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.
1. Homelessness continues to be a major problem in Hawaii. What specific proposals do you have to help reduce homelessness?
I have been working on the frontlines of homelessness since 2001. I began my career as a public interest attorney providing free legal clinics in homeless shelters. I have been a therapeutic foster parent to teenagers who have previously been homeless. Today I operate a business that provides housing to previously homeless families and families that would be homeless but for their Section 8 subsidies.
Hawaii has the highest rates of homelessness in the nation due to several factors: 1) increasingly insufficient supply of longterm rentals that has caused rental prices to increase faster than wages; 2) current bankruptcy laws favor corporate creditors instead of individual consumers; and, 3) insufficient funding available for mental health services and substance abuse treatment.
The state must do the following: 1) crack down on illegal short-term rentals (if they all returned to the longterm rental market, prices would drop to more affordable rates), 2) urge military to build sufficient housing for troops on base, 3) increase minimum wage to $22/hour, 3) amend the bankruptcy laws to allow consumers a fresh start, and 4) increase state and county funding for sufficient mental health services and drug treatment facilities on all the islands.
2. What should be done to increase affordable housing, especially for the middle class? What could you as lieutenant governor do specifically?
We need to implement a moratorium on permitting construction of new luxury developments. When the construction of new affordable units has to compete in the same marketplace as luxury units for labor, land, materials, etc., affordable projects with narrow profit margins will always be outbid by projects being built for and sold to the world’s wealthiest 1 percent.
Until we have sufficiently increased our affordable housing stock, we cannot continue to build luxury projects. To help incentivize this, those developers who build affordable units during such a moratorium could be given credits toward first consideration on new luxury projects once the moratorium is lifted. When I spoke with Building Industry Association representatives a few years ago, they indicated they would be open to this proposal because it seemed fair, even-handed, it kept people working and the economy moving.
As lieutenant governor, I would encourage unions to follow the lead of Unite Here Local 5 to provide its members with an opportunity to buy a home with a Neighborhood Assistance Corporation of America (NACA) Mortgage: no down payment, no closing costs, and interest rates below market. I would also work with Housing Association of Nonprofit Developers (HAND) and Hawaii Community Assets.
3. Do you support or oppose holding a state constitutional convention? Why or why not?
I do not support holding a state constitutional convention at this time. The Hawaii Supreme Court has made numerous rulings in recent years that evidence the strength of the current state constitution. The problem has been the lack of compliance and enforcement of the constitution by the legislative and executive branches.
Our state constitution, last amended by a convention in 1978, includes strong protections for Native Hawaiians, for organized labor, and for our precious natural resources. We cannot risk these fundamental protections by holding a constitutional convention at a time when the richest multi-national corporations are so entrenched in Hawaii politics that one of their professional lobbyists was able to take the helm of the state’s most powerful political party.
4. Do you support or oppose allowing citizens to put issues directly on the statewide ballot through an initiative process? Why or why not?
I support citizen initiatives to put an issue on the ballot as long as it does not including amending the state constitution; the initiative should have to withstand the checks and balances of the constitution (by way of the courts, just as a statute would.) The citizen initiative process is needed when legislators refuse to take up reforms the citizens want: accommodating remote testimony from satellite offices across the islands, requiring the state’s sunshine law to apply to the legislature, and the rules regarding conflicts of interests to apply to legislators.
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?
Citizens and journalists play important roles in the checks and balance of government corruption, waste and accountability. Public records must be made available to the public and press in a timely and affordable manner. The Legislature must do more to provide state agencies with the resources needed to meet their obligations and to ensure they are fully staffed.
6. 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 do you propose to do about it?
This is absolutely a problem. Not only are the state and counties not collecting much-needed tax revenue from these illegal rentals, but their proliferation has had a huge and devastating impact on the availability of longterm affordable housing across the islands. The state must help the counties with financial resources to sufficiently enforce their existing laws regarding vacation rentals, as well as legal solutions to further curb the trend of short-term vacation rentals in Hawaii. Both Kauai and Hawaii counties have issued moratoriums on short term rentals to address the lack of housing for local families displaced by recent natural disasters.
