When the working-class thrives we all thrive.

Friends Come in All Shapes, Sizes, and Opposing Political Ideas

Years ago I worked for a small insurance agency. The owner and agent is a long-time capitalist.

This former employer and friend of mine loved to talk politics with me. And I with him. He believes when the government gets too involved, when there are too many regulations, too many taxes, it means less freedom.

I staunchly disagreed with him and there were times when our debates would go on for hours. Much to the chagrin of his wife and business partner, who would often scold both of us, “stop talking politics and get back to work!” I adore both of them.

Entrepreneurs Don’t Necessarily Have More to Gain or Lose

The reason I am starting with this story is because whenever I think about labor issues like a Living Wage, or Paid Family Leave, etc. I am reminded about something he said to me once.

Talking about employees versus business owners, he would say owners always take a lot of risk when starting their own business. His implication was that owners, more than employees, shoulder more risk and so deserve greater reward when the business succeeds. I would ask him how well he thought his business would be doing if he didn’t have me there. Would he be as successful?

And I would ask him what he thought would happen to me if his business closed. Being successful, he’s managed to build up savings and equity over the years so that if the business took a turn and he was forced to close down, he’d have a safety net on which to fall back. I, on the other hand, being both young and not making a lot of money, had no savings. No safety net. I would have to rely on Unemployment Insurance to fill the gap until I found another job.

The Hawaii State Legislature is Business-Focused, Not Worker-Focused

Over many years working on increasing the Minimum Wage, I’ve heard primarily one concern from opponents. One reason to oppose any increase in the Minimum Wage; businesses would suffer. Unemployment would increase.

Despite a preponderance of evidence to the contrary, these talking points persist. When policy-makers worry more about optics and politics than facts and figures, there’s a problem.

Years and years of research tells us increasing the Minimum Wage doesn’t cause an increase in unemployment. And it doesn’t necessarily lead to business closures. Some of this research is beginning to be done on $15 with similar outcomes….

In fact, a higher Minimum Wage can be GOOD for employers (even small businesses). It can increase employee happiness and productivity and reduce employee training and turnover costs for employers. Win-win. And a higher Minimum Wage can help level the playing field against big corporations when trying to recruit new employees.

Despite the high cost of living in Hawaii. Despite the fact that people are moving away from Hawaii for better chances at a good life. Our policymakers have done little-to-nothing to address this. Their solution to these problems is to reduce regulation, lower taxes for businesses, and to try to incentivize new industries.

But none of this addresses the income gap in Hawaii, nor does any of it address the fact that too many minimum wage workers are living in poverty. Literally. No one who works full-time should be in poverty. No one.

Don’t You Know; Trickle-Down Doesn’t Work

The neoliberal democratic majority at the Legislature worries about how businesses are faring. They worry about the burden of GET on businesses. And they worry about regulatory burdens. Regularly they decry the plight of businesses in Hawaii and twist themselves into knots trying to do more.

But where’s the knot-twisting when it comes to the plight of working people?

For the now-defunct Superferry as well as Honolulu’s HART train wreck (pun intended), Legislators went to extraordinary lengths to raise funds and side-step regulatory necessities. It happened so fast you’d think the fate of the State depended on them.

But what about the fate of people who are one bad day, one accident, one missed paycheck away from living on the street? Skyrocketing unemployment, they scream! Small businesses will suffer, they exclaim!

On Minimum Wage, Paid Family Leave, Affordable Housing… the list goes on and on, our neoliberal legislators are convinced, despite mountains of evidence, that businesses are what drive the economy. In fact, consumer spending is one of the biggest economic indicators there is; when workers earn more money, they spend more.

When the working-class thrives, we all thrive. Its long-past time legislators remembered that fact and made working people their priority.

*This piece was previously published by Civil Beat. I also wrote early last year about the minimum wage fight here.

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Goodbye 2019. Welcome 2020.

So. I’ve never actually written a year-in-review type post before. At least, not that I can find. The closest I can come is this post from the beginning of 2018. It’s not a year-in-review so much as a forward-looking post at 2018 in front of me. As that post says, I’m not much for New Years’ Resolutions. Though I am all about reflection, so this revelation is actually a bit surprising to me.

