Editor’s note: For Hawaii’s Nov. 4 general election, Civil Beat asked candidates to answer some questions.

The following came from Keiko Bonk, Green Party candidate for state representative for District 20. Republican Julia Allen and Democrat Calvin Say, who did not respond to the questionnaires, are also running.

District 20 includes St. Louis HeightsPālolo ValleyMaunalani HeightsWilhelmina Rise and Kaimukī .

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

Name: Keiko Bonk

Office: District 20, House of Representatives

Party: Green

Profession: Environmental and community policy advisor

Education: Masters degree

Age: 60

Community organizations: PONO, dedicated to restoring to concept of pono to science, government policy, business and ethics within Hawaii, 2012-present; Milolii Ocean Camp volunteer,  2012; River Street Residences, volunteer advocate, 2009-2010; Kapiolani Community College Art Advisory Board, 2005-2007; Kaimuki High School Peace Mural, 2006; Olelo Community Television, Board of Directors, 2004-2006; UH Manoa Earth Day coordinator, 2005; Honokaa Hongwanji Dharma School mural project, 2004-2005; Washington School of Medicine/UH Manoa Asian Health Study community liaison, 2003; Hawaii Trends Research Institute, Board of Advisors member, 2000- present; Hawaii Volcano’s Circus – Board of Directors, 2002; American Association of University Women, 1996-2001; East Hawaii Cultural Center, 1996- 2003; Holualoa Center for Culture and the Arts, 1996-2003; Hui Okinawa (Okinawan Cultural Association), 1994-2003; Shin Sei Kai (Shamisen performance group), 1999-2003; Volcano Community Association, 1991-2001; Kona Outdoor Circle, 1998-2000; Homeless Women’s Shelter, New York City Armory, 1989-1991; Artists Equity, NYC, 1985-1991; Protect Waihole/Waikane, community effort to protect rural farmlands 1974-1976; Save Our Surf, community efforts for shoreline and near shore ocean’s protection, 1970-1974; United Farmworkers, co-organized support in Hawaii for the boycott of grapes, 1973-1974

Keiko Bonk, candidate, House District 20, 2014

Keiko Bonk

1. Why are you running for the Hawaii Legislature? 

I am running for House District 20 because I believe people deserve an elected official who puts the people’s interests first, believes in open government, and has a track record of working for a just and sustainable society. I have no personal animosity toward Mr. Say; he is always cordial to me and others when I see him. However, I fundamentally disagree with his model of leadership and his vision of what is good for District 20 and the rest of the state. I believe that the ordinary people, not corporate donors, should decide what their government does. I have a 40-year track record of standing up for real people and the environment. I have passed landmark land-use legislation designed to protect native forests, and have successfully fought to preserve farmlands, small communities, small businesses, and our ocean resources, while also initiating investigations into government corruption and misuse of power.

As a young girl I fought Mr. Say’s corporate donors to establish public access and shoreline protection laws. Throughout my adult life I have worked with community organizations to fight Mr. Say and his corporate donors to protect small farmers, preserve native forests, protect ocean resources, and establish and restore cultural heritage sites. Both in and out of elected office I have initiated local and federal investigations into government corruption and misuse of power and public resources. While I was in office I was awarded the “Sunshine Award” by the Press Association for my work to make government more open and transparent.

I initiated a federal GAO investigation into corruption in the Western Pacific Fisheries Regional Management Council (Wespac).

I believe that District 20 deserves a representative with a vision of sustainable development and open government for the district and the state. I have the vision, and a track record that shows that I can’t be bought, and I can work with everyone regardless of party, ethnicity, class or status. District 20 is a unique place. It has a growing small business district, containing many of the best restaurants in Hawaii. It has a diverse cosmopolitan community, and still has some of the feel of a small town. People in District 20 want to bring back more livable communities. They don’t want traffic jams; they want more walkable and bikeable communities. They want to preserve the feel and look of old Kaimuki and they want a government that thinks long-term and global, and creates a healthy sustainable community and economy. But, instead our government keeps pushing the same tired ideas over and over, and getting the same bad results. Our energy costs are the highest in the nation, our natural environment is degrading at an alarming rate, and our infrastructure is outdated and in disrepair. Inequality is growing and we are losing our sense of community. These problems are all the result of bad planning, bad laws and bad economic decisions, which were put in place by our elected officials despite being opposed by the community. I am running for office in the hope that I can work with the community and a new generation of elected officials who want to modernize our government to make it open and transparent, which is essential to fulfilling our dream of a just, sustainable and prosperous future.

