Advocacy at Capitol Hill


On Feb. 13, 2024, our Hawaiʻi State Association of Counties (HSAC) contingent, including a few Native Hawaiian and native Hawaiian homesteader county council members and staffers, went to Capitol Hill to visit with Hawaiʻi’s four congressional delegates (Sen. Mazie Hirono, Sen. Brian Schatz, Rep. Jill Tokuda and Rep. Ed Case).

It was a chickenskin moment when we all gathered before the towering King Kamehameha the Great statue and sang Oli Mahalo! I couldn’t help but notice the tourists in the gallery stop and give their attention to our king as well.

In a brief exchange after our aloha and mahalo greeting, Rep. Tokuda shared that she delivered my Sovereign Council of Hawaiian Homestead Association’s (SCHHA’s) makana (gift) of Hawaiian Red ʻalaea paʻakai (Hawaiian salt) to U.S. Department of Interior Secretary Deb Haaland, a Native American from the Pueblo of Laguna tribe. She also shared that Sec. Haaland expressed how delighted she was to receive such a treasured gift from SCHHA leadership trust beneficiaries and that she was looking forward to hearing from and being with us at some point in the near future.

After sharing our makana (gifts) and greetings, we went to work on our advocacy. As the longest serving Hawaiʻi board member of the National Association of Counties (NACo), I gave a quick update of NACo’s 10 Federal Policy Priorities, highlighting these three: 1) “Pursue better outcomes within and across behavioral health, homelessness and criminal justice systems;” 2) “Strengthen community resilience through enhanced federal, state, and county partnerships for disaster preparedness, response and recovery;”and, 3) “Pass a bipartisan farm bill with the inclusion of county priorities.”

On the farm bill, especially important for Hawaiʻi which is mostly rural, I shared that our counties support full funding for all twelve existing titles. I also shared that we support two additional titles to the farm bill: 1) Extending eligibility to counties under the Good Neighbor Authority Program which would allow them to reinvest receipts gained from authorized restoration projects; and, 2) Creating competitive grant programs that provide multiyear, flexible funding for rural development initiatives and technical assistance.

Each county had different “asks.” Maui asked for infrastructure restoration support for Lahaina. Kauaʻi asked for partnerships and funding for eliminating cesspools by 2050. Honolulu asked for affordable housing investments like more Low-Income Housing Tax Credits (LIHTC). Hawaiʻi Island asked for support for investments in economic diversification and job development including new tech, environmental R&D and healthcare adjacent careers (pharmaceutical, lab techs, etc.).

Honolulu also asked for the establishment of an inter-governmental collaborative to drastically increase efforts against invasive species like coqui frogs, little fire ants and the coconut rhinoceros beetle – noting that the beetle came to Hawaiʻi via Hickam Air Force Base.

The critical, costly (in millions) effort to stop the brown tree snake in Guam and protect our endangered native birds was also noted, with an emphasis on the U.S. Department of Defense’s (DOD) responsibility to make much larger investments – perhaps in a systems approach like a biodiversity facility – rather than just their Readiness and Environmental Protection Integration (REPI) program that has us competing for one-off grants that are too small to tackle the pervasive and growing problem of invasive species.