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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 Fern Rosenstiel, a Democratic candidate for the state House, District 14, which includes the Kauai communities of Hanalei, Princeville, Kilauea, Anahola, Kapaa and Wailua. There are two other candidate, Democrat Nadine Nakamura and Republican Sandra Combs.
Name: Fern Anuenue Rosenstiel
Office seeking: State House District 14
Occupation: Environmental scientist/restaurant manager
Community organizations/prior offices held: Director, of `Ohana O Kaua`i; Kauai Young Democrats
Age as of Aug. 13, 2016: 32
Place of residence: Kapahi, Kauai
Campaign website: fernrosenstiel.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 will work to change how the Legislature is run by supporting mandatory minimum notification times for committee hearings, essentially ending the chair’s ability to waive public notice requirements. This would support increased involvement and public testimony in addition to live video testimony for neighbor island residents who cannot afford to and should not have to fly into Honolulu in order to testify. I will also support efforts to hold committees to their schedules and allocated times to respect constituents who fly in specifically to attend.
I will work to increase government transparency and public involvement in conference committee meetings, for those currently held behind closed doors. I will prioritize taking action in ways that enhance the legislatures’ accountability to the public and engage more people in the law making process.
2. Hawaii is the only Western state without a statewide citizen’s initiative process. Do you support such a process?
I absolutely support statewide citizen’s initiatives and the democratic principles of people-run government. I understand the importance of limiting corporate sponsorship and funding in this process to help keep the money and corporate interests out of it and ensure initiatives serve the best interests of the people.
3. Hawaii has long been dominated by the Democratic Party establishment. Should this change, and if so, how?
Balance of power is important in government and there is a need for diversity to ensure all people and views are considered when laws are made. I agree with the platform of the Democratic Party and I am encouraged by our values in Hawaii based in people and environment and I understand these often align with the values of the Democratic Party. However, the continued dominance of the Democratic Party in Hawaii has broadened the party and created an almost one-party system. This has resulted in a somewhat wide range of views within the party, which do not always align with the platform or core values.
The more recent increased participation of thousands of Hawaii residents aiming to remove undue corporate influence from decision-making has brought new life to the party. It seems the party is changing from within, making enormous strides to address those concerns in a democratic manner, which I find encouraging.
4. What specific steps would you take to strengthen Hawaii’s lax lobbying, ethics and financial disclosure laws?
I support strict lobbying and ethics laws, which hold our elected officials and government accountable while keeping decisions transparent. The Ethics Commission and Campaign Spending Commission have proposed legislation that would strengthen those laws, but in the past many measures have failed to pass. While I completely support personal privacy laws, when it comes to financial disclosure relating to donations for campaign funding and gifts as well as the interests public board members, these should absolutely be transparent and detailed.
We need to have a public conversation to build support among lawmakers for legislation, which curbs the frequent overlap of influence between elected officials, public board members, corporate lobbyists and the companies they represent. I support increasing publicly funded elections to reduce corporate influence in politics. We also need a more clear and responsible approach to conflicts of interest, potentially with a rules change under leadership that reflects a willingness to recuse oneself from votes, which are inappropriate based on financial and personal relationships. Right now there seems to be a large gap between what the public considers to be a conflict of interest and what the Legislature determines to be “no conflict.”
5. Would you support eliminating Hawaii’s high fees for access to public records when the request is in the public interest?
Yes, I support eliminating Hawaii’s high fees for the access of public records when it is in the public interest.
6. Voters complain their elected officials don’t listen to them. What would you do to improve communication?
To improve communication between elected officials and voters I will work to provide more transparency across the board and continue to evolve a government website and system that is user-friendly, clear and helps voters testify easily and get targeted responses that address their specific questions or concerns. I will support efforts to establish a system that facilitates online testimony for voters to testify from neighboring islands without costly travel expenses.
Personally I will work to develop a strong reputation for very transparent and clear decision-making relating to all positions I take. I will communicate regularly with my constituency and show voters in my district that I hear their concerns and act on them, developing procedural timelines in my district office to ensure those who contact me are respected and taken into consideration. I want to design well-supported solutions so that when we go into the legislative session we know what our priorities are and we work together to get them accomplished. I want to make it easier to get informed and involved by simplifying the process and empowering the people in my district and across the islands to use their voices to effect positive change.
7. What do you see as the most pressing issue facing your district? What will you do about it?
We need all-around action to address interconnected issues in our society by providing affordable housing, addressing issues with cost of living, houselessness and crime. We need to address drug abuse and addiction and move forward with establishing on-island drug rehabilitation facilities. I will tackle these tough issues head on and work tirelessly to find real solutions that create real positive change.
In addition to the interconnected social issues we must face, the single most pressing issue facing my district is traffic congestion and improved road infrastructure. I will work tirelessly to ensure funding goes ahead for the approved projects and that solutions moving forward are made with foresight and include thorough community engagement. I will work for real long-term solutions that can relieve our immediate congestion issues but also ensure that we retain our rural appeal and country lifestyle.
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?
I believe we can grow the economy and build real, lasting quality jobs for our people through appropriate environmentally conscious development, modern innovation and sustainable design while protecting and even enhancing our environment.
Specifically, I see major opportunities to expand food production agriculture and create jobs and industries, based around protecting our limited environmental resources and enhancing our sustainability. I support local entrepreneurs and homegrown small businesses working to protect the environment and produce local products, boosting the local economy and plugging the holes that send money out of state. We currently import over 90 percent of our food, but we have multiple growing seasons per year and tremendous opportunity to sustain ourselves and provide viable growth opportunities to all our working generations.
It is important to diversify our industries for the sake of financial resilience and to balance the demands on our environment and public resources that often accompany industries with larger footprints.
9. What should the Legislature do to improve police accountability?
The Legislature can support independent outside review commissions that are managed by the judicial branch to provide oversight and improve police accountability. I also support the use of body cameras for on-duty officers throughout the state and appreciate Kauai Police Department leadership for initiating this in our county. I believe in the importance of community-style policing and focusing on building relationships between law enforcement and the community.
10. Hawaii is the fastest-aging state. What would you do to ensure we’re taking care of our kupuna?
Caring for our kupuna is one of our core values here in Hawaii and a responsibility I take seriously. I will support the empowerment of Hawaii’s elderly and work to ensure access to quality medicare, medicaid, affordable housing and services wherever possible.
I will not support efforts to tax pensions. I do support caregiver training and financing programs and funding for aging and disability resource centers statewide. I also support ensuring appropriations are made for respite care so that families can get support when they need it.
11. What would you do to improve Hawaii’s public education system?
To improve Hawaii public education I will support increasing funds going into the public education system, increased teacher wages and filling teacher vacancies as a top priority. I support reducing class sizes and oppose the over-testing of students. I understand the importance of play and hands-on activities (especially in younger years) and will work to support learning flexibility for teachers and students. Comfort of students and teachers in the classroom is a priority for an effective learning environment and I support responsible efforts to provide air conditioning and appropriate infrastructure for our schools.