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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 Mo Radke, a Democratic candidate for the state House Representative in District 49, which covers Kaneohe, Maunawili and Olomana. There are three other Democratic candidates, Shannon Kaui Dalire, Scot Matayoshi and Natalia Hussey-Burdick.
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?
Transparency is a necessary element to maintaining the public trust. The items listed in the questions are unique and require different remedies:
• Sexual Harassment, both present and past, are actions that cannot be excused because of time. What might have been considered acceptable in past decades, is unfathomable as a behavior today. Everyone is accountable for their actions regardless of generational timestamp.
• Lobbyist regulation: Lobbyists will do the things that support the interest they represent. Lobbyist interactions with legislators should be allowed to continue to develop. I think it’s a good way for legislators to learn about specific issues and aids them in developing smart legislation. Regardless of the personal connection, all interactions, gifts, meals, etc., as well as fundraising during and outside of the legislative session should be transparent.
• Individual censorship, removal from a committee position or otherwise diminishing another legislator when used as a method for slowing the improvement of the standards of conduct is poor leadership. Preventing the reporting of unethical action through fear and intimidation is the ultimate act of cowardice and protectionism and it’s that act that should result in loss of leadership not the act of standing up for democratic principles.
2. Hawaii is the only Western state without a statewide citizens initiative process. Do you support such a process?
Our constitutional convention process is a form of a statewide citizen initiative. In addition, I support having a process that ensures that the voice of the community is answered with new laws and policies. However, I am concerned that individuals or organizations with monetary resources could flood the system with advertisement for what a small constituency desires distracting voters from what may be in the community’s best interest. If there were safeguards for protecting the greater good from a personal agenda, then I support such a 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?
A lopsided Legislature should be no different than a vibrant two- or three-party system. There will always be collaborations, dissensions, agreements and disagreements. One party having a dominant role should not curtail creativity and innovation nor should it tolerate the status quo. Unfortunately, it is easy to maintain what has always been in place unless there’s an appetite for change and a group of supporters.
Before something becomes the status quo, it starts as a fledgling argument turned into a developed idea, turned into a collaboration — we need more fledgling arguments and we need them to be part of the public process that is the legislature. Recently, some legislators lost leadership positions because of speaking out against the status quo. The result was they were removed from their leadership positions. To me, it was heroic to stand up to make the concerns of their constituencies heard.
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 don’t agree that more frequent reporting is needed before a primary. When I first read the question, my immediate thought was, “Why do you ask?” Is there something that would be exposed if more frequent reporting were required? I think it’s better for the candidate be judged based on their history and merits.
As it relates to lobbying and financial disclosures; an entire career field is based on developing relationships with legislators and other officials to promote something that the lobbyist is advocating. On the surface, lobbying is ripe for unethical behavior by both lobbyist and public official thus previous legislatures have passed laws requiring regular reporting by both. It is important to remember that those advocating on an issue provide needed background and education to those who will eventually make the decisions.
I believe we should be on our honor to do what is right and to be unquestionably accountable when we do wrong.
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?
• Digitize all records so they can be transmitted electronically.
• Allow public access to all government documents using a graduated “declassification” schedule. Any sensitive material would be excluded but with a clear explanation for the exclusion.
• Look for ways that people can review documents for free or request printed copies from printing businesses contracted by the state and the city.
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?
Our unfunded liability “crisis” stems from the withdrawal of funds via legislation over 10 years ago. The government has stopped that practice but then endured a market drop in 2008 and decreases in employee contributions. As long as employee and retiree benefits are increased commensurate with cost of living needs and retiree fund performance, the fund should right itself over the long-term.
Health care costs are a challenge for the state to meet for its employees and retirees in the same way they are an ongoing concern for business nationwide. The state as a very large employer should work with the healthcare industry to seek ways to reduce current costs while protecting the health of employees and retirees.
It is also important that the legislature continue to support public health initiatives across the state that improve the health of all our citizens thus reducing the need for costly medical care.
The state must meet the obligations it has while being mindful of what we promise to our next generations and the generations after that.
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?
First, I do not support changing the state constitution to levy an education income stream that is not consistent and therefore not dependable. Hawaii is unique in having a statewide Department of Education. The DOE should be funded directly and appropriately by the legislature out of general operating funds as a core responsibly of the state. Should this change in the constitution pass, the Legislature will still need to address adequately funding the DOE since it is unlikely that the proposed income stream will meet the needs of the DOE.
In addition, there is no clear relationship between investment properties and public education, which is a critical element to be considered in creating a special fund for education.
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?
Why would the state levy a tax, and thereby sanction, an illegal activity? This situation was exacerbated by lack of enforcement and lack of understanding of what was happening right under our noses. Here’s a solution:
• Develop an algorithm that accounts for a variety of factors as a baseline for the number of permitted vacation rentals.
• Analyze the algorithm results for practicality and real-world impacts on the differently zoned areas and neighborhoods and adjust per community input.
• Discontinue all vacation rental permits (while allowing previously permitted sites to continue operations).
•Designate a reapplication period for permits – that number being based on the analyzed numbers of an area.
• Grant permits, collect taxes and fees and monitor for illegal newcomers.
• Fine unpermitted activity up to a level that would make illegal renting impractical.
9. Do you support or oppose holding a state constitutional convention? Why or why not?
We need a constitutional convention! The last one was 40 years ago. Many things around us have changed yet, many important issues remain locked in a status quo. Untapped innovation and impressive collaborative projects are pounding at the door of the present and need to be let in by our next generations. It’s time for the will of the people to have its day and not “die in committee.”
10. What should Hawaii be doing to prepare for the effects of climate change, including sea level rise and threats to the reefs?
We are an island community and should be on the cutting edge of sea level change impacts.We have an economy that is primarily driven by tourists who enjoy our climate and proximity to the ocean. We need to spend a little less time convincing and denying climate change because that is wasted time and effort.Our planet is in a constant climate change pattern and, unfortunately, in this case, our global population and their “antics of existence” are accelerating that change.We have several world-class environmental engineers, ocean engineers, and development experts.Let’s get them together and listen to their ideas.
11. What do you see as the most pressing issue facing your district? What will you do about it?
Like many other ahupua‘a, Kaneohe and Kailua are unique in a variety of ways and are also very separate. Cosmopolitan living and a rural feel intertwined. Development is needed in some areas, and in others, it needs to be left alone. So, here goes:
Developers are focused on development. Good developers are focused on development as a dance — their partners being the community and the aina. We sometimes mistake community uproar for NIMBYism (Not in my backyard) when we’re actually speaking for the aina because we are essentially the voice of the land.
With better developed plans that carefully consider cultural practices, water, need for places to live, and more efficient infrastructure for homes and business, we will better value the richness of the little space we have left. I will help developers and communities find the “sweet spot” so that what is planned can serve us now and our keiki into the future.