Editor’s note: For Hawaii’s Aug. 9 primary, Civil Beat asked candidates to answer some questions.

The following came from Dylan Hooser, one of two Democratic candidates for state representative for District 15. The other is James Tokioka. Republican Steve Yoder is also running.

District 15 is on Kauai and includes Wailua Homesteads, Hanamaulu, Lihue, Puhi, Old Koloa Town and Omao.

Go to Civil Beat’s Elections Guide for general information, and check out other candidates on the Primary Election Ballot.

Name: Dylan Hooser

Office: House of Representatives, Kauai District 15

Party: Democrat

Profession: Small business owner

Education: Real estate license, PADI dive instructor license

Age: 32

Community organizations: Chair of Kaua’i Young Democrats

Dylan Hooser

Dylan Hooser

1. Why are you running for the Hawaii Legislature?

I was born to a very politically active family and I think it was only a matter of time before I felt my kuleana calling me to participate in positive social change. I was brought up with strong Democratic values that taught me that the government exists to protect all people, and to help to navigate society toward the greatest common good. Yet I, like many others, have become increasingly disillusioned by politicians and policies that represent the interests of corporations and big money over the majority of working and middle-class people. I am running for office because I am committed to helping to shape a society where government is truly by the people and for the people. I would be honored to be a voice for Kauai’s citizens, but acknowledge that my primary role would be one of listening, so I am always guided by those who I am elected to serve and represent.

2. Are you satisfied with the current plans to pay for the state’s unfunded liabilities? If not, how would you propose to meet pension and health obligations for public workers?

No I am not satisfied. The state should place existing responsibilities and liabilities first prior to expanding into new areas. We have a responsibility to honor commitments we have already made. We should be working on raising revenue by tapping into the wealth generated by large financial interests in Hawaii, as public workers and all workers should never face the threat of losing their pensions and health care. Our government has to make sure there are strong safety net policies in place that help and support the working and middle class. 

3. Local officials and advocates have worked to address homelessness for years, yet the crisis is growing. What proposals do you have for this complicated issue?

In order to create systemic change for homelessness, we need to identify the core root causes so we can address those further. Homelessness is the symptom, not the cause. I see some of the causes of homelessness as a poor job market, lack of safety nets, unstable mental and physical health services, lack of affordable housing and overall income inequality.

I’ve seen many different solutions work for other areas that I’m encouraged to explore more — such as supportive housing for the mentally and physically ill and disabled, and affordable transitional housing assistance to get needy families back on their feet. Many of these “housing first” approaches are far less costly than emergency and institutional care like shelters, hospitals and correctional facilities. We shouldn’t be treating people like criminals because they cannot afford rent in one of the most expensive places in the nation.

Yet it still cannot be ignored that we’re in an affordable housing crisis — we do need to create more affordable housing solutions so that local residents aren’t continually forced to move elsewhere to house their families. I would like to see us make better use of existing infrastructure that isn’t being utilized, make it easier to repair buildings that aren’t up to code so they can be in usable condition, build more opportunities and partnerships to allow for renters to have pets, create incentives for sustainable and efficient building practices, and make necessary adjustments to rental and affordable housing regulations to protect residents. I would love the opportunity to speak with more experts in the field to hear their suggestions for solutions. 

4. Where do you stand on labeling genetically engineered food and pesticide regulation? Are these public safety issues, or are the dangers exaggerated?

I absolutely believe we should mandate GE food labeling. Everyone should have an honest choice in what they buy, and have a right to know what they put into their bodies and the bodies of their children. A recent study showed 92 percent of the public supports GE labeling initiatives, and I stand behind them. We should allow the public to make their own decision to consume GE foods or not, like much of the modern world does.

I also believe fully in pesticide regulation and the precautionary principle. Whether it’s chemicals leaking into our water supplies, or pesticide over-sprays hitting schools and residents’ homes, it’s not OK. Any industry that is polluting a shared environment or affecting the life and health of their neighbors should be prevented from doing so. It’s unfortunate that regulation and legislation has to step in because some businesses are not guided by aloha for their communities.

Frankly, we don’t need our prime agricultural lands taken up by international chemical companies producing seed corn for export — we need them for producing our own food, and the state needs to proactively pursue innovative models to make these lands available to farmers with long-term and low-cost leases. A recent University of Hawaii study estimated that replacing just 10 precent of our imported food with locally grown food would create about 2,300 jobs (approximately the same number that the seed industry provides) and keep $313 million circulating within Hawaii’s economy. I’d like to see us move toward that goal — jobs, income, and local food.

5. Hawaii’s cost of living is the highest in the country by many indicators. What can really be done to make things like housing, food and transportation less expensive?

I think when we look at our economy, we should look at localizing things like our food system, housing materials, and energy to create more sustainable systems with lower price points. This also stimulates the economy, because instead of shipping things across great distances and buying from other areas, we’re buying locally from the people of Hawaii, keeping the money in Hawaii. It saddens me that things are so tough for the working class majority when there is so much wealth being generated in Hawaii. We need to find ways to distribute that wealth more equitably, including more progressive tax structures, and moving minimum wage to a living wage. The GET should also be removed from whole foods and residential rents.

