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 Dylan Armstrong, one of five Democratic candidates for the state House of Representatives in District 23, which covers Manoa, Punahou, University and Moiliili. The others are Benton Rodden, Elton Fukumoto, Andrew Garrett and Dale Kobayashi.
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?
I support simplifying the process and using technology, so that campaign information is more accessible. Making government more transparent is exactly what I did as a Program Manager at OahuMPO.
Now, there is a storm cloud of dark money over Hawaii campaigns. Two of my opponents have worked for Wall Street and the medical industry, and another has raised over $10,000 from mainland (Democratic Socialists of America) contributors. Because they receive many donations below the reportable limit, the public never knows who really is funding those candidates. My work won praise from elected officials and federal regulators for clarifying how we get public money and where it goes — I can help.
On sexual harassment and other forms of violence, let us be proactive with awareness and policies that halt misconduct.
2. Hawaii is the only Western state without a statewide citizens initiative process. Do you support such a process?
We have to be careful, because citizens initiatives are a double-edged sword. We cannot forget that civil rights can be usurped by the will of the majority, as with Proposition 8 in California. However, California’s Proposition 13 successfully prevented land speculation from raising property taxes on neighboring residents. Citizens initiatives here in Hawaii could similarly advance our fixed and low-income residents, including many senior citizens and Native Hawaiians, from being displaced due to rising housing costs.
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?
I was elected vice chairman for the Oahu County Democrats to improve the party. Meanwhile, I maintain strong support from Republicans, independents, Libertarians and Greens because I am a change agent, running against the old boy network. If elected, I will continue to work with all my residents on common-sense legislation — ideas and relationships matter to me, not labels. The people of Manoa and Moiliili have funded my campaign through small donations.
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?
Campaign finances should be transparent, with frequent reporting. We need to differentiate between paid and unpaid lobbyists. Let us level the playing field, so that it is easier for our busy families and community groups like neighborhood boards to engage our Legislature.
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 enhanced the soil and groundwater pollution database at the Department of Health, making sure that pollution from before the 1990s was being tracked. While I was the manager for the DOH Environmental GIS, I brought the data management into the 21st century. The reason for the delays and fines is that state agencies often are dealing with poor or absent technology and under-staffing. We are years away from an across-the-board, modern records system; but I am ready to help.
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 do need to shore up our obligations. We want our civil servants to live in dignity in retirement. Colorado was able to successfully protect their investment in workers through $225 million in tax-revenue. We should protect pensions through increased tourism sales over the coming years, thereby increasing General Excise Tax receipts, without hiking taxes or contributions by the employee.
7. Do you support changing the state sonstitution to allow taxing investment properties to fund the public schools? How would you implement it if it passes?
Yes. However, investment properties must be strongly differentiated: those owned by residents versus non-residents.
The majority of our private, affordable housing is rental properties held by mom-and-pop owners and smaller real-estate companies. The intention of the constitutional amendment is to go after the empty luxury condos and time-shares — totally a different picture. I am the candidate who says “tax non-resident investors differently!” The foreign and mainland land sharks need to pay their fair share.
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?
What we have with illegal temporary vacation rentals (TVRs) is the worst of both worlds — no enforcement, no revenues gained. We want to make it more cost-effective for people to rent their spare rooms to residents than tourists. Right now, a TVR owner can make $1,000 in a single week. The incentive is stacked against renters. We need incentives to do the right thing, and “Pigovian taxes” to discourage poor land use. I support managing tourism. We do not know how many visitors are in our crowded residential communities. Right now, we are evacuating more people from Puna than are supposed to be there, and it strains our emergency responders.
9. Do you support or oppose holding a state constitutional convention? Why or why not?
My focus is on special interest dominance which will affect us either way. Specifically, back in the 1970s, the Equal Rights Amendment was defeated at the U.S. Constitutional Convention by busloads of opponents — Hawaii did not have a truly representative delegation. If we have a state constitutional convention now, the grassroots will have to massively coordinate and organize to prevent major loses to special interests — think the Koch brothers and A.L.E.C.
10. What should Hawaii be doing to prepare for the effects of climate change, including sea level rise and threats to the reefs?
We need science-based policy for the natural environment, land use and transportation, all of which are my background. I worked in a laboratory for three years with our endangered Hawaiian tree snails, which are imperiled by a changing climate.
To reduce pollution, we need to improve battery storage and expand community-renewables for the mom-and-pops who cannot currently afford photovoltaic solar. We want to promote renewable-fuels vehicles. Not least, we waste a tremendous amount of energy sitting idle in traffic, air-conditioning dilapidated buildings at UH and throughout state government, and importing food we could grow here. We can get most of the 40 percent of the UH Manoa population that lives within 2.5 miles of campus on foot, bike or bus. Updating our infrastructure will require billions of dollars, but you have the right candidate in me. We can put our tradesmen people back to work while preparing for the future.
11. What do you see as the most pressing issue facing your district? What will you do about it?
After having knocked on 7,000 doors, the biggest issue that residents express to me is the cost of living, including taxes, home maintenance, food, health care and child care. Lifelong residents continue to struggle with paying for risings costs on fixed incomes. The main driver of real estate foreclosure in Hawaii is medical debt, and it is troubling to me that one of my opponents does public relations for the hospitals and his spouse is a hospital lawyer. Another opponent just moved to the district for the first time in the fall. The kupuna in our community who are aging in place, need a caring, experienced advocate.
My mission will be to stop the monster house speculators from jacking up our property taxes, to have the state spend public money smartly for infrastructure and environmental management, and work to expand food and medical access for our vulnerable.
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