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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 Kaialiʻi Kahele, a Democratic candidate for the state Senate 1st District, which includes Hilo. There is one other candidate, Libertarian Kimberly Arianoff.
Name: Kaialiʻi Kahele
Office seeking: State Senate District 1
Occupation: State senator; Hawaiian Airlines pilot, Hawaii Air National Guard reservist
Community organizations/prior offices held: Executive director, Paʻa Pono Miloliʻi
Place of residence: Hilo, Hawaii
Campaign website: www.senatorkahele.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 difficult to complete the enormous amount of work in the 60-day constitutionally mandated legislative session. If having to read hundreds of bills and amendments, as well as track those bills through the various committees wasn’t enough, we are also tasked with completing a state budget in the billions of dollars. Oftentimes the budget and critical bills are deferred until the very last days of session and then it is a race to the finish, which often leads to bills and appropriations being rushed and not completely vetted and thought through.
I don’t necessarily think a year-round legislative session is necessary, but I do feel that the Legislature should be afforded more time to do the people’s work. Maybe split legislation and the budget into two separate sessions. I also support members of the state House of Representatives having four-year rather than the current two-year terms.
2. Hawaii is the only Western state without a statewide citizen’s initiative process. Do you support such a process?
No. I feel that this undermines our elected government by circumventing the process by which our elected representatives of the people enact laws and policy.
3. Hawaii has long been dominated by the Democratic Party establishment. Should this change, and if so, how?
The Democratic Party came to become the dominant party in Hawaii following 61 years of oligarchical rule by the sugarcane plantations, the Big Five and the descendants of the architects of the overthrow of the Hawaiian monarchy. Through the years the Democratic Party has stood for equal opportunity, racial equality, social justice, reproductive rights, quality education, fair labor laws, higher minimum wages and affordable quality health care.
I have no problem working with my colleagues in other political parties and feel that the toxic partisan politics in Congress is exactly what is wrong with our government. If you are unhappy with your government, than you be the change and run for public office! Until the other political parties start putting forth strong candidates with a vision for a better Hawaii for us all, then the same elected officials will be re-elected every year.
4. What specific steps would you take to strengthen Hawaii’s lax lobbying, ethics and financial disclosure laws?
If we want to garner the public’s trust we must conduct ourselves with the greatest degree of transparency, integrity, disclosure and accountability. I would require that individuals that lobby the executive branch be made public as well as individuals or lobbyists who meet with legislators be made public as well.
5. Would you support eliminating Hawaii’s high fees for access to public records when the request is in the public interest?
Yes. I do not believe that high fees should be a roadblock for a public records request. I support converting to an automated and electronic system that can make public records requests easier and much more accessible for everyone.
6. Voters complain their elected officials don’t listen to them. What would you do to improve communication?
To the maximum extent possible, I always make myself available to my constituents. One of the first things I implemented when I was appointed was to integrate social media into my official Senate website as well as Facebook and Instagram. I also began a weekly newsletter update that is sent to over 5,000 recipients every Friday. At the end of the legislative session, I coordinated an East Hawaii legislative update at the University of Hawaii Hilo and invited other legislators in the Hilo area to participate. In 2017 I am partnering with a local business in Hilo to make myself available for a few hours to answer questions and talk story with East Hawaii residents one Saturday every month. Itʻs called, “Saturday with your Senator.”
7. What do you see as the most pressing issue facing your district? What will you do about it?
Hawaii Island has the highest unemployment rate in the state at almost 5.0 percent. I am committed to growing my island’s economy by leveraging our university, tourism, agriculture and energy potential in concert with our small businesses that form the backbone of our economy. I want quality, steady, high-paying jobs for our Hawaii island residents and new innovative ideas to kick start economic growth. Hawaii Island has enormous potential, but we need a leader with a vision and the skills to bring that vision to fruition.
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?
Our state is such a unique place with precious ecosystems found nowhere else in the world. We are also an isolated state in the middle of the Pacific Ocean and largely dependent on the outside world for food, fuel and goods and services we take for granted every day. As a state we have an obligation to grow our economy, to provide good-paying jobs for our residents, affordable homes they can live in and a safe environment to raise their families. We also have an obligation to protect our oceans, forests, wildlife, mountains and natural resources so that they are here for our future generations to enjoy.
We must find a balance and if that balance is done in a “pono” way than I believe it is possible for the both to co-exist.
9. What should the Legislature do to improve police accountability?
The vast majority of our law enforcement officers throughout our state are exceptional, professional, caring individuals. They put on the uniform every day and put themselves in harm’s way to ensure our communities are safe, clean and a place where we can all raise our families. I do not believe it is the Legislature’s role to improve police accountability because I don’t believe in micromanaging.
If we have the right leaders in place I would empower those leaders whether it is the police chief, police commission or leader of SHOPO to do what they feel is best for their departments. Officers who violate the publicʻs trust and compromise their position as a law enforcement official should be dealt with like any other resident in this state through due process and our criminal justice system.
10. Hawaii is the fastest-aging state. What would you do to ensure we’re taking care of our kupuna?
Our kupuna are our communities’ most precious resources. As our kupuna population continues to grow at a record pace, the state must plan for the increase in services that our kupuna will require. Providing programs that allow our kupuna to remain active, physically and nutritionally fit and keeping them engaged in our communities is vital. In addition, those that exploit, abuse or take advantage of our kupuna should be fully prosecuted under the law.
Through the Office of Aging, the state should take the lead on working with both public and private social service entities, senior advocacy groups and care home providers to enhance the quality of life and expand services for our kupuna. Our goal as a state and a community should be that no kupuna be left alone to care for themselves, be impoverished or be forgotten.
11. What would you do to improve Hawaii’s public education system?
I believe the No. 1 responsibility of the state is education. High quality education is critical to preparing our keiki to compete in the global arena by giving them the tools to not only enter the workforce but to shape the future of Hawaii.A highly educated island society will fuel growth and a strong island economy. We can start by doing four things:
1. Support our teachers: If we want high quality teachers we need to reward and retain them with competitive, fair compensation and provide them with additional opportunities for professional growth.
2. Decentralize schools: Continue to empower complex superintendents and principals so they can meet the needs of their districts, schools and communities by giving them the flexibility to manage their staff, budgets and procurement policies.
3. High quality learning environments: Our schools are aging, crowded and hot.
4. Equality in charter schools: Our 34 public charter schools play a critical role in our education system by giving students an alternative learning environment and pathway to gaining a quality education. However, the disparity of per pupil funding and no financial support for facilities and other critical needs by the DOE has severely limited the amount our charter schools can grow.