Editor’s Note: In July 2012, Civil Beat sent six questions to each of the candidates registered to run in the Aug. 11 primary for Hawaii State Senate District 25. Three out of four responded, including Laura Thielen. The questions and answers are reproduced below in full. Read responses by her competitors, Levani Lipton and Fred Hemmings. Pohai Ryan did not send in her questionnaire. Click on each topic listed below to read Civil Beat’s question and Thielen’s response.

Preferred Candidate Name: Laura Thielen

Senate/House District Number: Senate District 25

Date of Birth: 03/25/1961

Place of Birth/Hometown: Los Angeles, CA

Current Profession/Employer: Co-owner of Family Farm, Lilinoe Orchard

Education/Alma Mater(s): University of Colorado (BA); Case Western Reserve School of Law (JD)

1. With the exception for Honolulu rail, the state has not raised the general excise tax in decades. Would you consider increasing the GET to help the state meet its budget demands?

No. The GET is a regressive tax. It hurts persons of low income and fixed income the most because they spend a larger proportion of their income on consumption of food and housing. It’s not fair to balance our budget on the backs of our most economically vulnerable residents.

It also is a pyramiding tax that negatively impacts diversified economic development. Taxing a service or product multiple times before it reaches the final consumer discourages the development of small subcontracting and supplier businesses and rewards larger consolidated industries. While the state adopted a wholesale GE rate some years ago, the pyramiding still exists. ↩ back to top

2. Lawmakers proposed relaxing environmental regulatory review to spur development and job growth in the 2012 session, and the issue is expected to resurface next year. Where do you stand?

I oppose the 2012 Legislature’s attempt to bypass environmental and land use permits. These conditional permits and zoning regulations require developers to maintain public access to beaches and trails, design development so that it doesn’t damage natural and cultural resources, and provide improvements to roads to mitigate the traffic and safety hazards created by the development. Bypassing these permits is shortsighted and puts the cost of development onto communities.

The 2012 Legislature also tucked a number of other goodies into this “streamlining” effort, which did nothing to help jobs, but did help select insiders at the expense of the general public. One “streamlining” bill allowed the state to give out personal service contracts of up to a million dollars without public notice or bids. This wasn’t about spurring general job growth.

We can be more efficient in state construction projects and processing private permits without having to bypass regulations and zoning laws that are in place to protect resources and communities’ quality of life. ↩ back to top

3. Gambling — are you for it or against it? If not, why not? If so, what type of gambling and with what kind of restrictions?

I am opposed to gambling in Hawaii. It’s an industry that enriches a few businesses and does not provide diversified economic development. Gambling would make us even more dependent on tourism, which is subject to wide economic swings. Gambling doesn’t provide living wage jobs or career development for our youth. It also places a big cost on society. ↩ back to top

4. The Sunshine Law is a hallmark of an open democracy accountable to its citizens. Yet, the Legislature exempts itself from this requirement. Do you support more transparency in government operations, or are there legitimate reasons to conduct some of the people’s business behind closed doors?

I support more transparency in government and applying the Sunshine Law to the Legislature. If the County Councils can comply with the Sunshine Law, so can our Legislature.

As Chair of DLNR, we conducted all our policy and regulatory development meetings under the Sunshine Law. Policy makers should not be afraid of discussing their positions in front of the public.

While there are legitimate reasons to conduct some business behind closed doors, such as personnel matters, the Sunshine Law exemptions cover those situations.

Two amendments may be necessary if the law applies to the Legislature. One is to allow more than two legislators to attend outside events such as public meetings that address a bill before the Legislature. The other is to allow legislative hearing notices of fewer than seven days, due to the short legislative session. ↩ back to top

5. What is the best legislation — and worst legislation — that the Legislature has approved in recent years? Please explain.

Best: In 2011 the Legislature passed a bill allowing the Public Utilities Commission to consider the long-term benefits of renewable energy that reduces the use of fossil fuel despite the short-term expense. This law authorizes the PUC to use a long-term cost benefit, comprehensive approach to energy decisions. Hopefully the flexibility will help Hawaii decrease our reliance on fossil fuel imports, and become more energy self-sufficient in an environmentally friendly manner.

Worst: My first thought was the Monty Python Spanish Inquisition skit: “Our two most important weapons,… wait, no, no – Amongst our weaponry…”

My vote is the two Acts the Legislature passed regarding Important Agricultural Lands (IAL). The Legislature had a Constitutional mandate imposed on it in 1978 to identify and preserve IAL. After 30 years of dickering around, the only agreement the Legislature could reach was to make the Counties do it instead.

The Legislature absolved itself of meeting a Constitutional mandate and passed the buck to local governments. Now we all wait while the Counties ramp up to meet this unfunded mandate.

In the meantime, the number one problem for Oahu farmers is the unavailability of affordable agricultural lands. Landowners do not grant farmers long-term leases; Campbell Estate agricultural lands were sold primarily for development; 16,000 acres of Dole agricultural lands are currently being marketed for their development potential and views; and the two largest food farms in the state are being displaced by development and have no long-term lease options. ↩ back to top

6. What is an issue that you would champion at the Legislature — one that perhaps has not received much attention, or an issue that is important to your district?

Our policy makers talk the talk about meeting the needs of growth in a smart way. But for the past couple decades the system approves developments on raw and agricultural lands primarily for unaffordable single-family homes, and a few high rises in the urban areas primarily for upscale housing.

I would champion the issue of revitalizing our existing urban footprint to build vibrant urban areas; defining rural guidelines that maintain the character of our many wonderful small towns even as their population grows; and developing a carrot/stick combination that enforces land use restrictions and supports growing our diversified agricultural economy.

While this issue has received a LOT of community attention, the Legislature has shied away from adopting the necessary laws, tools and authorizations needed to make it happen. I can bring these measures forward due to my land use and planning experience. ↩ back to top