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?

I must start by saying that I am not an expert on this topic and so will need to do a lot more research before having a definitive opinion on it.  I am pleased to see that the Legislature is addressing the issue of unfunded liabilities, insofar as we need to protect the government’s credit rating. However, I am not convinced that the current proposals are adequate to meet our obligations. And, I am also concerned that the whole debate has become something of a political distraction. For instance, economist Robert Kaplan argues that the whole concept of “unfunded liabilities” is based on so many guesses about the future that it really doesn’t make any economic sense http://www.news.illinois.edu/news/09/0401liabilities.html. We do, however, need to protect the government’s credit rating by insuring that in the future legislators are never allowed to raid the insurance and pension systems again, and that specific funding sources are established and protected for all state programs.

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? 

First, while the homelessness problem is one of the most serious problems our community faces, we have historically done a very poor job addressing it. However, it is not nearly as complicated as many of the other issues our community faces. The problem is easy to explain and the solutions are somewhat straightforward, if we just look at the facts, and have the political will to act on them.

The reason our efforts over the last three decades have had so little impact is that we have been taking a short-term reactive approach to a long-term systemic problem. The result has been the criminalization of poverty and mental illness. Homelessness is the result of three policies our government implemented: 1) a botched policy of “deinstitutionalization” of the mentally ill, 2) a failed housing policy that has steadily reduced the supply of affordable housing, and 3) a short-term reaction to the first two policies that entails criminalizing being poor and/or mentally ill. The solutions entail reversing these three policies. Our government created the problem and our government is the only one that can fix it. Reform these three policies and the problem will be solved.

Although the problem of homelessness continues to get worse in most communities around the nation, including ours, a few communities, including ours, have begun to address the real problems and implement real solutions. We are only in the early stages of implementing the solutions, but we can see what the future will look like by observing those communities who are further along in implementing the solutions than we are. We still have a lot of work to do, and we will fail if we don’t succeed at changing all three policies, but we are off to a good start.

The first and most important step forward is what is known as the Housing First model, which entails building housing (not shelters) and providing it to the chronically homeless at whatever price they can afford, and then making mental health and social services available to them.  The research is clear, providing mental health and social services before you provide housing has a very low success rate, while providing the services after providing housing is highly effective. Studies have consistently shown that Housing First dramatically improves the quality of life of those targeted by the programs and reduces overall number of homeless people and the costs associated with homelessness. Since implementing Housing First programs in 2005, Utah has seen its chronic homelessness rate drop by 74 percent and continues to see declines every year. Phoenix-area providers used the Housing First model for the first time and paid for 35 chronically homeless people to move into two Phoenix housing complexes. So far, the method has had a 95 percent success rate and no one has returned to homelessness.

Housing First also costs taxpayers less than leaving people sleeping on the sidewalk. In Denver’s Housing First program the average cost savings was $31,545 per participant per year. A study, published in the Journal of American Medicine, estimated that housing these 95 individuals in a Housing First Project saved taxpayers $4 million in the first year alone. The city of Los Angeles found that simply housing individuals experiencing chronic homelessness reduced public costs by 79 percent.  However, even if we didn’t save money we should still house the homeless because it is the right and humane thing to do. We not only reduce the suffering of the homeless we stop the spread of hopelessness, resignation and callousness in our society that often results when people who have homes walk over people in the street and feel shame and anger because they don’t know how to help.  However, fortunately, for all of us, in the long run compassion and reason is always cheaper than callousness and blaming the victim.

