Editor’s note: For Hawaii’s Aug. 9 primary, Civil Beat asked candidates to answer some questions.
The following came from Clarence Nishihara, a Democratic candidate for state senator for District17. The other candidate is Independent Roger Clemente.
District 17 covers Waipahu, Pearl City, Crestview, Manana and Pacific Palisades.
Name: Clarence K. Nishihara
Office: State Senate District 17
Profession: State senator
Education: Graduated from Maui High School; bachelor’s degree, Psychology, UH Manoa; fifth year certification, Special Education, UH Manoa; master’s degree, Educational Administration, UH Manoa
Community organizations: President, Friends of Waipahu Public Library; second vice president, Pearl City Lions Club; director, Aged to Perfection; chair, Social Action Committee, Waipahu United Church of Christ; former member, Waipahu Neighborhood Board
1. Why are you running for the Hawaii Legislature?
I am running for re-election to the State Senate because I believe that having served for 10 years in my office, I have gained some measure of insight into the various challenges facing our state. I would like to continue serving the communities of Waipahu and Pearl City and continue working with these communities in addressing issues and finding solutions to problems within these communities.
2. Are you satisfied with 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?
The state’s present plan as devised by the Legislature and approved by the governor, represents a gradual drawing down of the overall obligations through funding a set amount over successive years. It is envisioned to reduce the huge unfunded liability of the retirement fund (ERS) but still has to deal with the even greater public sector health fund. A growing and robust economy would alleviate the pressure on both funds.
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?
The state and city are currently working together on a program called Housing First. It represents perhaps the latest and best new approach to dealing with the chronic homeless as well as those classified as “houseless.” We should give it a chance to move forward on the issue of homelessness.
4. Where do you stand on labeling genetically engineered food and pesticide regulation? Are there public safety issues, or are the dangers exaggerated?
I am not wholly opposed to labeling GMOs, but I believe that it is still largely a federal issue that needs to be resolved because of constitutional issues in the area of interstate commerce and federal oversight. The GMO debate and concerns raised have largely been emotional, biased, and lacks scientific discourse. The general public remains largely uninformed or misinformed by anti-GMO rhetoric. In numerous scientific studies conducted by universities and studied by others such as the AMA and National Academy of Science, the safety of the technology has been repeatedly proven to be safe. The issues of pesticide use or regulation by the state and federal government have at times merged the GMO debate with the safety of pesticide use. It unfairly targets the large biotech companies while ignoring the fact that pesticides are widely used by state agencies and smaller agricultural enterprises, as well as the general public who receive no training at all on the safety of these products. However, that being said, pesticide use should always be safely applied according to the manufacturer’s guidelines and within the guidelines specified by governmental agencies.
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?
The factors that impact our high cost of living are predicated on costs attributed to transportation, energy, availability of zoned land for agriculture, housing development, consumer demand, and financial capital. Hawaii is heavily reliant on military spending, the tourism industry, lack of outside capital and the reality of being an island state. Right now, there is resistance to urban development outside of the Windward and Honolulu areas, causing a movement to push towards the agricultural designated areas in West Oahu and Central Oahu. If you restrict the availability of land development in those areas, lands so used will become more expensive and thus homes will become more expensive. If you create height restrictions and cannot build outward, the tract homes will have to endure lots that call for more density to keep a measure of “affordability.” The Honolulu Board of Realtors has come on record that on Oahu, there is already a shortage of 5,000 homes; it can only get worse. When you consider our transportation issues, just our roadways for example, we now have to endure months of road repair, disruptions caused by too many cars on a limited number of major roads. Already we have more cars than drivers. The attempt to redefine our mode of transportation, the Honolulu Rail Transit system, has been met with continual bickering, delays, resistance and outright hostility. If the system turns out to be successful, then perhaps there may be opportunities to improve our housing and business generation needs.
One last thing, food. Hawaii produces less than 10 percent of our community’s food needs; we import the rest by boat. Shipping costs keep rising, so our food costs keep rising. We say we want more “locally produced food,” but we have those that want to define how we grow it, where we grow it, what kind and by what process. There are no easy answers to all of these questions; we can only manage them if we are willing to compromise and seek a wider consensus.
6. Would you support using liquefied 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?
I believe we should be open to all options (except nuclear) to deal with our energy needs. LNG or liquefied natural gas is an option, but like oil, it has to be imported into our state. With the apparent abundance of U.S. natural gas and the lower costs as opposed to oil, it looks attractive. However, our state enjoys also an abundance of natural resources such as solar, wind, ocean, and volcanically-derived heating. The question of the reliability of all of these systems to deliver electricity for our needs at a cost much less than that of the current oil-based model has yet to be certified.
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 governmental agencies impose. Would you support eliminating search and redaction charges and making records free to the public except for basic copying costs?
I am not familiar with the costs being imposed to obtain the public records, the volume of requests for public records, the procedure involved in obtaining the records, and the amount of time and staffing required to search and redact information. All of these factors must be taken into consideration before deciding whether or not the search and redaction charges can be eliminated. If these charges amount to a lot, then eliminating these charges could cause a budgetary strain on the agency. I would like to look further into the issue.
8. Are you satisfied with the way Hawaii’s public school system is run? How can it be run better?
We passed a constitutional amendment to have the governor appoint our state’s school board last year. Prior to that, Hawaii had an elected BOE for about 40 years and before that, we had one appointed by the appointed governor of this state preceding statehood. In each and every instance, the voters believed that the educational system needed reform. Today, and every few years passing, the public seems to be dissatisfied with the results and believes it should and can be run better. I am not convinced that legislators can deliver on that desire or belief. I still believe that we have to empower, trust, and hold accountable all in the educational system. As legislators, we are not wise enough, educated enough in the workings of the DOE, pedagogically astute enough, and ultimately directly responsible for what happens in the classroom. We need to hold the leadership of the department responsible and accountable for how they promise to deliver system-wide. At the end of the day, will the system produce competent, prepared-for-life students that will add to a caring, compassionate, and productive citizenry?
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?
Government always has the responsibility to balance the need for development and the desire to protect our limited island environmental resources. In a cost/benefit paradigm, greater urbanization seems to have the upper hand vs. agricultural sufficiency and the need for open space. I will continue to seek compromise and thoughtful solutions to create opportunities for affordable housing and development in areas encroaching viable farming operations. I believe that the city’s attempt at Transit Oriented Design to curtail suburban growth, increasing housing and business densities, will help to restore some balance to the need to protect the environment. Any new development involves mindful use of our water and energy resources. I will support greater dependence on renewable energy and water conservation to help maintain that balance. We need to encourage new job creation. I believe that by governmental support via tax incentives, working in partnership with businesses and developers and financial institutions will help lower the costs of new startups.
10. What other important issue would you like to discuss here?
An important issue for me is, how do we regain the trust of the public with their institutions and government? As a society, we can only move forward together when we are willing to trust others, reassert the belief that we are truly paddling together in one canoe — that our future depends on our fellow men and women who are committed to making Hawaii that special place for our children as well as ourselves. We need to rebuild that foundation by asking our institutions of education, business, religion and the media to ratchet down the impulse to divide and marginalize the public’s participation.
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