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Editor’s note: For Hawaii’s Nov. 8 general election, Civil Beat asked candidates to answer some questions.
The following came from Matthew S. LoPresti, a Democratic candidate for the state House, District 41, which includes Ewa Villages, Ewa Beach, Ewa Gentry, Ocean Pointe and West Loch. There is one other candidate, Republican Bryan Jeremiah.
Name: Matthew S. LoPresti
Office seeking: State House, District 41
Occupation: Professor of Philosophy and Humanities, Chair of the Asian and Pacific Studies Program, Hawaii Pacific University
Community organizations/prior offices held: State representative, District 41; vice chair, Sierra Club Oahu Group; Ewa Neighborhood Board; member, Oahu Metropolitan Planning Organization
Age as of Aug. 13, 2016: 42
Place of residence: Hoakalei/Ocean Pointe in Ewa Beach
Campaign website: www.Matt4Ewa.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?
After my first term in office I have a better understanding of how the four short months that the Legislature is in session are used to get as much done as we can in both chambers by agreeing to a strict calendar and timetable that allows for the passage of necessary legislation, including our state budget. I do, however, believe that more can be done as far as transparency, citizen inclusion and ethics are concerned.
For example, this biennium the Legislature considered House Bill 81, which I introduced. It would close a loophole inadvertently created by a previous Legislature that allowed lawmakers to use their official capacity for personal gain.
This session I supported legislation that would establish a task force to examine the implementation of remote testimony, which would allow the public to submit testimony remotely via the internet during legislative proceedings.
I also support public financing of candidacies as a method to remove powerful special interest monies from influencing the outcome of elections. Having utilized this partial public financing twice myself, I would support further steps taken to encourage the public financing of campaigns. I look forward to continuing to work on and explore solutions to these issues should I be fortunate enough to be re-elected.
2. Hawaii is the only Western state without a statewide citizen’s initiative process. Do you support such a process?
The notion that sweeping societal changes might follow a simple vote of 50 percent plus one makes it far too easy for well-funded radical outside influences to come into a state, dump millions of dollars in a campaign to achieve what it wants for its special interests, and do whatever is necessary to win a referendum vote. Raw, bully politics like that is not in the long-term best interest of our country or our state (just look at the fiasco and lies perpetrated on the people of Britain to manipulate the Brexit vote.)
We need and deserve informed debate, reflective deliberation and a transparent process in which all people have the opportunity to weigh in along the way. Fortunately, our founding fathers developed just such a system called a representative democracy. Direct democracy is better suited to much smaller systems of governance.
Statewide citizens initiatives are typically supported by politicians too afraid to take an actual stand on controversial topics – thus allowing for important but painful changes to occur in government and society without themselves having to face any responsibility when election time comes around. Representatives are elected to do a job, not just warm a seat.
3. Hawaii has long been dominated by the Democratic Party establishment. Should this change, and if so, how?
The Democratic Party itself is undergoing significant change thanks to the influx of citizens who are tired of the status quo, while the other party is neither attracting quality candidates to run, nor voters to support them. This is a serious problem because I believe a well-functioning democracy needs many voices at the table representing a diversity of perspectives. Fortunately, we have a great diversity of views in our state Democratic Party because independents and Republican’s are identifying with Democratic candidates or even switching parties – while still maintaining their own conservative or independent views.
Among the many reasons behind this phenomena is chiefly this: people do not vote for a political party, they vote for individuals. I was honored to have many Republicans support me in my first election and I believe it is because they know that I’m more interested in serving the people of my district than any party or political agenda. I am a pragmatist first, idealist second, though I stick to my principles even when that means respectfully disagreeing with my own party’s leadership. The Democratic Party welcomes a great diversity of views – a formula for success in any pluralistic society.
4. What specific steps would you take to strengthen Hawaii’s lax lobbying, ethics and financial disclosure laws?
As mentioned above, I have authored and co-sponsored legislation that would strengthen ethical standards. As a professor who teaches subjects like ethics and philosophy as my professional job, I look to bring my understanding of these issues to my role as a legislator. The lobbying process is important because it allows members of the public and private entities to provide lawmakers with information about how people may be impacted by various measures under consideration. These are things we as decision-makers need to know; however, I believe that if money is involved, increased transparency is essential to promote and preserve trust in government.
Because of this I strongly support easier, unfettered access to lobbyist information, financial disclosure requirements, voting records, and the frequency of reporting for lobbyists so that the people can see for themselves who supports which lawmakers, as well as how those lawmakers vote with regard to issues that affect those who have donated to them.
5. Would you support eliminating Hawaii’s high fees for access to public records when the request is in the public interest?
Yes, absolutely. I have personally met with the Office of Information practices to encourage the facilitation of free and unfettered public access to public records and I have also sponsored legislation to this effect. House Bill 1260, which I introduced, would have among other things required state agency officials to assist persons making requests for records and allow fees to be waived for access to public records, when in the public interest. It would also have encouraged electronic public notification of public meetings. I intend to continue pursuing this legislation should I be fortunate enough to serve another term.
