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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 Kim Coco Iwamoto, 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 her Democratic primary opponents, Karl Rhoads and Keone John Nakoa, Republican Rod Tam and Libertarian Harry Ozols.
Name: Kim Coco Iwamoto
Office seeking: State Senate District 13
Community organizations/prior offices held: Hawaii Alliance for Progressive Action board member, 2014-present; Hawaii Civil Rights Commission, 2012-present; Hawaii Teacher Standards Board, 2009-2011; Hawaii Board of Education, 2006-2011; Safe School Community Advisory Committee, 2004-2011
Age as of Aug. 13, 2016: 48
Place of residence: Lower Alewa Heights
Campaign website: kimcoco.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?
The only people with “outsized influence” are those who are currently trying to maintain the status quo, not change how state government is run. I refer to reports of Alexander & Baldwin spending over $1 million in lobbying and being rewarded with water diverted away from family farmers. Another “outsized influence” is the multinational agro-chemical corporation continuing to sidestep county restrictions, which leads to exposing local families to uncontrolled restricted-use pesticides with known and unknown impacts on health and environment.
Those who live on the neighbor islands, who may be most impacted by these two instances of “outsized influence,” cannot always afford to buy a round-trip airline ticket at the last minute to voice their concerns at a legislative committee hearing. The number of Oahu-based lobbyists and lawmakers will always outnumber the neighbor islanders who are able to testify in person. Perhaps matters of specific importance to the neighbor islands should require satellite testimony. Alternatively, legislative committee members can fly to the neighbor islands to take testimony; this is what many state boards and commissions do when promulgating Hawaii Administrative Rules, ensuring statewide inclusion in the public hearing process.
2. Hawaii is the only Western state without a statewide citizen’s initiative process. Do you support such a process?
Yes. However, before we initiate this process we need to have procedural safeguards in place. We must ensure that the corporations and the wealthy cannot outspend, and out-spin, grassroots opposition. Citizens United must be overturned, or a new federal law enacted to mitigate the impact of economic inequality. Our constitutional rights and statutory protections are too precious to leave vulnerable to the biases of neoconservatives or the greed of multi-national corporations.
3. Hawaii has long been dominated by the Democratic Party establishment. Should this change, and if so, how?
Change happens. For instance, the Hawaii Democratic Party establishment supported Hilary Clinton, but party members voted overwhelmingly for Bernie Sanders — 70-30. The current party chair is a Sanders supporter. Both of these details point to the fact there is less and less of a so-called establishment “dominating” the Democratic Party, or Hawaii.
Furthermore, too many elected Democrats are only Democrats-In-Name-Only (DINOs). Underfunded government services like public education, a regressive tax system that benefits the wealthy over low-income families, and exemptions that benefit publicly-traded corporations, make Hawaii look more like a state run by Republicans. Perhaps the Democratic Party establishment will continue evolving to a point where it will hold all its members accountable to the democratically determined party platform.
4. What specific steps would you take to strengthen Hawaii’s lax lobbying, ethics and financial disclosure laws?
Holding fundraisers during the legislative session should be prohibited; it is awkward to get a personal invitation from a senator to attend their fundraiser the night before your bill is due out of the committee they chair. We should properly record and live-stream all conference committee discussions and deliberations. We should also require bills and committee reports to document the source of provisions that have not gone through an open process during committee hearings.
Legislators should be held to the same ethics and conflicts safeguards that other officials serving on state boards or commissions must go through. Senate and House leadership should not be allowed to waive conflicts of interest when members disclose them; if there are conflicts of interests, legislators should be required to recuse themselves from discussing or voting on the bill.
5. Would you support eliminating Hawaii’s high fees for access to public records when the request is in the public interest?
Yes. We should move to storing and archiving all public records electronically.
6. Voters complain their elected officials don’t listen to them. What would you do to improve communication?
Sen. Suzanne Chun Oakland walked her district four times a year, every year, not just election years, in order to speak with her constituents in person. I would like to follow in her footsteps.
