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Hawaii Needs a Vision, Will the Next Leaders Have It

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By Lowell L. Kalapa

Now that the candidates have filed their papers to run for office and we know who is in the race and who is not, it is time that voters take a closer look at what these wannabes bring to the table.
From the top race for governor to the close-to-home races like those for county council seats, this will be a watershed year. Hawaii has the turmoil of an economy that has been battered from both East and West and the community knows that what is there is not working. We like to think the economy is improving and, yes, there is more activity perhaps than last year or five years ago, but we know it is not enough to bring prosperity back for everyone.
Much of this stumbling along is a result of a lack of vision of where we as a community want to be in 10 or 20 years. And that’s where our leaders, both in the public sector and the private sector, need to step up to the plate and begin to build that vision for the community.
And why you may ask is it the responsibility of our “leaders” to create this vision? Well, they are chosen to make decisions on behalf of the electorate. In the case of the private sector, boards of directors and stockholders have chosen that person to lead their company into success and profitability. The parallels between public and private sector are remarkable. In a sense, we as voters and taxpayers are the stockholders in the company called the State of Hawaii and the smaller companies called counties.
We, as voters and taxpayers, want our state and counties to be successful in providing the jobs that will provide the income to buy the housing we need and put food on the table. Having a vibrant economy is crucial to the success of our state and the well-being of our community. As we all have learned from the past decade of economic struggle, a poor economy not only does not produce the jobs our people need, but it also contributes to the malaise of social problems government is asked to address.
An unemployed worker means another person on welfare. A frustrated, unemployed worker tends to take that frustration out on the nearest person at hand, usually a family member. Others attempt to escape into a drug-induced fantasy creating even more problems for law enforcement and the judicial system not to mention the social costs associated with drug abuse.
So what does vision have to do with the economic vibrancy of our state? Everything! Hawaii has tried and true industries such as the visitor industry and military and defense spending. And those two economic forces will always be a part of Hawaii’s economic future. But what we have learned from the past decade or so is that these are industries subject to the whim of forces beyond our control.
There are also issues that raise conflicting values and perspectives. While the vitality of the visitor industry is highly dependent on the number of visitors to our islands, there are those who believe that any more growth in the number of visitors that Hawaii enjoyed in the hey day of the late 1980’s will begin to tax the resources of the state. There are those who believe that visitors put an extraordinary burden on the state’s resources.
However, if there are to be enough jobs to support the demands of the future, Hawaii will have to search out other industries that will be compatible with ou r environment and yet produce the economic wealth to keep the economy vibrant. And that is where this vision thing comes in. What is it that our leaders believe needs to be done to attract those industries to Hawaii or support entrepreneurial efforts to create new industries in Hawaii? Not only will it be necessary to have that vision, but it will take some savvy to figure out what it will take to get our community to that vision. It is one thing to say we want safe, crime-free streets, it is another thing to achieve that. One vision could say that we should all live in gated communities, i.e., lock us all up away from crime. The other vision would say that we need to reduce crime in the streets. Reducing crime can then either take the strategy of locking up all the criminals or it might say that we need to create economic opportunities for people so they don’t have to resort to crime.
Thus, it is not only important for the leaders we choose in the next few months to have that vision, but they must also be leaders that know how to inspire the community to get us to that vision. That is what we need to look for as we check out the candidates. Is there vision and is there the will to get us there?

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