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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 Keone Nakoa, a Democratic candidate for state Senate District 13, which includes Liliha, Palama, Iwilei, Kalihi, Nuuanu, Pacific Heights, Pauoa, Lower Tantalus and downtown. There are four other candidates, including his Democratic primary opponents, Kim Coco Iwamoto and Karl Rhoads, Republican Rod Tam and Libertarian Harry Ozols.
Name: Keone Nakoa
Office seeking: State Senate District 13
Community organizations/prior offices held: Honolulu Civil Service commissioner; Democratic Party of Hawaii, District 25 chair
Age as of Aug. 13, 2016: 30
Place of residence: Nuuanu
Campaign website: www.keonenakoa.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 be more responsive to the people in my district. I believe that public servants are just that — providers of service to the public. So, for our representative democracy to work, our representatives must give our community a voice. Instead of passing the buck, or hiding behind jurisdictional lines to ignore concerns — a complaint I am hearing often as I walk from door to door — I would welcome all community complaints, comments and concerns. Serving as a true advocate for my district, I would pass along those concerns to the most effective outlet and then follow up until they are addressed. Sens. Daniel Akaka and Daniel Inouye called it “casework” and emphasized how important it was to listen to the concerns of constituents. To me, this is at the core of why we have elected officials in the first place.
2. Hawaii is the only Western state without a statewide citizen’s initiative process. Do you support such a process?
Increasing citizen engagement is always good for government. Ballot initiatives and referendum processes are tools for the citizenry to engage in their own governance. The initiative process helps to ensure that citizens can have an active voice is their elected officials choose not to support their proposal. However, I would caution that in our history, some pillars or our society were still unpopular at the time they were passed. Thing like suffrage for women, the Civil Rights Act of 1965 and marriage equality would likely have been overturned in their day if put to a popular vote.
With that in mind, I would support an indirect initiative process to maintain a balance and so that the Legislature could have the opportunity to react to private citizen proposals before they hit the ballot.
3. Hawaii has long been dominated by the Democratic Party establishment. Should this change, and if so, how?
As long as our elected officials are serving our communities, the system is working. Although the Democratic Party has long dominated our Legislature, I would argue that the Democratic Party itself is changing. We need to look no further than this past May’s Democratic state convention, where a relatively new member of the party was elected its statewide leader. I think things are changing within the party, and as long as the party remembers to put the people first and to abide by its own Democratic tenets, our state will be in good shape.
4. What specific steps would you take to strengthen Hawaii’s lax lobbying, ethics and financial disclosure laws?
Several recent initiatives to increase our state’s lobbying, ethics and disclosure regulations were killed in committees this past year. I would support measures to bring added transparency and stop the ability for officials to enter the revolving door between the Legislature and firms that influence the legislative process. I support moratoriums to prevent lobbyists from being able to lobby their former co-workers and colleagues or to lobby on issues they previously worked on for the state.
5. Would you support eliminating Hawaii’s high fees for access to public records when the request is in the public interest?
Yes, piling on unnecessary fees for legitimate requests for records is an obstacle to good governance and I would support reducing those fees for our citizenry.
6. Voters complain their elected officials don’t listen to them. What would you do to improve communication?
This is the most important function of an elected official. Like Sen. Akaka, I would have an open door policy to my constituents, and I would take any and all concerns they may have. I would welcome visitors, but I realize people are busy during the day, so I intend to be in the community as much as possible and welcome comments, questions and concerns from all.
7. What do you see as the most pressing issue facing your district? What will you do about it?
Homelessness seems to be the most pressing issue facing my district, with property crime coming in a close second. We need to dedicate resources not only to reducing the homeless population by placing them in housing alternatives, but also getting to the roots of why they are on the street in the first place. I would increase penalties for selling drugs with longer minimum sentencing requirements and encourage our judiciary to support drug and homeless court programs to cut through the backlog of legal issues among the homeless population in Honolulu.
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 must stick to our comprehensive master plan for development. The plan exists for a purpose, and when we grant exception after exception, we upend that purpose. We absolutely need a balance in new development versus preservation of natural resources, but more importantly, when we strike that balance, we must stick to it.
9. What should the Legislature do to improve police accountability?
This is a difficult issue because of the jurisdictional boundaries between the authority of our city and that of our state. There is a need for accountability in every government agency and law enforcement is no exception. However the details of that oversight must be worked out between the city and the state. Some areas for discussion might include sunshine laws and police procedures as they relate to the Hawaii penal code and our state constitution.
10. Hawaii is the fastest-aging state. What would you do to ensure we’re taking care of our kupuna?
I live in an aging district with the many lifelong residents deeply concerned with how they will live out the rest of their lives. As someone who was recently a caregiver for my mother before her passing, I know how important it is to create programs to support family caregivers and to make resources available to our kupuna. Our kupuna face many challenges — including the astronomical costs of medical care, fixed incomes and ever-increasing property taxes on properties they do not intend to sell and purchased for a fraction of what they are worth today.
They need relief from everyday costs, affordable long-term health care options, and the resources to allow them to gracefully “age in place,” so they can live out their lives with loved ones in their own homes. I would support these programs that support our kupuna and find a way to cut medical costs, be it lobbying the federal government, working with private industry to lower costs, or both. The situation simply cannot continue as it is.
11. What would you do to improve Hawaii’s public education system?
As the son of two schoolteachers, I see education as the single greatest factor in a person’s life. We need to fund our schools, support our teachers, and give our students what they need to succeed. I see a great opportunity with the federal government loosening its reins on states with the passage of the Every Student Succeeds Act.
We also need to make sure that every student is prepared for the next step after high school, be that attending a four-year college or a community college, entering an apprenticeship or other vocational training program, or joining the workforce or military immediately after graduation — our students need to be prepared for whatever journey they set out on after high school is over.