Editor’s note: For Hawaii’s Aug. 9 primary, Civil Beat asked candidates to answer some questions.
The following came from Terez Amato, a Democratic candidate for state senator for District 6. Other candidates include Democrat Rosalyn Baker, Republican Jared Dubois and Libertarian Bronson Kaahui.
District 6 covers south and west Maui.
Name: Terez Amato
Office: State Senate, District 6
Profession: Bookeeper, mother
Education: St. Anthony Junior High/High School; University of Hawaii, Maui
Community organizations: Sierra Club, Maui Farmers Union, Italian American Club, Surfrider foundation (volunteer), Maui Forest Bird Recovery Project (volunteer), Leeward Haleakala Watershed Restoration Partnership (volunteer), West Maui Mountains Watershed Partnership (volunteer).
1. Why are you running for the Hawaii Legislature?
I saw a hearing in the Senate Committee on Commerce and Consumer Protection. Sen. Baker is the chair of that committee. Watching that hearing shocked me and made me realize what was really going on. I saw that Baker was not representing me or my neighbors in South and West Maui. She was very clearly representing the interests of corporations. That’s why I decided to run against her. The people of Maui deserve a senator who has made a commitment to be honest and transparent, and who will work only for them, not for corporations or lobbyists.
Sen. Baker has not been honest with the people she is supposed to represent. She killed the GMO labeling bill in the Senate and she tries to hide it from her constituents because the majority of us (over 90 percent) want to know what is in the food we eat and feed to our children. Her voting record clearly shows that she doesn’t support the people of South and West Maui, who deserve a new senator who is working for them, not for the corporations! This is why I am running for Senate.
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?
We must do more. The state must meet its pension and health obligations for public workers. Our civil servant employees have dedicated themselves to serving the people of Hawai‘i and depend on this money for their future care. We have a responsibility to ensure that their needs are provided for as we promised they would be. This requires a solid commitment not only to public employees, but to all taxpayers in Hawai‘i to make fiscally conservative financial decisions for spending and to trim overspending and wasteful spending absolutely wherever possible.
Spending $700,000 to paint a small building, or over $305 million to construct a parking garage to “increase airport rental car customer convenience,” is an insult to the people of Hawai‘i. That money is better spent paying down our debt and fulfilling our obligation to Hawai‘i’s workers and families.
We need to put our retirees ahead of the rental car corporation’s and land developers’ profits. The first step in solving this problem is to get corporate money out of politics so we can make decisions that benefit the people of Hawai‘i, not the corporations. Our devoted civil servants must come first. I will always stand behind them and defend them. The people of Maui deserve a senator who is working for the people, not for corporations.
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?
It is very important to emphasize that this conversation about homelessness is really about meeting the needs of Hawai‘i’s people and families. Quite often, it seems that the human element is removed from the equation. I understand what it’s like to almost become homeless with four children. I know a number of families who are. Here in Hawai‘i, where the cost of living is incredibly high, one stroke of bad luck can devastate a family and push them out on the streets. We need to start with an honest, compassionate, and understanding approach to help those in need feel supported, never neglected. Policies and resources need to be developed that support Hawai‘i’s people, not criminalize or punish them because they can’t afford a home. Creative approaches need to be developed and we have to provide opportunities to individuals who want them. As a start, we can create more good clean green jobs for and provide safe, truly affordable, housing options for our people.
4. Where do you stand on labeling genetically engineered food and pesticide regulation? Are these public safety issues, or are the dangers exaggerated?
People have a right to know what is in the food they eat and feed to their children, it’s that simple. The biotech industry doesn’t want you to know what’s in your food, because they are making enormous profits and they know few would buy GMO food if they had a clear choice. Baker doesn’t want the people of Hawai‘i to know what’s in the food we feed to our children. She has taken tens of thousands of dollars from the biotech industry and their lobbyists, and she kills GMO labeling bills in the Senate year after year.
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?
Electricity costs more in Maui County than anywhere in Hawai‘i or the mainland, nearly triple the national average. We need to be investing in solar instead of importing oil or considering LNG. We can make a lot of our electricity locally instead of shipping our dollars out of state.
Our food is primarily imported. If we focus on local, sustainable agriculture that keeps our money circulating through Hawai‘i’s economy, we can provide good honest sustainable jobs by growing food, not importing it. Let’s empower our famers to feed people, make jobs and keep our money in Hawaii! We can export the surplus to other markets abroad and create more value-added products for Hawai‘i. Instead of importing building materials and further lining oil and shipping companies’ pockets, we can grow renewable materials locally, process them here, and create jobs.
The choice is clear. We can continue to be a disposable, throwaway society that uses dirty energy and pays to ship everything we need to Hawai‘i, or we can choose to build a sustainable economy instead. Sustainability is an attainable goal, not just a buzzword. We have the will and together we can do this. The people of Hawaii know it is time for new choices and a new senator.
