Editor’s note: For Hawaii’s Nov. 8 general election, Civil Beat asked candidates to answer some questions.
The following came from Karl Rhoads, a Democratic candidate for state Senate District 13, which includes Liliha, Palama, Iwilei, Kalihi, Nuuanu, Pacific Heights, Pauoa, Lower Tantalus and downtown. There are two other candidates, including Republican Rod Tam and Libertarian Harry Ozols.
Name: Karl Rhoads
Office seeking: State Senate District 13
Occupation: State representative
Community organizations/prior offices held: Member, Downtown Neighborhood Board, 10 years; member, state House of Representatives, 10 years.
Age as of Aug. 13, 2016: 53
Place of residence: Chinatown
Campaign website: www.karlrhoads.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?
After 10 years in the House, I am certainly aware of areas where improvements could be made. The internal deadlines were set up to be sure there was not a huge crush of business at the end of session, but they often put chairs in the position of being pressured to move bills just to move them despite deficiencies in the content. Too often important provisions get worked out at the very end anyway, under very hurried conditions. Either referring bills to fewer committees or allowing leadership (in consultation with relevant chairs) to not be forced to bring every bill that comes out of committee to the floor might be useful.
2. Hawaii is the only Western state without a statewide citizen’s initiative process. Do you support such a process?
While it is an interesting idea, I do not see initiative as a panacea. In California, they have so many initiatives on the ballot that you need several hours of prep time as a voter to intelligently choose which ones to support. I am confident most voters do not take that much time. It is also clear from the California experience that “voter” initiatives are usually financed by big money interests which is no improvement over our current system.
3. Hawaii has long been dominated by the Democratic Party establishment. Should this change, and if so, how?
It was not that long ago that we had a Republican governor and close to a majority of Republicans in the House. The Republican Party in Hawaii has been dragged down by the national party for years and Donald Trump has probably destroyed the brand for another generation. Having said that, most voters decide on the merits of the individual candidate. I would add that there is a wide range of opinion within the Democratic Party on most issues.
4. What specific steps would you take to strengthen Hawaii’s lax lobbying, ethics and financial disclosure laws?
There is a lot of information available for free on the web now. Having said that, as Judiciary Committee chair, I have supported fuller disclosure of campaign spending particularly for super PACs, added an early session filing date for legislators’ financial reports, fought for tighter ethics rules for legislators and all government employees and pushed for a stable funding source for the Campaign Spending Commission.
5. Would you support eliminating Hawaii’s high fees for access to public records when the request is in the public interest?
6. Voters complain their elected officials don’t listen to them. What would you do to improve communication?
The good ones do listen and it is usually the ones who are attentive to voter concerns that get re-elected. Personally, during my 10 years in the House I have knocked on doors to stay in touch with my constituents and their concerns every year, not just election years. I attribute my longevity in the House representing a wide range of backgrounds and opinions to this habit, one I intend to continue if I am elected to the Senate.
7. What do you see as the most pressing issue facing your district? What will you do about it?
Affordable housing, especially for seniors. Construction of affordable housing has been my highest priority since I was elected and I am proud to say it was my bill that kept Kukui Gardens affordable. I was a strong supporter of the construction of Senior Residence at Iwilei, which was partially state-funded, and I have supported renovating Mayor Wright Homes, which is currently in progress. Housing is the biggest contributor to our high cost of living.
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 need to make the city more city. I favor infill development. There are plenty of models worldwide for going up instead of out, like Singapore and Hong Kong.
9. What should the Legislature do to improve police accountability?
As Judiciary chair, I have supported efforts to improve police accountability. Fortunately, the vast majority of police officers are honest and trying to do the right thing. Unfortunately, a few are not and I have pushed for more information about cases where officers have been disciplined and supported a bill last year that establishes a review panel for police-caused deaths.
10. Hawaii is the fastest-aging state. What would you do to ensure we’re taking care of our kupuna?
As I mentioned, affordable housing for seniors is my highest priority. I also supported the CARE Act, which gives caregivers more support (and credit) for the critical and unpaid work they do. Most other industrialized countries in the world have non-means tested long-term care. We are one of the richest countries in the world and we can do the same if we wanted to. So far the political will has been absent.
11. What would you do to improve Hawaii’s public education system?
I have done my best to channel more funding for schools in the poorer areas I represent. For example, I and other area legislators have gotten over $20 million for renovations at Farrington High School in the last few years. Low teacher pay is still a serious problem. Once you factor in the cost of living we have some of the lowest-paid teachers in the country. Collective bargaining for public employees is a state constitutional right and teachers are one of the few bargaining units that has the right to strike. In practice, this has not been a useful tool for driving up wages. We need to look at ways to structure the bargaining right so that it can more effectively make education a higher priority.