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 Tracy Arakaki, a Democratic candidate for the state House of Representatives District 33, which covers Aiea. There are two other Democratic candidates, Sam Kong and David Matsushita.
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. Anyone serving in a position of public trust should be held to the highest standard. As an elected official, I will have a personal accountability and responsibility to those that elect me to speak truth to power when necessary, and ensure that our government is working for our people. This applies to ourselves as elected officials. I support Sunshine Laws and the right for individuals to support access to information from government, for the sake of transparency and accountability.
We need clear policies in place that have zero tolerance for sexual harassment, and we as government should set the bar higher in making it safer to report incidents and also the proper training for managers in government to take correct action.
2. Hawaii is the only Western state without a statewide citizens initiative process. Do you support such a process?
As any policy idea that ever floats through the halls of the Capitol, there’s always two sides to one coin. There’s a lot of pros and cons, but I personally think a citizens initiative process could certainly encourage more people to participate, which is always a challenge in our political environment.
I definitely support giving power back into the hands of everyday citizens in a very direct way, and many issues would not make it on the ballot otherwise because of special interests tipping the scale behind the scenes in our current method.
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?
As I work door-to-door I meet a lot of people who are independent or Republican, and usually more often than not we can find common ground. Regardless of the count of Republicans and Democrats, we must all be open to transparency and having free and open discussions. Even within the Democratic caucus there is a wide spectrum of opinions of many issues. At the end of the day whether or not a constituent is Republican or Democrat, I will work for all of my neighbors, and work to move our district and state forward.
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. I would also support legislation that would change how reporting information is available, so that everyday people can use the database to do their own research. Elected officials should hold themselves to the highest standards of transparency, especially when they are trusted by the public to do the same in other areas of government.
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?
As a legislator I would work with the Office of Information Practices of Hawaii to see how we can streamline the process of releasing these records. I would support legislation that allows for certain technological transformations that would support and improve the process of providing this information. I support the access of open records of our government, and believe this is a direct way for the public to trust in their government and hold agencies and individuals accountable.
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?
While I believe there has been a lot of effort to address the state’s unfunded liablities, there is still a looming threat that needs to be addressed. We must look at ways to incorporate hybrid plans, perhaps, as well as partial contribution plans.
We also need to implement policy at a larger level to address the rising cost of health. I support programs like Blue Zones Hawaii, which has an intersectional approach to health and well being that supports our people, helping them make healthier choices and optimally reducing their potential health costs by doing so.
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. Hawaii should have a dedicated funding source for our public education system. One of my top priorities is investing in Hawaii’s future through its children, and there is no doubt that our kids deserve more. This kind of funding mechanism would transform our schools and help recruit and retain qualified teachers as well as improve retention by getting the best supplies, books, and technology the state can give. I would work with the DOE and the HSTA to ensure that this funding is responsibly allocated and expended.
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?
It is a huge problem. I support the current push for stronger regulation on these types of homes. We have a bad situation with the shortfall of truly affordable rental units, and we see that many people are permanently renting out their homes primarily as vacation rental units, while our local people are still having a hard time find a decent rental.
While I am not against those who want to rent out a room in their home to transients, we must have higher standards on reporting and accountability, especially from the big box retailers that are listing these illegal units on their site with little to no enforcement from our state.
9. Do you support or oppose holding a state constitutional convention? Why or why not?
I see a lot of value in holding a con con. I definitely support giving the people power, but I have some reservations about the possibility of special interests interpolating issues. We definitely need to continue having this discussion, and also wait to see if voters believe there should be a con con.
10. What should Hawaii be doing to prepare for the effects of climate change, including sea level rise and threats to the reefs?
The rising sea level is not a myth. It is happening and our state should be working on a long-term plan to mitigate some of the more devastating predictions on how the environment will change, even if not during my lifetime.
At the Legislature, I will support more investments in renewable and clean energy, bills that support and encourage recycling from curbside to commercial, and policies that invite and expand current efforts for transportation alternative to traditional carbon fuel, such as the new yydrogen refueling station that just opened in the neighboring district.
11. What do you see as the most pressing issue facing your district? What will you do about it?
The cost of living is burdensome to all of Hawaii’s residents, from kupuna to working families to college kids and more. Our children shouldn’t have to look to the mainland for a good financial quality of life. Our kupuna should not have to choose between medicine and food. As their representative, Aiea voters can expect that I will be fighting for them and their share, and to improve our communities and our opportunities. From seeking to increase the state’s truly affordable housing, to ensuring the state honors its obligation for drug coverage matching funds, to fighting for better pay for all workers. I will fight for them and their future.