• Editor’s note: State Senate President Ronald D. Kouchi of Lihue delivered the following address at the opening of the 30th Legislature of the State of Hawaii, Jan. 15.
To each one of our family members, to all of the friends and supporters, [from] each of us who have the privilege to sit in the seats on the Senate chamber floor, we want to express our sincere gratitude for everything that you have done to give us the opportunity to serve the people of Hawaii.
The other thing I’d like to say is that we have many philosophical differences and we have passionate philosophical arguments among ourselves as we go through the course of the session, but you cannot help but feel family ties to all the members here because of the time we spend together.
We get to know each other personally. I know recently Senator Thielen, Senator Riviere, Senator Rhoads, Senator Kim and Senator Kahele have all lost parents. This past November, I, for the first time, experienced that, losing my dad.
In 1982 he was the person who was most influential in starting me on a career of government service. This is the first time we are going to have the opening of the legislative body I serve in and he’s not present.
Like all of you and others who have lost their parents before this, I better understand the emptiness that you feel, the longing, and how much you miss someone whose counsel you could rely on. Someone whose only motivation in advising you was your best interests. They weren’t interested in any kind of personal gain, and just to see you do your best.
And most importantly, at least in the case of my father — the person who was unafraid to tell me when I was off-base — to tell me when he thought I was wrong and to tell me what he thought the right path would be to get back on. So, thanks Dad, I miss you a lot, appreciate everything that you have done. And like all of my colleagues, for their [late] family members, [we appreciate] the differences they made in their lives.
I would also like to give you a report quickly before I talk about the future. Last year, I talked about how we were going to double food introduction in the state of Hawaii, how we were going to get ag [agriculture] productive.
I’m happy to report to you that before the end of 2018, the Kona hospital, state hospital, started serving farm-fresh menus in their cafeterias. By February of last year, the two state hospitals [on Kauai] — Samuel Mahelona [Memorial Hospital] in Kapaa and the Kauai Veterans Memorial Hospital in Waimea — started serving farm-fresh meals on Kauai.
When Dr. [Linda] Rosen [of Hawaii Health Systems Corporation] saw what happened in Kona and on Kauai, she held a meeting of the state hospital board in February, and they adopted a policy to convert all state hospitals in the next two years to farm-fresh menus. On Kauai [before the farm-fresh menus] they were serving five to 10 meals a day to employees. They are now serving in excess of 100 meals a day, and having requests from the community to come in.
We talked back in 2013 about possibly closing and/or privatizing the whole state hospital system. What’s happening on Kauai has now dropped $55,000 off the bottom line. While that may not be a large amount of money, when you look at the operational cost of the hospital, we are not only getting better health outcomes for our patients and employees, we are also adding to the bottom line and finding how we can pick the low-hanging fruit and turn it into positives.
They have gone to over 60% of the meals served being locally-sourced. That is significant because we don’t have a dairy on Kauai. We don’t produce chicken on Kauai. There are quite a bit of items that you cannot produce locally to make [farm-fresh meals] happen, so they’ve made great strides. Last week Monday, the 15 public schools on Kauai, two years ahead of the rest of the DOE statewide, have started [serving] farm-fresh meals for our students on Kauai.
It has been, at the hospitals and the schools, an incredible collaboration process, with the HGEA (Hawaii Government Employees Association) and UPW (United Public Workers). We could not make this kind of change without the unions working hand-in-hand with us to make all of this happen.
We have gotten tremendous private-sector assistance. Chef Mark Oyama, the head of the culinary program at the Kauai Community College, and the executive chefs at several of the hotels, have volunteered their time to come out, and with a collective group of growers we are trying to set up the distribution systems and the procurement systems that we could take statewide.
The Big Island — How do we recover from the devastation of the lava flow? I am still optimistic that this is going to be a game-changing program to assist you.
With Mahi Pono taking over the central plain of Maui, I called Mahi Pono when I read about the 50,000 pounds [of food] donated to the food banks. I said we don’t need that much for the schools on Kauai, but a little bit would help. I’m trying to work with them to ensure they’re going to actively engage in the food-to-school program and create better meals for our students. I am incredibly excited.
First Lady Dawn Ige has been a great partner. She has been primarily focused on healthier breakfast, and better participation than the 50th place out of the 50 states and the District of Columbia that Hawaii currently ranks. She’s working very hard to move us up and make sure that our kids have good nutritional choices. It is clear that they learn at a better rate when they are well-fed and able to think clearly.
Yesterday [January 14, 2020] we had a press conference, so I’m not going to get into the details because the committee chairs talked a lot about it. I simply want to say that we have received criticism over the years for a process shrouded in secrecy. We have received criticism for getting to a point of agreement too late in the session so there’s little time for input from the public on important legislation. By coming forward yesterday with four bold initiatives and laying them out to the public, we are hoping to create a more transparent process. We are hoping to create a process that is going to engage our community.
Last year, we partnered with the Pacific Resource Partnership to have a phone app to try and engage younger voters. And last year, we voted for all-mail‑in ballots.
We are working hard to address the concerns of the working men and women of Hawaii. We are working hard to address the issues about Hawaii not being affordable and losing our most valuable asset, our people, because they can’t afford to live here. And we are striving hard to get better engagement by creating communication tools that are more comfortable for people much younger than I am, and by making voter accessibility much greater. I look forward to what we are going to collectively achieve.
I am incredibly proud that, at a time when we look in Washington, D.C. and [see] the divisiveness in our nation’s capital and the gridlock, when I see the news reports about state houses across the nation that are unable to work, that we have been able to come together, talk to the House, talk to the governor and his administration. Lt. Gov. Green is here with us this morning to show his support and willingness to work together, that we are going to be a shining model for the rest of the nation.
Thank you very much.