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 Randy Gonce, a Democratic candidate for the state House Representative in District 48, which covers Kaneohe, Kahaluu and Waiahole. There are three other Democratic candidates, Kika Bukoski, 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?
Absolutely, the Legislature needs to be more transparent and accountable. Working as a staffer at the Capitol for a few years now I have come to realize that some decisions on what bills to hear, pass and kill are made way before the public has a chance to testify. This is the opposite of a government working for the people.
It is so frustrating to work on legislation year after year to have decisions made before the people get a chance to give their input. Our citizens spend countless hours taking off time from their jobs, family, some even flying over from different islands to advocate for deeply personal issues. Knowing that some of these dedicated individuals are doing so without knowledge that the issue they are advocating for has already been decided on, without their input, drives me to run for office.
When elected I will use my platform and resources to bring attention to these injustices. Speaking about them is the first step. Reform needs to happen ASAP for issues like sexual harassment (again as a staffer I can say that it is worse than many want to admit).
2. Hawaii is the only Western state without a statewide citizens initiative process. Do you support such a process?
Yes I do but I do recognize there are some serious areas of concern to consider. The biggest concern I have is that those with the most money are able to easily influence the initiative process. Large amounts of money lead to professional advertisements on TV, radio, newspapers, etc., with the intent to try and sway the opinion of the people. We absolutely have to be aggressive on the issue of money in our political system to work toward a more fair and just system.
Even after taking this into account, I support this process because I strongly believe in the people of Hawaii. I’ve stood for what was right alongside so many inspiring and dedicated people from Hawaii even when the odds were against us. From well below freezing temperatures in Standing Rock, North Dakota, during the oil pipeline protests or in the comforts of Board of Land and Natural Resources meetings testifying to stop the privatization of water rights, the people of Hawaii are remarkable. With that said, I truly believe the people of Hawaii can overcome an effort to pass a really bad initiative. Power belongs to the people!
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?
Despite having a heavy one-party “Democratic” Legislature here in Hawaii, we have more than enough former Republican lawmakers who jumped to the Democratic Party and a enough extremely conservative elected officials who just like using the Democratic label, based upon their voting record. It confuses voters and allows certain lawmakers to hide behind their parties. We need to start voting for people and values not parties.
The consequences impact transparency and accountability hard. It is commonplace for a lawmaker to strong-arm other lawmakers who have less power in committees or leadership positions to test loyalty. This is where our one party state has serious issues because everyone caucuses and makes decisions together because they are all Democrats. In many cases, individuals are discouraged to speak up fearing retribution because they have to do it in front of all their colleagues. Also, this creates a culture where factions cover for one another on tough votes so fellow lawmakers do not have to be on record voting for or against something. This culture is wrong and undemocratic.
We need to elect individuals who are willing to stand by their values and principles.
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 strongly support more reporting.
In regards to lobbying and financial disclosures I believe that disclosures should cover more than just dollars. The most common critique about lobbying is that lobbyists make promises of campaign contributions in return for legislator’s votes. This is certainty a problem but it is not always the case. The real problem I see with lobbying is the role they play in the policymaking process. The public/media has no idea about lobbyists’ actions. Elected officials have very few staff members and cannot be experts on all areas. Thus, lobbyists sell themselves as “experts” to help write good laws and they have all the time and access they want, unlike the public.
A possible solution to this is a central database, easily accessible online, that deals with all public policy advocacy. This would eliminate high paid lobbyists having more access and perceived credibility than others. The playing field would be level and lobbyists could be a thing of the past. We could still have organized rallies or demonstrations at the Capitol to advocate for issues and lawmakers would have more time to focus on their constituents.
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?
Almost every election cycle this is asked in a questionnaire and I am floored that it has not been addressed adequately yet. In our age of technology and the internet there is almost zero cost to maintain records and distribute them. The main hold-up on this issue is that the state claims they have not modernized and it is “expensive” to have to print and mail copies of documents.
A very simple solution would be to put the labor into digitizing all documents and records, host them all online, and send them out digitally upon request. The Hawaii state government system has a track record of lagging behind in upgrading our systems to meet modern technology. I hope that the younger generations who see this necessity and utilize it for good will eventually become elected and catch us up.
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?
No and Hawaii should be very concerned about our unfunded liabilities. We are ranked near the top in the nation with the estimates of $35 billion dollars in unfunded liabilities between health care and public pensions. More transparency with our agencies and how they track finances will help us understand how we got here. Year after year audits find missing money, misused funds, or the like. This is completely unacceptable.
We meet pension and health obligations for public workers by:
• Demanding more accountability and transparency from our state agencies in regards to finances and misuse of funds.
