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

The following came from Gregg Takayama, Democratic candidate  for state representative for District 34. Republican Jaci Agustin, who did not respond to the questionnaire, is also running.

District 34 includes Pearl CityWaimalu and Pacific Palisades.

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

Name: Gregg Takayama

Office: State House District 34

Party: Democrat

Profession: Full-time legislator

Education: Public schools and UH Manoa, Bachelor of Arts in Journalism.

Year of Birth: 1952

Community organizations: Member and former director of the Pearl City Community Association; former Director of the Pearl City Foundation.

Gregg Takayama, candidate House District 34, 2014

Gregg Takayama

1. Why are you running for the Hawaii Legislature?

I love my community. Pearl City is a wonderful place for families to raise their children, for elders to age in comfort, and for businesses to thrive. I know the needs of our community and want to serve as its strongest advocate in the Legislature – to improve schools, improve senior care, create new jobs, and much more.

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?

Hawaii has already enacted a long-range plan to meet its long-term obligation to fund our state retirees’ pension and health fund liability. We’re the first state to do so.  It commits the state to regular contributions to reduce our unfunded liabilities and also changes the benefits provided to future retirees.  We need to remain on-course and carry out the plan.

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?

I’ve never experienced homelessness and hope I never will, but all families are only three missed paychecks away from losing their homes.

To help families who are homeless or at risk of losing their homes, we must build more low-cost rental housing.  The 2014 Legislature helped by nearly doubling funds (to $33 million) for the Rental Housing Trust Fund, which partners with private builders to build subsidized housing.

To help get people off the street, we need to support the Housing First initiative to provide emergency shelter while offering referral services for mental illness, addiction, job training and other social services.

We should maintain support for our State homeless shelters and veterans outreach program, to help individuals and families get back on their feet while they save money to move into subsidized or emergency housing units.

I support helping pay return travel costs for persons who moved here from the Mainland in the mistaken belief that they could afford to live here, have exhausted their resources, and now wish to return home.

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

I support legislation to help products voluntarily label themselves as “non-GMO” or “GMO-free” so that consumers can have more information on the food they buy, in the same way that we know which products are “salt-free”, “sugar-free”, “gluten-free” or “non-fat”.  This would entail no added cost nor require added government bureaucracy.

Alternatively, our U.S. Congress should consider federal legislation to standardize labeling nationally, so that Hawaii’s farmers, retailers and consumers are not singled out for added costs.

It’s important to recognize that there is no valid scientific evidence that genetically modified food is harmful or substantially different from naturally grown food – that’s the findings of trusted groups such as the American Medical Association and the National Institutes of Health.

Many complaints about GMO farming relate to pesticide use.  The Legislature increased funding for State health officers to properly enforce laws and regulations on pesticide use.

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 is no single “magic bullet” to solving Hawaii’s high cost of living but there are several approaches we need to undertake.

Housing – we need to build more housing at all price levels to meet the huge demand that drives prices up.  It’s important that planning for developments around rail transit stations include housing for working families, young people, and senior citizens.

Food – we should increase the amount of arable, irrigated land for farming, and make start-up loans available to small farm operations.  We import more than 90% of our food – increased local production would provide food security and fresher produce.

Transportation – we need to reduce our reliance on gasoline-powered vehicles, which is costly form of transit when considering fuel, insurance, taxes, and environmental impact.  We must do more to encourage alternative transportation such as walking, biking, and rail.  Building more high-density housing in the urban core close to workplaces will also reduce our reliance on motor vehicles.

6. Would you support using liquified 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? 

We should base our decision on using liquefied natural gas on the results of a study comparing its merits and long-term costs, which is now being conducted by the State. There may be alternatives that should be explored, such as methane, that provide the cost advantages of LNG without the need for expensive infrastructure modifications.

Many residents are unfairly denied access to solar photovoltaic systems because of delays by the Hawaiian Electric Co. in modernizing its distribution system.  The Public Utilities Commission (PUC) needs to strongly push HECO to accelerate its grid modernization, and the Legislature this session has increased the PUC’s staff resources to enable it to do so.

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?

As a former journalist, I recognize the importance of the open records law to provide access to information that benefits the public.  Transparency is important to ensuring trust in government.  When officials and agencies act in secrecy or attempt to conceal information, they lose the public trust.  Publicized cases of wasteful spending and investigative delays and cover-ups have led to government changes and reforms.

I believe public records should definitely be available at reasonable cost.  Modern technology should reduce the need and cost of copying by making information available electronically.  We should consider a state law modeled after the federal law, which entitles news reporters to an automatic waiver of all search fees and the first 100 pages of copying fees.

The public’s right to know would also be strengthened by enactment of the news reporter shield law, which protects news reporters from lawsuits to punish or intimidate their reporting on controversial issues.  Unfortunately, Hawaii’s model law in this area was not renewed in 2013 because a measure I authored failed to pass, due to opposition from the State administration and some key lawmakers.  If I am re-elected, I will renew my efforts in this area.

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

As a proud product of public schools, I strongly support giving more resources to our education system.  But we should not waste money on an overly large administration that is unnecessarily bureaurcratic.

The most frequent complaint from teachers and principals is about the top-down management style of the Department of Education, which does not allow or encourage flexibility at the individual school level.  Good schools respond to community needs and priorities, and these can differ throughout our Islands.  We need to allow for schools to develop programs and teaching methods that take into account these differences.

Teachers and administrators should be evaluated, just as other public employees, but the evaluation process needs to be fair, less time-consuming, and aimed at improving performance rather than achieving conformity.

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?

Our environment needs protection, not only from over-development, but also from invasive species, chemical pollution, and over-use.

When considering proposed new developments, I think it is important to listen to all points of view before acting in the best interests of our community and State.

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

Public trust in government erodes when officials ignore our citizens or serve special interests instead of public interests.   I believe it’s important to listen to others – which I’ve done as a journalist for years – and act on their concerns – which my experience in state and federal government has helped me do.

In the past two years I’ve listened and responded to Pearl City problems by obtaining $1 million in this year’s budget to remove hazardous trees from private property, authoring a law to require the Health Department to respond to citizens’ complaints about filth created by overfeeding feral birds, and helping double state funds to enable seniors to age independently in their homes.  Other people throughout Hawaii benefit from these measures, too.

I’m proud of my freshman record in the Legislature and I hope voters will give me the opportunity to do more in the years ahead.