Or, maybe because I’m so contemplative on a regular basis it’s never really seemed worth the effort to write an end-of-year summary. That streak ends today, as I look back on 2019 (and a bit at 2018). There’s no doubt the last year or two have been some of the most interesting and challenging of my life.

2018: A Quick Look

The year started off normal enough; school, work, politics. I had no idea what was in front of me.

Taking a night dive into uncharted waters, in March of that year, I left my job in the Governor’s Office to take a position as the Campaign Manager for Kim Coco Iwamoto in her bid to be Hawaii’s next Lieutenant Governor. I left the stability and safety of a dead-end job for an exciting new one which I didn’t know where it would lead. Or what would come next.

Finishing a disappointing fourth place, it was nonetheless a tremendous experience I’m glad I had. Not understanding how hard things would get financially, I took the remainder of the year to try to stand up my own consulting business and finish my Master’s Degree at GW.

2019 Began with Hope and Energy

2019 saw me graduate from George Washington University, my first official consulting client, and travel for work.

By the time January came around, my bank account had dwindled to pennies and my credit card debt had exploded. But I was hopeful because I also was making better-than-decent money consulting.

I was doing the work I loved on causes I genuinely cared about. Things were great. My business was taking off and I thought I was on my way.

But then the dumpster fired of a legislative session came to an end. And so did my contracts. At the time, in early June, I was still somewhat hopeful that it would only be a matter of time before the next gig came around.

Then, Reality Kicked Me in the Head

Again my bank balances dwindled, credit balances continued to rise and I didn’t actually find any other work until the end of October.

Being self-employed can be great. Freeing. Fulfilling. For me, there’s not much better than sitting down at my desk with freshly made coffee still in sleep attire. No shoes or pants required.

It can also be incredibly difficult and lonely. I went from working in an office full of other people to spending more than a few days working from home. It’s not an exaggeration that I am not social. Even in the office, I’d rarely talk story with my co-workers. Except when I did.

Having the choice was something I didn’t think I’d miss. But now I can easily spend a few days not leaving home except to venture out for meals or smokes. Being alone with my thoughts can take a depressing turn at any moment. Staying focused can be challenging.

I started to think maybe I had made a terrible mistake risking stability and comfort to venture out on my own. I applied and interviewed for a few full-time jobs back with the State, though none went anywhere. Had it not been for the love and support of my parents, it’s likely I would have been forced to pack up and move back as a failure to my high school bedroom to start anew.

I’m an Odd Mix of Hope and Brutal Reality

My life in Hawaii hasn’t been without challenges. From long bouts of unemployment to a chronic illness diagnosis and major surgery, my 17-plus years in the special place has molded who I am as an adult. Despite these challenges, I’ve always managed to land on my feet. Sooner or later.

So, while I continued to struggle toward the end of 2019 I started to think, again, about packing it in. Then, I received a call for a job that sent me to Mississippi for two weeks of work. It couldn’t have come at a better time. It was a great experience I’d happily take up again. And it kept me solvent for another month or two.

Strangely, when it comes to my personal life, I have long since given up on the possibility of “meeting someone”. Instead, I’ve chosen to focus on other parts of my life. Professionally though, I’ve always managed to stay mostly positive. Despite struggles and financial ruin (at least twice now), I continue to hold out hope that it’ll work out in the end and that I’ll be successful. Eventually.

Looking Toward a New Start in 2020

While I contemplate how best to deal with the crippling debt I’ve acquired over the last few years, new professional opportunities present themselves.

The 2020 Legislative Session begins in just a few weeks. And it won’t be long before the election season kicks into high gear. It will no doubt be a busy, stressful, and challenging year. As I sit here with my morning coffee on January 2nd, I am hopeful. Hopeful that income will begin pouring in. Hopeful that at least some of the projects on which I’m working will be successful. Hopeful that 2020 will see my business grow.

Here’s hoping. And here’s hoping 2020 will be a positive year for all of you.

Time to get to it.

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Sorry for the Inconvenience

On the day before Thanksgiving this year, Civil Beat published a Community Voice piece by Representative Gene Ward (House District 17). The article, entitled “Hawaii’s Status Quo Government Isn’t Cutting It,” takes to task Hawaii’s Democratic Party-dominated political establishment for contributing to voter apathy, for perpetuating wink-and-nod dealmaking, and for not handling the tough issues.

