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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 Koohan Paik-Mander, a Democratic candidate for State House District 1, which covers Hamakua, North Hilo and South Hilo. There is one other Democratic candidate, Mark Nakashima.
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?
As a lifelong activist, I know that change requires that people at the grass-roots level must come together for a common goal, while setting a strategy and gaining allies along the way. When people see the damages that current practices cause, they find the political will to bring needed change. The #MeToo movement was a perfect example that showed, as more and more people spoke up, that sexual harassment is epidemic and widespread.
To bring about needed reform that may be opposed by leadership, it is necessary for legislators to stay close with their constituents, and for their constituents to form coalitions and build statewide networks of allies, to ultimately bring to bear on the Legislature the full weight of the electorate. This is how grass-roots organizing ultimately influences formerly resistant leadership in the Legislature.
2. Hawaii is the only Western state without a statewide citizens initiative process. Do you support such a process?
Yes, but as a smart colleague of mine (Heather Kimball, running for state Senate D4) recently said, “Why aren’t we holding our legislators accountable for listening to what citizens want and passing those laws — instead of having to go around the system in place which was designed precisely to do that?!”
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?
Generally speaking, the consequence of one-party control is the monopolization of the vote. However, in the unique case of Hawaii, differences within the Democratic Party are as diverse as Republicans versus Democrats in any other state. In Hawaii, there are many versions of “Democrats” — progressives, moderates, as well as conservatives — so many ideas and views can be openly exchanged with no risk of the sort of monolithic ideology that usually results from a one-party Legislature.
But whether it’s a state with a majority party or with two or three more parties, an open exchange of ideas, transparency and accountability must be in place if meaningful democracy is to exist.
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?
As a first-time candidate, the finance reporting seems pretty frequent to me! I would like to see restrictions and stronger disclosure requirements on super PACs, so we know who is trying to manipulate the democratic process, and encourage an electorate that seeks out candidates who refuse to take special interest monies that work against public interests. But first we need an electorate that is more active in civic engagement. It would be great to see more serious civics education requirements at the K-12 level.
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?
There are successful examples of legislation passed in other states, or countries, or at the federal level that can be used as models to create consequences, often through court action, when delays and fees are used. But it can’t just be in the laws — it has to be implemented systemwide. Saying that an agency must release information in X number of days must also be in the performance expectations of managers and employees, in the hiring criteria, and in the ongoing personnel training, as well as in periodic internal and external audits that examine compliance and cause consequences for noncompliance. Let’s never forget that the electorate is the CEO of our government, and needs ready, understandable, and affordable access to information affecting their lives.
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?
Currently the projected increase in the cost of health care is creating unfunded liabilities for state retirees. The remedy is to lower the cost of health care via a step down from single payer called all payer. This is possible due to the 2009 HRS322H Hawaii Health Authority, which has the statutory authority to redesign health care in Hawaii. Unlike single payer, which requires a federal waiver to fold Medicare revenue into a state system, all payer doesn’t include Medicare, and it leaves all current insurance companies in place, including Medicare Advantage, and gives them each the same benefit package to offer, the same administrative billing system, and one reimbursement rate for all providers.
This will vastly lower the cost of health care, which will be an enormous economic stimulus for every sector of the state, including retirees. Regarding Medicare, due to Medicare Advantage becoming a better quality plan, and as portable as private insurance, nearly everyone on Medicare will opt in to Medicare Advantage, resulting in the state receiving Medicare revenue without needing to apply for a waiver.
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, with the current Hawaii constitution authorizing counties to levy property taxes. Hawaii is unique and should lead the way in may areas, but this would join all 49 other states in using property taxes to finance public education, and share the burden more equitably based on property value and residency status. Supporting education is the best way to invest in the future well-being of Hawaii.
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?
For all the conveniences that the internet has brought us, it has also brought huge systemic problems. On the one hand, homeowners should have opportunities to make income from available properties. On the other hand, the ease with which anyone can sign up to stay at a rental anywhere on the planet has brought about the same systemic problem worldwide — shortages of affordable rentals which drives up the cost of housing.
Right now, one out of every 24 homes in Hawaii is a vacation rental, many of which are illegal. We must legislate for digital dispatchers such as Airbnb to charge appropriate state tax, and refuse to list illegal properties. Let’s use those taxes to create affordable housing. We should also consider incentivizing landlords to transition their short-term rental into affordable rentals.
9. Do you support or oppose holding a state constitutional convention? Why or why not?
The last constitutional convention took place in 1978. It was not perfect, but from an environmental perspective, it did implement fundamentally important legislation — Article XI, or, the “Public Trust Doctrine.” The Public Trust Doctrine concerns the conservation, control and development of Hawaii’s resources. It mandates that “For the benefit of present and future generations, the State and its political subdivisions shall conserve and protect Hawaii’s natural beauty and all natural resources, including land, water, air, minerals and energy sources, and shall promote the development and utilization of these resources in a manner consistent with their conservation and in furtherance of the self-sufficiency of the State.”
In the current climate of ever-accelerating development and population in Hawaii, as well as unprecedented collapses of natural planetary systems (such as species extinction and extreme weather events), we must diligently safeguard what legislative protection we currently have concerning the environment. The Public Trust Doctrine currently carries great weight in the judiciary; if we were to lose it in the course of holding a state constitutional convention, it would hail a profound tragedy for protection of Hawaii’s precious natural resources. For this reason, I am disinclined to support a constitutional convention this year.
10. What should Hawaii be doing to prepare for the effects of climate change, including sea level rise and threats to the reefs?
Hawaii should not solve the problem of rising seas by building seawalls which destroy coastal fisheries and coral reefs, and will ultimately be futile in staving off “king tides.” Further, future construction at sea level should be banned, and we need to make plans on how to move communities mauka. These are desperate times. The Arctic is on fire as I write this. We need to buck up and do what needs to be done, no matter how politically unpopular.
This is why education is so essential. People need to know of the dire state of the planet’s climate situation (whether man-made or not). People need to know what conditions to expect as the negative feedback loop of ever-increasing global temperatures continues to accelerate. Through education, we can best get everyone on board as to how to make difficult but necessary lifestyle changes to manage and adapt to the coming planetary changes. Not so long ago, geological time was spoken about as if it were imperceptibly slow. Today, Madame Pele is racing faster than policymakers could ever keep up with.
Hawaii and our legislators should not support the Hu Honua Bioenergy facility on the Big Island, which will unnecessarily contribute to climate change.
11. What do you see as the most pressing issue facing your district? What will you do about it?
The most pressing issue facing my district, District 1 (Waipio Valley, Hamakua, North Hilo, Kaumana, Piihonua) is the sluggish economy.
Because our district is comprised, really, of two economies — the agricultural economy of Hamakua to the north and the urban economy of Hilo to the south — we need to revitalize each.
I envision Hilo as a model “college town,” replete with bookstores, cafes, theaters, museums and art galleries. We need more funding for UH Hilo, which receives only 7 percent of state funding for higher education, while UH Manoa receives 55 percent. In addition, we should investigate inviting private universities to set up campuses in Hilo. Money and investment thrives in such a setting, and offers plenty of stimulating programs for all ages.
As for the potential of Hamakua as a sustainable, diversified family-farmer economy, we must grow new farmers from our existing population. State officials often cite the lack of specialized knowledge in Hawaii as the reason why they are forced to import large-scale operations from the mainland. But what is actually needed is an effort to cultivate expertise locally in an effective manner.