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

The following came from Roz Baker, Democratic candidate for state senator for District 6. Republican Jared Dubois, who did not respond to the questionnaire, and Libertarian Bronson Kekahuna Kaahui  are also running.

District 6 includes South and West Maui.

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

Name: Roz Baker

Office: State Senator, District 6

Party: Democrat

Profession: State legislator

Education: Graduate of public and state schools El Campo High School (Texas), 1964; Southwest Texas State University (now Texas State University, San Marcos), Bachelor of Arts in Political Science and Speech; teaching certificate in secondary education, 1964-68; University of Southwestern Louisiana (now University of Louisiana, Lafayette), Graduate studies in political science, 1968-69

Age: 67

Community organizations: American Cancer Society, Hawaii-Pacific immediate past Chair of Board; West Maui Relay for Life volunteer; Maui Economic Development Board of Directors; Rotary Club of Lahaina Sunrise, past president; member, West Maui Domestic Violence Task Force; Women Helping Women Maui Children & Youth Day, co-chair;, co-founder, Volunteer for Plantation Days; frequent member of area school inspection teams before program was discontinued by DOE.

State Sen. Roz Baker 2014

Roz Baker

1. Why are you running for the Hawaii Legislature?

For the past 12 years, it has been my privilege to represent the people of south and West Maui as state senator. I’ve worked hard to stay connected to the community while being accessible to all. The experience has allowed me to meet all kinds of people, find out what really matters to residents and create important laws to protect consumers, improve health care, preserve the environment and upgrade critical infrastructure across the state. I want to continue championing issues that affect average folks — equal rights, women’s rights, services for kupuna, living wage jobs and decent housing. This past term, I helped pass landmark legislation to raise the minimum wage in Hawaii, provide marriage rights for all couples, and ensure greater protection for victims of domestic violence. I will continue to fight for the underserved and for those who have little or no voice.

My top priorities include finding ways to grow our economy, as well as to encourage diverse and green businesses. Our beautiful islands are very important to us all and I want to ensure that we are on a path of stewardship and sustainability — from preserving coastal landmarks and preventing invasive species to promoting clean energy. Educating our students for 21st century careers, particularly in S.T.E.M. and the health care fields is also at the top of my list. These skill sets will be key to meeting Hawaii’s future needs and helping the next generation get quality, higher paying jobs. On a personal level, I also want to make sure construction of the much-needed high school in Kihei stays on track and gets completed. That’s what I pledged to our community over a decade ago when I initiated a bill for funding – and despite tough economic roadblocks, it will be an honor to finally deliver.

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?

Yes, I believe the Legislature set the Employees’ Retirement System (ERS) and the Health Fund (EUTF) on a prudent, achievable path toward self-sufficiency. While other states were still grappling with how to reduce long-term unfunded liability, we were able to tackle these matters and reform the system going forward.

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?

This is a complicated issue. At a basic level, our communities do need more housing — not vacation rentals, or high-end condominiums — but a variety of housing that ordinary folks can afford, including more Hawaiian Homelands housing. We need more rentals, fee simple, multi-family, Single Resident Occupancy (SRO) units — shelters that are clean, safe and functional. Providing more housing requires a comprehensive approach between state and local jurisdictions. However, the process from permits to actual construction often takes too long. Add to that all the requirements developers must include and housing that started out as affordable does not end up that way by market time. There are a number of programs that the 2014 Legislature funded to help provide additional rental units. HHFDC must now move expeditiously to approve developers for construction of new rental housing. At the same time, local and state authorities need to streamline permitting and other processes to put housing at the top of the list.

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

I am not against requiring federal labeling of food containing genetically modified organisms (GMO). As chair of Senate Commerce & Consumer Protection Committee, I recognize that consumers want to know what their food contains and make their own decisions. I read labels myself, looking for sodium, calories, saturated fats and items that can cause allergic reactions. However, the GMO labeling issue is complex, requiring scientific consensus of all applicable factors, as well as more study of overall effects and ramifications. So, while I agree in principle with Congresswoman Tulsi Gabbard’s GMO labeling bill, I feel this is a matter for the U.S. Congress and the Federal FDA, not the state, to research and regulate, if appropriate. There are some matters that require uniformity in the law so that smaller populations are not disadvantaged. GMO labeling and pesticide regulation as well, are issues where government actions need to be standardized and clearly understood by all before impacting the community-at-large.

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 no short-term fixes but I strongly believe Hawaii’s Clean Energy Initiative is a key one. The state’s goal of meeting 70 percent clean energy by 2030 is well under way with the strong support of government, private/public organizations and the community. Along with reducing our islands’ dependency on fossil fuels and increasing efficiency and renewable energy measures, the plan will significantly reduce our transportation costs and lower household expenses. The sustainable energy policy will also help diversify the economy by growing new and existing businesses in green technology and sustainability, creating more jobs and income for Hawaii families in the immediate and long-term future.

