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

The following came from Mary Zanakis, one of five Democratic candidates for lieutenant governor. There are also three Republican candidates and one Independent. 

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

Name: Mary Zanakis

Office: Lieutenant governor

Party: Democrat 

Profession: Former television reporter (23 years)

Education: Hawaii public school system, and two years at the University of Hawaii

Age: 55

Community organizations: Supporter of Boys & Girls Club of Kailua

Mary Zanakis

Mary Zanakis

1. Why are you running for lieutenant governor?

I am running for lieutenant governor because I want to make the lives of people who live here better. I have the time, the energy and the commitment. I grew up in Hawaii and believe I am aware of the issues we face. I am not accepting donations because I want to be owing to no one.

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?

Imagine a personal credit card debt of $26 billion. That’s the situation the state is in when it comes to unfunded liabilities such as government employee pensions and health care costs. The amount is overwhelming and it’s irresponsible on the government’s part that the situation exists. I do support the signing into law of Act 268. If lawmakers are mindful of following the letter of this law, the state’s unfunded liability situation should become manageable. This law requires all government employers to make yearly contributions with the end goal of paying off the unfunded liabilities. These payments would be spread out over 30 years until the benefit fund is solvent. This is a very good start. I also believe that overtime pay should be excluded in pension calculations. After all, when one works overtime, the employee is being fairly compensated at the time.

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

I believe the public has the right to know what they are eating and what pesticides have been used on their food. Pesticide regulation is a particular concern. A just-released study by the University of California, Davis, suggests pregnant women who live near agriculture fields where pesticides are sprayed are at an increased risk of having a child with autism. This red flag also highlights the potential dangers of not just living near such fields, but consuming the crops grown there.

It is estimated one in 66 children in the U.S. have an autism spectrum disorder. This study is the second to find that the risk of autism decreased the farther a pregnant woman lived from a pesticide sprayed field. On the other side of the coin, biotech companies and farmers say there is no solid proof pesticides or genetically modified foods are health hazards. They say utilizing the technologies available allow them to increase productivity, produce more nutritious food that is disease resistant. I don’t think it’s possible to say if health concerns are exaggerated because it’s too early to know, only time will tell. I do believe the consumer will dictate what happens. Labeling food will allow people to make a choice, and farmers will follow their lead.

4. 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 do support the city’s efforts to get the homeless and their belongings off the sidewalks. I am also in favor of the city’s Housing First program in which the priority is to first get the homeless into some kind of housing and then help them tackle their problems. These problems include drug addiction, medical and mental health issues. Admittedly it will be difficult to accomplish since many of these individuals suffer from underlying psychological problems that are a concern to public safety. Also, many have no desire to be housed. Providing shelter, food and services is also going to cost a lot of money. The city and the state have set aside some money, but likely not enough, and since the homeless is a huge problem for our tourist industry I think the hotels should offer up some money to help with the costs. I do think we can keep expenses down in one area: mental health services. We have so many bright, energetic and eager college students here majoring in fields such as psychology and social work that perhaps they can earn college credit for working with these individuals. What better way to learn than through hands-on experience? I think homelessness will always be a major thorn in society, but I do think we can make a bad situation better.

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?

This is such a difficult question, mostly because everyone wants to live here, and it boils down to supply and demand, and I don’t think the demand will ever reverse itself. Don’t get me started on $20 million condos. I think I’ll start with food, yes the high cost of food that seems to be getting higher. Imagine what I’m about to say on a large scale. It would have to start small, but it could gain steam because it would be a win-win situation. We use our public schools for church services. Why can’t we use our public schools once a week for a local farmers’ markets? And it doesn’t have to be for only farmers. If I go to the grocery store, I pay about $9 for a dozen cupcakes. If I’m a stay at home mom and buy a box of cake mix and can of frosting on sale I might spend $2. Well I would be very willing to make you a dozen cupcakes for $6. Also, I would much prefer to meander down a few blocks to my friendly neighborhood school and get some home cooked goodies for a fraction of the cost. The idea sounds too simple to work, or does it? There are three public schools within walking distance of my house … each school probably has at least 500 students. What if half of these families decided to spend a few hours cooking, sell their creations and come home with $100. And if this happened, I would have hundreds of items to choose from. I might buy enough food to last three or four days. I always tell myself, “Keep it simple.” This answer sounds anything but bureaucratic, but maybe that’s the answer: simplicity. This idea cuts out the middleman and what a great time we’d have at these weekly shopping expeditions.

