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Editor’s note: For Hawaii’s Aug. 13 primary election, Civil Beat asked candidates to answer some questions.
The following came from Heather Kimball, a Democratic candidate for the state House, District 1, which includes Hamakua and North and South Hilo. There are two other candidates, Republican Byron Young.
Name: Heather Kimball
Office seeking: State House District 1
Community organizations/prior offices held: University of Hawaii Hilo Graduate Council; TCBES Graduate Club; Kamehameha Canoe Club, board member; KCC Kids and Novice B coach; co-founder, Take Back Lincoln Park
Age as of Aug. 13, 2016: 44
Place of residence: Papaikou, Big Island
Campaign website: www.kimball2016.com
1. This year has seen an outsized influence from people who want big changes in how government is run. What would you do to change how the Legislature is run?
I would put myself in the category of people who want to see changes in how government is run. The first issue is transparency, which I respond to in more detail in Question 4. The second issue is procedural and based on the facts that not all bills are placed on the committee agendas, and bills that have passed through committee are not always brought to a floor vote. I would propose that the all bills be voted on by the committees to which they are sent to determine if they will be placed on the committee agenda for a hearing and all bills that have been passed by the committees in both chambers be brought up for a floor vote.
Because the chairs of each committee set the agendas for their committees and those chairmanships are appointed, the power to determine which bills even make it through the door of the legislative process rest in the hands of the few. Finally, I think we need to change the conversation from short-sighted reactionary solutions to long term strategic planning with respect to land and natural resource management. This point is also discussed further in my responses below.
2. Hawaii is the only Western state without a statewide citizen’s initiative process. Do you support such a process?
More than half of the United States have some sort of citizen’s initiative. I would support a citizen’s initiative process in Hawaii as a way to get our disenfranchised communities more involved in the governance of our state. If we were to have such a process it should be coupled with a review and deliberation process, and an initiative education process. Citizen initiatives are occasionally overturned by the courts but there are several examples where the initiative process has proven to be beneficial in the states that have them. I support any activity that will help engage the citizens of our state in the legislative process.
3. Hawaii has long been dominated by the Democratic Party establishment. Should this change, and if so, how?
It is my position that Hawaii is dominated by the Democratic Party because our community values are more aligned with the Democratic platform, particularly on social issues. This should change only if the electorate wants it to change. We the people of Hawaii need to take responsibility for the government we have chosen. If we are dissatisfied with the candidates, from any party, we need to step up and support candidates from other parties. It all comes down our choice of who we vote into office. It is our responsibly to educate ourselves on the candidates, see through the noise and vote with our conscience.
4. What specific steps would you take to strengthen Hawaii’s lax lobbying, ethics and financial disclosure laws?
In recent years Hawaii’s notational ranking, as far as ethics are concerned, has improved slightly with the greater emphasis on transparency. We still only have a D+ rating for overall ethics standards and one of the lowest ratings in the country for public perception of government. So there is still a lot of room for improvement.
In particular, lobbying organizations should be required to disclose specifically how they have used their lobbying funds and their primary donors in a timely manner. Quarterly reporting is not frequent enough for transparency. We need to have stronger rules on what gifts are acceptable for lawmakers to receive and what actions constitute a conflict of interest. Lawmakers need to be trained and acknowledge publicly that they are clear on the rules.
Enforcement is also an issue because there is rarely any effort to ensure compliance unless a complaint is made and moreover there are little to no repercussions if ethics violations take place. We need better accountability and guidelines for enforcement.
5. Would you support eliminating Hawaii’s high fees for access to public records when the request is in the public interest?
In general, I would say yes but this question is rather vague. Determining which requests would fall into the “public interest” category could be difficult and warrants careful consideration.
6. Voters complain their elected officials don’t listen to them. What would you do to improve communication?
I understand this voter frustration but there are two sides to this issue. It does seem that the more time legislators spend away from their districts, particularly those from the outer islands, the more voters feel their legislators are disconnected. I would support term limits for our state representatives but I would also like to see the house term extended from two years to four so representatives can spend more time connecting with voters rather than campaigning.
