By: J. S.
Gene Ward is a Republican House Representative serving District 17, encompassing the areas of Hawaii Kai and Kalama on Oahu. He first served in the House from 1990 to 1998, then again from 2006 and to present. Most recently he ran for re-elect against his Democratic opponent Keith Kogachi and won in November of 2020.
During a September 2020 campaign interview with the Honolulu Civil Beat, Rep. Ward shared several insights on Hawaii’s struggling economy. His belief is that Hawaii has a structural problem, and rather than looking at different ways to grow the economy the state simply looks for alternative ways to “cut the pie smaller”. He added that “until we [Hawaii] stop living off our good looks and start using our heads, we will always fall back on tourism because it is the easiest and quickest dollar.”
Possible solutions to Hawaii’s economic struggles, the Representative stated in the same interview, can be found in growing the state’s film, diplomatic and aerospace industries.
At present, Rep. Ward is a member of several House committees including the Pandemic & Disaster Preparedness Committee. He has served as both the House Minority Leader and the House Minority Floor Leader (2017 to present). Additionally, Rep. Ward is also the co-founder of the Small Business Caucus alongside former Representative Dave Stegmaier.
A Vietnam War veteran who served as a Translator-Interpreter, Rep. Ward also served as a County Director in the Peace Corps in East Timor. There he supervised humanitarian efforts of 46 Peace Corps volunteers. His education includes both a bachelor’s and a Graduate Degree from the University of Hawaii at Manoa. In 1983 he received his Ph. D from Manoa as well.
Over the years the Representative has authored many articles related to business and politics. Recently one of his articles was featured in the Honolulu Civil Beat. In the article Rep. Ward shared the un-democratic nature of keeping the State Capital closed even as Hawaii continues to open to tourism. In the article he stated that keeping the Capitol building closed is a means by which the majority stay in power. Maintaining the closure is also a way to avoid confrontation and accountability to the public the legislators serve.
Rep. Ward aims for transparency with his constituents by holding frequent, publicly attended Zoom calls, and responding to citizen’s phone calls and emails in a timely manner, with the mission to “make Hawaii Kai and the State of Hawaii a better place to live.”
In his 2020 campaign Rep. Ward stated that the most pressing issues facing his district were overdevelopment and the lack of open space, along with homelessness in Hawaii Kai and updates needed to fix parking lot potholes at shopping centers in the district. Several farming leases in District 17 will not be renewed in the next five years and the Representative is holding town halls and working with leaseholders who are coming up to their renewal dates.
During the 2021 legislative session, Rep. Ward introduced House Resolution 162 urging fair and humane treatment of the Uyghurs, Ethnic Kazakhs and members of other Muslim minority groups in the Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region in China. He introduced House Resolution 160 urging Congress to curb big tech censorship. He and Republican House Representative Bob McDermott introduced House Bill 855, proposing amendments to articles of Hawaii’s constitution that would allow for initiative, referendum and recall. The proposed bill stated that “The legislature finds that Hawaii voters lack the power to get initiative measures directly onto the ballot, reject recently enacted laws, or recall elected state officials in Hawaii.” Unfortunately, the bill did not move past House Committees during this year’s legislative session.
In the aforementioned interview with the Honolulu Civil Beat, Rep. Ward shared thoughts on why Hawaii’s government has not allowed for more governmental checks and balances for Hawaii’s citizens. “Our present and past legislative leaders have chosen not to trust the people of this state and they use the excuse that the ballot box is where one exercises their right of initiative. Keeping the power-levers in the hands of those who want to preserve the status quo has continually prevailed.”
Constituents can connect with Rep. Ward via his monthly Zoom chats with the public. You can stay up to date on his website, Facebook and Twitter accounts. To find your House and Senate representatives, visit capitol.hawaii.gov.