Our city and state have begun to cooperate in building Housing First projects, and we should all be proud of this beginning.

The second step after providing decent and humane places to live is providing people with the mental health and social services they need to change their lives. The data is also clear on this point. People with serious mental illness are more likely to get help, and the help is more effective if they have a home first (http://bmjopen.bmj.com/content/3/9/e003442.full.pdf+html ). Although providing only housing would be cheaper than our current system, and it would get most people off the streets permanently, it would not end the suffering of the mentally ill, nor is it enough to make a person a productive member of society.  Health problems require health care; mental health problems are no different.  In another randomized control study in Vancouver, Canada, the results demonstrated that people in Housing First were also less likely to get arrested. This study is just one of several that were conducted with the randomized groups in the Vancouver Housing First programs documenting the successes.

In addition to the housing problem in Hawaii, we have traditionally had problems in the mental health system that prevent people from getting better. Many people who qualify for treatment don’t get treatment and many who do, don’t get the right treatment or adequate treatment. Instead of following the science and improving the mental health care system by doing what we know works, we cut services which only made the remaining over burdened services less effective. We have done much the same thing to our social services. Becoming a productive member of society requires social support. This is just as true of the average middle class person as it is of someone who is homeless. Many of us are lucky and get this support from our families, but many families are too poor or unhealthy to provide this support. The reality is no one becomes a healthy and successful member of society on their own.  We all need support, and as a community of humane and responsible people, it is our responsibility to provide social support for those who have don’t have it, so that they can become healthy and productive members of our community.

We have made some progress in this area of mental health services, but we still have a very long way to go.  The budget for mental health services was drastically cut in 2009.  It has been restored, and the money is being spent in smarter ways than it was prior to 2009, but the budget in 2009 was far from sufficient and we still have a long way to go in providing the kind of mental health services that are needed and affective. We need to greatly increase substance abuse treatment programs. There should be no waiting list or restrictions to getting into substance abuse treatment. Sadly, this is not the case now. We also need to expand the Hawaii State Hospital (HSH). It is our only public hospital, and it has only a fraction of the beds it had in 1970, and yet our population has more than tripled. This is a national problem that resulted from a good idea poorly implemented. The policy was called deinstitutionalization and was intended to close some of the worst mental hospitals and provide treatment for those that were released in community treatment centers. But what happened is almost all the hospitals were closed, even the good ones, and the community treatment centers were never adequately funded. This began in the Kennedy administration in the 1960s. The result is that there are less psychiatric beds in the United States every year since the Kennedy administration and yet our population has tripled. Poor implementation of policy created the problem. The solution is not to put everyone with a serious mental illness in a hospital for life, but rather to provide the right kind of treatment and support.  About 1 percent of the 6 percent of Americans with serious mental illness are not able to function without 24-hour care, even with the best treatments we currently have.  In Hawaii there are probably less than 100 people, who are so mentally ill that even with the best medical care, and support services they cannot live in the community safely. However, there are hundreds of others that need access to extended hospital care at different times in their lives.  The HSH has a maximum capacity of 192 people.  But sadly a large portion of the people who are in HSH don’t need to be there, so the people who do need to be in the HSH can’t get in.  The reason the HSH has so many people in it that don’t need that level of care is because of the third policy failure I mentioned above, the criminalization of mental illness.

According to data produced by a collaboration between the HPD, the department of health and the largest hospitals on Oahu, every year HPD makes 7,000 arrests of mentally ill people, mostly for misdemeanors, such as urinating in public or failure to appear in courts for a previous misdemeanor charge.  That is 48 percent of all the arrests made by HPD.  At the same time about 50 percent of all arrests made by HPD are of homeless people.  These two populations are not the same but they greatly overlap. When people with serious mental illness arrive in court, too psychotic to participate in the criminal justice system, they are often sent to HSH so that they can be restored to sufficient psychological fitness to enable them to participate in the their own trial.  The HSH does a very good job of this, but it takes time and is very expensive, and could often be done much cheaper outside the hospital.  The result is that some of the sickest of our fellow citizens often can’t get into the HSH because it is over capacity, because it is filled with people who were sent there by the courts who didn’t have adequate options. Although the HSH is technically a public hospital and once allowed for voluntary treatment and civil commitment, it is so over burdened at this point that the only way to get admitted is to commit a crime, and yet there are no other facilities in the state that have the same level of expertise treating the most seriously and persistently mentally ill.

