Big-dog politics and post-pandemic policy — Kaua‘i-style

It was interesting to watch the recent mash-up between the big dogs — Honolulu Mayor Kirk Caldwell, Kaua‘i state Senate President Ronald Kouchi, Mayor Derek Kawakami and Lt. Gov. Josh Green.

The Honolulu mayor suggested last week that Kaua‘i or “some neighbor island” might be the best place to test out the re-launch of the state’s tourism industry.

Kouchi threw the first punch, saying, “I want to be clear to Mayor Caldwell. Kaua‘i does not appreciate being identified as a potential test case to go bring in the tourists so you can make better decisions on O‘ahu,” Kouchi was quoted in The Honolulu Star-Advertiser.

Green, a likely opponent of Caldwell in the 2022 governor’s race, also was quick with a body slam, saying he was “shocked at the idea of using the neighbor islands as a giant experiment to see if the virus kills people. It was a pretty stunning comment,” he was quoted on Civil Beat.

Then on PBS Hawai‘i during a live “4 Island Mayor” interview program, Kawakami offered Caldwell a reasoned but sharp and direct rebuke, saying, “We gotta be careful with our words. There’s already a situation where there’s a level of fear…when our people hear that we are going to be like a sacrificial lamb or the testing grounds.”

Kawakami is correct, of course, that “We gotta be careful with our words.”

Caldwell has since acknowledged that saying Kaua‘i might be the best place to “test” the relaunch of the state’s tourism industry was a bad choice of words and a mischaracterization of his intent.

I’m thinking that a more appropriate phrasing might have been that Kaua‘i is in the best position to “lead.”

After all, it seems obvious that we are in fact in the best position to lead and are already doing so. Kawakami and the residents of Kaua‘i are at this moment leading the effort to eliminate the spread of the virus among our local population with zero new cases of COVID-19 infections occurring during the past 18 days.

Why wouldn’t we also lead the effort and set the example by slowly and thoughtfully reopening our local economy? Why wouldn’t we be the first to establish ultra-stringent testing and screening protocols at the airport and then very slowly reopen travel to and from our island?

Who else is going to lead? Governor David Ige? Caldwell? Are we to wait until O‘ahu gets it together before we venture out ourselves? If so, be prepared for a long, long wait, and no telling what we will get on the other side.

If we allow Kaua‘i to lead, think of the possibilities. Think of what we could do.

First, we make our island safe. This seems to be happening thanks to firm leadership and a population that cares about each other.

Next, we slowly reopen our local businesses.

Then with the help of the state and federal government (funding and expertise), we establish at our airport the very best testing and health-screening protocols available. We require health certificates from incoming passengers and continue the quarantine if needed.

Then and only then do we begin to slowly loosen the existing restrictions on incoming travel and closely monitor and track all incoming travelers (visitors and local residents). We adjust the plan moving forward, tightening or loosening the requirements as needed to maximize the health protections of our community while ever-so-slowly getting our economy back moving again.

But Kaua‘i being Kaua‘i, we will do much more than just open our doors while screening and testing for COVID-19. We will insist on the re-visioning and re-making of our visitor industry. There will be no going back to the same ole, same ole.

Via changes in state and county laws, rules, permitting requirements, tax incentives and disincentives, we can and must do things differently.

Hotels, resorts, airlines and vacation rentals must be required to:

• Pay every worker a living wage and health benefits;

• Purchase 90% of their restaurant items from local farms and ranches;

• Educate all guests on cultural and local norms.

We must also set strict limits on the number of visitor arrivals by:

• Freezing new resort development and reducing the number of vacation-rental permits;

• Directly connecting taxation of the visitor industry to the number of visitors served so that increasing numbers above a threshold results in decreased profitability.

To ease our traffic congestion, we must dramatically increase the taxation of rental cars, utilizing those funds for public transportation.

In order to have at least one day a week free from the noise and activity brought to our public spaces by the visitor industry, we might also consider banning all commercial activity on all public lands, beaches, waters and air space, possibly on Sundays.

And of course, in all beach parks, we must set aside sufficient free parking designated for local residents only.

With bold, creative and collaborative leadership, we could, in fact, accomplish all of the above and more. No, it’s not easy. Nobody said it would be easy. Leadership is not easy.

While Caldwell stumbled on his words, his instinct was on target — Kaua‘i should lead. And then, O‘ahu and the rest of the state could follow in our path.


Gary Hooser formerly served in the state Senate, where he was majority leader. He also served for eight years on the Kaua‘i County Council, and was the former director of the state Office of Environmental Quality Control. The Wailua Homesteads resident serves presently in a volunteer capacity as board president of the Hawai‘i Alliance for Progressive Action (HAPA) and is executive director of the Pono Hawai‘i Initiative.

