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 Dale Kobayashi, a Democratic candidate for the state House of Representatives in District 23, which covers Manoa, Punahou, University and Moiliili. There are four other Democratic candidates, Dylan Armstrong, Elton Fukumoto, Andrew Garrett and Benton Rodden.
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?
No question. The need for greater transparency and accountability in the Legislature is stark. While there are conceivably situations where so called “gut and replace” and “Frankenstein” tactics could be somewhat justified to keep key legislation alive, those situations are extremely few and far between. Yet these tactics are being increasingly employed.
The culture of silence and self regulation when it comes to sexual harassment absolutely screams for change. There’s no reason not to have Olelo televise all hearings that there’s obvious public interest in, the cost is minimal. Fundraising during session erodes public trust, whether or not there’s intent to leverage pending legislation, easy enough to limit fundraising to periods where the legislature is in recess.
I don’t see achieving progress in these areas as necessitating “going against leadership.” Leadership reflects the will of the chamber, I’m confident we can all work together to provide greater public transparency and accountability moving forward.
2. Hawaii is the only Western state without a statewide citizens initiative. Do you support such a process?
I do not. The initiative model in California as an example is largely driven by corporate and other special interests and lots and lots of money. In most cases it comes down to which camp of special interests can sell the more appealing sound bites to voters while oversimplifying complex issues. An exception would be issues where elected officials have obvious conflicts in the decision, such as public funding of elections, a constitutional amendment which our current system allows voters to decide directly.
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?
The growing gap between party ideologies primarily relates to social issues. If we strip away those differences and focus on fiscal policies, which have by far the greatest long term impact on the electorate, what we have in this country are a far right and right of center party when looked at relative to international norms in developed countries. That’s really where the gap in balance lies.
The range of ideology among elected officials of both parties is vast. Among those in my majority party we have strong progressives, moderates and individuals as or more conservative than your average Republican. So while greater legislative balance between the parties is preferable, we do exhibit much diversity here in terms of the viewpoints within the majority party. So less of an echo chamber than one would think looking at it on the surface.
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?
No doubt we need more frequent reporting in the weeks leading up to the primary. The source of funds for any candidate tells a strong story you can’t hide from. The public definitely has a right to hear that story, updated frequently before they cast their vote.
Improving lobbying and financial disclosures are really band aids for a system already designed to provide large moneyed interests greater representation than others, even before the disastrous effects of Citizens United. The obvious answer is public funding of elections, until we show the political will to at least put public funding on the ballot no amount of reform will take the influence of money out of our political decisions.
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?
One easy, practical answer is to increase staffing at the Office of Information Practices, which is the primary reason for the unacceptable delays.
But really, the problems relate more to a culture of opacity at all levels of government, a lack of recognition of the obvious, that government records belong to the public. Again it comes down to a matter of will, a seismic shift in how legislators look at their role as public servants, not the other way around.
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?
I am not. The ERS and EUTF unfunded liabilities are based on national actuarial data, given Hawaii’s longevity relative to the rest of the country. Our unfunded liability is actually much larger than calculated. It’s also based on a 7.5 percent rate of return assumption, unrealistic in the current low interest rate environment. These two actuarial assumptions combine to greatly understate the already enormous unfunded liabilities for pension and healthcare. We cannot allow the Legislature to borrow from either fund ever again and the unfunded liabilities need to be addressed ratably, not put off like we do our long term infrastructure needs.
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?
Absolutely. This is a true win-win. Providing greater funding for public education will enable us to pay a living wage to teachers and work down the maintenance and CIP backlogs. It’s key to ensure the base funding for public education already provided is not adjusted downward if such legislation passes, that assurance needs to be expressly provided for in any funding bill.
Moreover the taxing of investment properties is absolutely critical in the context of our affordable housing crisis. No real solution can be based solely on the building of new $800,000 “workforce housing” condos, existing housing stock must be part of the long term plan. Housing is not an appropriate investment any more than cornering the market on food, water and other human essentials. Both residents and nonresidents currently enjoy high rental yields on their real estate “investments.” People need to make a choice: You can enjoy high rental yields or your grandchildren can live here, you can’t have both.
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?
The desecration of our residential neighborhoods by illegal vacation rentals is unconscionable. The embodiment of what we all give up to support the massive profits generated by the visitor industry. This absolutely cannot continue. We have the right to hold Airbnb and other providers responsible to ensure listed vacation rentals are licensed and to act as a tax collection agent for those that are as a condition for allowing them to conduct business in our state. We need to exercise that right.
9. Do you support or oppose holding a state constitutional convention? Why or why not?
I support a con con. However, similar caveats exist as with citizens initiatives. Corporate and other special interests will insert themselves into the process to drive agendas which could potentially have the effect of rolling back hard-fought gains, particularly in the area of labor laws. Pluses and minuses here but we should definitely be having this discussion.
10. What should Hawaii be doing to prepare for the effects of climate change, including sea level rise and threats to the reefs?
Limiting new development in the inundation zones makes an awful lot of sense. Long-term urban planning needs to be more forward-looking as it pertains to sea level rise in our island state. We need to do our part with the rest of the global community to limit our carbon footprint, we can be a role model to the world when it comes to 100 percent renewable energy sources. We have everything here we need to do so except the will to do it.
It all comes down to taking our collective heads out of the sand in planning for inevitable outcomes in general. Those of us who operate at the highest levels of global finance learned the hard lessons of managing the risks of uncertain but potentially catastrophic outcomes. There’s much more at stake here than that.
11. What do you see as the most pressing issue facing your district? What will you do about it?
District 23 is far from homogeneous. The residential community of Manoa, the University of Hawaii Manoa along with student and faculty housing, Moiliili, parts of Kaimuki, Punahou. Single family homes, apartment districts, business districts.
The primary concerns spanning the entire district clearly relate to homelessness, crime, monster homes. illegal vacation rentals and general development trends, including tourist targeted projects. There’s a common thread to all of this, the most pressing overall issue facing our district is managing change.
Managing change for a rapidly aging population with growing unmet needs for seniors. Managing change as crime, homelessness and over-development creep into previously quiet communities.
The key to managing these changes is having both an appreciation and understanding of where we come from and where we need to go. I grew up in the district, from early childhood in a McCully walkup and next to the freeway on Metcalf Street to coming of age and currently residing in Manoa Valley. A career spent in Europe and Asia in high finance provides me the counterpoint of a global perspective. I’m confident I bring both the heart and mind needed to successfully manage change in my district, that’s what it’s all about for me.
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