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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 Les Ihara, a Democratic candidate for the state Senate 10th District, which includes Kaimuki, Kapahulu, Palolo, Maunalani Heights, St. Louis Heights, Moiliili and Ala Wai. There is one other candidate, Libertarian Arnold Phillips.
Name: Les Ihara, Jr.
Office seeking: State Senate, District 10
Community organizations/prior offices held: State senator, 1994 to present; Senate majority policy Leader, 2006-2015; Joint Legislative Access Committee, co-chair; Joint Committee on Aging in Place, co-chair; state House of Representatives, 1986-1994; House majority floor Leader; House Intergovernmental Affairs Committee, chair; 1978 Constitutional Convention, delegate and vice president; Oahu County chair, Democratic Party of Hawaii, 1982-84 and 1990-94; Kaimuki-Waialae YMCA Board of Managers; Kaimuki Lions Club; Kaimuki Business and Professional Association; Palolo Community Council; Palolo Neighborhood Board; New Kapahulu Business Association; Ala Wai Watershed Community Network; Neighborhood Security Watch Association of Hawaii
Age as of Aug. 13, 2016: 65
Place of residence: Palolo Valley
Campaign website: www.lesiharajr.org
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 would require five days’ notice for hearings by adding recess days, public release of senators’ CIP and GIA requests, webcasts of all hearings and posted online, require hearings on bills backed by a petition signed by 1,000 citizens, two-third’s vote to waive Senate rules, and establishment of a Senate ethics committee to review potential conflicts of interest.
2. Hawaii is the only Western state without a statewide citizen’s initiative process. Do you support such a process?
I do not support citizens’ initiative in our state. I’ve supported citizens’ initiative most of my legislative career, but now have concerns about big money influence in elections, especially since Citizens United.
3. Hawaii has long been dominated by the Democratic Party establishment. Should this change, and if so, how?
Yes; I support a more democratic approach in Hawaii legislative politics. As the post-Inouye era unfolds, I believe the political marketplace will be more open and collaborative, and allow more independent ideas and actions. Collaborative role models are needed that show effectiveness in addressing perennial issues, and this becomes more likely as collaborative leaders begin working together.
4. What specific steps would you take to strengthen Hawaii’s lax lobbying, ethics and financial disclosure laws?
I support requiring lobbyists to disclose financial relationships they have with persons they lobby, expenditures of lobbying events and campaign donations to legislators, and expenditures made lobbying the executive branch for regulatory-related approvals and procurement actions; make monthly disclosure reports during legislative sessions, and attend mandatory training; and to be administratively fined for late or incorrect filing of disclosure reports. Also, require legislators to disclose contracts they have with lobbyists, and have ethics commission applicants disclose financial relationship they have with persons they might regulate.
5. Would you support eliminating Hawaii’s high fees for access to public records when the request is in the public interest?
Yes. Office of Information Practices would need to establish criteria and limitations for such public interest fee waivers.
6. Voters complain their elected officials don’t listen to them. What would you do to improve communication?
I would encourage collaborative interim projects and legislative caucuses to work on issues anticipated for the regular session, with opportunity for all stakeholder views to be heard; legislator-led collaborative citizen engagement projects on possible legislative issues. Also, conduct two evening open house events at the Capitol for residents to share their views with legislators. On Oahu, encourage neighborhood boards to track legislation and ask for update reports from legislators.
7. What do you see as the most pressing issue facing your district? What will you do about it?
The average voter age in Senate District 10 is among the oldest in the state, so concerns of senior citizens are the most pressing issue and my top district priority. Lower income senior citizens need safety net services, and support for family caregivers. This is mostly provided through the county’s Kupuna Care Program, ranging from chore and transportation services to caregiver training, and the one-stop referral service — Adult and Disability Resource Center. With baby boomers retiring in larger numbers, long-term care services and financing plans are also of concern. In this regard, I believe a public education program is needed to encourage people of all ages to be responsible for the financial and personal aspects of the last phase of their life. As co-convenor of the legislative Kupuna Caucus, I plan to continue to organize support for these services and public education program.
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 believe we can and should end the political warfare between developers and environmental and Native Hawaiian cultural interests. Communication is needed among all stakeholders to build relationships and find common ground at the beginning of proposals to reduce prolonged conflict at the Legislature, Land Use Commission, Board of Land and Natural Resources, and Commission on Water Resource Management. Decisions by these boards, and the formal legislative and administrative rule-making processes, often do not adequately address underlying conflicts that persist after decisions are made.
9. What should the Legislature do to improve police accountability?
I support legislation to remove the county policy exemption from disclosure of police disciplinary records and establish a law enforcement standards board to provide independent reviews of disciplinary matters, including state law enforcement officers and prison guards, and reviews of officer-involved shootings that result in a death.
10. Hawaii is the fastest-aging state. What would you do to ensure we’re taking care of our kupuna?
See my response in No. 7 above.
11. What would you do to improve Hawaii’s public education system?
While I look forward to the Department of Education’s update to its strategic plan, and the new public education blueprint being developed by the governor’s Every Student Succeeds Act Team, I support educational decision-making at the school level, along with increased Weighted Student Formula funding for schools.