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 17. Both responded, including Clarence Nishihara. The questions and answers are reproduced below in full. Read the response by Alex Sonson to see how Nishihara’s positions compare to those of his competitor. Click on each topic listed below to read Civil Beat’s question and Nishihara’s response.

Preferred Candidate Name: Clarence Nishihara

Senate/House District Number: Senate District 17

Date of Birth: 05/22/1943

Place of Birth/Hometown: Born in Honolulu, Hawaii; raised in Makawao, Maui

Current Profession/Employer: Hawaii State Senator/Hawaii State Senate

Education/Alma Mater(s): Graduate of Maui High school; University of Hawaii at Manoa, Bachelor of Arts degree (Psychology); University of Hawaii at Manoa, 5th year certification (Special Education); University of Hawaii at Manoa, Master’s degree in Educational Administration

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?

Only if the unemployment rate drops below 5% and the economic signs from the Council of Revenues continue to be moving in the positive direction. As long as the state’s economy is weak overall, it would be difficult to ask for an increase in the GET. ↩ 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?

Relaxing environmental regulations does not mean elimination of protections necessary for maintaining our island ecosystem. Any changes have to balance the impacts to the environment and the realistic needs for housing and long term job growth. In the current economic climate, there are already adjustments being made to deal with the current market conditions governing our housing needs. Long term strategies have to take into account the economic, social, and environmental consequences. ↩ 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 against casino-type gambling for Hawaii. I would perhaps support a type of multi-state lottery. There was a bill last session, SB2893, which would have had the DBEDT to convene a 10 member task force to do a comprehensive analysis on the costs and benefits of various types of gambling to enable legislators to make informed decisions regarding gambling. It did not pass. The problems connected with gambling have been documented and discussed over the years–the societal costs in crime, addictive gambling, losses to business not directly tied to gambling, as well as the issue of whether it is good policy for the state to support gambling. I do believe that if we are serious about going down this road, we should be very clear about the benefits and costs that are inherent in gambling. The hope and belief that we can devise restrictions that will address or circumvent the dangers attributed to gambling will require more expertise and controls than we can deliver. ↩ 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?

The city council and neighborhood boards operate under the Sunshine Law. Operationally, they deliver transparency. The reality is that the measure of sunshine is dependent on the members adhering to the spirit and substance of maintaining the public’s right to know. The legislature adheres to a limited form of sunshine. The need for total transparency before the public in all discussions related to legislative action would in some measure change the openness of the various parties in negotiating law or contract. In the public hearing process, everyone has an opportunity to be considered, if not heard, during the open hearing process. In the final outcome, it comes down to a limited number of voices crafting language that becomes legislation. I believe that there are legitimate reasons for conducting some of these discussions in that way. ↩ back to top

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

One of the best pieces of legislation was the setting up of the Hurricane Relief Special Fund and the Tourism Accommodation Tax. One was in response to the situation where homeowners were faced with not being able to obtain hurricane relief after Hurricane Iniki. The other helped our tourism industry receive money to do marketing of Hawaii. Both faced some opposition. In the long run, it helped Hawaii’s people and our economy.

One of the worst was repealing the Helmet Law. When it was passed, with a great deal of opposition and support, it saved lives. In the period since its passage and repeal, we have had numerous cases of people injured or killed as a result of not wearing a helmet. The medical and social costs that occur because of such injuries should call for us to revisit that decision of repeal. ↩ 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?

The need to protect and help sustain our valuable fresh water aquifer. With growing urban development and the diminishment of open agricultural areas, we will be facing a growing problem of having sustainable fresh water. Some states have developed ways to recharge their fresh water sources. We need to do that. Without water, we will not be able to keep agriculture viable and neither will we be able to have growing communities. ↩ back to top