  1. Everythingisawesome April 29, 2020 7:05 am Reply

    Your ideas are all so bad. Human beings are not cattle.

    1. Everythingisasecret April 29, 2020 1:40 pm Reply

      And your ideas are….?

  2. Charles Allen April 29, 2020 7:29 am Reply

    Gary, your commentary is right on, however, your recommendations must be tempered by the realization Kauai officials have failed in long term planning for decades. Paved bike paths could encircle scenic routes from the North Shore to Waimea connecting with conveniently spaced shuttle bus stops with every ten minute connections to local points of interest. Timely and frequent airport bus service and Uber or Lyft type car service could largely replace rental cars and increase local employment to transport arriving visitors to island accommodations.
    As a forty plus year visitor to Kauai (and long term vacation home owner) I’m amazed officials keep passing the torch to reinventing island infrastructure. Kauai is too beautiful an island with a historical welcoming and caring culture to not protect local residents from the crush of humanity. We look forward to Mayor Kawakami’s strong leadership skills and vision to lead a re-opening and re-making of a revitalized and modern Kauai. The time to begin is here!

  3. Uncleaina April 29, 2020 10:01 am Reply

    Funny you mentioned Caldwell’s comments because they’re just the same as your last opinion piece: open up Kauai to tourists ASAP. Let US see if the testing works; let US see if infected people come and evade quarantine (which is already happening at high levels); we’d be as little as one large corporate event away from pandemonium- where dozens get infected from a single person. You know, just like the Biogen conference. And Kauai doesn’t remotely have facilities nor established protocols for any of this stuff. Also small numbers of tourists isn’t really gonna help places like Hyatt, Sheraton because they need to be nearly full before they are profitable. I frankly do not trust the Dept of Health enough to test every arriving tourist to gamble with my life, my family’s lives, or the lives of my fellow residents. Maui first please.

  4. Suuuuure April 29, 2020 10:10 am Reply

    If you want the state to go bankrupt follow Gary’s advice!

    1. You Bet April 29, 2020 1:41 pm Reply

      What is your alternative advice?

  5. kauaidoug April 29, 2020 11:35 am Reply

    As a tour guide and over 60 I cannot go back to my business until I feel safe having close encounters with visitors, period. I agree that we should take a look at how we run ourselves ragged being open everyday of the year.
    And I would add to Mr. Hooser’s wish list is
    FIX the Damn roads while we are down!

    1. Barry Dittler April 30, 2020 10:50 am Reply


      If you own your business, you have the choice to set your hours and days of operation. As for the roads, good luck. they are cutting the road budget to try to make up for all the lost excise tax and hotel tax revenue. It will be years before they get back to the repairs.

  6. Barry Dittler April 29, 2020 1:24 pm Reply

    Enough of Gary Hooser
    Every Wednesday we are subjected to what amounts to a paid advertisement for Gary Hooser’s socialist progressive agenda. Yes, I know, I don’t have to read it. But I usually do for the amusement. I equate it to reading the daily comics ! However, today’s (4/29) diatribe was beyond disguising.
    Like his far left leaning Democratic friends in Congress, the idea of using the suffering of the unemployed workers and suffering businesses as an opportunity of advance his far left agenda is about as low as it comes. Like Elisia Cummings , the Democratic congressman who said that the pandemic was an “opportunity to advance our agenda”, his suggestion is pathetic. To try to use the suffering here in Kauai to reshape the islands social structure to meet his “vision” shows how little sympathy he has for his fellow residents. While we all have enjoyed the light traffic, the idea that we need to heavily tax (of course, more taxes) the hotel and car rental industries to restrict tourism shows how little regard he has for those workers who depend upon those tourists for making a living. We would all like to see a few less cars on the road, fewer people on the beaches and in the parks, but like it or not, our islands existence is tied to those tourists that he would spurn.
    To even suggest that reopening the economy in Kauai should be predicated upon re-engineering our society and structure in such dire times is absent of any sane persons vision of recovery. Every unemployed worker simply wants to go back to making a living, every business owner a chance to reopen. Now is not the time , Mr. Hooser, to prattle on about your leftist , socialist agenda. Please, if you have no sympathy for the workers on this Island, your friends and neighbors that are suffering, please just spare us your blithering idiocy ! It is fairly obvious why you were voted out of office, as you are totally out of touch with the needs of those who live here.

