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

The following came from Leilani Bronson-Crelly, one of five Democratic candidates for state representative for District 4. The others include Faye Hanohano, Brian Jordan, Joy San Buenaventura and Julia Peleiholani.

District 4 covers Puna on the Big Island.

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

Name: Leilani Bronson-Crelly

Office: House of Representatives, District 4

Party: Democrat

Profession: Business owner

Education: Attended Seabury Hall Prep School on Maui; University of Puget Sound in Tacoma; earned a B. F. A. Photography, Art Center College of Design

Age: 59

Community organizations: Co-president, Hawai’i County League of Women’s Voters; spokesperson, Otil a Belaud, a Palauan elder women’s group (“With Our Roots in the Sea”); chair, Hawai’ian Paradise Park Owner’s Association, Fugitive Dust Committee

Leilani Bronson-Crelly

1. Why are you running for the Hawaii Legislature?

I’m running for the Legislature because I feel that it’s necessary to give the people of Puna a voice in Honolulu, someone with experience drafting legislation and working to build alliances and coalitions from within the framework of that body. I have experience on Maui and in Oregon working with representatives, taking ideas and turning them into bills, and building the necessary relationships to ensure a positive change for Puna in the years ahead. We have a significant poverty issue in Puna, among the highest in the state, and we must help those in need living among us. My positions on education, small business development, and rural economic development are designed to help those living in poverty help themselves to a better life. We must fully fund our charter schools and spend more on public education. We must develop our local economy rather than continue our dependence on Hilo. We are a vibrant rural region, and our farmers can make Puna the bread basket for all of Hawai’i, if we support them. I plan to do all of that.

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?

Unfunded liabilities are unfulfilled promises. We owe it to our public workers to make good on contracts with our seniors. We’re talking about their pensions and health care needs. Agreements were made back in the day, and these seniors held up their end of the bargain. They worked. They paid. We cannot pretend that it would be okay to renegotiate their pensions to protect the economy. No. Not pono. We owe our kupuna. We must make good. That said, we cannot continue to burden taxpayers forever with an ever increasing obligation. We must look at future agreements and weigh the needs of our growing population of retirees with the abilities of our current and future workforce to support them. But take California as an example: For years under Republican leadership, they sought to renege on the contracts of their public workers. Jerry Brown, however, was able to renegotiate contracts from a position of strength once he raised taxes to meet existing obligations, and now the state is running a surplus. So don’t believe those who would tell you that we cannot pay what we already owe because it will wreck the economy. Not true.

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?

Poverty and homelessness go hand in hand. In Puna, homelessness is not as visible an issue because we don’t have a large urban center where the homeless are very apparent. But many of our residents live in tents on whatever strip of land they can find, and struggle to make ends meet. Our churches and local charities can only do so much. Our government must step in and help those at the very bottom of the socio-economic ladder, to give them the tools they need to pull themselves up. Food, housing, employment. Our poor rely on many state and federal programs for help, but we can do more.

A one-size-fits-all solution is not realistic. We must all work together, from the charitable sector to the private sector to the public sector at every level of government to address the wide range of circumstances that cause homelessness. Veterans with PTSD, the mentally ill, substance abusers, runaways, victims of domestic violence all have different stories and different needs, even if they all end up being categorized as “homeless.” We must consider all of the various causes of homelessness, and develop programs that address the specific needs of these people.

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

The dangers of genetically engineered foods depend upon the genetic change being made. Crossing two kinds of apples to make a new apple isn’t harmful at all, but adding the DNA of a bacteria into a food we actually consume immediately raises a flag. Many of the residents in Puna prefer organically grown food, for themselves and for their children. To tell them that they are not allowed to know which products are made with GMO ingredients and which are not is unreasonable and untenable. One of my opponents seems to have recently changed her position on labeling, having said earlier in the campaign that the federal government must be allowed to tell us what is best for us. I’m glad that my presence in the campaign has already had a positive effect on this issue. I have always said that to demand GMO labels on food containing GMO ingredients is our right, as citizens of the state of Hawai’i, and we must exercise that right. I have pointed to the efforts made by Vermont and Maine to demand GMO labeling, and I am running so that I may lead the effort here in Hawai’i to send a message to Washington. Don’t try to push us around!

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?

What I want to see for Puna is the emergence of a vibrant local economy. Yes, we can all do more to conserve and practice sustainability, but that is not an effective public policy. That’s like saying to our citizens, “you’re out of money? Stop buying things.” I’d like to look inward, to the resources we have that are already here. The sun shines almost every day here in Hawai’i. Let’s develop storage capabilities for solar, to solve the intermittency issue. Let’s power our homes and business with this treasure trove, and reduce the outrageous energy bills we all pay every month.

