US Representative Jill Tokuda made a stop on Maui on Thursday as part of her inaugural District II Congressional Work Period. The Hawaiʻi congresswoman filled the seat vacated by former District II Rep. Kaialiʻi Kahele, who left the seat to make a run for Governor.
Tokuda described her first two weeks in Congress as a “whirlwind.” “It was really nice to know that I could come home and be home for a week back in the district–obviously first and foremost for my sons and my husband and being home with them, but really getting a chance to then also come out into the community and really just talk story with people,” she said.
“Heightened urgency” surrounds issues of affordability, housing, ag, sustainability
In her visit, Tokuda met with government and nonprofit leaders. She said the issues that she’s hearing are similar to what she’s heard in the months before, “but with a heightened urgency.”
“We’re facing so many challenges here, whether it be with water issues, taking a look at how we can support local agriculture, struggles with the axis deer population, housing,” said Rep. Tokuda. “We have so many of our families, our young people to our kupuna, leaving our islands because it’s just too hard to afford to live here. It’s a struggle. So these are the kinds of things that I’ve heard just in the last couple of hours that I have been on island, that we’ve got to tackle together.”
The congresswoman said that in addition to looking at housing options, efforts are also being made to invest in “making this a place where we see a future for ourselves.” This includes looking at how Hawaiʻi feeds itself and how it supports its producers and businesses.
“There’s a lot of work to do [and] no shortage of challenges, but I’ve been so inspired just by the willingness to partner and work together that I’ve encountered,” said Rep. Tokuda.
Congressional work involves a “whole new toolbox”
Rep. Tokuda, who served for 12 years as a state senator, said residents are still dealing with many of the same issues today including affordable housing, access to education, good jobs, and the ability to feed families.
“These are ongoing challenges–in fact, they’ve just worsened over time,” said Rep. Tokuda.
“That’s not to say that you can’t do a lot at the state level,” Tokuda said, noting that her work at the national level provides for expanded reach.
In engaging with her fellow incoming freshman colleagues, Rep. Tokuda said she found comfort in the knowing that Hawaiʻi is not alone.
“It often feels that sometimes Hawaiʻi is isolated out here in the Pacific, and it’s so much harder for us here; but the reality is, everywhere across our country in communities, in states far away from our islands, people are facing that same struggle–the ability to really see a light for themselves in the community that’s long been their home [and] the place that they love–the ability to have a roof over their heads, have food on the table, [and] opportunities for jobs and education,” said Rep. Tokuda.
She said her work will include finding like-minded partners across the country, and using those partnerships to bring home solutions for people in all communities.
Generational Maui ties
Rep. Tokuda was born and raised in Kāneʻohe on the island of Oʻahu, her grandfather spent his childhood in Puʻunēnē where he learned to swim in the agricultural ditches.
“He didn’t often talk about that time, but he did always tell us his fondness of growing up here–learning to swim. My grandmother actually passed away. [She] talked about Coach Sakamoto and the influence he had on my grandfather,” said Rep. Tokuda.
Between her time as a State Senator and now being in Congress, Rep. Tokuda worked as the executive director of the Nisei Veterans Memorial Center in Wailuku.
“For me, they gave me an opportunity to come back to the place that my grandfather had been raised in and grew up in, and really give back to this community because it really did so much for our family generations ago. It was also a chance to preserve his legacy,” said Rep. Tokuda, who explained her grandfather was a Military Intelligence Service Member during WWII.
Establishing a physical presence statewide
“It was really important for me to make sure that our teams in Hawaiʻi and in D.C., reflect our district,” said Rep. Tokuda. “One thing that I’m extremely proud of is the fact that all of the people working in our Hawaiʻi office are not based on Oʻahu, which typically has been the case.”
On Maui Deidre Tagarden, who served as a Transition Aide for Rep. Tokuda, will ensure connections are made with the community and constituents.
Field representatives have also been identified in Hilo–Nicole Gray, and on Kauaʻi–Mia Ako.
“Our presence literally is statewide to make sure we can best meet the needs of our Congressional District II constituents and communities,” said Rep. Tokuda.