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?
No, I do not think Hawai‘i should use LNG as a “transition fuel.” I believe that LNG would be an unsustainable financial investment that transfers the true cost (the environmental cost) to other communities. Further, as a greenhouse gas, one ton of methane is equivalent to 86 tons of carbon dioxide over a 20-year span. That is potentially an environmental cost disaster!
Additionally, a recent study reported in Science Magazine in February that the actual percentage of methane in the atmosphere is 50 percent greater than previously thought. Not all of this is from natural gas, but what is important here is that Purdue and Cornell researchers found up to 1,000 times more methane emission than previously estimated in the LNG drilling phase! Far larger amounts of LNG are escaping from drilling sites than previously suspected. Natural gas has become a popular replacement for coal as a fuel and heat source. However, natural gas benefits currently seem to be offset by methane leaks. There are too many downsides for this temporary non-renewable alternative.
What I propose is simple: By proactively and aggressively accelerating the widespread adoption of PV and by investing in electrical storage options, Hawai‘i can rapidly replace a significant portion of the liquid fuel currently required for electricity. Of course, oil companies will not like this, but people with these new green jobs will love it and all of Hawai‘i will benefit. Ultimately, we will all breathe cleaner air, pay less in the long term, and we’ll make new green jobs. I call that a win, win, win.
Hawai‘i’s people deserve to have their limited infrastructure funds better spent on items like renewable energy and storage that support the widespread use of abundant clean power. We don’t need to import oil or breathe polluted air when the sun and other sources can provide a great deal more of what we need. This is what the people of Maui have told me they want done.
It is extremely disappointing that Baker was part of removing the PUC (Public Utilities Commission) funds and important dates from the solar bill this year.
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?
Yes I support that 100 percent. There is no excuse for not having a transparent government. Local and state government agencies are supposed to be accountable to the people of Hawai‘i. I believe in an open and transparent government that works for the people of Hawai‘i.
8. Are you satisfied with the way Hawaii’s public school system is run? How can it be run better?
Our children are our future. All of my children have attended Maui’s public schools, so I understand the importance of making sure our students receive a quality public education that gives them a chance to have a better future. As a mother of four, I understand the challenges our working families face every day. I know what it is like to struggle to provide for our children’s basic needs like clothing and school supplies while paying the electric bill, the mortgage, and putting food on the table.
Our teachers work hard and deserve better. They have a difficult and important job, yet they are underpaid. Hawai‘i’s public schools are sadly ranked among the worst in the nation. Further exasperating the problem has been the implementation of the Common Core standards which requires our teachers to create Individualized Education Plans (IEPs) for each of our students. Each of our teacher’s classrooms are already overcrowded and maxed out, these new standards place a nearly impossible burden to perform on some of our most important civil servants.
On Maui, many temporary classrooms (portables) get so hot by 12 p.m. (up to 92 degrees) that students can’t learn, and some of the best teachers want to quit. I don’t blame them. Teachers are not allowed to even provide their own air conditioners because DOE does not want to pay for the electricity. We need to invest in solar for all of Hawai‘i’s schools.
We have all heard promises for a high school in Kihei for over a decade from my opponent. Three of my four children have had to be bussed to Kahului just to go to school. Kihei needs an end to the decades long red tape and for construction to finally begin. Our children deserve better from their senator and their government. We need to audit DOE.
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?
Having owned a small business while trying to raise a family, I understand the burden we all face when corporations pollute Maui’s land, air and water and don’t pay their fair share. Our environment is the foundation of our entire economy — from tourism to agriculture to health. Corporate money in politics leads to bad environmental policy, which damages our economy and health. Without strong policies protecting the environment, we lose tourism, jobs, and bear rising health-care costs.
We must support and assist our local small businesses to help them compete with the global marketplace; and large corporations that profit from Hawai‘i’s natural resources must pay their fair share.
The state constitution is very clear that we must preserve our natural resources for the future of Hawai’i.
10. What other important issue would you like to discuss here?
Unlike my opponent, I grew up on Maui. I am raising my family here, so I’m deeply rooted in my community and heavily invested in ensuring our future generations have the best possible island home we can provide for them. I provide a fresh voice and a clear vision. My preparation to represent Maui comes from my roots in my community, my values, my love for this island and its people, and my commitment to work only for the people of Maui, not for special interests.
Politicians who take money from corporations and lobbyists no longer work for the people, it’s that simple. That’s why I have pledged to the people of Hawai‘i that I will never take money from corporations or lobbyists, so the people of Maui will always know that I am only working for them.
There’s a great deal at stake in this election. We must ask ourselves: Do we want to make the same old choice and elect a senator who takes money from corporations and works for them, or do we want a senator who works for the people? I will work for the people. Our environment, our economy, and the health of our people are at stake. We can’t afford to make the same old choice.