Editor’s note: For Hawaii’s Aug. 13 primary election, Civil Beat asked candidates to answer some questions.
The following came from Tiare Lawrence, a Democratic candidate for the state House, District 12, which includes the Maui County communities of Sprecklesville, Pukalani, Makawao, Kula, Keokea, Ulupalakua, Kahului. There is one other candidate, her primary opponent, Democrat Kyle Yamashita.
Name: Tiare Lawrence
Office seeking: State Representative, District 12
Occupation: Small business owner
Community organizations/prior offices held: Aloha Aina Project, commuity organizer; graduate of Ka ipu Kukui, 2010; selected for the initial “Maui Mavericks” program by Maui Visitors Bureau, 2015
Age as of Aug. 13, 2016: 34
Place of residence: Pukalani
Campaign website: www.votetiare.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?
The outsized influence is of corporate and special interests trying to continue control of our government, our lands, our resources and our people. I flew over to Oahu numerous times to testify for HB 2501 (A&B Water Theft Bill). Those of us from neighbor islands feel disenfranchised from state issues. I would support efforts to allow satellite testimony so people from neighbor islands have the ability to connect with our legislators and testify on important matters.
2. Hawaii is the only Western state without a statewide citizen’s initiative process. Do you support such a process?
Yes, the representative form or government allows for all of the minutiae of government to be attended to, while the rest of the people tend to their lives. However, there are issues that the people should be able to weigh in on.
3. Hawaii has long been dominated by the Democratic Party establishment. Should this change, and if so, how?
The dominance of the Democratic Party is the result of years of growth and development and presenting platforms and policies which resonate with a vast majority of the people. Unfortunately now we have too many Democrat legislators who actually operate and act like Republicans. I would like to see the Democratic Party hold members accountable to the platform. For instance in the platform it states, “Protect and preserve Hawaii’s environment.”
HB2501 was a prime example of our legislators not caring about East Maui watersheds, estuaries and stream eco-systems.
4. What specific steps would you take to strengthen Hawaii’s lax lobbying, ethics and financial disclosure laws?
I will support bills to insure full and immediate disclosure of financial or material contributions made to legislators by anyone other than individuals. I will support legislation to tighten ethics violations and to increase staff in both the auditors and ethics commissions offices so they can monitor the data they receive more closely. Since financial disclosure has been a problem, perhaps a workshop for legislators on the proper way to do financial disclosures would be helpful.
5. Would you support eliminating Hawaii’s high fees for access to public records when the request is in the public interest?
Yes. Transparency is one of the most important characteristics of good government. All records should be made available to anyone who wants to see them. In this day and age of electronic media, it should be quite easy to pull up documents, grants, contracts, etc. and review them or publish questionable decisions or policies. I support 100 percent transparency in state government and would support any legislation which would further that and oppose any legislation that would restrict the publicʻs right to know by placing unreasonable barriers to that right, including high fees.
6. Voters complain their elected officials don’t listen to them. What would you do to improve communication?
This is a major issue for me. I intend to be a representative; what that means is being in touch regularly with my constituents to find out how they feel about what their state government is doing. I intend to hold regular, accessible, public meetings. I will be available and I will show up for community meetings. I intend to utilize social media to keep in touch with my constituents and to give them a public forum to air their views and debate important matters.
7. What do you see as the most pressing issue facing your district? What will you do about it?
For the Maui community to thrive, we need to create ways for our small business owners, farmers, and working families to keep up with the rising cost of living. We can do this by creating opportunities for smart, steady growth. When we take steps forward with economic progress in mind, we must also consider the impacts of that growth on our island’s precious and limited natural resources and on future generations.
I have been advocating for a thriving, diversified agricultural community in our beautiful Upcountry lands. Our rich soil can sustain us, and can generate a strong local industry that feeds our people and stewards our precious resources responsibly.
Our residents need access to solid jobs that create a positive impact on our island, while providing a living wage at the same time. I will be a strong advocate for legislation that supports the working people of Maui, keeping in mind that we can all “do well by doing good.”
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?
Ninety percent of our native ecosystems have been destroyed or removed, and if you speak to conservation experts, they will tell you that we are considered to be the world’s epicenter of species extinction. It is time to wake up, before all of Hawaii’s original species – which are inextricably entwined in the Hawaiian culture – are gone forever. We must learn to look at nature as part of us, not as something for us to exploit for economic gain. Without it, we are nothing.
The ecosystem on Maui is fragile: the species that have evolved here are not equipped to fight the impacts of humans. For example, a new invasive species arrives here once every 18 days, often due to the fact that we import 90% of our food. Our native flora and fauna are defenseless, and we spend a great deal of money, resources, and time combatting our invasive species problem.
Development close to the ocean and important watersheds is resulting in run-off, irreversible reef damage, and water pollution. Development is important, but the environment is essential. Consideration for and preservation of the environment must come first.
9. What should the Legislature do to improve police accountability?
Over the past two sessions there have been numerous bills to improve police accountability. These bills have died ignominious deaths. The process by which a bill gets to the floor of the House is fraught with many roadblocks. Chairs of committees have the ability to kill or push a bill forward. That isnʻt going to change. However, public pressure on chairs to release bills can be effective, especially, from that chairʻs constituents. I support bills to equip police with body cameras, a statewide set of minimum training standards and the elimination of the public records law exemption for disciplined county police officers.
10. Hawaii is the fastest-aging state. What would you do to ensure we’re taking care of our kupuna?
Of the 21 bills introduced by the Kupuna Caucus of the Democratic Party only one passed. This is unacceptable. The Kupuna Caucus is the stateʻs most in touch politically active kupuna, and their legislation needs to be looked at more seriously.
Specifically, HB 1877 appropriated funds to the Department of Human Services to create one full-time program specialist position for Maui County within the adult protective and community services branch to oversee the foster grandparent program and senior companion programs on Maui, Molokai and and Lanai. HB 1876 requires the Department of Health to require dementia training for caregivers. Requires the department to establish training criteria and annual review the training program. These died in committee. We have to do better for our kupuna.
11. What would you do to improve Hawaii’s public education system?
Investing in our teachers and schools is an investment in our future as a community Our education system in Hawaii is nothing without our teachers, and unfortunately around 55 percent of new-arriving teachers in Hawaii leave the district within their first five years on the job. Conditions have become increasingly harder for our teachers over time: we expect more from them as educational standards become stricter and more student assessments are required, and in the meantime, we don’t pay our teachers nearly enough in a place that is known as the most expensive state in the U.S. This is not a recipe for success by any stretch of the imagination, and we need to generously support the people who dedicate their careers and their lives to our children.
We must ensure all students access to quality education, regardless of their household income, or what district their school falls in. Educational spending on our children is a form of a human capital investment that will yield a return in the form of higher quality of life in the future.