    Barry Dittler/ Wailua

    1. Ginger Doll April 30, 2020 3:07 am Reply

      True, our island is tied to tourism but in cannot continue to exist chiefly for their benefit.
      Too many cars, too low wages for those serving our visitors and too little support for our island’s agriculture sector to provide our nourishment.

  7. A April 29, 2020 6:07 pm Reply

    Great. Now let’s hear what Joanne has to say. And please Garden Island see if you can dig up some more unemployed washed up politicians to tell us what they would force us to do if only they had power.

  8. Jo April 29, 2020 10:38 pm Reply

    I am usually not in agreement with this author, but I gotta say, some suggestions make sense. And “airlines must be required to pay every worker a living wage”, yes! I doubt the public knows, but Hawaiian pays only $11 for customer service workers!

  9. Eater April 29, 2020 10:54 pm Reply

    What? This all has to do with tourism. What about new ways of making money locally that benefits locals? You said no same ole. Well, instead of using our land for stuff we can’t eat (Monsanto product development) we should be farming. Grow actual food we can eat and be less dependent on imports.

  10. grateful Kauaian April 30, 2020 5:37 am Reply

    lots of trump bootlickers in the comment sections today. I am pleased to see Kouchi packing a wallop. Ii agree with Kawakami and with Kouchi. I like Kouchi’s directness. It is why I have voted for him year after year. He doesn’t mince words. I am so proud of our wonderful Prince, Kawakami. I say Prince, because he reminds me of Prince Kuhio who loved the people, and had the gift of a silver tongue. He was sensible and intelligent. We are indeed lucky that Kauai will in all ways try to maintain her independence. Kauai was always different, marched to her own drum and was fiercely independent. All outer islands people are. Outer islands have been kicked around long enough by Oahu who takes the largest share of everything.

    Kauai stands alone. Let Oahu experiment with their peoples health. We know the cause of the spread of the virus is travelers and tourists. We know that allowing these people coming in from hotpots like California, Washington, Texas and the east coast is a certain death sentence for many of our local population who suffer disproportionately from serious underlying health conditions. The very people that are the engines for tourism, the Native Hawaiian and Polynesian populations whether they be full blood or mixed blood are the ones you need to keep your tourism afloat.

    Without Hawaiians you have no tourism. Without the Kupuna you have nothing. Without the people that get up everyday to be yelled at, made to feel second class, argued with, fussed at, whined at and complained at by the increasing number of rude, racist, and disrespectful tourism hoards you have nothing in this state.

    People do not come here to see just the waterfalls and the strip malls full of junk they can get anywhere on Oahu. They come to see the local people of this land. Of all races sizes shapes and colors whop make Kauai what it is. It is us they come to see and experience. It is up to us to decide who what where and when out tourism and economy will look like. We need to diversify, we should have done it long ago. Tourism needs to take its place equally among other economic pursuits for our island. We have the skills and the know how. To say we can only dance for our supper is an insult to our people.

    I for one will not return to tourism, and i think a lot of people see it that way. After decades of bowing and scraping to others, and showing abounding “aloha, I am looking to get an education and find a new career. For me, the culture will remain a pursuit but on my own time, as I choose, and who I choose to share it with. I will no longer bow and scrape at the alter of tourism. I will better myself and find something else to do. I am not a one dimensional person, and neither is anyone else here. We all have talents, and we need to develop those talents instead of dooming our self to only one thing. We can and will do more.

    I am grateful for leaders like Kouchi and Kawakami who will not let Kauai be used in such a manner.

  11. LMat April 30, 2020 7:53 am Reply

    LOL!! What a pipe dream!!
    While I wholeheartedly agree that we need to find creative and effective ways to limit tourism to more manageable and sustainable numbers, in the face of a crippled economy chomping at the bit to get back on it’s feet, Gary’s suggestions are ludicrous!! Trying to pass business-restrictive ($$$-restrictive) laws and initiatives at this time would never work.

  12. Debra Kekaualua April 30, 2020 8:55 am Reply

    EXcellent comments, I cant wait to see if TGI actually publishes my post, as i have sent many a writing outlining ideas that never are posted because these ideas would work. Commentators are ON-point with those that Expoli’s Hoozer, then Joann opine about cluelessly.

    I Ran for mayor alongside Derek. There were 4 monied unionite corporate types and four not supported by these same regime corporates, especially the Real Estate or Green Energy, Grove Farm, A&B, Robinson, dannerhola, DHHL, OHA, state senate, house, and Igster as well as military including nonprofit corporates and billionaires.

