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

The following came from Matthew LoPresti, one of two Democratic candidates for state representative for District 41. The other is Rida Cabanilla. Republicans Steve Wiggins and Bryan Jeremiah and Libertarian Tom Berg are also running.

District 41 includes Ewa Villages, Ewa Beach, Ewa Gentry, Ocean Pointe and West Loch.

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

Name: Matthew LoPresti

Office: State House of Representatives, District 41

Party: Democrat

Profession: Associate professor of philosophy and humanities and chair of the Asian and Pacific Studies program at Hawaii Pacific University

Education: Ph.D., Philosophy from University of Hawaii, Manoa; M.A. Philosophy, B.A. History, B.A. Philosophy, from University of Toledo.

Age: 40

Community organizations: Vice chair, Sierra Club Oahu Group; Navy League of the United States; Ewa Neighborhood Board; president of my HOA in Ka Makana at Hoakalei.

Matthew LoPresti

Matthew LoPresti

1. Why are you running for the Hawaii Legislature?

Ewa Beach deserves leadership with integrity. It has been a long time since we had a state House legislator who put the people’s needs before her own. I am running to help restore the people’s trust in our system of democracy and to represent working families, like mine, struggling to make it every day here in Hawaii.

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?

Of course not. The habitual underfunding of these liabilities has handed the new generation of taxpayers an extra burden that previous generations failed to fund. I would not cut benefits, as this would break promises made over a lifetime of work. Budget priorities need to be regularly met prior to or instead of funding special projects. By electing leaders with greater fiscal restraint we can begin to dig ourselves out of the hole.

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?

I fully support the Housing First initiative as it provides the realistic, compassionate response that provides chronically homeless with the ability to get back on their feet while further identifying and treating those who may be homeless for reasons other than joblessness. My opponent’s proposal to fly homeless to the mainland has been soundly rejected by the human services experts, the administration, legal experts and others who know better. Even though this idea was rejected the media coverage that homeless people could get a free trip back to the mainland (and if it doesn’t work out for them there then Hawaii taxpayers are required to fly them back to Hawaii!) has only encouraged more homeless to move to Hawaii, further stressing our limited shelters and services and would expose our state to lawsuits by any and all other states we send the homeless to, which would cost hundreds of thousands more of taxpayer dollars in court.

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

I support the overwhelming demand by American consumers to have a right to know what is in our food. It is simply inconceivable that anyone could have a legitimate reason to intentionally keep people uninformed about what they put into their bodies or into the bodies of their children. This is not just about concerns (founded or unfounded) about the safety of consuming GMO products; it is about being able to support a range of sustainable farming practices that use fewer harmful chemicals on our products. When companies intentionally design food that can withstand extremely harmful pesticides and herbicides, they do so with the design, practice, and knowledge that this means introducing greater and greater amounts of these chemicals into our environment, into our water, and into our bodies — often in concentrations far above what we may see even with typical industrialized farming methods. With GMO labeling consumer choice will grow beyond organic or not organic to organic, regular, and GMO farming. Those who malign people with legitimate concerns about something as simple as wanting to know what goes into our bodies, in no uncertain terms, have some sort of agenda that runs counter to the public’s well-being or the health of our environment. Anyone who tells you different is selling you something – and it is probably covered in chemicals made by the company they represent.

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?

