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

The following came from Sam Puletasi, 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: Sam Puletasi

Office: Lieutenant governor

Party: Democratic

Profession: Retired disabled federal employee, board member for Hawaii Medicare Board.

Education: 1980 Marist Brother High School; 1983 University of Hawaii; 1982 American Samoa Community College; 1983 B.S. Graduate at Chaminade University of Honolulu; 1987 M.S., San Jose State Univesrsity; University of San Diego Paralegal Program; 1987 Federal Law Enforcement Training Center, instructor.

Age: 52

Community organizations: Active member of the Hawaii Democratic Executive Committee, Vice President/Board of director for Hawaii Civil Air Patrol, Coach for Children Sports Soccer AYSO, Samoan Chiefs and Orators Executive Board director/treasurer/musician. 

SAM Puletasi

Sam Puletasi

1. Why are you running for lieutenant governor? 

I am running because I see the growing cost of living here in Hawaii and an entrenched class of politicos doing little to solve the problem. I see growing income disparity and increasing homelessness and little being done to address those issues. I see an economy overly dependent on tourism, federal grants, and military spending and little is being done to diversify the markets of commerce in Hawaii. I see an establishment content with the status quo and unwilling to tackle the challenges of our time. I have never shied away from a challenge. I see few others who are willing to forgo the business-as-usual agenda to work on a better future for our state. That is why I am compelled to run. 

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? 

My preference is to attack the problem from the revenue side of the equation. I don’t think it’s fair to penalize the beneficiaries for the timidity and lack of foresight on the part of lawmakers. I think employees who served the public in good faith and fulfilled their end of the contract deserve better than that. We should explore significant revenue options such as the legalization, regulation and taxation of marijuana and lottery.  These activities are already taking place in the community despite the current laws. Taking them out of the hands of organized crime and illicit markets would not only generate significant tax revenue, but also lower crime, improve health outcomes and lessen the burden on our criminal justice and prison systems.  

A state lottery is not the normal form of private gambling. This is a state-run sale of lottery tickets, sold by private businesses. The businesses usually get 10 percent of the sale price, which helps them out. The winner usually gets 50 percent of the ticket sales. The creators of the tickets usually get 10 percent of the ticket sales. That leaves 30 percent for the state. Our tourists alone should spend about $1 billion on tickets. That would give the state $300 million from tourist lottery purchases alone. $300 million could do a lot for Hawaii if it stayed out of the general fund and went for what Hawaii needs and cannot now afford.

Let us speak frankly. There are lots of gamblers in Hawaii. We have many cock fights. There are a number of gambling barns. There are private card games all over and many of Hawaii’s population go to Vegas to gamble. Better that they do it here and let small businesses and the state of Hawaii benefit rather than gambling casinos.

A certain percentage of the money could be earmarked for programs for people with gambling addictions. Let’s face it, fast food chains have people spending extra money buying extra food to get extra stickers on the chance to earn good prizes. Churches hold bingo games with prizes.  This is gambling.

The legalization of marijuana in Colorado has generated $10.8 million in taxes in just four months and the crime rate in that state has decreased by 5.2 percent. 

An even more profitable money maker in Hawaii and is the legal sale of marijuana.  In the ’70s, it was our No. 1 export.  Colorado has been doing quite well selling it.  Ours is better, supposedly the best in the world. Right now, our young druggers are hooked on ice and ecstasy and other hard core drugs because the price of pot has gone much higher. Medical marijuana is already legal and very useful. Essentially, pot is a combination of the effects of an alcoholic substance and a cigarette, both legal for adults. I’m not saying they’re great, but if it’s legal to smoke pot, we might as well regulate and tax it. I believe we could earn a million dollars in taxes.  We could earmark a certain percentage for drug programs and use the remainder on things that need to be done for Hawaii.

Further, in reference to the Jones Act, Hawaii was not a state in 1920 when the Jones Act was passed. Had it been, Hawaii would have asked for an exception. It has the highest cost of living of any state and much of that is because of the huge cost of shipping. Even worse, when there’s a shipping strike, Hawaii is only days away from being out of food to say nothing of gas and toilet paper. There should be an exception for all states located out of North America. This is essentially a congressional issue, but I would encourage our members of Congress to vote for an exception. Alaska has the same situation and I would be in favor if it asked for the same.