However, as I said our community has also made great strides forward in reforming our criminal justice system, especially in law enforcement.  In 2007, HPD started the Emergency Psychological Services and Jail Diversion Program, which has provided over 15,000 mental health interventions, and done over 12,000 diversions from the criminal justice system into the mental health system.  Mental health interventions by HPD have gone up steadily every year since 2007.  In 2013 HPD provided 3,500 mental health interventions. However, for all this progress they still made 7,000 arrests of mentally ill people, most of whom were arrested for behavior that was a direct result of their untreated mental illness. The state also has a very successful Mental Health Court, but it has remained under-funded for many years and only handles a handful of cases.

If our community continues to base these three policies on science, as it has begun to do in recent years, we could see homelessness reduced by over 95 percent over the next 10 years. But to accomplish this we have to take a long-term science and compassion-based perspective, and continue to support the three policies that we already know are key to the solution.

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

All foods containing GMOs should be labeled. This is a simple matter of the public’s right to know what is in their food. No one has the right to hide something they put in the food supply. I am not opposed to all genetically modified food, although the producer should have the burden to prove that it is not harmful to the individual health or the health of the environment. The companies should have to pay the full costs of doing the research, but the government should do the research and have the authority to set the criteria for determining if protects the public and the environment. While the short-term risks to consumers of GMOs is minimal to none, there is growing concern that they may be impacting the micro-biome in our digestive systems in ways that may have long term health effects in the form of obesity, diabetes and immune disorders.  However, at this point these concerns are more scientific speculation than fact.

While the health cost to individuals from GMOs is still up for debate, the negative environmental, economic and larger human costs are not. There is good evidence that pesticides and plants engineered to produce pesticides are having very serious negative impacts on the global ecosystem, threatening bee populations, and the entire global food supply. In addition the economics of patenting life forms and genetic modifications is one of the great injustices of the modern world. It is immoral to patent a life form, or a gene, or gene modification. Patenting GMOs is part of an economic model of agricultural production that impoverishes farmers all over the world, leads to political unrest, threatens the biodiversity of the global ecosystem and endangers to the future of our species. Farmers are sent to jail for planting seeds from their own crops, because multinational corporations claim they own all the seeds forever, because they made a small genetic modification. Corporations like Monsanto claim that if pollen from one of their GMO plants float onto another farmers land and fertilizes the crop of a farmer who chooses not to use GMOs, they the corporations automatically own all that farmer’s crop because it might have one of “their” genes in it. These claims and actions by GMO corporations like Monsanto are making enemies for Americans all around the world, breeding whole new generations of people who hate us for what our companies do to them. This system of agriculture is immoral and dangerous. So, in closing, the science of genetic modification is not the real problem. All science can be used for good or bad. The problem is the secrecy and lack of democratic regulation of the science and economics that makes GMO technology so dangerous. This is why a good first step is GMO labeling.

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? 

There are many things that can be done to reduce the cost of living in Hawaii, but if they are to be successful they have to be addressed not as separate issues but as part of systemic solutions to problems with our manmade and natural ecosystem. Ultimately the high cost of living in Hawaii is the result of our unwise use of our limited amount of land, and political decision making that was geared toward making a small group of politically connected people wealthier at the expense of everyone else. We can change this if we work together and pay attention to the good research that has already been done.

