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 Kika Bukoski, a Democratic candidate for the State Representative in District 48, which covers Kaneohe, Kahaluu and Waiahole. There are three other Democratic candidates, Randy Gonce, Lisa Kitagawa 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?
The Legislature should absolutely be more transparent and accountable. It is already difficult and intimidating for members the community, who are not accustomed to the legislative process, to take time out of their day to visit the Capitol to testify on an issue that may be of importance to them. To ensure that the public is treated fairly and with respect, I support televising and archiving all hearings.
I also would strongly support and introduce amendments to Chapter 96 (HRS) that would either allow the current Ombudsman to investigate complaints about the Legislature and its staff, or create a separate agency that can be empowered to conduct such investigations. Lawmakers have been known to abuse their positions by leveraging private business and individuals simply because they disagree or have opposing views on matters before the Legislature or their committee(s). Current law exempts legislators and their staff from such investigations and not all situations where legislators have abused their positions fall under the purview of the Ethics Commission. Legislators need to be held accountable for their actions.
2. Hawaii is the only Western state without a statewide citizens initiative process. Do you support such a process?
I support our adopted form of government (representative democracy), which ensures and protects one man, one vote and provides that no matter where you stand on an issue, that you as an individual have an equal voice and equal representation to be heard.
I also believe that the citizen initiative process (direct democracy/mob rule) already exists within our neighborhood boards, where the community is empowered to meet independent of elected bodies to directly engage the community, solicit input, take positions and make recommendations to their elected representatives and government agencies. I would support efforts to encourage increased participation in our neighborhood boards and to ensure that our communities have a voice to have their issues heard.
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 would support amendments to Chapter 12 (HRS) that would allow voters in the primary election to vote for individuals on multiple-party ballot as opposed to the current law which requires voting from a single-party ballot. This would give voters the choice to vote for who they feel is the best qualified candidate. To further encourage transparency and open dialogue, I would also support a unicameral nonpartisan Legislature, similar to our city and county councils.
Nebraska’s Legislature has been a unicameral, non-partisan legislature since 1934. Such a body would encourage ideas from all perspectives, provide for efficiencies and remove unnecessary redundancies that currently exist. A unicameral non-partisan Legislature would also eliminate the need for conference committees, where bills tend to be gutted, without public input, into measures (“Frankenstein” bills) that can be completely opposite from what was initially drafted.
Chambers can be combined into a single chamber, with the savings being re-applied to attract better qualified full-time legislators. Former Lt. Gov. Nelson Doi was a proponent of a unicameral Legislature and proposed it in the 1978 con con. We shouldnʻt be afraid of free and diverse debate, we should embrace it to make us all better.
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?
I would support any proposed legislation that would improve campaign finance laws and campaign spending practices.
5. Hawaii’s public records law requires that records be made available whenever possible. Yet state agencies often resist to release through delays and imposing excessive fees. What would you do to ensure the public had access to government records?
I have personally requested information and public records from time to time and have found the experience reasonably accommodating, however with that said, I believe thereʻs always room for improvement. I would support intitiatives to streamline or even digitize government documents so that recall of such records (less the upfront cost of digitization) are less costly and time consuming which in turn could be passed on to the public. I believe public records should be readily accessible to the public.
6. Are you satisfied with the current plans to pay for the stateʻs unfunded liabilities? If not, how would you propose to meet pension and health obligations for public workers?
I believe it is important to maintain all previous pension and health obligations made to public workers. An agreement is an agreement and we must stand behind our word. With that said, going forward I think it’s critical that we consider actuarial estimates and rates of return that are practical or in the least, conservative-leaning to pre-empt any consequential changes in the states 30-year payment plan. Prospectivey, we need to carefully consider how we as a state intend to plan for and fulfill future obligations.
7. Do you support amending the state constitution to allow taxing investment properties to fund the public schools? How would you implement it if it passes?
I believe our schools and our teachers are vital to our society’s future and should be a funding priority. I would have preferred funding public schools and teachers directly out of the General Fund with accompanying language that made certain monies appropriated were dedicated to schools and teachers.
I believe the state should refrain from tapping into the sole source of funding for our counties. Our public education system is the only state-run system in the nation and the primary reason why Hawaii, unlike most other states which are city and county-controlled schools systems, has not historically funded its public education through city and county funds. I also am concerned about potential constitutional challenges that may arise questioning the relation between the source of funding and its intended use.
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 Hawaiiʻs booming visitor industry and what would you propose to do about it?
The continued proliferation of nonresident-owned and illegally operated transient vacation rentals continue to drive up the cost of housing sales and rentals in direct competition with the local housing market and local residents. So many local residents share their story of children moving away in search of a better and affordable quality of life because living in Hawaii has become just too difficult.
I support efforts to protect our neighborhoods by strengthening, implementing and enforcing laws that maintain affordable housing opportunities for our local residents, levels the playing field against nonresident speculators, encourages compliance by legally permitted and true owner-occupied short-term vacation rental operators and protects the fragile nature of our neighborhoods from becoming distributed resort areas.
I may consider a one-time amnesty provision as a way to bring illegal STR’s into compliance, and granting authority to the appropriate agencies to consider property liens for those who choose not to comply. Lastly, I would support legislation that reinforces city and county efforts to enforce related local laws and ordinances.
9. Do you support or oppose holding a state constitutional convention? Why or why not?
I publicly and actively opposed the last call for a constitutional convention and similarly, do not support a constitutional convention at this point in time. Our state constitution is the cornerstone of life as we know it in Hawaii and should not be taken lightly.
Currently, similar to proposed amendments to the constitution that just passed out of the Legislature this past session, we have a process in place that include input from and ratification by the public to make any necessary amendments as needed. I am not presently aware of any compelling issue or issues that warrant the entire document be opened and subject to tinkering.
10. What should Hawaii be doing to prepare for the effects of climate change, including sea level rise and threats to the reefs?
We are an island state, as such we are completely at the mercy of any change in sea level or other natural occurrence that alters our environment and/or our physical surroundings. I think the first thing we need to do is pay attention to what is happening around us and the rest of the world, and to accept that there isnʻt any one solution that will address issues like sea level rise and/or erosion.
I believe the state has taken some significant steps in mitigating some of these potential changes to our environment. In 2017 (ACT32) created the Hawaii Climate Change Mitigation & Adaption Commission and called for the Sea Level Rise and Adaptation Report, which lays out a comprehensive approach to mitigating an estimated 3.2-foot sea level rise by 2100 or in some opinions as early as 2060, which may impact thousands of acres of land and shoreline property.
I support implementing policy consistent with the findings of the newly created commission and any subsequent reports and/or findings. I believe it is important that we take a proactive approach to developing sound methods of modeling and predicting any occurrence that threatens Hawaii and/or its communities.
11. What do you see as the most pressing issue facing your district? What will you do about it?
Infrastructure. The sewer systems in some areas are no longer serving the needs of the community and require upgrading and modernization to not only handle the waste water needs of the community, but protect waterways and natural resources from compromise and contamination during times of heavy rainfall and flooding.
I would support such upgrades and if approved, would work to ensure that provisions are considered and included to minimize and/or mitigate excessive financial impact to resident/owners. Streams, waterways and reservoirs need to be properly managed, maintained and routinely dredged to minimize flooding and property damage due to heavy rainfall and flash flooding. Utility lines that carry 50-year lifespans are currently being considered for replacement in the district.
I would support discussion and initiatives to consider realignment and undergrounding of utilities in anticipation of natural disasters and emergency situations that may compromise current above-ground utility lines and service to the community.