6. Voters complain their elected officials don’t listen to them. What would you do to improve communication?
Access is empowerment. My constituents regularly reach out to me and my number one priority is to listen and assist with their concerns. My friends and neighbors in the district can and do call, email, come to the office, speak with me at our monthly community meetings or talk story with me at the coffee shop, supermarket or just walking around the neighborhood.
If anyone can think of any other way I can be even more accessible to constituents, I’m all ears. Just being accessible is only part of the job though, listening means actually understanding and paying attention to your constituents’ needs. The job of a lawmaker is more than simply writing and voting on legislation – it means facilitating solutions between various parties who often disagree.
Whatever we do as elected officials, our actions should come from the proper intention of service leadership, which means putting others needs and concerns above your own. This is what I strive to do every day. In my first term in office we passed bills that made it easier for citizens to access the legislative process and have a voice by implementing a system for remote testimony for neighbor islanders as well.
7. What do you see as the most pressing issue facing your district? What will you do about it?
The Ewa Beach area has had and will continue to have the fastest-growing population in the state. Unfortunately, despite our city and state government actually encouraging this growth, it hasn’t maintained the growth of public infrastructure to keep pace. This short-sightedness is one of the reasons I ran for office in the first place; two of the most glaring examples of this have been the lack of public school facilities and awful traffic conditions. In this questionnaire I’ll speak to the first issue.
As a first-term legislator, I made this my priority because for too long, Ewa public schools have been neglected. That’s why I worked so hard this year to get the Legislature to add $12 million to the budget of James Campbell High School to begin the planning and construction of a new 30-room air conditioned classroom building. This covers the design and infrastructure groundwork for the building, which takes about a year to complete, and is the second highest capital improvement project appropriation from general funds to any existing school in the state (out of 283!). That is a huge change toward making Ewa schools a priority for the state DOE (continued in No. 11).
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?
To keep the country country, we have to make the town more town. We cannot reasonably stop people from having families or even moving to Hawaii according to our constitution, so population will continue to rise rapidly. That means we need to ensure that there are sufficient dwelling units for people to live in – the main question then is where will these dwelling units be located?
We must protect and preserve Hawaii’s natural beauty and enough agricultural land to grow food for local consumption and to support our diversified jobs in agricultural – which are essential to our island economy. That means building more densely in the urban core to create livable, walkable urban areas along a mass transit route. No one likes living next to a construction site but we cannot let short term self-interest trump long term urban planning. There are parts of this island where wealthy people need to face the reality that they can no longer force development to occur someplace else other than where they live – as the only rational area for growth is to build up around them, not build out over our last remaining green areas in the state.
9. What should the Legislature do to improve police accountability?
This session we heard SB 2755, which establishes a temporary advisory law enforcement employment standards and training board with the responsibility of developing statewide employment standards and training recommendations for law enforcement officers. Hawaii is the only state in the U.S. that does not have such statewide standards. Legislation along these lines did not pass this session and I believe that it warrants further examination and discussion. The police departments and unions need to be involved in this discussion and it is clear that a system, if put into place, should address the concerns of all parties.
I also introduced HB 1738 which would regulate the use of body cameras by law enforcement officers and body camera video footage. Police body cameras are an effective new tool for law enforcement and prosecution of criminal activity. The privacy of individuals captured in these videos as well as the privacy of the law enforcement officers must be protected at times as well. That is why I introduced this bill, which would in part protect these privacies and create a portion of state law that directly addresses this use of the new technology.
10. Hawaii is the fastest-aging state. What would you do to ensure we’re taking care of our kupuna?
When I began my first term of public service in the Legislature, I knew that the most important things that I had to take with me were my good word and my good name. I also knew that these should never be given lightly in support of a cause. That is why I waited and carefully considered what bills and to which causes I would lend my name and my support.
After dutiful consideration of the issues facing our state and the good people of Ewa and Ewa Beach, I decided that the very first bill I would ever sign (even before signing any of my own bills!) was going to be HB 490 (in 2015), also known as the CARE Act, which would provide training to the friends and family who serve as primary care givers for our kupuna. Our most vulnerable and most venerable class of citizens, I believe, deserves this support. That is why, this legislative session, I co-signed nine more bills that underscore my continued commitment to caring for our kupuna. These Kupuna Caucus bills aim to expand elderly services and create new programs across the state.
11. What would you do to improve Hawaii’s public education system?
As educators (my wife teaches in public school) and as parents, improving Hawaii’s schools is very important to our family, as I know it is to many of yours. This session I worked closely with the Hawaii State Teachers Association on its Schools Our Keiki Deserve legislative agenda and I’ve been endorsed by it several times. I also keep in close contact with the DOE leaders regarding issues concerning Ewa schools as well as issues of statewide concern.
Continuing from question No. 7: all of the above along with Ewa schools’ allotment of the $100 million for heat abatement as well as significant appropriations for repair and maintenance means that our Ewa public schools are finally getting the attention that they deserve — and then some.
Even so, we still need to do more because we also need a new high school. Frankly, we needed this 10 years ago but at long last the DOE has agreed to make this a priority. Gov. Ige released $5 million for planning, but nothing more can be done until the DOE chooses a location. Once chosen, I look forward to advocating for the necessary funds at the Legislature to make it a reality.