    Civil Beat still has my plans archived for your reading pleasure. Far Left, Right or Center is how folks and our TGI plays out the continuing untruths and has zero integrity. My candidate performance and 1-3 minutes allowed in every gathering or questions asked, boiled down to my asking the audiences to “Raise your Hands if you are Paying Attention?” The responses and body language, their wide eyed stare, were obviously confusing to those that attended these rallies and thankfully the bester man won!

    We have an outsider, Chief Todd, who settles in with Ohana that he has become to us all, except Chief like thousands of others are just short of learning what is reality, truth and integrity. We can thank the Lord that the ol boy circus clowns sixty years in the making got this resident’s attention, I began to observe, read true Kauai storybook publishings, and KCC Nursing School A.D. R.N. program career goals worked hand in hand with my sole proprietor Emergency Call Center. ‘Central Answering Service’ became the “coconut wireless” The successes in my chosen Medical Professional status, as well as a business owner, “live voice” 24-7-365, was the winner! I paid my taxes, we got to purchase equity in a homeowner status, because we know that land cannot be bought or sold under any circumstances.

    Remember when america does anything like occupation or overthrowing a nation, It is not called terrorism! Unfortunately, this all is terrorism being played out by top dog liars, maneuvers and manipulators that border also on being Luci’s or guilty kealoha stolen mailbox fraudulators that have yet to be exposed. When THAT happens, all things will Huli to the truth and integrity we deserve, we researched, found and we will implement, while FEMA prison barges will remove the farians, tribunaled and sent to ring hells bells for eternity. These folks gave up their legacy for the wealth they continue to prey upon. So far as i Know we will all die someday. Guarantee, I won’t have a bridge, park, or airport named after me, only those that have destroyed, get that perk.

    1. R K May 1, 2020 10:33 pm Reply

      hmmm… Debra, I can see why you lost the election and why TGI doesn’t publish your posts, they are protecting you, but you are correct in that you won’t have a bridge, park, or airport named after you.

  13. Barry Dittler April 30, 2020 10:46 am Reply

    Charles, my first question is , do you rent a car when you are here ? Unfortunately, tourists here for a week want to see the most they can, and on their schedule. Our buses do not allow for beach chairs and coolers so that they can go to the beach. They don’t want to be dropped off at a beach to just look for a few minutes and take pictures, then wait 2 hours for the next bus. As for the added infrastructure (paths, added bus service), who is gong to pay for that. They increased our excise tax rate to raise money just to fix the existing roads, and have years of work ahead to do that, repair bridges etc. Gary Hooser is totally wrong, and his vision is simply an extension of his socialist , progressive agenda . We voted hom out of office for a reason. He is out of touch with the people who live here year round !

  14. RG DeSoto April 30, 2020 2:48 pm Reply

    Nothing like Hooser pretending to know anything about economics.
    All central planning for the last 100 years has proven to be an abject failure, full of poverty, stagnation, shortages and human misery.
    As Benjamin Powell said: “It didn’t take a global health crisis to empty the shelves in Cuban or Venezuelan grocery stores. Mistakes made by central planners, who hold monopoly power over economic decisions, did that all on their own.”
    Get a grip, Gary.
    RG DeSoto

  15. Craig Millett April 30, 2020 4:25 pm Reply

    I agree Gary. It’s time for imagination and creativity. For instance, how about we reduce rental car numbers by about seventy percent and instead launch a fleet of electric jitneys driven by well-paid locals who know their way around. Then we could kick out the chemical (poison) companies and farm our own food as well as establish several native Hawaiian villages where people can practice their culture. Then we reduce the number of visitors by two thirds and charge them more for the privilege of joining us for an utterly unique experience that benefits the people and this island.

  16. Edward Dedeo May 3, 2020 3:23 pm Reply

    Too often the nay sayers automatically snip about the socialist progressive ideas without addressing directly his proposals. These proposals strike me a sensible and practical. It’s not socialist to put public safety first. It is intelligent and compassionate together to do so. There are more waves of the Covid virus on the near horizon.
    Look at the timeline of the influenza pandemic of 1918-19–multiple waves the virus came just when people thought they were done with it.
    Look again below at the bare bones of the 4 proposals Mr. Hooser has made.

    1) First, we make our island safe.

    2) Next, we slowly reopen our local businesses.

    3) Then with the help of the state and federal government (funding and expertise), we establish at our airport the very best testing and health-screening protocols available. We require health certificates from incoming passengers and continue the quarantine if needed.

    4) Then and only then do we begin to slowly loosen the existing restrictions on incoming travel and closely monitor and track all incoming travelers

    Everyone serving the tourist visitor deserves to make a good Living Wage and health care.
    Better to have fewer visitors and charge them more for the privilege.

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