Editor’s note: For Hawaii’s Nov. 8 general election, Civil Beat asked candidates to answer some questions.
The following came from Joe Kent, a Libertarian candidate for state Senate District 11, which includes Manoa, Makiki, Punchbowl and Papakolea. There are two other candidates, Democrat Brian Taniguchi and Republican C. Kaui Amsterdam.
Name: Joe Kent
Office seeking: State Senate, District 11
Occupation: Vice president of research, Grassroot Institute of Hawaii
Age as of Aug. 13, 2016: 34
Place of residence: Makiki
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?
Hawaii’s State Capitol has a video system installed that is clunky, fuzzy and takes days to upload. Many of the meetings at the Legislature aren’t even recorded, so the public is left in the dark on important issues.
I would start a company that would install HD video feeds in the public testimony rooms at the Capitol, from all the best angles. My system would provide high quality live feeds to local news outlets for a subscription to keep the project sustainable. Just think how often local news reporters have to lug their gear into the Capitol and wait for hours, just to capture a five-second sound byte. My company would save the stations time and manpower, and provide a higher quality video feed than is currently offered.
Finally we could capture that hilarious moment when a senator forgets he’s on camera and the truth accidentally slips out. Finally we would see a zoomed in shot of the passionate testimony of the public. Plus, we may finally get to see what lawmakers are really looking at on their iPads and laptops!
2. Hawaii is the only Western state without a statewide citizen’s initiative process. Do you support such a process?
Yes, except only to repeal laws. It should always be easier to repeal laws than it is to create them.
3. Hawaii has long been dominated by the Democratic Party establishment. Should this change, and if so, how?
When most people vote, they just look for the (D) or (R) or (L) on the ballots. But here’s a simple solution: Get rid of those letters on ballots. Then, voters would actually need to do research on who the best candidates were.
Getting rid of the party labels would give candidates more incentive to actually be clear about their views, and it would give all candidates an equal chance. People would actually have to read the Civil Beat candidate Q&As in order to learn who to vote for.
4. What specific steps would you take to strengthen Hawaii’s lax lobbying, ethics and financial disclosure laws?
I would consider the recommendations from local non-profits on this matter. However, I am cautious to strengthen the laws, because sometimes these types of laws can get in the way of people who are trying to do good in the world.
For example, there was once a man who was passionate about his children’s education, and he got involved in the legislative process. He went to the Legislature to testify so much, he called himself Captain Watchdog. Any law which would infringe upon Captain Watchdog’s privacy, finances, put his family in danger or hinder his ability to provide public input at the Legislature would actually hurt the legislative process.
I would be cautious about strengthening any law which would allow the government to infringe upon the public’s right to privacy.
5. Would you support eliminating Hawaii’s high fees for access to public records when the request is in the public interest?
Yes. The public has a right to know what’s going on behind the scenes with their tax dollars.
Public records in Hawaii are so difficult to find — partially because the agencies themselves cannot find the records. Why should the public pay for the time it takes government agencies to find records? If it’s so difficult to find the records, then perhaps the agencies could save time and money by being better organized.
6. Voters complain their elected officials don’t listen to them. What would you do to improve communication?
Last year, I visited a town called Sandy Springs, Georgia, and they had a wonderful idea! They hired a call center to field questions from the public. The idea that worked so well, I made a documentary about it.
If I were elected, I would hire a call center for Hawaii’s government. The number would be toll-free, 24 hours a day, seven days a week. All calls would be answered within one ring, and all questions would be answered promptly, or scheduled with a quick follow-up. If the call center did not provide adequate service, the contract would be reopened to a better call center.
7. What do you see as the most pressing issue facing your district? What will you do about it?
Anyone who lives in Makiki, Manoa or Punchbowl knows that rent keeps going up, up, up! This is partially because there simply isn’t enough housing. At the same time, there are folks who are ready to build housing, but it takes years to get through the most restrictive land and building regulations in the country.
Allowing our beautiful city to be a city will go a long ways toward preventing urban sprawl. It’s the only solution which helps provide everyone a place to live, while keeping the country, country.
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?
A city that isn’t allowed to grow up, must grow out. However, growing beyond the city limits tends to create urban sprawl which uses up open space. Reducing regulations on city height, zoning and building restrictions would allow our city to grow up, which would help provide a place for everyone to live while preserving the rest of our beautiful island paradise.
9. What should the Legislature do to improve police accountability?
Update UIPA section 92F-14(b) which exempts police from providing information about misconduct. Updating this law to allow more transparency would have a huge impact in increasing accountability for police officers in every county. We would also be able to acknowledge police who were doing a good job, and serving in the public interest. It’s important to remember that not all police officers take advantage of their power — but it is concerning that Hawaii’s transparency law shields bad actors from the public’s view.
10. Hawaii is the fastest-aging state. What would you do to ensure we’re taking care of our kupuna?
Have you ever wondered why there are so few hospitals in Hawaii? The reason stems from a government regulation which restricts the amount of hospitals. It’s sad that groups that want to start new hospitals or services that could serve our kupuna must beg for permission from the government to obtain a “certificate of need.” These certificates are almost impossible for new hospitals to obtain, because the older hospitals don’t want the competition.
Relaxing the “certificate of need” requirement would allow more hospitals to service Hawaii. This would greatly help our kupuna find access to the care they so desperately need, and it would provide all generations in Hawaii full access to proper care.
11. What would you do to improve Hawaii’s public education system?
In Hawaii, our children are stuck — they aren’t allowed to leave the school in their geographic area. Families must apply for a geographic exemption, and very few are ever granted. This provides fewer options for island families who look for better models.
However, relaxing geographic exemptions would be a great first step in allowing school choice. This could be done through the weighted student formula, or through an education savings account, which would allow the money to follow the child to the new school.