The 2011 Hawai‘i Housing Planning Study found that Oahu will need at least 28,000 new housing units between 2012 and 2016, and that two-thirds of the overall demand will be for low-income households. Unfortunately, not only are we not building enough homes, we are building the wrong kind.  Instead of building affordable housing for our residents we are building vacation homes for non-residents. And to make things worse the taxpayers end up subsidizing the infrastructure for luxury homes of people who don’t live here most of the time and pay few state or local taxes. A recent report by the highly respected Hawaii Appleseed Foundation says that an annual income of $65,600 is needed to afford a two-bedroom apartment on Oahu.  This is much more than the vast majority of Hawaii residents. http://www.hiappleseed.org/sites/default/files/Hi%20Appleseed%20Housing%20Crisis%20Report.pdf .

That means a worker would need to make $31.54 an hour to afford a two-bedroom apartment. For that reason I would support increasing the minimum wage, which when adjusted for inflation is lower that it has been in 50 years.

However, there are a variety of new kinds of housing that are more affordable, more ecologically sustainable, and lead to healthier and happier communities, rather than more sprawl, more traffic jams, and a declining environment and quality of life. They include single room occupancies (SRO), micro-units, Accessory Dwelling Units (ADU) and Ohana Housing, adaptive reuse of old buildings, ultra-small houses, and modular housing. All of these approaches are far more affordable than traditional housing and when combined with wise planning result in an increased quality of living for everyone.

This problem with the traditional suburban sprawl approach to housing is not just that it results in homes most people can’t afford, it also raises transportation costs, exacerbates climate change, and destroys farmland and conservation land. People keep moving farther away from where they work to get more affordable housing, but the cost savings are eaten up by increasing transportation costs, and the quality of people lives goes down as they spend 10 or more hours per week sitting in traffic jams, and live in communities that are unwalkable and alienate people from their neighbors. Experts say that when housing costs combined with transportation costs exceeds 45 percent of a household’s income, they are considered a cost burden. In Hawaii the average resident spends 61 percent on housing and transportation.  And for many employed people the result is they live in substandard housing and poverty despite working full time.

The cost of utilities is also higher in Hawaii than anywhere else in the nation. At 37 cents per kilowatt-hour, we pay more than three times the national average of 12 cents and twice as much as the cost of electricity in Alaska, the second most expensive state. The cost of electricity is so much higher in Hawaii because of grossly poor planning by our government and utility companies. The people of Hawaii are not incapable of generating affordable sustainable energy, as other people around the world do, but they can only do so if they can regain political control of their regulatory agencies from those who created the least efficient utility in the nation.

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, we should not use natural gas as a “transition fuel.” It is estimated that building the infrastructure to import liquefied natural gas (LNG) will cost half a billion dollars. There are those that say that LNG will bring down the price of electricity and is cleaner burning than diesel, oil or coal. But LNG is not “renewable,” so we would be investing in yet another infrastructure system for nonrenewable energy. Most of Europe has banned fracking and there is a movement to ban fracking on a state-by-state basis in the U.S. Thus it is not clear that LNG will remain cheap or plentiful during the 20 years, which is what we have to guarantee if we are to justify the expense of building LNG infrastructure. It is also not clear that switching to LNG produces an actual decrease in carbon production when you take the whole production distribution system into account. While it burns cleaner, some research indicates that when you take into account the production and distribution process it may actually increase the amount of greenhouse gases we produce for the same amount of energy.

The reality is, we are wasting precious time in our transition to sustainable energy development. Europe is way ahead of us in this regard. It’s time we catch up and go beyond others to become a global leader.

We need to move beyond fossil fuels to stave off even worse climate change; destruction of our land by mining, fracking, coal ash and oil spills; pollution of our air with soot and emissions leading to premature death; and pollution of our water. The use of LNG makes no sense in the short nor long run.  There are too many ill consequences that come with the production of LNG. The complex health hazards of fracking outweigh any short-term benefit we may reap in Hawaii.

Wind and solar are already viable alternatives that are already cheaper than fossil fuels if we take into account the externalities associated with the production of oil, which all of us pay in hidden subsidies. Rooftop PV is one important part of the solution. It is dropping rapidly in price and there are finance programs that allow everyone to install PV and see their utility bills immediately drop. Wind, tides, and geothermal are also viable technologies when done correctly, but the key is to diversify how we produce energy so we are not dependent on one technology.

