Editor’s note: For Hawaii’s Nov. 8 general election, Civil Beat asked candidates to answer some questions.
The following came from Tom Brower, a Democratic candidate for state House District 22, which includes Waikiki and Ala Moana. There is one other candidate, Republican Kathryn Henski.
Name: Tom Brower
Office seeking: State House District 22
Occupation: Full-time legislator
Community organizations/prior offices held: Waikiki Neighborhood Board, Waikiki Residents Association
Age as of Aug. 13, 2016: 51
Place of residence: Waikiki
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 Legislature regularly receives feedback from the public; this year is no different. Additionally, it is the nature of politics/democracy that not all people can be pleased all the time. For example, when an issue does not go the way a person wants it to, they say the system is “corrupt.” I too don’t always agree with how our government works.
I am willing to support reasonable efforts to make government more efficient and responsive to their concerns.
2. Hawaii is the only Western state without a statewide citizen’s initiative process. Do you support such a process?
Yes. The citizens’ initiative process is meant to address the problem of government action/inaction that does not reflect the majority of the people’s will. Twenty-four states and the District of Columbia have it. I hope that it will encourage more people to participate in the legislative process and take part in shaping our future.
3. Hawaii has long been dominated by the Democratic Party establishment. Should this change, and if so, how?
That is up to the voters, their willingness to participate in the process.
While some issues may be labeled “Republican” or “Democrat,” many state/community issues are non-partisan and require collaboration across parties and city-state jurisdiction to be solved, such as homelessness and affordable housing. Personally, I do not get caught up in political pettiness or be overly partisan.
If the Democratic Party seems to have more influence in government, it may be because the majority of Hawaii voters feel that Democrats best represent their views, and vote them into office. It’s important to remember that members of the Democratic Party do not always agree on every issue (such as GMO labeling, same-sex marriage and the TMT telescope).
Lastly, the Democratic Party establishment does change. The 2014 gubernatorial election (Ige vs. Abercrombie) and 2014 U.S. Senate election (Schatz vs. Hanabusa) demonstrate that. And it can happen again, if that is the will of the people.
4. What specific steps would you take to strengthen Hawaii’s lax lobbying, ethics and financial disclosure laws?
I am willing to support reasonable efforts to strengthen Hawaii’s lobbying, ethics and financial disclosure laws if that would help regain public trust in the institution as a whole.
However, it’s worth noting that it is impossible to legislate every ethical dilemma an elected official may face. I believe that elected officials have a personal responsibility to be ethical. Part of growing as a legislator is developing your own moral compass and understanding that bad decisions can lead to personal consequences, which include political ruin.
5. Would you support eliminating Hawaii’s high fees for access to public records when the request is in the public interest?
Yes. “Reasonable” requests for public records should be available and inexpensive to access, especially when it serves the public. (There needs to be clear criteria defining what’s “reasonable.”) There are records that may be more sensitive, requiring government to redact certain (confidential) information, costing time and money. I don’t necessarily agree with this, but I understand the reasoning for it.
From the media, I have learned of cases where the cost and time seem overly excessive, causing one to wonder if these are tactics are meant to block access to the requested information. This may be difficult to prove, but suggests the need for caps on costs.
I think that part of the reason some information is difficult to access is less malevolent: They have antiquated systems for record keeping that make procuring information difficult. We really need to move into the 21st century, away from paper and filing cabinets and into cloud storage. As government modernizes itself, hopefully we can see some improvements in this area.
6. Voters complain their elected officials don’t listen to them. What would you do to improve communication?
I experience many of the same community and government challenges faced by area residents and strive to be accessible: I extensively walk my district to see what is going on and investigate specific areas of concern. When possible, I personally follow up with constituents directly. I have been attending neighborhood board meetings for 18 years.
In recent years, I have started polling my constituents to get input from a wider range of people. I share the results — often with direct quotes — so that they can understand their neighbors’ differing viewpoints and better appreciate my attempts to best represent them.
(I noticed I have a strong presence on social media, even though I don’t have an account. I always read what people say and use it to improve.)
7. What do you see as the most pressing issue facing your district? What will you do about it?
Homelessness is the top public health and safety concern in my district. I have received numerous complaints about homeless individuals preventing usage of and trashing public beach parks, sidewalks, bus stops and even a traffic island; begging passersby for money, sometimes aggressively; fighting; using drugs; urinating/defecating in public; theft, vandalism and other related concerns. Groups of homeless monopolize public space and discourage people from visiting once-treasured areas. Many homeless refuse shelters, and it is not “compassionate” to allow them to stay on the streets.
We need realistic solutions that include both compassionate and “tough love” strategies working simultaneously. Since 2010, I have been advocating for safe zones — government designated areas for the homeless to camp — as a temporary, cost-effective solution until long-term alternatives (like affordable housing) are implemented. Otherwise, there will continue to be illegal camping everywhere.
I also strongly support expanding Housing First (for the chronic homeless), making public restrooms available 24/7 and creating a vagrancy law to protect the public’s immediate health and safety.
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 support stimulating our economy and increasing our housing inventory, but I also support protecting the environment and preserving my community, which seems to be seeing much of the new development. Public input and compromise are the best ways to maintain this balance.
Many residents understand that, realistically, we cannot stop development but we want the chance to influence the type or direction. There should be regular meetings to allow the community to provide input as new information becomes available.
Though the crux of planning for development projects occur on the city side, when issues pop up at the Legislature, I have tried to be supportive as long as they are reasonable, do not circumvent environmental assessments and encourage development to be more responsive to community concerns. (In 2011, I was the only House member to oppose the creation of the Public Land Development Corp.)
I also support expanding green, tourism and technology industries in Hawaii. These are sustainable ways we can diversify and grow our economy as we prepare for our future.
9. What should the Legislature do to improve police accountability?
As the son of a retired police officer, I respect their work and willingness to put their lives on the line to uphold public safety. It seems lately the police department is being punished for the actions of a few individuals. I support HPD’s efforts to address these matters internally. Should they require legislation, I am happy to learn about it and support it.
10. Hawaii is the fastest-aging state. What would you do to ensure we’re taking care of our kupuna?
Seniors represent a large proportion of my district. I would like to make it easier for them to continue living here and maintain their independence. Home is less expensive (than a nursing home), more comfortable, and it is where they have formed memories. We need to continue funding Kupuna Care and auxiliary services that help seniors with meals, household chores, transportation and wellness/ social activities.
This year the Legislature passed the CARE Act to require hospitals to adopt/maintain written discharge policies, which will help seniors with chronic/debilitating conditions be cared for at home, and provide support to their (family) caregivers.
The federal Affordable Care Act has played a key role in helping seniors acquire quality, affordable health care. This has helped seniors on fixed income who are “asset rich” and people in the Medicare prescription drug “donut hole” to save money. Now that preventive services have no deductible or co-pay, seniors can detect and treat health problems early.
11. What would you do to improve Hawaii’s public education system?
As the son of a former public school teacher, this issue is personal to me. A teacher’s commitment extends outside the classroom and they often purchase supplies with their own money. And they are trapped in a bureaucracy that doesn’t empower them to make the best decisions for their schools.
I support giving schools more flexibility and authority to determine how best to meet their students’ educational needs, measure student achievement and reward teacher performance. (A school in Hawaii Kai may have different challenges than one in Waianae.) I have opposed the approach of “teaching to the test.”