7. Is Hawaii managing its tourism industry properly? What should be handled differently?
As tourism continues to expand, with record tourist arrivals year after year, it seems like Hawaii continues to double down on this reliance instead of diversifying our economy. Visitor spending goes up, but the state continues to underfund crucial services for its own citizens. The Legislature needs to bifurcate the Transient Accommodations Tax (TAT) into two distinct channels: a state TAT and a county TAT. The state can charge and collect what it wants from tourists across the state, but counties should also be allowed to charge and collect its own TAT – in full.
This way counties would be able to better control their tourism numbers by charging more if they want to slow down growth or charge less if they want more tourists. Counties should be able to prioritize the quality of life for its residents over the number of tourists clogging up roads, public beaches and parks. Hawaii residents should be exempt from state TAT; and counties could determine whether to exempt county residents from county TAT and/or establish reciprocity with other counties.
8. Do you support amending the state constitution to allow taxing investment properties to fund the public education system? How would you implement it if it passes?
Absolutely. We must support the constitutional amendment to provide additional revenues for public education. However we must ensure that the revenue collected is used to supplement the current DOE budget, not supplant the amount coming from the general fund. 27 percent of all property in Hawaii is owned as investments by non-residents. These non-resident investors are in direct competition for limited land and they make the price of local families trying to by a home go up and up.
This tax is a win-win: more resources for education and disincentivize land speculation by non-residents who have no connection to the land or the communities these lands are in.
9. Would you support using liquefied natural gas to generate electricity as the state transitions to renewable resources to supply power?
No. Liquefied Natural Gas (LNG) must not be seen as a stop-gap fuel source while the state transitions to renewable energies. Though it may be cheaper and cleaner-burning, its production is incredibly harmful to the environment and more and more often is done so through the process of fracking, which has a tremendous negative impact on the environment and the communities nearby.
10. What should Hawaii be doing to prepare for the effects of climate change, including sea level rise and threats to coral reefs?
As sea level rise, storm surges, and increasing threats of flooding and erosion threaten shorelines across the islands, city and state governments should take a more proactive and sensible approach to shoreline development, both business and residential. As loss of property or worse, loss of life, becomes an growing concern, government must increase setback requirements.
Seawalls absolutely should not be placed to protect private property at the expense of the broader environment. It has been shown that seawalls can negatively impact the natural surf and ocean currents creating potentially unforeseen negative consequences elsewhere along the shoreline. Community members who have been surveying best practices throughout the Pacific should lead the discussion and identify solutions to sea-level rise that don’t cause further harm to our shorelines.
11. The office of lieutenant governor is often viewed as irrelevant. What would you do to make it more productive?
The lieutenant governor’s office is too often seen as a stepping stone to run for governor or Congress. This limited vision of the office has resulted in wasted space and missed opportunities. Taxpayers deserve more than just a silent understudy for the next eight years.
We are building a movement to turn the lieutenant governor’s office into an office of the people. This means that those of us working on the front lines of the state’s most pressing problems will have a place at the Capitol to build our coalitions, coalesce our power and reclaim our democracy. Corporations are spending millions on elevating their influence at the state capitol; I want to make sure the people are heard, their concerns and their solutions.
12. What other important issue would you like to discuss here?
As the Supreme Court continues to work on determining the rule of law regarding Mauna Kea and the TMT, we should look at how an earlier Supreme Court ruling regarding Native Hawaiians has been disregarded. When the Hawaii Supreme Court held that the Legislature had failed to comply with the constitutional mandate to provide sufficient funding to administrate the Department of Hawaiian Homelands — the executive and legislative branches dug their heels in and continue to fight the ruling of the courts. The new TMT ruling may expose the blatant selectivity when enforcing the rule of law in Hawaii.
I am proud that my campaign for lieutenant governor has been endorsed by the Sierra Club of Hawaii, Unite Here! Local 5, Our Revolution Oahu, Democratic Socialists of Honolulu and Victory Fund.