• Have the political will to bring in new clean revenue streams to Hawaii. This includes things such as legalizing and taxing the sale of cannabis and legalizing the production and sale of hemp products. Furthermore, these new industries need to provide opportunities to everyone not just the rich with emphasis on those who have been disadvantaged by unjust criminal justice policies.
• Working toward a single payer health care system that covers all members of our state adequately taking members out of the costly insurance market where prices are sky high.
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?
Yes I support this initiative to finally fund our public schools adequately. I do understand concerns from those who disagree, but I believe, as a former educator, the dire situation our schools and teachers are in has to be addressed immediately. Our keiki deserve better.
This change would increase property taxes on second and third investment properties valued at over $1 million and give the revenue collected directly to our schools. I believe it is more than reasonable to have those who own more than one home in Hawaii other than the one they currently live in, and said homes are valued at over o$1 million dollars, pay a bit more to assist our keiki and teachers.
I would implement this change carefully to address concerns such as: ensuring this revenue would not be expanded leading to a hike in property taxed across the board or these funds redirected into the general fund. Also, there is a legitimate concern that this extra cost will be passed on to renters of these $1 million dollar-plus homes. Both can be addressed while implementing the law.
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 these short-term vacation rentals are troublesome and at the top of this issue it is capitalism at its worst. Taking residential homes that are meant for sheltering our local population and turning them into moneymaking investments that driving up homelessness and financial hardship needs to stop. We already have a limited stock of homes on our islands and profiting off the suffering/struggle of our residents is wrong. If you are renting out a room or even an ohana unit to help you get by paying rent on the property you currently reside in, then I can see the need as your location is properly permitted and taxes are collected. Unfortunately, this is rarely the case.
I would be open to proposals for planned “residential”-like communities (maybe one street or so) that are solely dedicated to short-term rentals that pay an extra cost for their business. They would have eco-tourism built into the model. This could help revitalize older homes and areas that have gone un-kept for a long time. It would keep these vacation rentals out of the close-knit quiet communities that have been affected and would still provide the same local-style accommodations these tourists are seeking.
9. Do you support or oppose holding a state constitutional convention? Why or why not?
I support a state constitutional convention because again, I believe in our people and the good that lies within the hearts of many. I have friends and family on both sides of this issue that I deeply respect. Many do not want a convention that could potentially change the constitution in fear of the bad things that may come out of it due to big money interests. I share their same concern but where I differ is that I truly believe that the people of Hawaii would be able to see through the money and vote down amendments that are not pono.
The people of Hawaii are some of the most amazing residents of any place I have ever been. The connection we have with the land, natural resources and culture is so strong. At the end of the day I believe, that if participation is high, many great things could come out of this convention such as a new way of thinking about our economy, ecosystems, and resources.
10. What should Hawaii be doing to prepare for the effects of climate change, including sea level rise and threats to the reefs?
We should be doing everything possible. As a master’s student studying Sustainability in Hawaii (one of the rare locations on earth that used to be close to 100 percent sustainable) it is clear that we can change this course if we have the political will. Many of the “goals” we have passed, such as renewable energy by 2045, are great targets to hit but they come with zero political consequences if we do not work hard enough to meet them. They are just promises that we have made and our progress has been less than stellar so far.
We need a complete change in the way we do things in our state. We have an economic model that views the ecosystem and our nature as inputs/outputs that we can infinitely extract from for our own selfish benefit (empty-world concept). We need to move toward an economic model that operates within the ecosystem (full-world concept). The boundaries of our economy must remain within the boundaries of the ecosystem because our planet and its resources are the most fundamental factors to our survival on this planet.
Once this is established we will be better positioned to seriously tackle climate change on our islands.
11. What do you see as the most pressing issue facing your district? What will you do about it?
The unsustainability of our economy (i.e. housing market) that is affecting our quality of life. All other issues are symptoms of this larger problem.
We currently have the ability to have the ideal human experience on our islands. We have perfect conditions to grow tons of nutrient-dense food all year around, a vast amount of cultural and historical practitioners with the knowledge of how to best take care of these unique islands, and enough aloha spirit to make it a reality.
Yet, we choose to live in an economy that funnels wealth to the top while we watch our families suffer and move away. We sell culture, natural resources and hard work to tourism and foreign investment. We keep electing politicians with the same mindset and don’t hold them accountable.
We could have: the No. 1 ecotourism location in the world; an economy that produces the most local jobs and products; a lifestyle of connection, compassion, and happiness where communities help one another and homelessness is no more. This is possible and I’ve dedicated myself to being a part of this reality, we just need the political will. You get to decide with your vote which direction we are headed in.