The Democratic Party of Hawaii is Not to Blame. Neither is More Republican Elected Officials the Solution.

As an active member of the Democratic Party of Hawaii who has served on the State Central Committee (SCC) for nearly a decade, I can say with a good deal of confidence that it isn’t the Democratic Party that’s running Hawaii’s state government. Rather, it’s elected officials and appointees who pass themselves off as Democrats.

There are undeniably good politicians who do stand by and up for the Party’s platform and guiding principles. Sadly though, far too many merely drape themselves in the Democratic banner for the purposes of getting (re)elected.

Ask any engaged member about how the Party’s legislative agenda has faired in the last several cycles and you’ll quickly learn that the (Democratic) Majority Caucuses of the House and Senate do not represent the will of the Democratic Party of Hawaii.

(Read: My Speech to the Maui County Convention)

That Hawaii’s Government is dominated by a supermajority of too many who simply call themselves “Democrats” is a problem. But Representative Ward would have you believe that part of the solution to our State’s woes is to elect more Republicans. This wouldn’t solve the problem so much as remove the cloak from some who are not truly Democrats. Hawaii’s Republican Party just clings to life not because the Democratic Party is dominant. But because they have wholly failed to prove themselves a reasonable alternative.

That the Hawaii GOP nominated Trump in their 2016 Presidential Primary should be evidence enough they are out of touch with most voters in Hawaii. There is no easy path for them to regain even some modest power without acknowledging this obvious shortcoming. Blaming Democrats for that won’t solve their problems (just as blaming immigrants for social and economic woes has done nothing to improve the lives of Americans).

But Gene Ward Does Raise Some Points Worthy of a Closer Look

The “Democratic” majorities in the House and Senate believe they have support for their neoliberal and small incremental approach to our most challenging problems because they keep getting reelected. Forget the fact that far too many of them have gone unchallenged for far too many election cycles.

Rep Ward rightly points out that “more than half (56%) of those polled said politicians don’t listen and don’t have high moral standards (51%)”. And why should they listen when they believe they can whatever they want and continue to get reelected?

When push comes to shove, the Hawaii State Legislature will work hard to the benefit of special interests. They bent over backward to support (illegally) the Hawaii Superferry. And they went to extraordinary lengths to see Honolulu’s rail project is sufficiently funded. Or support the illegal taking of water by Alexander & Baldwin.

But when it comes to the highest cost of living, the highest rate of homelessness, the lowest teach pay or helping struggling working-class families, they do nothing. They obfuscate and deflect. They kick the can down the road. Maybe they think if they put off dealing with these problems long enough they’ll solve themselves.

When voters don’t think politicians are responsive to their needs, they do one of two things. Either they disengage (don’t vote, don’t write testimony, etc.) crying, “what’s the point”. Or they go the other direction, as we’ve seen in the case of the TMT, the Kahuku wind farm, or the Sherwoods development. They rise up and fight back in dramatic fashion.

Gene Ward is spot on when he says, “you’re missing the point if you think Mauna Kea is purely about a telescope”. It’s about a people who feel they’ve been ignored, are tired of it, and are taking action.

Turning “Protesting Into Voting” is Part One of the Solution

Voting matters. In state and local elections, it matters even more. Winning margins can be incredibly small; as little as a couple of hundred votes, or less, can be the difference between an incumbent winning re-election or not.

Next year Hawaii will conduct its elections entirely by mail-in ballot. This will make it easier than ever to vote. No requesting an absentee ballot. No having to remember when Election Day is or where you’re supposed to go to vote. Ballots will be delivered by mail directly to voters, who can complete them and simply put them back in the mail. No muss. No Fuss.

Even if you are discouraged by the current state of affairs in Hawaii, you should vote. I’d say this goes double for Native Hawaiians who feel like second-class citizens in their own homeland. Voting won’t magically set right old wrongs. But it will send a strong signal that sitting on the sidelines is no longer a viable strategy. Whether you’re camping on Mauna Kea, or standing in front of trucks in Kahuku, or supportive of those efforts, it’s time to make your voice heard in a meaningful way. Register and vote.

Run For Office Yourself. Or Encourage and Support Others to do so.

Of course, if incumbents have no challengers then there’s no choice to be made. The same-old politician goes back to their cushy seat for another term, comfortable in the knowledge they’ve been given a blank check to do what they like.

