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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 Gregg Takayama, candidate for the state House, District 34, which includes Pearl City, Waimalu and Pacific Palisades. There is one other candidate, Republican Jaci Agustin.
Name: Gregg Takayama
Office seeking: State House, District 34
Community organizations/prior offices held: Member of Pearl City Lions Club, Board of Directors of Friends of Pearl City Library
Age as of Aug. 13, 2016: 63
Place of residence: Pearl City
Campaign website: www.greggtakayama.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?
We need to better utilize modern teleconferencing technology to enable neighbor island and even Oahu citizens to participate in legislative hearings without the need to fly to Honolulu or being limited to submitting written comments. It’s difficult for average citizens to take off from work, find parking at the Capitol, and wait to testify at a hearing – and even more difficult for the aged and disabled.
2. Hawaii is the only Western state without a statewide citizen’s initiative process. Do you support such a process?
No. We’ve seen that the initiative process can be hijacked by special interests that spend vast amounts of money to influence the outcome. At least the legislative process provides accountability through our representative democracy. There is a record of public hearings, debate and deliberation that is lacking in the initiative process.
3. Hawaii has long been dominated by the Democratic Party establishment. Should this change, and if so, how?
Hawaii’s Democratic Party is big and still growing. Our “tent” is so large we need to do a better job of building bridges among the many groups that comprise our party – Hillary’s supporters with Bernie’s, environmentalists with developers, labor unions with business leaders.
The Democratic Party is growing because while we build bridges, the Republicans build walls to keep out immigrants, suppress minorities and protect big business.
4. What specific steps would you take to strengthen Hawaii’s lax lobbying, ethics and financial disclosure laws?
I support providing increased resources for the State Ethics Commission to enforce existing laws and carry out ethics training for state employees, board members and government contractors.
5. Would you support eliminating Hawaii’s high fees for access to public records when the request is in the public interest?
Yes. As a former news reporter, I know that access to public records can be crucial to uncovering wasteful spending and mismanagement. Unreasonably high fees should not be used to frustrate public access, especially because so many records are now accessible electronically and don’t require time-consuming paper searches.
6. Voters complain their elected officials don’t listen to them. What would you do to improve communication?
My Capitol office is one of the few that literally keeps our door open during legislative sessions so visitors are welcomed and feel welcome. If I’m free, I will meet with anyone who walks in.
In addition being accessible in person, by phone and e-mail, I keep in touch with citizens by walking door-to-door, issuing regular legislative newsletters (three this year), sending out about 22,000 informational postcards per year on issues like telephone scams and road construction and holding monthly town hall meetings in cooperation with other area lawmakers.
Listening to neighbors’ problems produces results: My office has helped get a state fence repaired on Komo Mai Drive, remove abandoned cars from streets, and the cleaning of overgrown city sidewalks. It’s also resulted in legislation to provide $1 million to remove hazardous trees from private property and control messes created by overfeeding of feral birds.
7. What do you see as the most pressing issue facing your district? What will you do about it?
We need to maintain a safety net of services that enable seniors to age in their homes as long as possible. This issue is especially acute in Pearl City, which has one of the higher percentages of senior citizens, and growing ever larger. We need to support family caregivers and supplement them with more state-funded programs like transit services, healthy aging exercise classes, delivered meals and effective referral services.
Support for these programs is a top priority of the legislative Kupuna Caucus, comprised of legislators and senior-focused organizations and government agencies, and of which I am House leader.
See No.10 for more on this topic.
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 need to grow our economy by encouraging development of high-tech knowledge industries and scientific research – especially in biomedical life sciences. These are clean, high-value industries that sustain our environment and tap the abilities of our best and brightest young people. We know that our top students can compete nationally and even internationally because they already do. In Pearl City alone, robotics teams at the elementary, intermediate and high school levels regularly travel to mainland competitions and do well against top-flight competition.
The best way to nurture young entrepreneurs in these areas is for the University of Hawaii to promote creative interaction among our strong programs such as medicine, marine studies, engineering, earth sciences and modern media. The goal should be to use modern research and technology in innovative ways to solve societal problems and human needs.
9. What should the Legislature do to improve police accountability?
I support providing the Honolulu Police Commission with greater authority and resources to investigate complaints against officers. Its disciplinary recommendations should be required to be carried out by the police chief unless he disagrees in writing.
Secondly, police body cameras have been shown to reduce complaints against officers because they promote better behavior by both police and citizens. I’m disappointed that the Honolulu Police Department – the 20th largest in the nation – has failed to take a leadership role in utilizing body cameras and is instead trailing behind neighbor island departments. As chair of the House Public Safety Committee, I introduced a measure in 2015 to fund body cameras but unfortunately it failed to gain final approval. We’ll keep trying because of the importance of getting body cams to our officers and dash cams into police vehicles.
10. Hawaii is the fastest-aging state. What would you do to ensure we’re taking care of our kupuna?
As House chair of the Kupuna Caucus, I helped lead this session’s enactment of the CARE Act to assist family caregivers transition their loved ones from hospital to home by requiring hospitals to provide caregiver training. I also authored a new law to fund a falls prevention coordinator position.
I’ve fought for more funding of state Kupuna Care programs, which assist stay-at-home elderly with delivered meals, transportation, healthy aging programs and counseling services.
Hawaii needs to enact a family leave program (like California and New York) that provides workers time off to help care for newborns and elderly family members. It can be funded by workers through payroll contributions, as we already do for temporary disability insurance.
We also need to consider a state long-term care insurance financing program to enable families to cope with the enormous cost of long-term care, whether through a general excise tax surcharge or some other method. The average annual cost of a nursing home — if you can get into one — is more than $126,000. We came very close to enacting a state long-term care program in 2003, when the Legislature passed the Care Plus proposal. But it was vetoed by Gov. Lingle.
11. What would you do to improve Hawaii’s public education system?
I am a proud product of our Hawaii public schools and I appreciate the crucial role of classroom teachers. That’s why I’ve strongly supported providing teachers with the tools they need, such as pay raises, tax deductions for classroom material purchases and financial incentives for advanced learning — and why I’ve been endorsed for re-election by the Hawaii State Teachers Association.
We should lessen our reliance on standardized testing as a measure of teaching ability and student learning. We need a more balanced approach that allows more decision-making at the individual school level that recognizes local community needs and interests, and encourages innovative teaching methods.
I also believe the Legislature should generally not interfere with curriculum decisions better left to education professionals. We should focus on providing schools with needed resources – cooler classrooms, teacher support, campus infrastructure improvements such as upgraded electrical systems and high-speed cable capacity – that enable them to do their jobs more effectively.