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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 Dennis Miller, a Democratic candidate for state House District 22, which includes Waikiki and Ala Moana. There are three other candidates, including his Democratic primary opponents, Nicola Perez-Garreaud and Tom Brower, and Republican Kathryn Henski.
Name: Dennis B. Miller
Office seeking: House of Representatives, District 22
Occupation: Day spa owner
Age as of Aug. 13, 2016: 48
Place of residence: Honolulu
Campaign website: www.democracyinhawaii.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?
Health care is one of the largest statewide problems we face.
Solving that problem can unite all of us: We need to create a cost-cutting, access-increasing Universal Single Payer health care plan, similar to www.coloradocare.org. Homelessness and low-income issues create a spiral of out of control costs and problems. We can end most of that by raising our minimum wage to $18 per hour. We will need to help businesses to adapt by lowering their health care costs. Businesses can also cut their workers’ compensation and temporary disability insurance payments in half, and pay that half of their current WC and TDI directly to the state’s new health care plan, which eliminates both all private insurance, and private WC and TDI policies. The savings for the state from no longer needing to provide nearly as much low income assistance, or paying the many high costs associated with 8,000 homeless, can also be used to decrease payroll taxes.
On a related topic, we need to restore a wider variety of owners for our media. If we have several different owners for our TV stations, and at least two newspapers, the information the public bases their understanding of our government on will improve.
2. Hawaii is the only Western state without a statewide citizen’s initiative process. Do you support such a process?
I’m very much in favor of this. Power to the people! With a citizen’s initiative, I’m sure we could ban Roundup, stop air-spraying pesticides on Kauai, and get solar on every rooftop, and take the steps necessary to stop importing 90 percent of our food; we can and should incentivize local farmers.
3. Hawaii has long been dominated by the Democratic Party establishment. Should this change, and if so, how?
Maybe. I believe that we must invest in democracy. We need to pay for our election process, such as, the people who count ballots should not be volunteers. People should be getting paid to provide vital election services. Hawaii has a seriously low voter turnout. We need to invest in turning that around, by showing people that their participation matters. Doing this might expand the influence of other political parties, depending on how good of a job the Hawaii Democratic party is doing.
4. What specific steps would you take to strengthen Hawaii’s lax lobbying, ethics and financial disclosure laws?
I believe in 100 percent transparency. There isn’t a single reason why any individual, interest group, or business needs to conceal their intentions when lobbying elected officials. We need to pass laws which reveal the daily work schedule of all elected officials. Who we met with, and for how long. The official needs to enter an official description, short, but an official publicly viewable description of each meeting. Each official needs their own “daily work” website, on which they can blog about how well they are working hard to earn their pay.
5. Would you support eliminating Hawaii’s high fees for access to public records when the request is in the public interest?
Access to public records should be free. It is wildly absurd that the state cannot or doesn’t want to make all records easily available for the many people who want to research every conceivable issue. Yes, this will require a few extra jobs; providing all this info will take someone to find and provide.
6. Voters complain their elected officials don’t listen to them. What would you do to improve communication?
Please see question number 4. Additionally, elected officials should be required to, at least once per month, offer a public “town hall” where they field questions. On their websites, these new, “daily work” websites, anyone can submit a comment or a question, which allows for a dialogue to develop.
7. What do you see as the most pressing issue facing your district? What will you do about it?
Homelessness and beach erosion.
We can change the paradigm of our economic system by replacing low income assistance with a living wage. We must help businesses to do so. This will solve a large portion of the homeless situation. For the rest, we simply have to provide homes. We cannot leave people outdoors. Tent cities are inadequate. Military style barracks with bunk beds would be an improvement for many able bodied homeless, as they transition into being able to pay their own rent. For people who need substance abuse treatment, or live in mental health care, we must pay for it. It is not too expensive. Here is what is too expensive: paying all the police costs and justice system costs and emergency room care, and costs of damages to people and businesses from petty crimes.
Beach erosion is a major problem. Hawaii cannot afford to lose Waikiki Beach, but the ocean is eating it up. We need to raise the hotel room tax from 9.75 percent to 12 percent and the home vacation rental tax to 15 percent to help pay for restoring Waikiki Beach in particular, and other infrastructure needs in general.Tourists need a clean, safe city to visit, so someone has to pay for that.
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?
We have to impose a significant property tax on non-resident owners. Non-resident owners can either pay a 15 percent increase in their property tax, or decline to own property in Hawaii. Either state revenue will increase, or our inflated home prices will drop. However, for those who actually like to live here part time, we could make a sliding scale, depending on whether the housing is closer to the luxury side, or the affordable side. There are a lot of “snow birds” who enjoy having a home in Hawaii but only for a third or half a year. Even if they don’t file taxes here, we should respect those who do reside here at least 90 days a year.
On another note, we need to understand the exact capacity of our water table. Development cannot be allowed to come close to requiring more fresh water than we have. That needs to be a limiting factor.
9. What should the Legislature do to improve police accountability?
Accusations of police crime need to be investigated by a third party.
No one can reasonably be allowed to investigate themselves. We also need to invest in lengthier training for police officers.
10. Hawaii is the fastest-aging state. What would you do to ensure we’re taking care of our kupuna?
Rent control for people over 65. As a society, we need to take care of our elderly. We’ll all get there; lets start to make it a nicer process now, before we arrive and find small comfort. Another benefit of a state-based single payer health care system is that employers are not on the hook for higher insurance rates for older employees. Workers compensation claims also represent an increased risk of financial liability for employers of seniors. Single payer takes those financial risks away from employers, which helps seniors to get and keep jobs.
11. What would you do to improve Hawaii’s public education system?
We need to abandon the notion that a public school can fail. Charter schools are not the solution for horrible public schools. Fixing the horrible public school is the solution. Lets “leave no school” behind. Here is how: A classroom has the potential to succeed if one teacher has 10 students. The ratio of one teacher to 30 students doesn’t work. Let’s stop doing what doesn’t work, and start doing what will work.
Let’s work to achieve one teacher for 10 students. We can pay for that if we do something that needs to be done: Recreational marijuana needs to be legalized and regulated just like alcohol, because, just like alcohol, it should never have been criminalized. Legalizing recreational marijuana, and taxing it will produce significant tax revenue. Potentially, we could even export it to seven other nations that have legalized medical marijuana. This new revenue may not immediately provide a teacher-tripling budget, but it brings us closer.
If our schools become a place for healthy, structured learning in a socially positive and safe environment, our entire society will shift in a more positive direction.