Editor’s note: For Hawaii’s Nov. 8 general election, Civil Beat asked candidates to answer some questions.
The following came from Eric Ching, a Republican candidate for the state House, District 31, which includes Moanalua, Red Hill, Foster Village, Aiea, Fort Shafter, Moanalua Gardens, Aliamanu and Lower Pearlridge. There is one other candidate, Democrat Aaron Ling Johanson.
Name: Eric HL Ching
Office seeking: State House, District 31
Occupation: Landscape contractor
Community organizations/prior offices held: Serve on Neighborhood Board 18
Age as of Aug. 13, 2016: 54
Place of residence: Honolulu
Campaign website: www.EricChing.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 believe the outsized influence from people who want big changes stems from the people’s frustration with the “outside influence” that does not necessarily represent them. The pressure on politicians to conform to donors’ wishes rather than the will of the people is a problem. The change I would bring to the Legislature would be to honor the voters in District 31 by representing them with integrity, and working on their behalf using my many years of business experience to solve the chronic problems that face Hawaii.
2. Hawaii is the only Western state without a state citizen’s initiative process. Do you support such a process?
Initiative is seen as a way for citizens to have a direct voice in the laws that are enacted. The call for initiative is again a reaction by citizens that they need to have more say in the process. Yet, initiative also abrogates the responsibility of legislators to enact laws that are responsive to the needs of the citizenry.
Rather than focus on initiative as the way to get government to listen, it is my hope that I can be the conduit to the people of District 31. If elected, I will work to make sure their voices are heard.
3. Hawaii has long been dominated by the Democratic Party establishment. Should this change, and if so, how?
As a Republican, I feel that it is important for at least two parties to thrive in this State. It promotes diversity, debate, and civil discourse as our laws are made. I am greatly troubled at how my opponent felt that the only way he could get anything done was to change parties and join the Democrats. That was a main reason why I ran for office against him as a Republican. Setting aside the principles of the Republican Party to become another “yes” vote of the Democrats doesn’t truly represent the interests of the citizens of District 31.
4. What specific steps would you take to strengthen Hawaii’s lax lobbying, ethics, and financial disclosure laws?
There is a need for campaign spending and ethics reform. District 31 is a perfect example of why these reforms are needed. After switching party, my opponent received nearly $11,000 from “non-candidate committees” or “Super PACs” in just 2015 alone. These included donations from Hawaiian Telcom, Bank of Hawaii, First Hawaiian Bank, Matson, Enterprise Holdings, both public and private sector unions, Hawaii auto dealers and Hawaii Realtors. Did these contributions have an impact on how he voted? Only he could answer that. But it should be noted that in the two years prior to switching parties, as the House minority leader, the incumbent voted “no” on 36 bills at either third or final reading. After switching parties, he only voted “no” on four.
Both Republicans and Democrats alike are concerned about the ever-present influence big money has in government. This causes people to feel like they are not being heard. This is another reason why I am running for office.
5. Would you support eliminating Hawaii’s high fees for access to public record when the request is in the public interest?
It is imperative that the public have access to government records. That is why laws such as the Freedom of Information Act were enacted. Yet, there are limits to the amount of resources available. While laws protect the public’s access to government information, they were never intended to make all public documents free of all costs. If someone desires a document or documents, it is reasonable and warranted for the public to be charged the cost of finding and duplicating the document. That is fair and so long as the rates that are charged are reasonable and applied equally, the public’s interest is served.
6. Voters complain their elected officials don’t listen to them. What would you do to improve communication?
Engagement with the community is essential for any lawmaker to his or her job. If elected I will hold meetings at various location throughout the district to inform them of what is happening at the Capitol, gain feedback from them on my ideas, and most importantly, find out their views on issues affecting them.
7. What do you see as the most pressing issue facing your district? What will you do about it?
The most pressing issue facing District 31 is the condition of the underground storage tanks under Red Hill. They pose a significant threat to contaminating the largest aquifer on the island. As your representative, I would support legislation to ensure that the aquifer is protected and work with the military and our congressional delegation to find the resources to upgrade this facility.
In addition, we need to find practical solutions to reducing crime and especially property crime, the devastating impacts of drug abuse, and improving our economy so that people will earn enough to thrive.
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 truly believe that balance should be the goal for every lawmaker. Balance is achieved by rationally and objectively researching the problem, hearing all perspective and viewpoints and then coming to a decision that addresses the public’s best interests. So often, lawmakers get caught up in what is politically expedient, to agree with what the group that screams the loudest wants rather than what the majority of people need. When this happens, oftentimes, laws are made that create even more problems down the road. In my view, it is better to objectively, informatively, and cooly assess what is in everyone’s best interest.
Take housing for example. Everyone agrees that there isn’t enough affordable housing in Hawaii. Yet did you know that only 10 percent of all of the land is zoned as urban? Of the remaining 90 percent, about half, or 45 percent is zoned in agriculture. Of this, with all of the plantation closures, etc., only about 15 percent of that is currently being used for farming. That means that there is land available for development, but of course no one wants a development to be built in their neck of the woods. Environmentalists scream that the land must be protected. Other groups also get upset. But what is truly in the public’s best interest? People are sleeping on the streets in Kakaako and elsewhere, right?
The larger problem is that there has been a lack of balance, and if elected, I will do all that I can to bring back balance in the lawmaking process.
9: What should the Legislature do to improve police accountability?
I would work to make sure that law enforcement has the resources it needs to do their jobs. Enforcing our laws is a very difficult job, placing police officers in harm’s way each and every day. Problems occur when there are not enough resources available forcing some to cut corners and eliminate steps to get the job done. When that happens, people get hurt and the bad ones take advantage of the powers with which they are entrusted.
10: Hawaii is the fastest-aging state. What would you do to ensure we’re taking care of our kupuna?
We have an obligation to protect and preserve the quality of life for our kupuna. Given the immense sacrifices they made for us, it is not only fitting but essential that we do all that we can to better their lives and meet their needs. First and foremost, we must help reduce the costs of essential goods and services because most of our retirees are on fixed incomes. We must make health care affordable and accessible. We need to promote the training and recruitment of more doctors in the state, especially in the rural areas, and we must look at the feasibility of a long-term care program. These are things that can be done to help our kupuna and if elected, these are things that I will work toward.
11. What would you do to improve Hawaii’s public education system?
As we enter the 21st century, the biggest challenge businesses face is developing an adequately trained workforce. It is not a matter of training workers for the jobs that are available today, but they need to be able to also train for the jobs of tomorrow.
While I commend the efforts to promote STEM and focus curricula on math and science, we must not forget that our schools need to also provide sufficient vocational education in other areas. Travel industry management will continue to be an important area so long as Hawaii remains a vacation hot spot. Agriculture is also another area that should not be forgotten, especially if the state is committed to becoming food self-sufficient.
Schools need to be the laboratories for creativity and “thinking out of the box.” This not only applies to our students, but in many ways more importantly, our teachers and school administrators. If elected, I hope to help the Board of Education and school administrators do this.