Ah, transportation costs … what do we do here? Well if the highly touted rail system does as it is promised to do, problem fixed. If not, everyone will remember at election time.

As for housing, I don’t think it’s realistic to expect the cost of a house to go down significantly. But I think the cost of operating a house, that is, the electricity necessary, could make home ownership less expensive. I have been researching “solar energy” and there are some very promising advances being made. Specifically, researchers have discovered ways to make the solar panels at a fraction of the current costs. Check out this article that came out June 25, 2014  www.energymatters.com.au/index.php?main_page=news_article&article_id=4366#.U6trQzisfWs

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

I think the public school system could be better run. I think there are too many cooks in the kitchen. A very controversial program called Common Core has teachers at odds with administrators, administrators at odds with parents, and parents at odds with certain educational groups. The purpose of Common Core is noble, that is to increase rigor in the classroom and ultimately better prepare students for college. Higher education institutions complain students are not prepared for the jump from high school to college level work. While this reasoning is ideal, is it realistic? Teachers are upset that test scores will be included in their evaluations, saying not all students are created equal. Every individual brain has certain genetic and environmental factors that determine a child’s potential in school. Not every kid is fortunate to have a loving home environment and parents who care about homework. And if this is so, how can we expect the same results?

I believe parents need to be more involved in their child’s education. Catch me a fish, feed me for a day. Teach me to fish, feed me for a lifetime. I have three children. To save myself from slaughter, I will say one, two, or maybe all three struggled with academics, but I was involved with homework every night. When one of them was kolohe at school, I decided perhaps a little humiliation was in order. I attended classes with my kid until he said, “Mom, please, stop doing this. I won’t disrupt the class anymore.” Problem fixed. I would like to see a greater partnership between parents and teachers. Yes parents have to work, but each parent could spend one vacation day observing in the classroom. This presence would likely even have an effect on all the kids in the class. Another suggestion is to utilize some of our bright, energetic and eager college students who are majoring in education. Perhaps they could spend several hours a week working with certain children in exchange for college credits. After all, hands on training has proven to be very effective, and this idea would not cost taxpayers a dime.

7. Would you support using liquefied natural gas as part of the state’s energy sources? And what thoughts do you have on improving the electric distribution system (the grid) so more renewables can be in the mix?

I would support using liquefied natural gas to aid in the state’s energy sources. LNG is natural gas converted to liquid form for easy storage and transport. It is a much cleaner, cheaper alternative to oil. Hawaii Gas Company has begun shipping LNG here for a test run and HECO says it is considering using LNG to generate power. It’s estimated four-fifths of Hawaii’s energy comes from petroleum, making us the most oil-dependent state in the U.S. Some environmental groups are opposed to investing heavily in LNG, saying it will delay the pursuit of long-term renewable energy sources. 

As for my thoughts on improving efforts for more renewable energy sources, I think Hawaii could become an environmental leader in solar power. There is promising research under way that could make solar panels far less expensive to produce. I ask that you look at an article mentioned earlier, www.energymatters.com.au/index.php?main_page=news_article&article_id=4366#.U6trQzisfWs

8. 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?

If we eliminate search and redaction charges, the taxpayer ends up footing the bill. I don’t think that’s a good idea, we are taxed to death as it is.

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?

When it comes to major developments that would significantly impact the lives of those who live here, I believe we need to have more community input. Of course this is easier said than done, many times we’ve seen community meetings erupt into shouting matches. But residents have a right to know what’s happening in their backyard, and they have a right to voice their opinions. So what would be the measuring stick to determine “significant impact”? Perhaps the cost of the project, if the project exceeds half the cost needed to build a hotel, community meetings should be held and maybe broadcast live on Olelo TV.

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

I’m fine with all you’ve asked. Thanks, Mary