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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 Coby Chock, the only nonpartisan candidate for the state House of Representatives in District 51, which covers Kailua and Waimanalo.
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?
Of course. The United States of America is a democratic republic, where the people elect representatives they trust in order to represent them in the political process and the creation of legislation. Being a nonpartisan will allow for more favorable legislation to be introduced in areas that my community needs as I am not intertwined with party politics and am not compelled to rubber stamp agendas set by house leadership.
2. Hawaii is the only Western state without a statewide citizens initiative process. Do you support such a process?
Yes. The people should always come before politics, and if there is a situation in which the people strongly believe in a policy or initiative, they should have the right to move it up on the policy agenda. It is especially important to have alternate means of promoting popular policy here in Hawaii, where one party has control over all aspects of policymaking in the state.
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 a nonpartisan I will be able to bring new ideas to the table, increase transparency to the public, and promote accountability among legislators. One-party control has caused our state to become stagnant and complacent, leaving the needs of the people behind. By electing a new, young person who is not politically tied to outside entities and organizations, we will be telling current government that they cannot do as they please with disregard for popular interest. I will fight to ensure that the needs of our community are met and that we find new innovative solutions to old and unsolved problems.
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?
Absolutely. It is essential to keep campaigns transparent and accountable to ensure that our democratic election process is maintained and held to the highest of standards. I would improve lobbying and financial disclosures by requiring contributions of over $500 in aggregate amount to be disclosed by the individual contributing to the campaign in addition to the candidate committees filing.
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?
Citizens should have the right to view the work of their state agencies in a reasonable amount of time. We live in the digital age of real time communications and we must begin to utilize available resources to make processes efficient and transparent. I would ensure that the public has access to government records by making forms and records digital, where the people can view records as they are being completed.
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 issue of Hawaii’s current unfunded state liabilities is one crucial to our future. The Employer-Union Health Benefits Trust Fund which provides medical and life insurance coverage is only 12.8 percent funded. With current projects such as the rail also drawing on taxpayer’s wallets, Hawaii’s Legislature needs a new approach to the issue of unfunded liabilities.
A primary method to ensure that there is money in the budget for these programs is by expanding the economy and inventive budgetary spending. The current Legislature has allowed this issue to grow to heights that if left unchecked, will demand high taxes on Hawaii’s people. This is an end that I as a nonpartisan candidate for the District 51 do not seek. I want to ensure that small businesses and hard-working individuals prosper without being penalized for their earned benefits.
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?
We need to stop the constant creation of new taxes and tax increases. Our state spends approximately $13,000 per student per year and consistently falls below the national average. Yet, we aren’t taking any meaningful steps to improve the quality of education provided to our youth. Rather than increasing taxes, I propose to provide more opportunities for our youth by creating a voucher program that would drastically reduce the cost of attendance to a private school, allowing many families across the island to afford a better education for their children.
The creation of a voucher program would allow for the reallocation of current tax dollars, allowing families to have more control over how the government spends their money, and the educational well-being of their children. Private schools are more effective because they are private institutions that must compete with each other in terms of cost, quality of education, infrastructure, and opportunity creation. On the other hand, the Department of Education is complacent and slow moving because they are concerned with the maintenance rather than improvement of the system.
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 the illegal vacation rentals have been used by investors to increase their personal wealth, many are using it to help to afford the cost of living in Hawaii. It is important that people are taxed fairly and for that reason, rather than passing legislation to further tax these rentals, we should simply ensure that people pay their fair share of income tax. I would create a rental property database to keep track of these rentals to ensure there is sufficient parking and ensure that income tax is being paid.
9. Do you support or oppose holding a state constitutional convention? Why or why not?
For years now, Hawaii has been a state controlled by one party. This has resulted in many policies being promoted and with others being completely ignored. The state of Hawaii has a high cost of living, with an epidemic of homelessness as a result. Additionally, there are many unfunded state liabilities such as the rail, pensions, and medical coverage. If nothing is done about them, Hawaii will need to tax the people much higher in order to stop this crisis.
The people need change and a state constitutional convention can help allow that to happen. I am always for political involvement by the people, and with the 1978 Hawaii State Constitutional Convention bringing about changes such as the establishment of the Office of Hawaiian Affairs, Hawaii could use more progress in the right direction.
10. What should Hawaii be doing to prepare for the effects of climate change, including sea level rise and threats to the reefs?
Climate change is a real issue that has long-reaching consequences for current residents of Hawaii and future generations as well. Global warming, rising sea levels, and damaged coral reefs are all alarming to an island state like Hawaii. One of the primary drivers of our economy is tourism, and if we don’t do our part to ensure that Hawaii is safe and clean — the environment and its people will endure the consequences.
It is imperative that we use all available resources to ensure that the environment is protected and incentivize clean energy practices. However, penalizing small businesses with excessive taxes can cause these local institutions to close, and ultimately cause Kailua to lose its unique, small town feel. There is only one planet Earth and we are all in this collective group of humanity to ensure the longevity of this place we call home. This can be achieved through promoting clean energy opportunities and ensuring that the best interests of Hawaii’s communities are kept in mind.
11. What do you see as the most pressing issue facing your district? What will you do about it?
Small businesses and hardworking individuals are the core of our community. In an effort to maintain the traditions and cultures of Kailua and Waimanalo, I will ensure that local small businesses are supported and allowed to flourish in a growing marketplace in which big box stores have been choking out our local businesses.
The primary way that this can be accomplished is by lowering the excise tax, as to allow small businesses to keep more of the money they worked hard to earn. Additionally, with many Native Hawaiians seeking loans for improving their homes and lives, appropriating funds toward the Office of Hawaiian Affairs to help subsidize these loans can help support the individuals who truly create this wonderful community in District 51.