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 Lisa Kitagawa, 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, Kika Bukoski and Jessica Wooley.
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. It is important that people feel like that they can trust their elected leaders and that their representatives will be open and honest with them. I support reform in areas like sexual harassment policies, lobbyist regulations and fundraising during session. I also support televising and archiving all hearings.
2. Hawaii is the only Western state without a statewide citizens initiative process. Do you support such a process?
I am open to having discussions about a statewide citizens initiative process, however, I also believe that constituents have the opportunity to draft legislation now by working with their elected officials. The responsibility of an elected official is to represent the views of their constituents. Individuals can already partner with their representative to have their concerns drafted into a bill or resolution.
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?
As an office manager at the state Capitol, I have seen first-hand how diverse the ideas are of those within the Democratic Party. I think it is also important to note that all of the Democratic Party members were voted in by their constituencies. Voters chose the person that they felt best represented them and their ideas. We need to encourage more voters to participate in the election process, so that additional perspectives can be represented.
In order to ensure that there is an open exchange of ideas, transparency and accountability for decisions, the public needs to get involved in the process. Constituents need to hold their elected officials accountable for their actions and decisions. The public should participate in the process by submitting testimony on issues that are important to them, by following decisions made at the Legislature and by contacting their elected officials with any questions or concerns. If they are unhappy with their elected official’s performance or decisions, they have the choice to vote in the next election cycle.
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, I support more frequent campaign finance reporting during election years, particularly before the primary. I believe it is important for people to know who is financially supporting each candidate.
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?
It is important that the public has access to government records, since our governmentʻs authority and power come from the people. The use of technology and moving to an online system will help in releasing information with less delay, as well as reduce the cost for paper copies of documents. In our effort to utilize more technology, it is also important to make sure we have safeguards to protect peopleʻs privacy and keep personal information safe.
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?
We have made progress on paying for the state’s unfunded liabilities, however, it is important that we do more to ensure that we meet our pension and health obligations for public workers. This includes dedicating more funding to reducing the unfunded liabilities and ensuring that benefits for current retirees and future public workers are financially stable.
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?
I support changing the state constitution to allow taxing investment properties to fund the public school system. Hawaii is currently the only state that does not have a dedicated funding source for public education and does not use property tax to fund its education system. If the public votes to establish this dedicated funding source, I will work with and support HSTA and the Department of Education in determining how this funding should be implemented.
As a graduate of Hawaii’s public schools, a parent of children who attend/will attend public schools, a PTA resident, daughter of a retired 30-year public school teacher, and former UH faculty and administrator for 12 years, I am deeply committed to supporting public education and making sure that we provide the best education possible for our children and future generations.
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?
Yes, I see illegal vacation rentals as a problem for our state. It is important that these illegal vacation rentals pay their fair share in taxes and are not undercutting more traditional tourist accommodations, such as hotels. Greater regulation and paying their fair share in taxes is not only a matter of fairness, but also ensures that many of our neighborhoods are not overrun by illegal vacation rentals. The Legislature should work with the many online platforms, such as Airbnb and VRBO to create a nexus for revenue capture, which would allow the platforms to remit the TAT to the state.
9. Do you support or oppose holding a state constitutional convention? Why or why not?
I believe that people should have a voice in the laws that are made for our state. However, I believe that people vote for representatives who they feel will best represent their views and opinions. The legislative body should be the group that creates laws for our state, since these individuals are able to dedicate more time to research and the creation of laws.
10. What should Hawaii be doing to prepare for the effects of climate change, including sea level rise and threats to the reefs?
Climate change is definitely affecting Hawaii in a negative way. Sea level rise/king tides, hotter temperatures, negative effects to animal habitats, such as the reefs are a result of climate change. We need to look at supporting efforts that decrease our carbon footprint and reduce the effects of climate change by supporting more renewable energy efforts.
Supporting current state efforts, as well as companies that create renewable energy sources, such as through biofuels, and solar and ocean energy, is an important part of reducing our dependence on outside oil sources. It is also important to continue to encourage the public to consider using renewable energy sources, which will be able to reduce our dependence on outside sources for energy and help to reduce climate change.
11. What do you see as the most pressing issue facing your district? What will you do about it?
I think the most pressing issues facing my district are the high cost of living, lack of affordable housing and the increase in homelessness. In order to address these issues, I will advocate continuing to reduce the tax burden on our working-class families, push for housing development and legislation that makes homeownership more affordable for our middle income and working-class families, and support current efforts being done to reduce homelessness, such as partnering with available services and supporting ohana zones as an interim answer to our homelessness crisis.