I believe to be the most pressing issues in Hawaii today. Below are some of the steps I see to address each issue:

To improve the economy and make Hawaii more affordable, I will: 

  1. Advocate to update the Jones Act to drive down the shipping costs that make our goods so expensive; 
  2. Champion transparency audits on major government spending; 
  3. Strive to modernize government agencies by introducing proven business strategies; 
  4. Support major public-private partnerships;
  5. Back legislation to create a more business-friendly environment; and 
  6. Develop strategies to increase our agriculture / food security. 

To improve the education system, I will: 

  1. Support an audit of the Department of Education to identify improvement areas; 
  2. Advocate for the introduction of business best practices into DOE; 
  3. Promote vocational-technical education; and
  4. Strategize to retain teachers and fill the 1600 vacancies in the system. 

To preserve the environment, I will: 

  1. Work endlessly to better manage the homeless issue through a multi-path approach including ending the DHHL backlog and increasing affordable housing; 
  2. Coordinate with the Department of Health and environmental groups to target the worst contaminators of our beaches and waterways; and 
  3. Work with the military to ensure clean up on bases (Red Hill, etc.)

Hawaii’s public school system consistently ranks in the lower half of the country. What would you do to change this? 

My time as an instructor and evaluator pilot in the Air Force, coupled with my personal experience, combine to shape my thoughts about education. With the sky as my classroom, I experienced the difficulties that even very bright people have when placed into non-conducive environments. Translated to Hawaii, that means I support having educational facilities that contribute to, not detract from the learning process and the education experience. I understand through the ACLU lawsuit that schools lack facilities necessary help students succeed. I will work to change that.  I look forward to getting tours of the various public schools on the various islands to understand the complete situation and to hear first hand what the challenges are. My experience is that those closest to the problems of life are usually those with great ideas to correct them!  I also understand the value that teachers bring outside of just education. My top mentor in life remains my 9th grade science teacher and I speak with her about 4 times a year to this date!  Our keiki deserve the chance to compete effectively at the state, national and global levels.  We need to ensure that those that want to pursue careers in the trades have that opportunity and that those who choose to go to college have great careers available here at home.  Last year, we lost more than 13,000 people to mainland relocations – my assumption is that those didn’t come from the very rich or the very poor but rather from the middle class – the key to a healthy society.  I have some ideas to help attract and retain teachers, to drive down the overall cost of living here in Hawaii, and to partner with industry for jobs upon graduation from high school and college.
DOE receives approximately 25% of the state budget and has additional funding streams from federal, special and trust funds totaling over $1.9B annually.  My experience in the military is to focus on results-driven expenses to ensure money spent is aligned with strategic plans and results in requirements being met.  I will spend more time understanding your strategic plan and will ask for more information and help understanding any additional funding required.  I will also work in tandem with DOE to find charitable channels and will engage with Federal entities to ensure Hawaii is funded appropriately to support programs such as COFA and military students.  Lastly, as Lt Governor I will work to ensure that the priorities received from DOE match the priorities that the legislature decides to fund.

The cost of rail continues to rise. Do you support future state tax increases to fund rail construction or operations? Why or why not?

The poorly-planned rail project uses yesterday’s technology to solve tomorrow’s problem.  I’m stunned that its costs were so underestimated and yet after tripling the cost estimate, those in charge still have not been held accountable.

I am against increasing our already heavy tax burden, even if much of the burden is laid on TAT. Eventually, this will slow business or people will find alternatives (in this case, it has created an opening for tourists to use AirBNB and avoid these taxes).  Certainly, I more strongly oppose using tax money to fund operations if the Rail ever enters operation – especially if the Rail turns out to be not heavily used and maintaining the Rail does not justify its operational cost.  Will Rail simply become another Hawaii program that becomes a sinkhole for our hard-earned tax dollars – like the $25B deficit in the government employees pension and health funds?  We already have financial burdens of past administrations to deal with; let’s not add another.

Bottom line, when it comes to Rail – one has to ask “what problem does Rail solve?” that we should spend so much time and energy on this project.  We have sunk costs into Rail; let’s assess carefully how to make the best use of assets we have before we get ourselves into yet another financial sinkhole.

As more housing developments are announced and built, it appears very few actually cater toward Hawaii’s working class. Do you think this should change, and if so, how? 

We need to do all we can to lower the cost of living in Hawaii, and that especially includes housing. Half of the population spends 30-50 percent of their salary on housing. This is telling, when you compare it to the “low unemployment rate” – while many are “employed” (DOL includes part-time workers in this definition), they are mostly in low wage part-time or service positions, making too low a salary to support their housing and necessities.

We need to attack the problem from a supply position, as well as demand. First, we must lower barriers to entry and encourage an expanded business base in Hawaii (such as the IT industry) and thus boost wages. Secondly, we must lower costs – the Jones Act has been brutally raising costs for Hawaii residents, especially construction costs (please see further discussion below). Further, we need to streamline regulations — the Wharton Residential Land Use Regulatory Index ranks Honolulu as the most regulated U.S. city.

Simply buying housing with government funds and limiting sales to certain income groups is not a sustainable solution. We must partner with the business community to find more efficient solutions to finding affordable housing for all.

Is there a pressing issue in Hawaii that has gone overlooked and requires action?

The Jones Act (Merchant Marine Act of 1920) is costing Hawaii residents millions of dollars each year due to increased shipping costs. Hawaii is simply not in the same situation as, say Kansas, which is not dependent on shipping to provide necessities, building supplies, and general transportation but rather has the benefit of other modes of travel such as interstate roads and railways. The Virgin Islands were exempted during the writing of the Jones Act. We need to lower the cost of transporting goods to Hawaii. This will not only lower basic cost of living, it will also lower construction costs for better and affordable housing.

Also, the tourist industry is fragile and susceptible to impact due to man-made and natural events – Hurricane Iniki and the Kilauea eruption are examples. We need to change Hawaii to a “business friendly” state to expand our economy and especially help our small business entrepreneurs to succeed.  We must expand our technology industries and help nurture our agriculture businesses to increase Hawaii’s food security.