Zack Stoddard is a candidate for Honolulu City Council in District 6. His views do not reflect those of the City and County of Honolulu, where he is employed.

One fun part about running for office is skipping small talk and diving straight into a deep conversation about politics.

In my experience running for City Council this year, I’ve seen an incredible range of personalities and opinions, but there is a lot we all agree on. The one thing I hear most is that politics in Hawaii is an old boys club who aren’t looking out for regular people, even as it gets harder and harder to survive here.

Hawaii has by far the highest cost of living in the country and the highest rate of homelessness. Costs are increasing twice as fast as wages. We have one of the most regressive tax systems in the country. Low-income earners get taxed at about 13.4 percent — the second highest rate in the nation. Our lawmakers need to push aggressive legislation to address this situation, but they don’t seem to have that sense of urgency.

There are effective policy options out there that would make life easier for the working class. We can strengthen affordable housing requirements and make sure “affordable” really does mean affordable. We can introduce measures to prevent real estate speculation in order to keep the cost of living down. We can shift the tax burden away from people who are struggling and find revenue from those who can afford it, like nonresident homeowners who park their money in luxury high-rise condominiums.

These are just a few solutions that our leaders should already be looking at. But the fact is, it’s not so easy to prioritize working class policies when the wealthy are funding campaigns.

Money influences our lawmakers and their policies, and the amount of money pouring into the election system continues to grow.

Candidates this year have already broken records for fundraising. My opponents have already held multiple $200, $500, $1,000 a plate fundraisers. It’s hard to believe that much of these contributions are coming from the 48 percent of Hawaii residents struggling to make ends meet.

If we really want to empower the working class, we need to take money out of politics. This newspaper advocated for a ban on fundraising during legislative session.

I agree. In addition to the obvious ethical concerns, longer and longer seasons for fundraising and campaigning present several problems. Campaigns nationwide have turned into year-long reality dramas with little mutually respectful political discussion.

The truth is, we really only need a few weeks for candidates to establish their policy positions and debate before we vote. Even politicians themselves could get behind this — nobody likes asking for money, and they’d be able to spend their time getting actual work done in the jobs they already have.

Most importantly, everyone should have a fair chance at running for office, and the winners should be the people who are the best for the job, not just the people who are the best at fundraising.

Hawaii’s partial public funding program provides matching funds for candidates who limit their expenditures. We can strengthen these rules by modeling them after Maine’s voluntary full public financing system. At one point, 85 percent of their legislature was participating, and the vast majority of women and first-time candidates said the program helped them decide to run for office. Maybe that’s the reason why Maine has the most economically diverse state legislature in the country. The Democratic Party of Hawaii just passed a resolution advocating for full public financing.

For real change, we’ll have to elect leaders who aren’t beholden to wealthy campaign contributors. I’m leading by example as the only candidate in my race running a totally clean campaign. I’m not accepting donations because I believe citizens shouldn’t have to buy representation. I’m spending a couple thousand of my own dollars and focusing on going door-to-door and building a strong online presence.

I’m far from rich — just a government worker earning a modest salary of $50,000 a year — but a modern campaign can be effective without much money. Knocking on doors is by far the most effective way to earn votes, and targeted internet advertisements are much more cost-effective than expensive print-outs, which have very low read rates.

Modern campaign methods, coupled with stronger clean politics laws, can do a lot to restore the balance of power evenly among all voters — the way it’s supposed to be.

If you live in Honolulu City Council District 6 (from Aiea Heights to Makiki Heights and Ward Avenue) and believe political power should lie in our votes rather than our wallets, vote for me on Aug. 11.

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About the Author

  • Zack Stoddard
    Zack Stoddard is a career civil servant and currently works as a city planner. He is on the board of directors of the Hawaii Government Employees Association and serves on the Punchbowl/Nuuanu Neighborhood Board. He is an advocate for clean politics, truly affordable housing, a cleaner environment, and a more efficient government. Visit his campaign website at ZackStoddard.com and vote in the primary on Aug. 11, 2018.