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Editor’s note: For Hawaii’s Aug. 11 primary, Civil Beat asked candidates to answer some questions about where they stand on various issues and what their priorities will be if elected.
The following came from Jessica Wooley, a Democratic candidate for the state House of Representatives District 48, which covers Kaneohe, Kahaluu and Waiahole. There are three other Democratic candidates, Randy Gonce, Lisa Kitagawa and Kika Bukoski.
1. Should the Legislature be more transparent and accountable? What would you do, given how tough it can be for individual lawmakers to go against leadership, to bring about needed reform in areas like sexual harassment policies, lobbyist regulation, fundraising during session and televising and archiving all hearings?
Yes, the Legislature should be more transparent and accountable, as should all executive branch agencies. I served in the Legislature from 2008 to 2014 and often wrote bills that became law, fought against bad bills and stood my ground despite pressure from leadership, powerful lobbyists or the governor. It is the people in the community that must be represented and served. If I’m elected, I will continue to be independent and provide and advocate for transparency and accountability for my community. I will stand up for issues that make sense, to protect people from sexual harassment, promote meaningful public input and ensure the legislative process responds to the needs of the community.
Initiatives I would support to address these issues include: term limits and campaign finance reform; requiring Super PAC disclosures early in the election cycle; setting up rules of transparency in the endorsement and campaign process for all organizations; requiring the Office of Elections to coordinate with the City and County to provide all voters with a Voter’s Guide for every candidate and issue.
2. Hawaii is the only Western state without a statewide citizens initiative process. Do you support such a process?
Yes. A statewide citizens initiative process would promote dialogue and allow the people to act in the public interest when the Legislature cannot take action or muster the votes.
3. Hawaii has the most lopsided Legislature in the country, with no Republicans in the Senate and only five in the House. How would you ensure there is an open exchange of ideas, transparency and accountability for decisions? What do you see as the consequences of one-party control, and how would you address that?
To increase the exchange of ideas, transparency and accountability, legislators should be restricted from voting or working on issues if they have a conflict of interest, there should be term limits for state legislators, super PACs should be required to disclose more information earlier in the election cycle and the state should promote robust elections by providing all voters with a Voter’s Guide.
4. Would you support more frequent campaign finance reporting during election years, particularly before the primary? What other steps would you take to improve lobbying and financial disclosures?
Yes, super PACs in particular should report their contributions and expenditures more frequently in election years. In addition, I would support a requirement for all paid lobbyists to reveal when they are lobbying and what organization they are representing — before they testify or issue public statements.
5. Hawaii’s public records law requires that records be made available whenever possible. Yet state agencies often resist release through delays and imposing excessive fees. What would you do to ensure the public has access to government records?
I worked long and hard with agencies on disclosure laws when I served as a state deputy attorney general under governors Cayetano and Lingle. It was a challenge. Many of the staff in the agencies I represented were not instructed properly on disclosure laws (I tried hard to change that). The executive branch agency culture can shift to better serve the public.
Moving forward, executive agencies must be trained better to prioritize transparency and be accountable to the public. Executive branch agencies have incentives to hide information and protect their budgets in the current culture – that must change. Legislators can better prepare and diligently investigate issues to require full disclosure from agency heads during hearings to promote better solutions and honest dialogue.
I would support creation of ethical rules for executive agency staff and leadership, to require disclosure of financial interests and conflicts of interest or to prohibit them altogether. I also would support a system for all state public documents to be filed and accessible to the public online. We no longer need to charge money for paper copies of documents; instead, we can send a pdf via email or make it available on a website.
6. Are you satisfied with the current plans to pay for the state’s unfunded liabilities? If not, how would you propose to meet pension and health obligations for public workers?
I am not satisfied as the state does not have a plan that will address the current and significant unfunded liabilities. We must work harder and more quickly. The state should use budget surplus funds to pay back the unfunded liabilities and find new streams of revenue.
7. Do you support changing the state constitution to allow taxing investment properties to fund the public schools? How would you implement it if it passes?
Investment properties in Hawaii abound, some of them end up as vacant homes, many are vacation homes. Allowing the City and County to tax these investment properties to fund schools is a sound policy choice that I support.
8. Illegal vacation rentals have proliferated throughout Hawaii. The state is not collecting tax revenue on many of these properties and residents worry about overcrowded neighborhoods and other problems. Do you see this as a problem given Hawaii’s booming visitor industry and what would you propose to do about it?
The law that passed this year will allow tax revenue to be collected (by a third party) for these properties. I’m hopeful that there will not be enforcement problems; there should be penalties for those who do not comply.
I have serious concerns about investors buying up residential homes so they can be rented as vacation homes, in particular, and I will continue to support and work on solutions to at least ensure investors pay their fare share of the property tax burden (as determined by the counties).
9. Do you support or oppose holding a state constitutional convention? Why or why not?
It is up to the public to decide in the upcoming election. I will vote to support it. I have seen the inside of the legislative and executive branches. The legislative branch has its issues, the executive branch has agency issues — and all of us pay the price when the agencies fail to do their job. For each agency, division and program, there is often little oversight, transparency or accountability and almost no ethical rules or requirements (except for procurement).
In addition, a convention would give the public the opportunity to debate, discuss and potentially repair structural deficiencies or improve upon language in the existing state constitution. For example, the result of a constitutional convention could be to create an environmental agency, consolidating existing agency programs and establishing a focus on sustainability, climate change, near shore reefs and animal/wildlife policy.
This would also ensure the governor has someone on the cabinet level to advise him or her on issues related to the environment.
10. What should Hawaii be doing to prepare for the effects of climate change, including sea level rise and threats to the reefs?
There is so much we should be doing. The state government has been talking about taking action to address the effects of climate change since 1985. There is still very little action, in the executive branch in particular. We must increase efforts and the focus on infrastructure (roads, harbors and buildings close to the shore lines); preventing risks (i.e., dangerous diseases/vectors, invasive species like the little fire ant and climate change itself); promoting disaster preparedness (i.e., flood control, emergency food and shelter); and protecting our near shore reefs for recreation, ocean/food resources and restoration of coral reefs and wildlife. I will continue to work to end the trafficking of reef wildlife (by profiteers who sell to private aquarium collectors) in Kaneohe Bay and all of Oahu.
Government can better utilize and collaborate with Hawaii Green Growth to achieve environmental goals, including by moving toward zero-emission, all-renewable energy. If elected, I would work to promote entrepreneurs and business growth in clean technologies, renewable energy and diversified agriculture to ensure our communities are more resilient in the face of any potential threat.
11. What do you see as the most pressing issue facing your district? What will you do about it?
Affordability — the cost of living is the most pressing issue. With the cost of housing, taxes, fees, food, medicine, school or low wages, many people are struggling to get by. Poverty, hunger and homelessness are indicators of affordability challenges. Government can and must do much better, before bigger catastrophes strike. That is why I’m running for office — the Legislature desperately needs qualified, independent and determined legislators to solve problems, and quickly.
There is no one silver bullet, but the issue I worked on in the past and would focus on if elected is the housing crisis. I started at the Legal Aid Society of Hawaii, preventing unwarranted evictions in Hawaii after graduating from law school; I have fought for people’s rights to land and housing ever since. When I first ran, in 2008, I challenged the decision by the state agency DLNR (under Gov. Lingle) to evict six families from Kahana Valley. After being elected, I worked with the community, wrote the bill and worked to override Gov. Lingle’s veto, prevent the evictions, establish a community-led planning process and allow new leases.
If elected, I will take actions and continue to fight for our most vulnerable, regardless of the opposition.