We have lots of land, and farmers that know how to work it. Let’s help them find new markets for value-added products made locally from locally grown ingredients. Let’s provide community kitchens, business training, and incubator programs to bolster our local economy. What we need, we can make, and sell to each other. That will create jobs, income, and a local cycle of independence that will reduce our reliance on the goods and services coming in from the mainland, and our need to drive to Hilo every day for a job.

Another example: a property tax incentive, similar to the primary residence tax break, could be extended to landlords who rent to local families at a reasonable rate. That would help both the landlord and those residents who cannot afford to pay what the tourists pay to rent property here. Now, some of these suggestions are, admittedly, the county’s jurisdiction. But the state government can create incentives to get some of these ideas moving, and to address language in the H.R.S that may be an impediment.

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?

No. LNG is a fossil fuel, and we are already too dependent on fossil fuels for our energy. We must insist that all new investment in energy here in Hawai’i be an investment in renewable resources, like solar or wind. And as regards distribution, a feasible solar grid would obviate the need for some incredibly expensive, fragile cable strung between our islands to take energy from Hawai’i County and send it elsewhere. The sun shines on us all. We just have to work with the PUC, HECO and HELCO to create a business model that will work for the 21st century.

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?

One of the pillars of my platform is and has always been transparency in government. Every citizen should be able to access any public document anywhere, and at any time. The internet can be helpful in this regard, to offset the costs of search and redaction, but we must do more to make internet access a reality for all of our citizens.

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

Fully funding charter schools. Increased funding for public schools. Increased control for complex district superintendents, principals, and teachers. A push back on federally imposed standards and Common Core mandates.

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?

Here in Puna, we are blessed with an abundance of resources. The land gives us so much. Just ask our many farmers. Just visit our vibrant markets. We can build upon this by empowering our local farmers and entrepreneurs with programs designed to let them build businesses, create local value-added products, boost our local economy and reduce our reliance on Hilo, Honolulu, and the mainland. But yes, we must balance development with smart planning. I support our local community development plan and would encourage efforts like it that aim to control rampant, runaway development. Another way we can mitigate the impact of new development would be to assess impact fees, determined during the planning phases of any new development, that would provide for anything ranging from roadway improvements, including traffic lights or extra lanes, to infrastructure improvements like sewers and water lines, to parks and greenways, or bike/pedestrian paths. That way, both the developers and the residents can benefit as we grow.

And we can further protect our aina by doing more to control invasive species, and protect our coastal waters from non-point source pollution. Our residents already embrace sustainable practices such as composting and organic gardening, and they already value the rural atmosphere of Puna. We have a great foundation already laid. Now is the time to work together to build our local economy, create smart jobs, and make a better future for our children.

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

• Roads: Puna was created by dubious land developers in the late-1950s who subdivided the agricultural land in order to sell the parcels to mostly mainland folks they thought would never actually move here. The roads they created as access to these lots were just barely adequate, and in some cases not at all adequate, and no provision was made for their maintenance. This has created a real problem for my district. Local community organizations are pitted against their own neighbors to try and wrangle enough money from each other to keep the roads from washing away. Hawai’i County tried to address this issue recently, to allow fuel tax revenue to be used to help maintain these roads, but the ordinance was deemed not compliant with the H.R.S. Sen. Russell Ruderman tried to revise the statues at the state level to allow for the program, but that effort has not yet met success. I will work with Sen.r Ruderman to see that effort succeed. I also would like to mention the recent DOT work being done on our Highway 130, still recognized as the most dangerous roadway in Hawai’i. The expansion is laudable, but that work must be done as soon as possible. We are growing too fast to let DOT slow-walk our highway improvement projects. Our infrastructure must grow with our population, and while I applaud the current efforts by the county to connect many of our subdivision roads to provide for alternate emergency routes, I must point out that the private roads connecting these “connectors” are still being maintained by our private citizens, and if the resulting routes increase traffic through these areas, the citizens who live along these routes will be unfairly affected. We need to take care of our roads. All of them!

• Emergency services: In the short term, we need more than two ambulances to serve a rapidly aging and rapidly growing population. We need more than two clinics. We need emergency room services that are closer than Hilo. In the long term, we need a hospital in Puna.

• Marijuana decriminalization: Even though I do not use marijuana, this issue is important because too many of our residents are going to jail on minor possession charges. Hawai’i law enforcement has not lived up to its promise to make marijuana offenses a low priority, and whether one approves of marijuana use or not, this affects many of the residents living in Puna. Many otherwise law-abiding citizens are charged with a felony for growing or using marijuana, and even if they don’t go to prison, they now have a criminal record, which makes getting a job harder, raising a family harder. We don’t need to put even more of a burden on our young people, our poor, and those for whom marijuana is medicine. We should already be providing safe, legal dispensaries in Puna for those with medical marijuana licenses, who are currently not permitted to grow their own medicine. With proper safeguards for children, we can safely decriminalize this substance, tax it, provide counseling for those who abuse it — in short, we can regulate it, just as we do with alcohol, and take an unjust burden off of the citizens of Puna.