 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?

Although Hawaii has been making great strides in going green, not enough renewable energy and SmartGrid improvements are in place yet to reduce ratepayers’ bills. Here’s what I think we need to do, going forward. We need to accelerate adoption of some of these items:

▪ Utilize cheaper, cleaner liquefied natural gas (LNG) as transition fuel for power generation

▪  Aggressively pursue utility scale wind and solar projects so everyone benefits, not just those who can afford rooftop solar

▪  Modernize individual island electric grids; smart grids allow greater use of solar and wind power

▪  Fully implement Act 37 (which I authored in 2013) to require utility efficiencies and savings be passed on to ratepayers

▪  Democratize use of PV by aggressively implementing the GEMS (Green Energy Market Securitization) programs for community solar enabling renters and nonprofits to take advantage of rooftop solar. 
 As Commerce and Consumer Protection chair, I’m proud we gave the PUC more tools to implement our green energy initiatives. The PUC must now streamline tits processes to better direct utility transformation from power generator to power distributor and reduce rates. Its recent orders indicate they are up to the task. The timeline in the utilities’ responses needs to be accelerated.

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?

Our open records law is important to transparency and accountability in government. However, there is a cost incurred to search records, especially those not electronically stored and to ensure any information that must be redacted is redacted properly. As we move to more electronic records, the costs of search time should decrease. However, I would be more inclined to reduce copying fees or make a minimum quantity free than reducing search and redaction fees. Time spent in searching/redacting is time that is not available to accomplish other work of the agency. In the future, it is my hope that more records can be posted online with sensitive information easily redacted and in a searchable database so that extensive staff time is reduced. Security, of course, would be paramount to ensure that records cannot be hacked or otherwise compromised.

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

While it is easy to lay blame about test scores or what’s wrong with our schools, I prefer to focus on the positives. Local youth are as bright and as talented as anyone born on the mainland. Although they may not share the same culture, backgrounds or experiences, they compete and win national scholarships, go to prestigious colleges or become proficient in a much needed trades or vocations. They become productive, contributing members of our community. We need to help our youth aspire to their full potential. Parents and community members should look for ways to partner with school administrators and teachers. For instance, my Rotary Club of Lahaina Sunrise is currently participating in a program of mock interviews for students at Lahainaluna High School to better prepare them for scholarship and job interviews. The results have been phenomenal. We also sponsor an after-school tutor program for elementary and middle school students who need a little extra help because language or other barriers have caused them to slip behind their peers. These programs, outside of the regular school hours, make a huge difference for these students. They also engage parents and motivate all of our students to succeed. It really does take a village to educate and inspire our youth.

Although money doesn’t solve all problems, the solutions to issues facing our schools do cost money – for new technology, transportation, highly qualified teachers, updating older schools ill-equipped for the 21st century — the list goes on. I don’t believe we adequately fund our schools and want to see our processes streamlined, accountable and collaborative so the funds can be efficiently and effectively used. I’ve never been a fan of “No Child Left Behind” because ironically, it has left thousands behind and students and teachers, demoralized. With a standardized curriculum and core standards adopted, our students will have a better opportunity to graduate with the core skill sets that will allow them to succeed in life. It is important that Hawai`i schools continue to strive for excellence, evaluate their performance and institute measures that will help teachers teach more effectively. When educators are student-focused, they can engage young minds to learn even in the midst of administrative challenges beyond their control.

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?

New developments need to be vetted with an eye to answering the question, “what can you add to the community?” I would ask if developments fit with in the community plan, address a community need, advance state/county clean energy goals and provide long-term quality. If the project is a commercial venture, I would look at how it would increase living wage jobs or advance the community’s quality of life. Granted, these are subjective criteria but there must be a community-wide dialogue on major projects that could have harmful environmental impacts. There may also be a need to enforce laws that are already on the books. New laws may not be required.

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

This is a really important election with many county charter and constitutional amendments on the ballot in addition to critical federal, state and local offices at stake. I’m concerned that too many eligible voters do not exercise their right. Voting is the most fundamental, but also the most important way to participate in our government. Fortunately, the process today is more stress-free than ever. You can request an absentee ballot mailed to you so you can vote at their convenience. You can also vote early when walk-in polling places open. Or take a friend with you to the polls on Election Day Nov. 4. Polls open at 7 a.m. and close at 6 p.m. I urge everyone to take time to vote in the general election. Mahalo!