What we need in addition to better voter turnout is more candidates. We need more good, smart, passionate, people who care about their communities running for public office. Without a real choice during elections, it’s easy to feel like casting a ballot is a waste of time.

Much to the chagrin of Gene Ward (and many Democratic electeds), there is an ongoing and growing effort to identify, recruit, train, and support progressive candidates to run for public office. These candidates, frankly, align much more closely to the platform of the Democratic Party of Hawaii than many of those currently serving.

It’s not hard to see a political shift is coming. A revolution from the left supported and encouraged by those who are tired of being told: “maybe next year”. Or, “be thankful for what you have.” Cracks are forming in the political establishment’s grasp on our systems of government. Let’s work together to turn those cracks into chasms.

The tide is turning. Come join the effort. If you’re not sure how I’d be happy to talk to you about it. Or if you have friends or family that are engaged reach out and ask them how to get involved.

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The basic concept that no one would want for housing or food despite being unable to find a job that pays enough on which to survive is a worthy one.

Not a Novel Idea

As a concept, I’ve been supportive of Universal Basic Income (UBI), which Presidential hopeful Andrew Yang refers to as the “Freedom Dividend,” for a long time.

There are multiple proposals and approaches to UBI, but if you’re unfamiliar with the concept, it’s pretty straight forward. UBI is a guaranteed minimum income for everyone in the United States or every citizen. The amount may vary from proposal to proposal. As might a maximum income requirement (millionaires and billionaires might not receive UBI in some proposals).

UBI might sound like a unique idea, but it isn’t really. With the wealth disparity in this country growing beyond Depression-era levels. With the increasing threat of automation. The basic concept that no one would want for housing or food despite being unable to find a job or a job that pays enough on which to survive is a worthy one.

Though maybe not exactly a “universal basic income,” the idea of Social Security in the U.S. relies on a lot of the same arguments and it got its start way back in the 20s.

Is UBI an Entitlement for “Lazy People”?

Ultimately, my answer to this is simply “no”. However, given my experience in the last week or so, I’ve been giving this question some thought.

Neoliberals and conservatives in general all oppose UBI because they say that, among other things, it’s a handout to people who don’t otherwise want to work. The same has been said about welfare programs for years.

Are they right? Sure. There are always going to be people who want to try to game the system, want something for nothing. And if given the opportunity they’ll collect a government “hand out” rather than work for a living. But a plethora of data suggests those UBI and welfare opponents simply hate poor people, rather than have a substantive point. Yes, there are outliers, though they are the exception rather than the rule.

Mississippi Complainers

Over the last couple of weeks, I’ve been working in Moss Point, MS on GOTV efforts for this year’s election. Though my job has been primarily one of facilitation and training, I’ve been interacting daily with our paid canvassers.

“My” team has been tasked with canvassing all, or a major chunk, of Jefferson County, which is largely rural. While the Minimum Wage here is set at the federal $7.25, we’re paying our canvassers $15 an hour. Obviously a coveted wage out here, we’ve had folks from all over knocking down our door for an opportunity to do a little work and make good money.

And the vast majority of my canvassers are fantastic. Really good, hard-working people with good hearts who are just trying to get by. A few, though, would complain. “I don’t want to go out that far.”

“I don’t need to do the role-playing.” Or, “I don’t need anyone checking up on me.” Or, “I’m driving my own car.” And on and on. They’d give me grief over arguably stupid stuff.

In my life, I’ve never had a job where I’d basically refuse to do what my boss asked of me. I showed up, I did the job and at the end of the day, if I was frustrated, I’d complain out loud to myself (or to those willing to listen). Then I’d go back the next day.

So, I wondered to myself (and my teammate) whether that attitude displayed by those few was the reason they couldn’t hold down a job. But I shook my head, grumbled to myself again, then went back to work.

The Welfare Trap

I’ve also been perplexed by and frustrated for a few who said they couldn’t do the work because the relatively high wage would put their welfare and/or section 8 housing in jeopardy. This is the result of income limits on federal poverty programs. Rise above the ceiling just a bit and floating up a smelly creek without a paddle.

The folks in that situation I dealt with here genuinely wanted to work, but were so fearful of losing benefits they counted on to survive, they opted out.

