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

The following came from Richard Onishi, Democratic candidate for state representative for District 3. Libertarian Fred Fogel is also running.

District 3 covers HiloKeaauKurtistown and Puna on the Big Island.

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

Name: Richard Onishi

Office: State Representative District 3

Party: Democrat

Profession: Computer analyst

Education: Bachelor’s in Business Administration

Age: 60

Community organizations: Hawaii Island Adult Care (director and vice president of External Affairs); Hawai`i County Employees Federal Credit Union (director); Honpa Hongwanji Hilo Betsuin (president); Honpa Hongwanji Mission of Hawai`i (director); Friends of Hawaii Volcanoes National Park; East Hawai`i Hiroshima Kenjin Kai; Upper Waiakea Uka Kumia; Hawai`i Community College Alumni Association; Japanese Community Association of Hawaii.

 Richard Onishi

Richard Onishi

1. Why are you running for the Hawaii Legislature?

I am running for re-election to a second term to represent the House of Representatives 3rd District, because I believe that there is still more that I can do to fulfill the vision for our 3rd District communities that I pledged to support in my initial campaign in 2012. That vision was for our communities to be: safe, healthy, economically viable, and sustainable. I feel that I have worked hard to accomplish this vision through my record of legislation introduced, issues supported, and the securing of funds for projects within the 3rd District. However, there are still more issues to address and projects that require funding. I believe that I can make it happen as the 3rd District’s state representative.

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 believe that addressing the state’s unfunded liabilities is a long-term process. I support the plan that was put into place in the 2013 biennium budget, I also support any additional funds added to the planned amount to try to reach the goal of full funding of our pension system and medical benefit funds. I believe that the plan takes into account the need to address the cost of other funding requirements as well as the funding of our long-term obligations.

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?

Homelessness is a very complicated issue that is only going to be solved through the collective efforts of everyone. I believe the most important issues that need to be addressed involve the shortage of homeless housing and affordable housing; the need for more mental health services for not only the homeless but those that have lost their jobs and/or homes; and a better system of identifying those that need help with maintaining and/or bettering their current housing situations. The Legislature has addressed some of these issues during my tenure, for example: restoring the percentage of funds going to the state’s Rental Housing Trust Fund; funding to the Department of Health to address substance abuse and mental health services; funding to the Department of Human Services for homeless prevention and rapid re-housing programs; matching funds for HUD’s Shelter Plus Care program. This is only a sampling of initiatives that have begun, however more can and should be done. I will continue to support the Legislature’s efforts to increase the partnerships between the Counties and private organizations in trying to address our homeless issues.

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

I believe that these issues are for the federal government to decide upon based on reliably verified scientific research on the affects on human health and the environment. The federal government has the systems and resources in place to evaluate the volumes of information, require the cooperation and participation of the private and public sectors, and to mandate regulations and rules that apply to all government agencies and states. Neither the state nor the counties have these systems in place or the resources necessary to fully evaluate the scientific research in this area to make the determination on these issues. The state of Hawaii is one of the smaller state economies in relation to the consumption of food and the use of pesticides and it would be difficult to mandate the private sector to comply with regulations and rules that would only apply in Hawaii. Stricter regulations may cause these private companies to decide to just not do business in Hawaii instead of having to meet more rigorous and potentially more costly regulations which would be specifically mandated only in Hawaii. Also, these decisions need to be evaluated on what the effects would be on our farmers, on our ability to produce food in Hawaii, on the cost of food, and on our ability to become more food sustainable.

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?

We need to continue to support efforts to look at the development of workforce and low-income housing in the urban core on Oahu as well as continued development in rural locations on Oahu. Increasing the funds to the state’s Rental Housing Trust Fund provides more monies to be available to develop these projects on all of the islands. As vice-chair of the House Agriculture Committee, we worked to provide funds to support irrigation systems, the development of new farmers, addressing invasive species, and farm loan and subsidy programs. We provided funds to support education programs like Future Farmers of America and 4H. Reduced requirements for farm buildings, expanded opportunities for farmers to qualify for farmer loan programs, and provided greater resources for farmer assistance through the University of Hawaii and the Department of Agriculture. We need to address the high cost of shipping goods from the mainland and between our islands. To reduce the cost for transportation between the islands, we need to re-visit the use of a ferry system between our islands and also look at more federal assistance for intrastate air travel.

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 think that liquefied natural gas is the most promising alternative to the use of oil in the near future, but my preference would be to continue to develop the use of renewable resources for the long-term benefit of reducing cost, preserving the environment, and eliminating the use of oil and natural gas for the generation of energy. There were a couple of measures I co-introduced in the 2014 session that addresses our energy issues: HB1943 – having the PUC address the modernization of the electric grid, and HB2377 – requiring the state’s Energy Resource Coordinator to develop guidelines for the PUC on energy priorities.

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?

Having worked for over 20 years at the County of Hawaii as a computer analyst and at the Real Property Tax Division, I did not experience this issue as being a significant problem with the public. There were many requests for information that needed to be provided in paper form as well as electronically, including data that required staff searches and computer processing. I believed that the costs were reasonable and I don’t recall many complaints being received about the cost. I would have to be presented with data in regards to this issue before I would be willing to support eliminating the charges.

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

Hawaii’s public school system has always been a work in progress; we are constantly striving for a better education system and I believe that our public school system is always working towards accomplishing this goal. My entire family (parents, brothers and sister, wife, children, nephews and niece) are products of our public school system and I am proud of that. I support the Department of Education’s focus on STEM education, the computerization of the classrooms, and providing a computer to every student for use with their education. I believe that there must be a system to fairly assess the effectiveness of all employees, both in the public and private sector. It should provide a process for the recognition of successful performance and to identify areas where improvement is needed. This assessment system should also include help to identify areas of training and assistance that are needed and resources should be available to help the individual. All organizations can be run more effectively. It takes better communications and collaboration between all stakeholders in our education system including administrators, teachers, staff, parents, students, volunteers, businesses, school and community organizations, higher education organizations, and our government, to accomplish better effectiveness.

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?

I believe that the State Office of Planning has to begin to address this issue statewide. A master plan should be developed that can be used by the Legislature to provide the resources necessary to fulfill the requirements of the plan. We need a clear picture of the issues, the conflicts, the desires of the communities, resources needed and available, the stakeholders and contributors, our future goals, and how decisions will be made. We need to work collaboratively with the counties, community organizations and the public on this process.

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

a. Hawai`i Health System Corporation (state hospital system) is our medical services safety net in our rural communities; it faces financial and administrative issues at the corporate level and in all five regions. State support for the system is critical to the continuation of medical care, but the question of what level of care the system is required to provide has not been fully established and has to be determined by all of the stakeholders of the system.

b. The lack of primary care family physicians is at a critical point in Hawai`i as well as across the U.S., the development of the Hilo Medical Center’s Rural Primary Care Physician Training Program is very crucial throughout the state, especially in our rural communities. This program must have continued state support to solidify and establish itself. Once the program is established, it will then be able to receive federal physician training funds.

c. The development of jobs that will retain our children and provide them with the income to establish themselves, afford a home, start a family and become contributing members of our communities. I have supported the funding of projects through the Department of Economic Development and Tourism’s programs in Space Initiatives and new technology-based business development which focuses on the development of opportunities to provide higher quality jobs that are more appealing to our younger generations.