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CANDIDATE PROFILE - HawaiʻI County Mayor

Mitch Roth

Residence: Hilo


Mitch Roth has been the elected prosecutor for the county since 2012. He won reelection in 2016. The office employs 120 people.

Under his leadership, the Prosecutor's Office has prosecuted several cold cases, implemented the first restorative justice program in a prosecutor’s office nationally, created a sexual assault unit, and helped launch the Big Island Juvenile Intake and Assessment Center.  Work in this area has contributed to a reduction in juvenile crime in the County by more than 50%. 

Roth has a BA from UH at Manoa and a JD from Whittier Law School. He and his wife have three adult children.

Roth is a founding member of the Hawaiʻi Island VASH, NexTech STEM opportunities for youth, and has helped bring the Citizens Emergency Response Teams to Hawaiʻi Island.  He is dedicated to helping young people achieve their goals. Roth is a board member of the Boys and Girls Club of the Big Island and of Camp Agape Big Island. He is a Rotarian and an Exchangite.  

Why do you think you are the right candidate for mayor of Hawaiʻi County? 

I believe I have the right combination of experience, service, love for our community, and desire to bring us together to create a county that future generations can be proud of. There are 3 factors that differentiate me from the other candidates:

1. I am a department head who understands how the county operates, so I know what many of the problems are and have ideas to solve them. I also know where many of the issues that could get the county sued are and how to avoid them.

2. I am an attorney and know how to read and interpret the law. This is important as the county is currently interpreting the law in a way which prevents our community from thriving. This is also important as some of the ideas brought up by other candidates can cost the county a lot of money in law suits and fees.

3. I am an innovative problem solver with experience in making positive changes in government. This will be important moving forward as we will need to be creative in funding government in the future.

Please tell us about your biggest personal or professional accomplishments in the past five years.

On a professional level, I have been blessed to be the leader of the hardest working office in the county which had employees recognized as County Employee, Supervisor, and Manager of the year. Prior to my taking office, I can’t remember anyone from the Prosecutor’s Office winning any of those awards. My office also started the Restorative Justice program, which was the first in any prosecutor's office in the country.  

On a personal level, in the last 5 years I helped start a successful STEM-based youth mentoring program. I also helped start a faith leaders group during the lava outbreak in Puna, which helped feed over 60,000 meals, provided over $10,000 in laundry service, arranged entertainment and child care, and helped build tiny houses for the affected communities. I have also served on the board of Camp Agape, a camp for children of incarcerated parents.

What will be your top three priorities in your first 100 days as mayor? 

My three top priorities for the first 100 days as mayor are:

1. Getting our residents back to work in a safe and healthy way; 

2. Forming a county leadership team of the best and brightest who represent our entire island; and

3. Convening a sustainability summit to address the change opportunities inherent in this crisis, especially in regards to creating a more diverse economy based on a stronger agricultural sector, a more robust renewable energy sector, and the introduction of STEM industries into our business sector.

Some say "development" has a negative connotation in Hawaiʻi. Others say it is an important element in our community's future. Where do you stand?

Demographically, Hawaiʻi Island will continue to grow in population, with a nearly 50% increase to 300,000 anticipated by 2050. Our county planning decision-making must address the fact that we will have more people, but that our remote island chain will also be susceptible to the effects of climate change. This future will require a certain degree of responsible development to make Hawaiʻi Island economically vibrant while preserving its culture, values, and environment. It is important to make sure we have a dynamic and diverse economy that allows residents and future generations the opportunity to have a meaningful and comfortable life here on this island. We also want a place where our children can grow up and have the opportunities to have quality jobs and affordable housing. 

As mayor, what would you do to implement the principles of the ʻĀina Aloha Economic Futures Declaration?

ʻŌpū Aliʻi is one of the key principles of the ʻĀina Aloha Economics Futures declaration. This principle sets the belief that leaders should strive to create safe and healthy communities for everyone. Creating safe and healthy communities has been and will continue to be one of my life purposes. At the core of safe and healthy communities are economically healthy communities. As Mayor, I will change the philosophy of government to one that helps people and businesses thrive instead of just permitting people and businesses to exist. As done in the Prosecutor’s Office, I will insist that all County Employees treat people the way they would want their family members to be treated: with dignity and respect.  

Which areas of the Aloha+ Challenge will you focus on as mayor, and what plans do you have to help achieve these sustainability goals on Hawaiʻi Island?

There are many areas of the Aloha + Challenge that I will focus on as Mayor. Some of them include: economic prosperity, innovation and entrepreneurship, and affordable housing. Many of the obstacles in these areas can be found in the permitting process and the ways that the County is interpreting the ordinances and rules that guide them. As Mayor, we will streamline the permitting process, add time limits, and standardize the interpretation of the ordinances and rules. As a prosecutor, there are set timelines for all criminal cases. There should be hard deadlines for the permitting process as well. Many times the County interprets its ordinances in the most restrictive means. This will be changed to a clear, black-and-white interpretation of the law, thus making the interpretation more consistent. By implementing these changes and others, we can help our businesses thrive, make housing more affordable, and support economic prosperity.

During the COVID-19 pandemic, the County has gotten involved in addressing food, housing, medical care, and other social welfare needs. How should the County pivot to focus on economic recovery and growth?

First and foremost the county should do all it can to help get our unemployed residents back to work. Many of these residents are in the tourism and service sectors. The county should be advancing safe rules to help get these residents back to work. There are also shovel-ready construction jobs that the County should be working on moving forward.

Next, the County should be working with the business community and helping to eliminate red tape and other obstacles that prevent businesses from thriving. 

The County needs to take an active role to help diversify our economy in areas such as agriculture, science and technology, renewable energy, and entrepreneurial opportunities. 

How important is the growth of clean, renewable energy for Hawaiʻi Island? Which technologies should we embrace, and should any be left off the table?

Renewable energy is extremely important for Hawaiʻi Island. Currently we have some of the highest energy costs in the nation. Furthermore, as residents of an island we are particularly susceptible to natural disasters that climate change causes. While we may not be able to eliminate the effects of climate change by ourselves, Hawaiʻi has the opportunity of becoming the model for the world in the use of renewable energy as we have numerous options in this space. Whether it be solar, wind, geothermal, or waste to energy, our natural resources present an opportunity to get off of petroleum and meet our state’s goals of achieving 100% clean energy by 2045. 

What factors or considerations will you take in hiring your cabinet, and who are some of the people you are considering or the strategy you will use to build your team?

Finding the best people from all over the island for the cabinet will be my number-one priority as Mayor. Many of these positions require a certain degree of professional experience. For the positions that the Mayor is allowed to appoint, I will put together a team of trusted community members to help conduct interviews. This group will then give me a list of possible directors by the interview panel’s recommendations. This is very similar to the way people are hired at the Prosecutor’s Office. It is a fair process and gets away from cronyism. 

As Mayor, you will make decisions that affect this island and the children who will inherit it for generations to come. What is your commitment to them?

Our commitment to our children is one of the key reasons I have decided to run for office. Currently, our children are one of our biggest exports. Having an island that our children can be proud of is very important to me. We should all want an island where people want to live and if they leave they want to come back. In order to make this come true, we need to make sure we have quality jobs and affordable housing. To make this happen we will change the philosophy of county government to one that helps people and businesses thrive.

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