We also need to continue our investment in public transportation to make it faster and more efficient, service broader areas, and become cleaner users of energy. Not only does this offer an affordable transportation option, but it cuts down on roadway construction expenses, carbon emissions/pollution and congested traffic. We need to invest in our future and the future of our residents.

6. Would you support using liquified natural gas as part of the state’s energy sources? And how can we improve the electrical distribution system so more renewable energy can be utilized to bring costs down?

Not at all. Natural gas is non-renewable, and we’re already facing climate change here in Hawaii. Finding sustainable and renewable solutions, such as cutting-edge wind and wave energy solutions that don’t negatively impact our environment and wildlife, would be a priority to me.

I also believe that net metering strategies, energy efficiency programs, storage system investments, and renewable energy tax credits have a lot of promise to reduce costs to individuals while taking advantage of renewable options. I would also like to see a more distributed system with more competition in the market to offer people a choice in where they get their power, even community-supported solar farm systems. With more competition and options, you’ll see more competitive pricing.

I would be very interested in developing strong relationships with innovative sustainable energy producers worldwide to engage them in the conversation around how Hawaii can continue to become more sustainable in the long run. I’m also inspired by groups like Hawaii’s Energy Accelerator that are working with and supporting innovative energy entrepreneurs right here in Hawaii.

7. Hawaii’s public records law mandates that public records be made available whenever possible. Yet many citizens are unable to afford the costs that state and local government agencies impose. Would you support eliminating search and redaction charges and making records free to the public except for basic copying costs?

I believe the public should have access to these records should they want them for any reason – that’s a part of transparent government. With all of the technology available today we should be hosting these records online where anyone can access and download them free of charge at any time. If individuals choose to print these reports, they can pay to print them themselves – there’s no reason to encourage printing and waste, or spend government staff time fetching reports. Our public library system is a highly under-utilized resource for Internet access and information; I would try to partner with them to ensure that those who want access to information know how and where to get it.

8. Are you satisfied with the way Hawaii’s public school system is run? How can it be run better?

I think continuous improvement is the thought process that we should approach all government entities with — there are always ways to make things more effective and efficient, and the educational system is no different. I would love to see us reduce bureaucracy, simplify systems, empower teachers, lessen classroom sizes, and invest in education. However, I don’t blame any shortcomings on the educational system alone. It requires the support of family members, businesses, and the community to make our keiki healthy, happy and successful in meeting their goals in life. It truly does take a village to raise a child.

9. There is a desire to grow the economy through new development yet also a need to protect our limited environmental resources. How would you balance these competing interests?

I think there are many ways to create an environmentally friendly economy that provides living-wage jobs and economic health for Hawaii. After all, most visitors do not come to Hawaii for the skyscrapers and Safeways – they come for the beaches, waterfalls, and unique natural beauty that Hawaii offers. It’s important that we protect these assets by limiting urban sprawl and encouraging sustainable business development, such as agriculture and agri-tourism, ecotourism, and entrepreneurship.

Currently, we have an economic model and paradigm that is largely export-oriented — we generate income through tourism and development, and use this to purchase imports. We are highly dependent on imports for all of our most basic needs, and produce very little locally. This sort of economy is “flow-through” — tourism dollars go largely to overseas corporations, and Hawaii residents are left with mostly low-paying jobs and an inflated cost of living. While I don’t think our goal should be complete self-sufficiency (nor do I think it is realistic), we can move in much bolder ways towards a more resilient and localized economy by plugging some of our major economic leakages (food, energy, housing materials, etc.), which would also create long-term green jobs for residents. We also need to take better advantage of tourism dollars by directing them towards local business. In these ways, we can begin to move towards a more fair and sustainable economy without overdevelopment. Each community and island has a right to its own identity, too – what’s right for Oahu might not be right for Lanai. Overall, I think we have to focus on the triple bottom line – people, profits and environment – when considering development options and land-use planning decisions. It’s our environment that provides us clean water and air, not to mention that it is essentially our No. 1 industry and source of income.

10. What other important issue would you like to discuss here?

I was very dismayed by the attempt of District 15’s incumbent this last legislative session to strip the county’s rights to enact protective legislation at the county level. Hawaii is a unique place unlike any other U.S. state. Each island has its own identity, and we need to protect “Home Rule.”  I would never support any legislation meant to strip county rights to make governing decisions for themselves. I believe the counties and state should work together and the state should act as a supporting entity. State regulation should represent a floor, not a ceiling, and if the counties want to be more protective they should be allowed to do so.

Also, supporting progressive values for democracy and transparency, social welfare, equal rights and protections is a major priority for me. A government that serves the interests of the working people rather than that of large corporations is crucial. Times are hard for a lot of Hawaii’s families, and what we need are bold actions on the part of our government to start building an economy and society that is for the common good.