If you work a full time job then you deserve to be able to pay for at least rent, food and transportation. If that is not possible for individuals or even families here in Hawaii then we have neither a sustainable labor market nor a sustainable society. Increased local food production, local consumption, investment in public transportation grids, and requiring developers to offer true affordable housing units for local families along transit routes are prime targets for bringing the cost of living down. With energy we need to make more sensible use of the renewable resources we have, namely: wind, solar, wave, and geo-thermal. These can greatly reduce long-term energy costs as well. But in addition to all of the above, Hawaii needs to approach this issue by asking your question in a different way. “Why are wages in Hawaii at or near the lowest in the nation when it comes to the real cost of living?” The answer is not as simple as the cost of housing, food and transportation – the answer has just as much to do with the continued long-term suppression of wages for local families relative to cost of living. Take Hawaii’s teachers, for example. They are the lowest-paid in the nation by several thousands of dollars relative to cost of living. Do they deserve such substandard pay in such an expensive place to live and raise a family, or even in a Department of Education that consistently has trouble recruiting and retaining qualified teachers? If professional workers like them were paid even just enough to not be the worst paid in the country, it would sharply raise family incomes so that local workers would have enough resources to make ends meet and all of that cost of living increase would go right back into the local economy, creating even more local jobs.

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?

It already is part of the state’s energy source. The plan to dramatically increase its use is misguided at best and a reckless waste of taxpayer and ratepayer money at worst. HECO basically has enough money to either upgrade its energy distribution system to accommodate more renewable production (like wind, solar, etc.) – something it makes no profit from, or it has enough to invest in bringing in larger and larger amounts of a fossil fuel that by many expert indicators is actually dirtier than coal when you factor in fracking, methane off-gassing and emissions and gives little hope for actually being cheaper than what they are currently using – but they can make more of a profit. Hawaii is a tiny market and we will never be able to command the low prices commanded by other world markets, like China, for which our tiny island state would have to compete and pay a premium to have the natural gas shipped here instead of there.

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?

Absolutely. Government and bureaucracy without transparency (or ease of transparency) is a recipe for government waste, abuse of power, fraud, and corruption.

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

As an educator, as a father, and as a husband to a public school teacher, I am deeply aware of the structural, administrative, and other challenges faced in our public schools. Article X of the Hawaii State Constitution mandates a public education system but says nothing of quality. Students deserve the best education available to them and yet Hawaii is the worst in the nation in per capita spending of state and local expenditures for public education and to top it off, we also pay our teachers the least in the entire country in relation to cost of living. Hawaii’s children deserve better. Honoring the teaching profession in a way that attracts and keeps the best teachers is key. Throwing money at a problem, however, does not solve it; on the other hand, though, inadequate funding and poor oversight of the funds that are spent almost certainly ensures its failure. What is more, principals need greater autonomy, more administrative support to implement teacher evaluations and most importantly they need the freedom to provide honest feedback to their higher ups without fear of retribution. We end up in the mess (nationally and locally) that we have in public education because lawmakers with little to no experience in education set education policy. This is unacceptable. We need professional educators to set educational policy and better yet we need lawmakers who are educators to back them up. This is a primary reason for why I am running for public office and why I am endorsed and supported by teachers, principals, and parents across the state.

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?

They are not competing interests if we change the pattern of development towards urban renewal and urban infill rather than paving over our natural and agricultural resources. I believe that with the right leadership, developers, building and construction laborers, and environmentalists can all agree on this for the sake of not only our current generation but for the sake of leaving a sustainable society in Hawaii future generations as well. It is the need for leadership with this vision that explains why I have a wide array of endorsements and support from environmentalists and labor, business leaders and unions while my opponent in the Democratic primary has virtually none.

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

Ethics reform! Lawmakers need to be bound by stronger ethics laws to prevent corruption and restore faith in government. See details of my platform at Matt4Ewa.com, including: Education (A/C in ‘Ewa Beach schools and a second high school for ‘Ewa), Traffic, Quality Jobs, Affordable Housing, Kupuna Care, and Environmental Protection (help bring the limu back to ‘Ewa).

‘Ewa desperately needs a change in leadership; it needs someone with integrity. This is why I’ve received such a wide array of endorsements for my candidacy for the State House and it is also why I’ve received support from every part of the political spectrum in this Democratic primary. As important as endorsements are to raising awareness about the viability of a candidate’s ideas and expressing confidence in one’s leadership ability, it is your vote that counts in the end. Please vote for Matt LoPresti in the Democratic primary. Together we can make a difference.

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