On the other hand, as I have been talking to voters, I have been shocked at how few voters actually know who their current representative is. We have a highly disengaged citizenry and this needs to change. It is as much our responsibility to make sure our voices are heard as it is for the representatives to listen to us. We need to be teaching civics to our children and educating ourselves on the process and players in our state’s government. We need to participate by seeking out our legislators and submitting testimony, and if our elected officials don’t listen – it is up to us to vote for someone who will.
7. What do you see as the most pressing issue facing your district? What will you do about it?
The most pressing issue facing our district is how to move forward after the departure of the cane industry. Even after all this time we are still struggling with how to develop and move forward in a way that makes our community resilient and sustainable. We have a number of challenges stemming from changes to our economy, demographics and climate. We need to address these issues with a strategic, focused, long-term approach.
My website has a number of specific objectives with respect to our path forward as a district but at the heart of it is reconnecting our community with each other and the land. We need to address our dependence on imported fossil fuels, support local diversified agriculture and business, and balance that with protecting and restoring our natural resources. We need to provide educational opportunities for our children not just in the schools but in the forests and the fields. We need to protect and embrace the positive elements of our cultural history while allowing for the integration of emerging technology and an increasingly connected world.
8. 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?
It is erroneous to think that development and protecting resources are inherently at odds. The truth is that we can have both if we are careful and thoughtful with our approach. The problem with thinking that we can’t have one without sacrificing the other is that we find ourselves responding to crisis with piecemeal, short-sighted solutions. We must acknowledge that development is going to happen, and we must also acknowledge that we surrender our future if we allow development to happen in a way that does not protect our resources.
The current impasse we seem to have over balancing development and natural resource management is the main reason I am running for public office. We need to bring longer-term, strategic thinking to our land management decisions. I have spent the last three years examining how large scale land management decisions are made. My perspective is that we need to move away from a reactionary position to a preemptive position that keeps development and natural resource protection in balance. With emerging technologies there are opportunities to allow for development that may actually serve to better protect our natural resources.
9. What should the Legislature do to improve police accountability?
In my community on the Big Island most of us know our local police officers. Several of them are my friends and I know them to be conscientious and genuinely concerned about the safety of our community. In House District 1 the primary concerns of the residents with respect to the police force are response times and the failure to deal with the recurrent drug and petty theft problems. We have systematic issues that we need to address which include increasing the number of officers in our district, support the drug court and rehabilitation programs, and providing domestic violence counseling services.
That said, our police officers are public servants and they should be accountable to the citizenry. Police commissions should be given more authority to investigate claims of misconduct and I also support the establishment of a law enforcement standards board, training and certification.
10. Hawaii is the fastest-aging state. What would you do to ensure we’re taking care of our kupuna?
The most important things we can do for seniors is ensure that Social Security remains solvent and maintain access to quality health care through Medicare and Medicaid. While Social Security and Medicare are managed at the federal level there are actions we can take locally to ensure that our seniors’ needs are addressed. We need to continue to recruit qualified medical professionals to Hawaii and make our state a desirable place to set up their practices. We need to continue to support affordable senior housing facilities. We also need to provide low cost legal services to seniors to make sure they can provide for their families and control their own long-term care decisions. Finally, I think we need ambitious revisions at the county level to our property tax code so that our parents and grandparents are not taxed out of their childhood homes as the property values around them increase.
11. What would you do to improve Hawaii’s public education system?
My parents were both teachers. Growing up I developed the utmost respect for people who chose to go into teaching as a profession. I am also a parent and have put two children through our public school system and have two more that are in public school now. I am grateful to the excellent teachers my children have had the opportunity to learn from in our school system.
First and foremost, I think we need to pay teachers more. This has been shown the world over to improve educational outcomes. Our children are our future and we should honor the people who educate them with our full support. We need to give teachers more flexibility in developing curriculum and we need to expand that curriculum beyond the assessment-based strategy that is currently in place.
Our state is desperate for qualified people in the trades. This is because we have removed most of the trade-based training from our schools. We need to work with local industry to bring back trade-based study, such as carpentry, agriculture and automotive training, to our schools with teachers qualified to guide students in these subjects.