The biggest obstacle to transitioning to a sustainable energy future is building a firm power supply for those times when renewal energy sources are not producing. To complete the transition we need to invest in storage and distribution technology that insures that we have firm power for the times when the sun is not shining. Possible storage mediums include pumped hydro, heated salts, batteries, etc. Power storage technology is advancing very rapidly, and the way to advance it faster is to invest in research and bring different technologies online in small projects to see which work best, before deploying on a large scale. This will also create more local jobs than any of the non-renewable strategies. The huge amount of money we would have to spend on building an LNG infrastructure should instead be spent on developing power storage and a new distributed power generation network.

Scholars are calling this change to a sustainable energy the “Third Industrial Revolution”

Producing energy with renewable resources is, however, only part of the transition. The key is the building of a lateral power infrastructure, the basic technology underlying the  “Third Industrial Revolution.” A distributed power generation network model entails spreading energy generation throughout the community on rooftops and small, localized wind, hydro or solar sources, and changing the utility’s role to storing the excess energy, providing it during the night or when generation drops, and keeping the network stable. Under this model, large wind farms and other big centralized “renewable” projects are only desirable when they can allow the utility to reliably decrease the price of energy to ratepayers. In other words, the utility should function to provide ratepayers a choice of self-generation with backup, or reasonable energy rates from large-scale renewable sources. Currently, neither of these choices exists, yet they are what the public is asking for.

This creation of a lateral power network grid not only helps us gets us off fossil fuels, it democratizes the generation of power and in so doing further democratizes our entire government and society. Currently our political system is grossly deformed by the concentrated power of oil companies. Much of our entire political system is held hostage to oil companies, and our dependence on oil results in us engaging in wars to the maintain access to the only source of power we have.

Currently an elite who supports the fossil fuel industries has far too much influence on public utilities, because these utilities are still organized on the old “power” paradigm that built the Second Industrial Revolution, a model that is not only destructive of the environment, but also undermines our democracy. Currently utilities produce, distribute and determine rates of energy, with little input from citizens. The only way we will free ourselves from this system of power and produce enough renewable energy is for consumers to become more active in producing renewable energy. The Europe Union has already passed policy to separate the production and distribution of energy, allowing a lateral power base to emerge, thereby allowing people to sell their energy to the distributors (utilities) to move more energy out to those in need in a more cost effective way.

In the future every homeowner, property owner, businesses, non-profits and other collectives will harness energy from the sun, wind, water and distribute this energy through a publically owned network. Each home will be a net energy producer. But this more democratic and sustainable network requires public investment to insure that it is stable.In the future, utilities will work for us, the energy producers, by creating and developing the storage and distribution network.

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 would support eliminating all search and redaction charges. I would support making all records free except for copying costs, and I think the copying costs should be minimal, and whenever possible all public documents should be put online and made available for free.

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

I am not satisfied with the performance of Hawaii public schools. We should be comparing their performance to the best schools in the world, not just to other schools in Hawaii or the nation. Schools need to be smaller. Classrooms need to be smaller. They should be more like extended families and less like bureaucracies. You can’t learn from someone you don’t have a relationship with. Teaching is a sacred trust. Teachers need the support of families, and families that are too unhealthy or poor to provide this support for teachers and students should be given the support they need. Teachers need more autonomy and less bureaucracy, but the public also needs a way to ensure that poor teachers are removed. Teachers, like police officers, elected officials, and other forms of public service should be held to very high professional standards and removed from service if they cannot meet the standards. Not everyone is cut out to be a teacher, it is a very difficult and highly skilled profession, but every child is born a student, ready to learn, at their own pace, if given the proper encouragement and support, but they can only learn to their maximum potential if the adults responsible for them are healthy and engaged in learning and teaching.

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? 