7. What do you see as the most pressing issue facing your district? What will you do about it?
State Senate District 13 includes downtown, Chinatown and Iwilei; we may have the highest per capita of homeless residents of any Senate district.
I support the “Housing First” model to address homelessness; however, we need housing, first. Hawaii has a shortage of affordable housing and housing options for those who are currently homeless. We need to construct more of each immediately. Once individuals and families are off the streets, we can more effectively provide them with the social and health-related services they may need.
We must stop the flow of individuals and families slipping into homelessness by ensuring we have social safety nets in place. We need to raise the minimum wage to a livable wage — at least $15 per hour.
We need a tax scheme that a) disincentivizes “flipping” residential properties, and b) incentivizes investment in affordable housing. We need tax credits for investors who build or allocate a percentage of their rental inventory to the homeless.
We must also pre-certify landlords and their buildings to reduce the unnecessary lag time in getting low-income tenants into homes.
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 can maintain economic growth by caring for the buildings and infrastructure we already have. We do not need new, big construction projects when we currently have $3.8 billion in deferred maintenance and repairs at our DOE campuses and an additional $1 billion backlog at our UH system campuses. There is more than enough work to keep our building trades brothers and sisters gainfully employed and their families supported.
We need to preserve and utilize prime agricultural land for growing food so we are not so dependent on food imports. We should avoid expanding residential sprawl and adding to traffic congestion. We need to keep new housing development closer to the urban core, focusing on affordable rentals, and we must invest in restorative public spaces.
9. What should the Legislature do to improve police accountability?
The Legislature should broadly require greater transparency from all law enforcement agencies operating within the state, including city and county police departments as well as state Division of Conservation and Resources Enforcement officers. One tool that would create greater transparency are body-cams; they would reduce the likelihood of false accusations against law enforcement as well as give the public greater confidence in their taxpayer funded law enforcement. If the Legislature mandates this safeguard, it would need to examine whether it should contribute funding to county law enforcement agencies to purchase, maintain and monitor the body-cams.
The Legislature should create the State of Hawaii Police Accountability Commission, like the Hawaii Civil Rights Commission, that is autonomous and subject to the sunshine law. Fifty percent of HiPAC should be community members and 50 percent representing government agencies. Community members should include prison reform experts, mental health service providers, disability rights advocates, homeless advocates and advocates from groups disproportionately represented in arrest or incarceration numbers. Government representatives should include designees from city and county councils, the mayors’ offices, the governor’s office and both houses of the Legislature.
10. Hawaii is the fastest-aging state. What would you do to ensure we’re taking care of our kupuna?
We must stop any attempt to balance budget shortfalls by taxing state pensions or reducing retirement benefits in any way; the government should not break contracts and promises to working-class retirees by jeopardizing hard-earned pensions in exchange for not doing what must be done: closing tax loopholes for the wealthy.
When the GET tax extension bill comes up, I want to add language that removes the GET on food, medications or medical supplies. This is a possible start to ameliorate our regressive tax system.
We must ensure that we have more affordable housing for the elderly, more support services for caregivers and better reporting and information regarding care home compliance status. Families and individuals who seek the services of a care home often find themselves needing care because of an unexpected triggering event like a fall leading to a hip injury. Families and consumers in this position need access to up-to-date and reliable data on care homes they are considering.
11. What would you do to improve Hawaii’s public education?
First we must fully fund education. Having served on the BOE and on the Hawaii Teacher Standards Board, I can tell you that the teacher shortage was predicted long-before the crisis we are faced with now. The DOE must be able to offer teachers a competitive professional wage so that we can recruit and retain the best for our students. The Legislature must also provide adequate funding to address the $3.8 billion backlog of repair and maintenance for the Department of Education and the $1 billion for the UH system. We must restore and expand early childhood education.