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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 David Tarnas, a Democratic candidate for state House District 7, which includes North Kona, North Kohala and South Kohala. There are two other candidates, including his Democratic primary opponent, Cindy Evans, and Republican Jeffrey Coakley.
Name: David Tarnas
Office seeking: State representative, District 7
Occupation: Environmental planner
Community organizations/prior offices held: State representative, House District 6, 1994-1998; commissioner, Hawaii County Agriculture Advisory Commission (current); member, Waimea Community Association, South Kohala Traffic Safety Committee and Waimea Community Chorus Orchestra; former board member, Malama Kai Foundation; former board member, Five Mountains Hawaii
Age as of Aug. 13, 2016: 55
Place of residence: Waimea, Hawaii County
Campaign website: votetarnas.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?
When I served in the House from 1994 to 1998, I was a leader of a group of reform-minded Democrats. We worked together to propose changes to the House rules to make the legislative process more transparent and less autocratic. We successfully negotiated with the speaker, who agreed to significant reforms in the internal procedures of the House of Representatives. These changes helped move the House toward the goals of collaborative leadership, ensuring respect for the committee jurisdiction, and promoting public participation in the legislative process.
After 18 years, there is still reform needed in the legislative process to achieve these goals. I would work to ensure that the House Majority Caucus selects its leadership positions and committee chairs by secret ballot to promote independence; require prior consent of the chair in the subject matter committee for any subsequent changes proposed by the chair of the second committee; require that conference committees do not insert into a conference draft any material that is unrelated to the subject matter of the bill or which has not been given hearings in both chambers of the Legislature; and enable the committee members to over-rule the committee chair to give a hearing to a proposed bill.
2. Hawaii is the only Western state without a statewide citizen’s initiative process. Do you support such a process?
No, I would not support creating a statewide citizen’s initiative process. I support Hawaii’s constitutional framework of a representative democracy with a citizens’ Legislature. Legislators are part-time, and it is expected that each legislator is active in their professional and community life. This is specifically designed to make the legislators more informed and involved in policy matters that affect the general public. I would work to make legislators more responsive and informed by strengthening the public’s role in policy making by increasing public participation in the legislative process through video conference testimony, live streaming of all committee hearings and regular hearings on neighbor islands during legislative interims. I would support having a constitutional convention at the next opportunity so that this topic of statewide citizen’s initiative and referendum can be considered.
3. Hawaii has long been dominated by the Democratic Party establishment. Should this change, and if so, how?
As an active member and former Hawaii County Chairman of the Democratic Party of Hawaii, I would advocate for the Democratic Party to be committed to its platform and seek to ensure the elected officials in the Legislature and executive branch consider legislation to implement these planks in the Democratic Party platform. While I don’t think it is reasonable to expect complete agreement with the Democratic Party platform by all Democrats elected to public office, the legislative proposals to implement the policies advocated in the platform should receive due consideration through committee hearings, public debate, and voting. This will allow the diversity of opinions within the Democratic Party to be expressed and considered in making these policy reforms.
4. What specific steps would you take to strengthen Hawaii’s lax lobbying, ethics and financial disclosure laws?
Hawaii did receive a score of 69 on the 2015 State Integrity Investigation, which places the state as fourth-best in the country, behind Alaska, California and Connecticut. While this is good, it is not good enough. I would propose and support legislation or rule-making to do the following: require an annual review of all those lobbying at the Legislature to ensure they are registered lobbyists making timely reports of financial disclosures; ensure that violations of state lobbying laws receive timely judgments and financial penalties that are fair and appropriate; provide financial and staff support to the Ethics Commission and Campaign Spending Commission to reduce the backlog of appeals; and ensure that the Legislature does not violate its own rules of internal procedure by passing legislation that includes material unrelated to the subject of the bill, or which has not received proper hearings in both chambers.
5. Would you support eliminating Hawaii’s high fees for access to public records when the request is in the public interest?
Yes. In these cases, I would propose changing the fee schedule so that it would only cover the costs of copying the records.
6. Voters complain their elected officials don’t listen to them. What would you do to improve communication?
As a legislator, I would maintain close communication with constituents using regularly scheduled town meetings during the recess periods in the Legislature, as well as during the interim period. I would also have regular “mobile office” hours on various road-side locations, at shopping centers, at state offices, and at community centers to make sure I am accessible to constituents. I would also request to have access to a state office in the district to have meetings with constituents. In addition, I would send out regular e-newsletters to constituents, post printed copies in local libraries and community centers and maintain social media presence to inform the public and enable community members to provide input to me and the legislature.
7. What do you see as the most pressing issue facing your district? What will you do about it?
At the core of most of our challenges is the lack of sustainable economic development. I propose to lead our community to develop and implement a community economic development plan for a sustainable economy in 21st century Hawaii. This community economic development plan seeks to achieve three goals:
Embrace Hawaiian cultural values of malama, lokahi and laulima.
Reduce import of food and energy and increase export of local value-added products.
Provide meaningful employment and healthy quality of life for local community members.
This plan is based on three strategies:
Strengthen the island’s core industries of agriculture, tourism, ocean recreation, astronomy, construction, and military training.
Diversify the island economy with new and emerging resource-based industries — renewable energy; large-scale distributed food and fuel production; ocean technology research and development; space technology research and development, and open-ocean aquaculture.
Strengthen public education and workforce training offering lifelong learning for the community.
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?
Over the last 30 years in Hawaii, I have worked as an environmental and community planner on projects planning state highways and commercial harbors, astronomy facilities, agricultural parks, watersheds, forestry operations, renewable energy facilities, fisheries, ocean technology, open ocean aquaculture, marinas and mooring systems. I’ve worked with groups of stakeholders to solve tough environmental conflicts and develop management plans to protect the habitat while also being able to sustain harvests of renewable resources on land and the sea. My experience and technical skills will be important assets in crafting legislation to balance the needs of economic development and protection of environmental and cultural resources.
9. What should the Legislature do to improve police accountability?
Twenty years ago when I was in the Legislature, I voted against the bill which allowed the police to keep the name of disciplined officers confidential. Since then, the situation has only worsened. I would support legislation to repeal this legislation and require disclosure of the names of those officers who have been disciplined for illegal or unethical activities, as well as information on the nature and extent of these activities.
10. Hawaii is the fastest-aging state. What would you do to ensure we’re taking care of our kupuna?
Taking care of our kupuna is an important responsibility. My father recently died at 92 in his own home surrounded by his family. That is the best situation and I hope other families can share this experience. I will work to ensure that insurance will cover home health care needed to make this possible for families. I realize that for some families, assisted living facilities will be an important alternative. As a legislator, I will work to identify opportunities for the state to partner with the private sector to develop these assisted living facilities in our communities so our elders can be close to families as they age.
11. What would you do to improve Hawaii’s public education system?
The statewide school system needs to be decentralized so more decision making authority rests in the school or school complexes. We should consider changing the statewide Board of Education to ones based at the county level. In addition, I will work to reduce the amount of money spent on administration and reallocate this money into the classroom where there is the greatest positive impact on our students. Special needs students must receive sufficient staff support in order for the classroom to be a productive learning environment for all the students. Rural schools need extra support since the cost to attract and maintain teachers is even higher than in urban areas. Charter schools also need to get equal funding per student as other public schools.