Lieutenant Governor Candidates Share Plans for Office in Forum

(L-R) Jay Heartwell, Kam Napier, Will Espero, Josh Green, Kim Coco Iwamoto, Marissa Kerns, Steve Lipscomb, Jeremy Low, and Jill Tokuda.

Mililani Times | Chloe Kitsu

(L-R) Jay Heartwell, Kam Napier, Will Espero, Josh Green, Kim Coco Iwamoto, Marissa Kerns, Steve Lipscomb, Jeremy Low, and Jill Tokuda.

Caitlin Barbour , Editor-in-Chief

     On June 12, the Hawaii Publishers Association hosted a forum with the lieutenant governor candidates, allowing students from Mililani, Kalani and Campbell High School, as well as University of Hawaii, to ask questions on various topics. Attendance included Democratic candidate Josh Green and Republican candidate Marissa Kerns, as decided in the primary election held on Aug. 11. The official duties of the lieutenant governor is to serve as assistant chief executive, filling in for the governor when they are absent from the state, and as secretary of state. Widely considered to be a figurehead position and stepping stone to the governor’s office, the candidates shared the issues they wish to tackle while taking full advantage of their position if elected.

     “Each and every one of us will make the most out of the lieutenant governor space. I don’t suppose that it should be a stepping stone to anything. I think it would be an honor to serve and take on the challenge of crime and homelessness,” said Green.

     Originally from the East Coast, Green first came to Hawaii as part of the National Health Corps to be a doctor in Ka’ū. Through working as an ER doctor in rural hospitals and clinics on the Big Island, Green saw the issues that citizens of Hawai’i were suffering through and applied this knowledge while serving four years in the House of Representatives and then 10 years in the Senate. “When I saw that we had a lack of access to mental health care, I was able to pass legislation to get more resources for mental health. When I saw that only a very small percentage of our people could get drug treatment, I knew that I had to start free clinics. I started the Community Health Center in Kona — employs 160 people now. I started a free clinic in Chinatown to work on the homeless challenges which I also experienced as the doc. And then through my relationships, both in the hospital and my ability to communicate with people as a physician, I’ve been able to translate these challenges we have into real actions,” said Green.

     Kerns, born and raised in Manila, Philippines, began working from eight years old in her family’s store and leased vegetable farm to help support them. After moving to Hawai’i, Kerns eventually became a small business owner of a shipping company, O’ahu Express. “To me having character or being a business owner you have the best quality, being a great negotiator. I negotiate business, like five million dollars with Sony; I got accounts with Pearl Harbor. I’m the one that gets those midnight calls, ‘Marissa I need a 747 bring it over here because we hit the bottom of the ocean out there in Guam, somewhere in Sita Guam Reef,’ so I got those calls. You know, I self logistic, I self service, I don’t create anything. I’ve never been in politics; I’ve never been in any political arena. But my experience and my skills is a great asset for the state,” said Kerns.

     While in office, Green has acted as the chair of the Health Committee and Human Services Committee in the Senate and continued to work as an emergency room doctor on the weekends. “I would like to take ownership of the greatest challenge we have, which is homelessness and drug addiction, combined with mental illness. That’s where so many of our citizens are struggling. They are perpetually beaten back down because we don’t have access to mental health care, we don’t have access to drug treatment, and we certainly, as Will (Espero) said very eloquently, don’t have adequate units of space to put roofs over people’s heads,” said Green.

     Although Kerns has no political experience, she worked, gaining experience in various jobs and fields after high school. She supported herself through college, in which she earned a Bachelor of Science in Customs Administration degree from Philippine Maritime Institute. “I got the skills, I got the know how, I got almost 30 years of experience in logistics, and I would revitalize Barbers Point. That’s an asset of the state and the federal (government) that’s been sitting there since 1995,” said Kerns. (There’s) a Pease Air Base in New Hampshire exactly like Barbers Point. Check that out. It became a business trade, import (and) export, development zone. It’s unbelievable.”

     In regards to the issue with recruiting and retaining teachers in Hawai’i, Green focused on retainment. “It’s no question that we have to raise teacher salaries, that’s been said multiple times. It’s also no question that we have to make the classroom a more enjoyable place for teachers to be in. A lot of teachers I’ve been speaking with feel too pressured with too much standardization of their discipline, they just don’t get to teach. And finally, if you could repay that student debt, that college debt, and do it through a retention bonus, after let’s say two years. So you get the core experience that teachers that come that want to be a part of Hawai’i, but you get commitment then on because it’s a really significant incentive — $10, $15, $20,000 escalate that’s how we do it for other professions,” said Green.

     Kerns focused on recruitment, suggesting to expand the target to people who didn’t originally go to school to be a teacher. “For example, you graduated in computer science and you retire. Train this guy, make him a teacher — make it easier, online, make the courses easier. This guy’s a super IT, they know how to teach. Take those, I don’t care what degree they took, make them a teacher. Come back to the school, participate, contribute because they are elders; they can be our, pretty much, mentors, so make the credentials easier. The program to be a teacher, make it easier. Loosen up the credentials because the harder, a lot of these people they don’t want to take it,” said Kerns.

     Green is invested in the public school system, which his children are apart of, and looks to also update any outdated curriculum. “We should have some evolution with our curriculum. There’s no question that some students have spoken to many many teachers in the past months and years and really last few days, they really see that there should be some evolution in the tenth, eleventh, twelfth grade years where people can take different options and more tracks for their own growth. Times have changed,” said Green.

     Kerns has experience going through vocational, industrial courses after graduating high school, including learning how to clean teeth to work for a dentist. “I want every high school here, if I get elected, I want vocational and training school in our high schools. So kids don’t have to go home early, you go straight to your vocational courses — at least a dozen of them. All of the retired, you know, skilled, could be union, you know, all those teachers, come back to school and teach these kids. So to me, give them the great standard of teaching,” said Kerns.

     The gubernatorial election will be held on Nov. 6, in which the lieutenant governor will be decided between Green and Kerns.