Congress, so bogged down in privileged ignorance and petty political infighting, has utterly and completely failed to address income limits for their poverty programs and the reality of the growing wage gap in the U.S. While these same dynamics make it unlikely we’ll see a Universal Basic Income anytime soon, my experience here in Mississippi have only served to emphasize its urgent necessity.

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Hope In Career

Those who know me would likely not describe me as overtly optimistic. In fact, I think many think of me as cranky, curmudgeonly, and pessimistic. And honestly, I probably wouldn’t contradict them. I’m definitely not one overflowing with positivity.

I have a friend who is one of the most positive people I know. I don’t see her much anymore, but I’m often reminded of her and was again just yesterday.

Spirituality and Divining What You Want From Life

This friend of mine is… spiritual. She talks to her dead mother and the spirits of her ancestors. Not believing in any of that mumbo-jumbo myself, I always thought it strange. But acknowledging the beliefs of others without judging is something I really strive for, so I never really gave her a hard time about it.

But here’s the thing; it worked for her. I don’t mean she was content and it made her feel at ease. I mean she’d ask for things and they’d come true.

There was a time when I would spend Christmas with her, her family and some friends at a beach house in Mokuleia. One of my favorite places in the whole world, I never missed an opportunity to spend time there. I recall one year the forecasts predicted rain storms the whole week and we talked about not going. My friend made a “request” of her family ancestors, her mother, for a “puka in the sky” and told me the beach house was a go.

It may seem like a silly story and I was certainly skeptical at the time, but it turned out we had great weather the whole week. Do I believe her “request” is the reason? I’m not sure.

And way back when I was still trying to find my own way, a path and career I was passionate about, she used to tell me to just picture it in my head. Ask for it. Believe it and it’ll happen.

My Own Experience with “Luck”

After that, I began to think about it and reflect on my own life. And you know what? There may be something to her approach.

Despite more than my fair share of adversity, I’ve been incredibly lucky. Most recently, I gave up a secure and easy job with the Governor to take on the new challenge of managing a statewide political campaign. I knew the odds were slim we’d actually win, but I believed in the candidate and was ready to move my career in a new direction.

After we lost, I spent the next several months unemployed while I finished my Master’s Degree. As money grew tight, I thought maybe I’d been rash in leaving the Governor’s Office, but I eventually found some work and continued to do work I so enjoy.

Then the legislative session ended and I was, once again, unemployed. While I worked to brand my consulting business and search for clients cash again began to dwindle and credit card debt skyrocket. The months passed and I resisted the idea of finding “another job” or (ack) drive for Lyft or Uber.

I kept telling myself something would come along. As it always has. I’ve always managed to somehow land on my feet.

Stick to Your Guns in Life

A few days ago desperation grew as I started to wonder how I would pay next month’s rent, I reached out to an old friend for a loan. Sick to do it, I told him anything would help, but that I couldn’t promise when I’d be able to pay him back.

While he talked to his wife and I waited to hear from him, I got a call. A firm I’ve done some work for previously called me, out of the blue (kind of) and asked if I wanted to do some campaign work on the mainland.

Whew! Just hours later my friend regretted to tell me he couldn’t help at this particular moment.

Though desperation was taking hold, I stuck to my guns knowing (hoping) something would come through before I was forced to do something that would move me in the wrong direction. And just like nearly every time before, luck kept me on the path I wanted.

In 48-hours I fly to Mississippi and Louisiana to help coordinate field operations in the last stretch before this year’s elections. I’ll get to do what I so enjoy doing and I’ll be getting paid pretty well to do it.

My money problems will continue as I work to dig out from under a mountain of credit card debt, but I’ll be level for a while. And I expect more work upon my return as the next legislative session approaches.

A Pessimistic Optimist

I’ve never been one for faith (spiritual or godly). Given all the terrible shit in the world, it’s hard for me to believe in any kind of God. Nonetheless, I didn’t know when or how, but I was never really worried something wouldn’t come along. Sure, I wish something would have come along much, much sooner. But I didn’t give up the fight for exactly the kind of work I want to do.

So here I am, scrambling to be read to step on a plane for new places, new experiences, and new people. I’m excited and grateful for the opportunity.

When I forget what can happen when you wait for what you really want, I’m reminded how life can somehow work out. It’s just not always how you want.

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