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 Tiare Lawrence, one of two Democratic candidates for the state House of Representatives District 12, which covers Sprecklesville, Pukalani, Makawao, Kula, Keokea, Ulupalakua and Kahului. The other is Kyle Yamashita.
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. We can start by taking money out of politics. The best thing we can do at this point is to vote for new progressive like-minded leaders who will truly represent the people’s interest. The reality is it’s too troublesome to pass reform with the current status quo. The people elect leaders to represent the community’s best interests and I believe if we have more transparency and accountability it would not be so difficult to “go against” leadership.
The days of doing the same old, same old are gone. The people of today are tech savvy, are watching and expecting televised hearings and electronic/video testimony from constituents statewide; they demand transparency and are hungry for change. When elected, I will work hard for the people of Maui and Hawaii to support strengthening sexual harassment policies. I for one will always believe and stand with victims, I am a strong advocate! We are also at a time when big business lobbying is unacceptable and I will support eliminating the high costs of campaigning and “buying elections.”
2. Hawaii is the only Western state without a statewide citizens initiative process. Do you support such a process?
Yes, ballot initiatives allow citizens to enact meaningful policy changes that otherwise have little chance of being passed by current politicians. I was a strong supporter of the anti-GMO bill that was passed by the people of Maui, only to be attacked by big money and big business. The people had spoken, the moratorium should be in effect today. We need to eliminate the barriers that interfere with the will of 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?
Even with one party control, there is a growing divide in the Democratic Party between the old regime who has become accustomed to having absolute power and are indebted to labor unions, big businesses and medical companies and the new progressive Democrats who are challenging these alliances. I belong to the new progressives and am already working on accountability for decisions that get made, monies that are donated and projects that are approved (or not approved).
The people expect more today. The Democratic Party needs to get serious and hold their members accountable to the platform. For too long we have had legislators who are not upholding their duty to the Democratic platform. I believe the party should take measures to remove them from the party.
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 am not a fan of additional reporting during election years, however, I do believe that encouraging the community to use the information contained on the website and using statistics to see who is supporting the candidates is critically important.
I definitely would like to see campaign finance reporting prior to June 30. This would allow the community to know exactly where the candidate is getting their money prior to absentee ballots are sent. I think the Campaign Spending Commission has a decent system for lobbying and financial disclosure
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?
If the state agency is unable to complete the request within 10 days then that agency should be held accountable. The public is also allowed to ask for a waiver of fees. I would strongly encourage and support efforts that put more pressure on these state departments to disclose information. This information belongs to the people. Perhaps research into the specific departments might reveal why there is resistance and find solutions.
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?
The biggest cost for retirees will likely be health care. The health insurance commissioner recently stated that health care premiums are skyrocketing and we are headed for a major crisis. We need to roll out a plan for a single-payer system and overhaul the tax code to ensure the responsibility is shared evenly among all taxpayers.
The state pension issue must be attacked with multi-pronged approach, first of which should be to figure out how we will address this health care crisis.
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 authorizing the Legislature to tax investment properties to increase funding for public education. I would support the state collecting and disbursing among all counties based on per capita enrollment. The state must also take action to ensure that the super-wealthy who buy property here solely for investment purposes 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?
While vacation rentals may offer benefits and the possibility of extra income for some residents, many of the benefits go to out-of-state investors. The adverse impacts to our housing stock lost to vacation rentals far outweigh the benefits they might provide to our community. The loss of long-term rentals to vacation rentals mean higher housing costs for Hawaii residents.
9. Do you support or oppose holding a state constitutional convention? Why or why not?
Right now, no. I would support it if I knew there were safeguards against corporate interest flooding the process with money and candidates to roll back portions of one of the most progressive legal documents in America.
10. What should Hawaii be doing to prepare for the effects of climate change, including sea level rise and threats to the reefs?
The Sea Level Rise Vulnerability and Adaptation Report, initially mandated by Act 83 in 2014 and expanded by Act 32 in 2017, provides the first statewide assessment of Hawaii’s vulnerability to sea level rise and recommendations to reduce our exposure and sensitivity to sea level rise and increase our capacity to adapt.
The state should follow the recommendations from the report and support sustainable and resilient land use and community development, prioritizing smart redevelopment in areas outside the SLR-XA, incentivizing improved flood risk management, enable legacy beaches to persist with sea level rise, preserve Native Hawaiian culture and communities, protect near-shore water quality, promote collaboration and accountability for adaptation, but most importantly I believe the state needs to have a deeper conversation and implement managed retreat policies.
11. What do you see as the most pressing issue facing your district? What will you do about it?
Agriculture. Most of my community fears what will happen to our precious agriculture lands now that sugar is gone. The first thing I can do about it is run for office and educate my community. Once elected I would work towardsincentivizing local farmers but most importantly I think it’s critical to purchase as much land as we can and put it in to the hands of the community so we can truly support sustainable economic opportunities here locally.