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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 Joy San Buenaventura, candidate for the state House, District 4, which includes Puna. There is one other candidate, Moke Stephens of the Constitution Party.
Name: Joy A San Buenaventura
Office seeking: State House, District 4
Occupation: State representative/attorney
Community organizations/prior offices held: Hawaii County Bar Association, Hawaii State Bar Association
Age as of Aug. 13, 2016: 56
Place of residence: Keaau, Hawaii County
Campaign website: joy4puna.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?
It is nearly impossible for one legislator acting by herself to change how the Legislature is run. There are 51 representatives and even the speaker of the house needs 26 votes to get any bill through. Like-minded legislators can make big changes if there are a sufficient number of them and voters who want big changes in how the government is run have an opportunity this election year to elect legislators who agree with their changes so that big changes can be made.
2. Hawaii is the only Western state without a statewide citizen’s initiative process. Do you support such a process?
For a statewide citizen’s initiative process to occur in Hawaii would require a constitutional amendment. I, nonetheless, support such an amendment and introduced a bill allowing for statewide citizen’s initiative. I believe that such initiatives will increase voter turnout because the public themselves will have an opportunity to enact a law.
3. Hawaii has long been dominated by the Democratic Party establishment. Should this change, and if so, how?
Voters, by electing those in the Democratic party, choose to have the Democratic Party dominate the legislature. Voters themselves can change the dominating political party by simply electing Republicans, the Green Party, Libertarian or other. Prior to the John Burns/union revolution, the Republicans were the dominant party of Hawaii. Right now we have a Democratic governor and a Democratic Legislature so the state government does not suffer the paralysis that is occurring in the federal level with a Democratic president and a Republican Congress.
4. What specific steps would you take to strengthen Hawaii’s lax lobbying, ethics and financial disclosure laws?
The 2016 session required more lobbying reporting requirements; and an attempt to lessen the ethics positions on teacher-led field trips which had the inadvertent effect of stopping all field trips. Current financial disclosure laws, which do not require the reporting of the value of homes nor of pension plans, should require the reporting of those homes and pension plans so that lawmakers cannot hide assets from the public.
5. Would you support eliminating Hawaii’s high fees for access to public records when the request is in the public interest?
I don’t know what the fees are. Instead of eliminating high fees, a possible waiver or reduction should be considered depending on what the public interest is.
6. Voters complain their elected officials don’t listen to them. What would you do to improve communication?
My constituents thank me all the time because they have been more informed of the legislative process since I’ve been elected than before. I currently use social media: Twitter, Instagram and Facebook, for almost real-time events; at least monthly newsletters; semi-annual town hall meetings; and community meetings to communicate with voters.
For those constituents who are interested in a particular subject or a bill, they get an email whenever a hearing is scheduled for that bill. Lack of resources prevent me from sending out frequent mailed reports for those who do not have access to a smart phone or know how to use social media. For those people reliant on regular mail, they receive bimonthly newsletters; and I hope that they see posters/advertisements of upcoming town halls so they can come to such town hall and speak with me personally.
7. What do you see as the most pressing issue facing your district? What will you do about it?
The most pressing issue facing the district is the need for an alternate road out of lower Puna. Currently Highway 130 services 25,000 people. Whenever Highway 130 is blocked for five to seven hours (it occurs whenever there is a fatality; which has happened twice in the past two years), the police simply block the highway with no detour. Residents are stuck on either the Hilo side of the blockade or in Puna where they have no access to the hospital, school or work. Most people in Puna live paycheck-to-paycheck, so losing a day of work is a hardship. Parents of newborns or those who are medically fragile get extremely anxious when they do not know how or when they will be able to get to the ER.
What I did in my first year was to get $15 million allocated for an alternate route – the State Department of Transportation has not sought the release of it yet, nor does it have plans to spend it. I intend to continue pushing for the funding and construction of that alternate route.
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 would read the environmental assessment of environmental impact statement and hear the community concerns before making a decision. Public hearings where all concerns are heard are necessary for a decision maker to make an informed decision. I, personally would lean towards ensuring that we are agriculturally sustainable first, which may mean limited development, but to ensure affordability of limited development, multi-resident complexes should be approved in lieu of subdivisions on arable land.
9. What should the Legislature do to improve police accountability?
Kauai already has a law in place that requires body-cameras for their police. This law is being fought by SHOPO. In the 2016 session, I supported a bill requiring body cameras for state law enforcement and introduced a resolution requiring these same cameras in the event the bill did not pass. Neither bill nor resolution passed but that does not mean both cannot be reintroduced. From reports, those body cams not only help the state ensure a proper conviction and increase the public’s trust in the police, but also ensure that false reports are not filed.
10. Hawaii is the fastest-aging state. What would you do to ensure we’re taking care of our kupuna?
Puna, one of the fastest-growing districts in the state, needs emergency care services and a dialysis center so that the elderly will be able to live independently and have resources near them. As shown by the 2014 lava flow that threatened to cut off a large part of Puna from the rest of the island, senior citizens/the elderly were the first to leave Puna because of the lack of medical care in Puna. Sen. Ruderman and myself have advocated and acquired funding for the creation of a Puna emergency room. I will continue to support any non-profit, such as Bay Clinic, that intends to increase medical services in Puna. I supported and co-introduced a bill for funding for an ambulance specifically for Puna and I intend to support a funding request for a mobile dental clinic to reach all parts of Puna, which is geographically the size of Oahu.
The 2016 legislative session passed the CARE act which was the prime bill advocated by AARP that would require medical providers to provide information on treatment and illness, not only to the patients but to their caregivers. Hawaii County’s Office of Aging has done an excellent job of coordinating services to support the elderly age in place instead of at a nursing home; and I will support funding to ensure that continues.
11. What would you do to improve Hawaii’s public education system?
Seek out sources of funding; and allow for creative sources of funding like development fees for new development. The problems with Hawaii’s public education system are varied and complex, and hopefully, a lot of those problems can be solved by more funding. Right now there is a shortage of teachers, funding is necessary to ensure that teachers are well compensated to increase retention and hopefully, ease the shortage.
Charter-schools need funding because they need to pay for their own infrastructure with the per-pupil allocation they are given by the state. Public schools in rural areas especially need funding because the weighted student formula means they get less resources than the public schools in cities.
When a reliable source of funding is determined, the administrators need to do a better job of advocating the needs of their respective schools. The Legislature only knew about the hot-classroom crisis after local news aired teachers complaints with thermometers in the classrooms — it shouldn’t have to come to that. The Board of Education and the superintendent of the Department of Education should have informed us of the need so that new buildings and electrical retrofitting could have started years earlier.