Sadly, all of our economic and environmental problems are the result of the same kind of short-term disconnected thinking. To fix these problems we first need to change the way we think about the relationship between the economy and the ecology, by reminding ourselves that they both share the same root word “eco,” which means home. Economics was originally the study of how to manage our man-made home, while ecology was the study of our natural environment home. It was always recognized that you can’t have a healthy home if you don’t recognize that our manmade and natural homes are interdependent. Our Hawaiian host culture understood this better than we do, but we don’t need to look to the past for this insight. The interconnectedness of all things is the primary presupposition of modern science. We need to start paying more attention to both our ancient wisdoms and modern science. They are saying the same thing.

The second step is we have to stop thinking in terms of growing the economy, and start thinking in terms of improving the quality of life of all of Hawaii’s residents (human and  nonhuman). Economic growth for its own sake is the problem, not the solution. Some parts of the economy need to grow if we are to improve our home and our quality of life, but some parts of our economy probably need to shrink. Our economy is too dependent on food imports, tourism and the military. While we will always need to import some food, have a military, and have a visitor industry; we need to begin to look at the true costs of these industries and all economic activity. We need to think of agriculture as an issue of food security and ecological sustainability as well as jobs and profit, just as we need to include the subsidies we give to the visitor industry. Our current tourist industry puts an unsustainable burden on our ecosystem. One-million three-hundred-thousand people live here, but over 8 million people pass through each year. This not only puts a huge burden on our ecosystem, it requires huge tax subsidies, and because of the particular type of visitor industry we have created it results in tens of millions of dollars being exported each year, rather than recirculated in the local economy as a more sustainable form of tourism would. We give the industry more and more subsidies, and it drains more and more money from our economy, and degrades our environment. The problem is not the visitors, the problem is the way we manage our home. And we do such a poor job managing it because we have allowed the people who profit from the status quo to dominate our government. We can have a more prosperous society and a higher quality of life for all, but first we need to start thinking in terms of true-cost economics, long-term planning, and returning control of our government to the residents of Hawaii.

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

If we are to succeed at making our home more just and sustainable, we have to get private money out of politics. If we don’t, corporations will continue to control our government. This is going to be very difficult considering some of the absurd decisions that have come down from the Supreme Court. These decisions allow corporations to declare themselves “people” and then declare “money is free speech” and then declare that “corporate people” can spend any amount they want on controlling our elections.

This does not mean we can’t regain control of our democracy, it just means we are going to have to work together, realize that it is going to take several lifetimes, and not give up. While big money has warped our electoral system, elections are still decided by votes, not dollars.  If we ignore the lies and distractions that make up the slick political commercials, and instead educate each other, we can cast our votes in a manner that will put us back in control of our government, and allow us to build a more just and sustainable society.

A number of positive things are already under way. For instance, I am running as a member of new kind of political party. In 1990 I helped co-found the Green Party, which is different from all other political parties because it does not allow its candidates to take corporate money. This makes it much harder to get elected, but in 1992 I got elected for the first time as a member of the Green Party, showing that if people worked together they could regain some influence on their government without taking corporate money. I want people to know that if a person is running as a Green, and takes corporate money they will be kicked out of the party and lose their seat in office as a representative of the party. This does not mean that everyone who runs as a Green will be a good elected official, but it does mean they will have to get elected without the help of corporations, and will therefore not be indebted to them after they are elected.

Another example of positive change is that Hawaii County decided to begin experimenting with a new form of public funding of election campaigns that makes it possible for the little guy to compete with the big corporate backed candidates. The bill that made this possible, is called the “Clean Elections” bill and could be expanded to the whole state.

Even at the national level we are making progress. Recently the Senate voted 79 to 18 to advance a constitutional amendment to overturn Citizens United (the court case that got rid of all campaign spending limits).  Unfortunately the Republican-dominated house killed the bill, but this was nonetheless a historic vote. I believe that we will eventually win this battle, but this is only one step in a bigger journey.

Getting private money out of elections is a big goal, but it will perhaps do more to help us solve all our other economic, social and environmental problems than anything else we can do.  And while it is not going to happen fast or be easy, there are lots of small things we can do now, on the way to achieving our ultimate goal.And the first thing we can do is elect officials, such as myself, that make a public commitment to pursue the long term goal of getting private money out of our elections.