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

Of course it should be labeled. Why would we want to withhold information from the consumer? If GMO producers stand by the health and safety of their products, they should have no qualms with labeling. I would ultimately defer to the science and research on these issues and I would also be skeptical of any science and research funded by corporations with a vested interest.

 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 view homelessness as a symptom of a larger problem that involves the local economy, income disparity, the cost of living, gentrification, property values, affordable housing and education. I prefer treating the underlying causes of the problem rather than just taking short-term palliative measures.

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 believe rampant gentrification has to be checked and more affordable housing created by zoning and mandate. Agricultural land should be protected from development and local farmers supported and incentivized through our tax policies, grants and patronage. Gardening should be encouraged and allowed in every nook and cranny of our communities. I support the expansion and bus and rail systems not only for their affordability but also the relief they offer from traffic congestion to commuters. We should also pursue more clean solar energy technology to alleviate and hopefully one day eliminate the cost of energy here in the islands. 

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

I have two arguments on the education system. First, the word is out that Hawaii’s public school teachers union, the administrators and the students are largely dissatisfied with how the schools are being run and in the case of at least the administrators, are afraid to complain.

The old school system board was elected by the voters. Now the board is appointed by the governor and many find the board and especially the chairman unresponsive. There  is a battle over whether we should go back to the old system.  There is another battle over whether we should stop running all of these mainland tests on how well our students are doing compared with students from other states.

I believe that there are some effective compromise positions. First. we are not Kansas. We do not have the same type of population. Many of our students are from parents who speak little English.The children learn faster and many of them translate for their parents.They are bright. In many years, Hawaii students do better than the average mainland student in math. The younger students in particular do not do as well in English. For many, English is not even their second language but their third.

Hawaii is full of adults who grew up in families that spoke other languages than English at home. Many of them have become quite successful. We need to applaud their successes. We also need to get many older students and adults from the same ethnic background to work with those students. There are many senior citizens who would enjoy this and we need to reach out to them for help. We are a state that takes pride in our different heritages. We should pass that pride onto our students. And we should stop giving them all these mainland tests on English as a degrading way of evaluating our teachers and students and schools.

We should also compromise on the appointment of the board. The students, the PTAs, the teachers and the administrators should provide the governor with lists of nominees for the board. The governor should pick from those lists with at least one from each list.  This gives input from those most affected but leaves the governor with choices.

Now on the contrary from the above argument, I believe the Strive HI Performance System adopted by the DOE in 2012 is a step in the right direction. We have to establish higher standards, give teachers the training and resources to meet those standards, and hold the teachers and administrators accountable to those standards. I also believe tenure and compensation should be reflected in whether or not teachers are able to meet those standards. I am not a supporter of charter schools, privatization and the introduction of the profit motive into education. Our tax money should not be used to segregate students and support culturally-biased curriculums. 

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 accept the science and the dangers of global warming. We here in the islands are especially vulnerable to the effects of climate change. The rise in sea levels, drought, catastrophic weather events and other adverse consequences of global warming can have devastating effects on our economy and way of life. We have a duty to pursue renewable energy and I believe wind and solar are our best options — not only because they are clean, but also because they will limit and hopefully one day eliminate our dependence on import fuels.

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?

Absolutely. I believe not only in government transparency, but also revenue systems that do not place an undue burden on the poor. The expenses can either be addressed in budgets or recouped in ways that do not disenfranchise the poor. 

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? 

It depends on what kind of development we’re talking about. Development, in and of itself, does not always grow the economy. It may provide a short-term stimulus, but we need to focus on the long-term impacts of any development not only on the environment, but society as well. It should be obvious from property values that land is at a premium here in the islands. I think gentrification has run amok, especially on Oahu. We need to start thinking carefully about the consequences of development on everyone, not just folks at the top. 

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

I would just like to say that I reject the ideologies that divide us by race, creed, gender, economic class and sexual orientation. I view our cultural diversity here in Hawaii as a strength, not a liability. I respect all of the different cultures, ethnicities and religions that contribute to our unique community. There is a synergy in our diversity that gives us an advantage over other places. Sprinkle in a little tolerance and aloha spirit and we have the recipe for a better Hawaii.