Editor’s note: For Hawaii’s Aug. 9 primary, Civil Beat asked candidates to answer some questions.
The following came from Shan Tsutsui, one of five Democratic candidates for lieutenant governor. There are also three Republican candidates and one Independent.
Name: Shan S. Tsutsui
Office: Lieutenant governor
Profession: Lieutenant governor
Education: Maui High School; B.A. in Economics, University of Hawaii at Manoa
Community organizations: Maui High School Foundation; PONO Athletics Club
1. Why are you running for lieutenant governor?
As a father of three young daughters, I believe that creating a better life for my children and all of the residents throughout the state is not only my priority, but my responsibility. When I first ran for office in 2002, I promised my constituents that together, we would work to build a better community. Since then, we have accomplished much, using honesty, integrity and respect as the core values in our dialogues and decision making. I’ve always understood that my actions are an extension and reflection of those that I represent, so I’ve invested the effort to validate our shared goals and objectives.
As a state senator and Senate president, I instituted my collaborative style of leadership and provided the opportunity for all of our senators, and their respective districts, to be involved in the process. I was also given the opportunity to broaden my constituency base, by not just expanding focus onto statewide policy issues, but also by spending time to understand the unique needs of the our different communities.
Now as your lieutenant governor, I have continued to work cooperatively with leaders and constituents alike, not concerned with the usual politics, but instead seeking to foster a collaborative working environment where the responsibility and authority is shared and all are able to reap the benefits of focusing on the issues at hand. I would like to continue these efforts to move our state forward.
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?
Caring for our state and county employees who have devoted time and service to the people of Hawaii is critically important. Ensuring the necessary funds to provide earned pension and health benefits to public employees is the state’s responsibility and obligation. Over time, the state’s unfunded liability has ballooned and can severely impact the state economy. However, the state has recently taken steps to address this complex issue, including appropriating $217.4 million in the current biennium. A task force was also established to examine the unfunded liability of the EUTF, an actuary is now designated to determine the annual state contribution rate, and a portion of GET and TAT revenues are being used to supplement the fund.
These efforts, along with implementing findings of the task force, will positively impact the fiscal future of Hawaii, including ensuring strong bond ratings that will allow the state to leverage funds for other necessary projects statewide. However, these actions have only laid the groundwork for addressing this problem. A continued commitment to paying down the unfunded liability must be the collective will of the administration, Legislature and the public. Our combined dedication will help to ensure a healthier economy in Hawaii.
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 am deeply concerned about the potential health and safety issues surrounding GMOs and pesticide use. Clearly, regulation is necessary to protect against harmful chemicals. GMO labeling and pesticide use are two different issues, however. Labeling can be a powerful tool for consumers to ensure proper knowledge for thoughtful decision making on what products to purchase for our families and friends. At the same time, the rights and abilities for local farmers to operate and flourish must also be considered. While the counties are the closest to the affected communities, farmers and consumers, I support home rule for the counties.
As more information is discovered within the scientific and agricultural community, regulations must also follow.
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?
As the homeless don’t fall into one category, the issue is complex and requires multiple efforts and programs. Helping the chronic homeless involves increased resources, services and treatment for substances abuse and mental illnesses. For others, programs like Housing First can help a family or individual get back on track more quickly. This is a problem that can be resolved, but will take a concerted effort by the State, counties, and the community-at-large, including citizens, community and faith-based organizations.
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?
Reducing fuels cost will go a long way to bringing down Hawaii’s high cost of living. We must continue to explore ways to use natural elements like the sun, wind, and sea to create new energy sources. If we are able to create energy at a rate cheaper than importing fossil fuels, it will reduce the cost to most goods and services consumed in our community. The initial investment may be high, but it will result in lower cost in the future.
6. Are you satisfied with the way Hawaii’s public school system is run? How can it be run better?
As a product of the public school system and a father with children who attend public school, I can attest first hand that Hawaii’s public school system does work. My daughters have been fortunate to have been taught by wonderful teachers who care very deeply about their students and their education, well-being and future. However, we should never stop trying to improve the education, program and services provided.
Investment in our keiki is one of the most important commitments we as a community can make. To ensure that our keiki are educated to succeed in the new millenium, we must provide increased support and resources and adapt to new technologies and learning methods. We, as a state, must collectively embrace our responsibility to properly educate and prepare our keiki for both vocational and professional jobs and careers, as both are necessary. A successful education pipeline must begin with our youngest students and carry through to higher education.
Early learning is a start, but also keeping our keiki engaged in learning includes efforts outside of the classroom, which is why I initiated the Resources for Enrichment, Athletics, Culture and Health (R.E.A.C.H.) program to provide after-school programs to middle and intermediate students. Offering students positive alternatives during after-school hours can positively impact classroom attendance and behavior and make a difference in the lives of our keiki today and into the future. Programs like REACH and others will help to support and strengthen the public school system.
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?
As the new global community within which we live continues to evolve, it is more critical than ever to ensure that we respect the earth and provide sustainable methods and alternatives to traditional resources and models to sustain future generations. While my background is in finance and I am governed by the principles of numbers and figures, I am also first and foremost a father, who can, above all else, appreciate the social cost of an environmental crisis and the effect that such will have on my family. Accordingly, I have and will continue to work to create a legacy for my children and their children that includes a safe and healthy environment for them to enjoy today and each day throughout their future lives.
Having met and discussed the use of liquified natural gas with experts and individuals from Asia to Alaska, I believe its use in Hawaii should be explored and fully considered. I believe that the collective government together with the people can and must make a commitment to embracing and increasing the use of renewable energy resources and work to stem the tide of continuous damage being done to our environment.
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?
I fully support transparency in government and unfettered access by the public. Such records and documents must be provided to the public at a reasonable charge, however, due to the fact that there is a real cost involved in the research, review, compilation and duplication of such records. Currently, there are waivers available to help defray costs, but the evolving technologies should also help to improve public access to documents and records and reduce the need for records requests.
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?
Community growth and development are important to ensure a vibrant and thriving city. However, development should also include ample affordable housing and green spaces. As an island state, there are not only limited resources, but limited space to meet the needs of our growing population. Appropriate restrictions are necessary to ensure areas such as Kakaako, and Hawaii as a whole, maintains its beauty and continued accessibility to natural resources.
Throughout my time in office, I have introduced, supported and advocated for legislation funds further development and job creation, but also provide resources, funding, and efforts to caring for and address issues that are important to protecting and improving our environment. For Hawaii to succeed in the future, we must continue to pursue both.
10. What other important issue would you like to discuss here?
In addition to the day to day functions of the lieutenant governor’s office, we are currently working on several other initiatives that will benefit our community:
• The HI growth initiative that helps foster and develop new businesses centered around technology.
• The Obama Presidential Library to allow Hawaii to tell our presidents story only as we can. 3) The sports development initiative which will allow this industry to develop and support both the University of Hawaii Athletics Program and youth development here in Hawaii. 4) The development of the Aerospace Program in Hawaii, to create additional high wage jobs for now and in the future.