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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 Raina Whiting, a Democratic candidate for State House District 3, which covers Hilo, Keaau, Kurtistown and Puna. There is one other Democratic candidate, .
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?
Yes, the Legislature needs to be far more transparent and accountable. Access to how the government works for us and access to the services and information that we all need is critical.
As an educator, I teach my students daily and it is my intention to lead by an example not only for my students but for the change I believe in for our government
It is very difficult to go against leadership anywhere in any job, but when you believe in something you take a stand. Taking a stand doesn’t mean you need to do it in a disrespectful way, it means you do it with confidence and unrelenting grit with words and personal actions. My intention is to stand up for what is right whether it is one of the issues you’ve stated above or another that needs to be advocated for in the future.
2. Hawaii is the only Western state without a statewide citizens initiative process. Do you support such a process?
Yes, absolutely. It is imperative that the voices of our communities are heard, advocated for and are part of the legislative process.
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?
I am an active member of the Democratic Party of Hawaii and an active participant in the reform of the party toward transparency and accountability to Democratic Party values. I am part of the millions of community members across the nation that are demanding reform by actively participating in the processes of these government systems. This is why I’ve taken on several leadership roles within the Democratic Party.
The largest consequence of the one-party control is that while Hawaii has a majority of Democrats in name, many of these elected officials run and win as a Democrat but fail to vote alongside the Democratic Party platform and values with no consequence. In the end, our communities believe they have voted for the candidate that aligns to their ideals because they had the ‘D’ next to their name in the ballot box.
Another consequence is general public apathy regarding involvement in politics and poor voter turnout across our communities. I believe reform of the parties into a system that is more reflective of the community needs versus the candidates’ likelihood of getting re-elected and the continuation of a system that doesn’t inspire participation.
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?
Yes, absolutely. The funding a candidate receives helps inform my vote. I believe most voters value this information. However, while the information on campaign financing is available from the Campaign Spending Commission — it is not as easy to navigate as it should be. In addition to supporting more frequent campaign finance reporting during election years, I support a ban on fundraisers when the Legislature is in session.
I support having the candidate committees and noncandidate committees on the same reporting schedule. I will support legislation that makes moves toward more transparency and more frequent election-year campaign finance reporting. The current system allows the PACs, organizations and corporations with the biggest pot of money to have the largest impact on elections and which candidate wins, which diminishes the voices of our community members.
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?
All public records must be able to be accessed online and access must be free. It is not a public record if it is prohibitively expensive or inaccessible due to time delays. We must begin to make data available to the public online, any time and until then, there needs to be a mandatory and reasonable turnaround time that the state agencies must adhere to for public records access requests.
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?
We need to be more aggressive in contributing to the paydown on future retirement benefits. We must have a reasonable plan to support our public workers. These workers ensure that our state continues to function and without supporting this system we are risking a stable government and folks access to services they have worked hard for. The Legislature must make decisions to upkeep obligations and no longer kick the can down the road. I pledge to be a strong advocate for making responsible financial decisions for our state’s future.
The only way to move forward to meet pension and health obligations for our public workers is to work to ensure that we get back on track with these obligations with an appropriate and aggressive back-funding plan. Moving forward, we must ensure that we stay on track because our public employees deserve to have funded health and pensions for all that they do for our communities.
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 am a kindergarten teacher and I live daily within the inadequate infrastructure and system of the Department of Education. Hawaii teachers are the lowest paid in the nation when adjusted for the cost of living. Teachers shape our keiki, which are the future of our state. All keiki in Hawaii deserve access to a quality education and properly funding education in our state is essential to our future.
The proposal calls for taxing investment properties in Hawaii — I will advocate for taxing the folks that do not live in Hawaii and are taking a home from our housing market that a local family could occupy. I support a higher tax for those investment properties from folks that do not live in their investment home and do not rent it to a local family therefore leaving the home vacant for the majority of the year.
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?
Our district is rural, and there are no large hotels with union workers and the majority of vacation rentals are mom-and-pop run operations where families have an extra room or an extra cottage out back on a property they live on already. Renting out this extra space provides them the opportunity to supplement their income or assist in paying their mortgage and it provides needed accommodations for visitors.
That being said, whole house, or “entire place” rentals managed by a corporate entity or an out-of-state investor take much-needed housing out of our housing market. We have a housing crisis across the state and our district is truly feeling a tighter crunch now with the volcanic eruption housing pressure.
I believe that taxing vacation rentals should be fair and that there are incentives that could be offered to maintain a balance between short-term vacation rentals for visitors and long-term housing availabilities for our local families.
9. Do you support or oppose holding a state constitutional convention? Why or why not?
Yes. A state constitutional convention is an essential process that allows for the updating and changing of our state’s constitution. It is not my desire or role to ever come between the will of the people and the essential rights of our communities to actively participate and change systems that are no longer working for them or need to be changed to better serve the people of Hawaii.
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 cease building on coastlines.
We must make preparations to remove infrastructure on coastlines that is out of use or beyond repair as soon as possible. Ensure that plans and systems are in place to educate the public on how to protect our families and communities and what the risk timelines are for our shorelines and other impacts.
We must create more incentives for alternative energy uses at homes and businesses, specifically rooftop solar.
11. What do you see as the most pressing issue facing your district? What will you do about it?
I have been canvassing voters from Hilo to Punaluu, listening to the issues that matter most to them. This campaign is about them. Their desire to have a system that nurtures and educates their children because the issue of a quality education is also tied to quality healthcare access and access to social services from keiki to kupuna.
Kupuna tell me that they are concerned about opportunities for their children and grandchildren and that many of them are leaving with the hope of finding better opportunities. Other folks tell me that they work multiple jobs and the time they spend working cuts out on the time they wish they could spend with their families. Folks share their thoughts on transportation, health care, education, environment, zero waste, roads, infrastructure improvements and so much more.
I would say that when I am at the doors in all of these communities and I share my reason for running and what is close to my heart the majority of folks agree that education and students’ access to a quality education are important to everyone. Folks are believing in better opportunities for their families, and I know we can accomplish this together.