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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 Justin Hughey, one of four Democratic candidates for the state House of Representatives District 8, which covers Kahakuloa, Waihee, Waiehu, Puuohala, Wailuku and Waikapu. The others are Troy Hashimoto, Dain Kane and Mary Wagner.
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?
I support banning fundraising during session for elected officials, making all sexual harassment complaints public, prohibiting government appointees from working as lobbyists for two years after leaving their government positions, instituting remote testifying for neighbor island residents, and archiving video of all hearings for later viewing by the media and public.
2. Hawaii is the only Western state without a statewide citizens initiative process. Do you support such a process?
Definitely. A citizens initiative process is the ultimate form of democracy, though we must simultaneously work to reduce the impact of money on our political system to ensure that the initiative process isn’t corrupted by corporations located outside of Hawaii.
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 have a different take on this issue. Over the last decade, I have had many conversations with current and previous legislators over the philosophy of bringing Republicans into the Democratic tent in order to caucus with them. I feel this state has a major problem with DINOs, or “Democrats in name only.” What good is it to caucus with DINOS when we can’t pass progressive legislation that aligns with the values of the Democratic Party? For instance, in 2017, the Democratic Party of Hawaii Legislative Committee submitted approximately 80 bills, but only four passed.
We need to have a conversation about Republicans running as Democrats because they can’t win with an “R” next to their name. I would much rather have these Republicans stay on their team, even if it means losing some positions in the Legislature. The Democratic Party is stronger when we are debating our local values in the political arena, instead of having fake Democrats infiltrate the Democratic Party. Once DINOS move up the political ladder, it becomes an even bigger problem, especially when Hawaii sends a DINO to Congress.
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, voters deserve to know who is financing political candidates before they vote in the primary. In this state, many campaigns are won at the primary, with no Republican opposition in the general election.
My crowning achievement has been my fight against unlimited dark money in politics. First, I warned National Education Association delegates, before the ruling, about the upcoming Citizens United Supreme Court case that would allow corporations and foreign entities to spend unlimited money on our elections. Robert Mueller is currently investigating whether the Russian government funneled money to Trump’s presidential campaign through organizations like the National Rifle Association.
Second, after Citizens United was ruled on by the Supreme Court, I tried to get the NEA to oppose the ruling, but failed. It wasn’t until they saw how Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker used corporate funds to win an election, take down collective bargaining rights, and attack hardworking families that the NEA fully understood the ruling’s negative implications.
Third, within weeks of the decision, I submitted a resolution through the Democratic Party of Hawaii State Central Committee to urge Congress to rectify the damage wrought by the Citizens United ruling. Later, Hawaii became the first state Legislature to oppose the draconian decision.
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?
An oversight committee could be created to review complaints about noncompliance. In situations that do not involve personnel decisions or attorney-client privilege, there is usually no place for government secrecy.
For public records, I support streamlining Office of Information Practices requests and requiring state agencies to provide information to the public free of charge. I also support archiving electronic communications at the Legislature to increase transparency and confidence in the legislative process and prevent backroom dealmaking.
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?
Absolutely not. Why did the expected market rate of return suddenly plummet from 7 to 2.3 percent? It’s not just pensions, but promised medical benefits. Something is wrong with the numbers with that extreme change in the rate of return.
For unfunded liabilities, the question is about revenue generation. No, we’re not doing enough. We must do more by finding creative ways to raise revenue to pay down our unfunded liabilities. According to a report performed for the Tax Review Commission, we can raise hundreds of millions of dollars annually by reinstating a surcharge on rental cars (over $75 million), taxing sugary beverages that harm our children’s health (over $18 million), and increasing taxes on corporations ($100-$200 million). This funding would be well spent preserving the benefits that our state workers have earned.
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. 52 percent of all homes on Maui are owned by nonresident speculators raising our cost of living and taking away affordable rentals for local residents.
In 2007, I passed a resolution at the Democratic Party State Convention stating that teacher pay in Hawaii should not be the worst in the country,” and then came back later to pass a follow-up resolution urging the Legislature to increase funding for public education in 2016. I also detailed the solution needed to the education funding crisis in my op-ed, “Constitutional Change Can Create a Kingdom of Learning.”
The problems for public education in 1911 were meager funding, too few teachers, and dilapidated buildings. Those are the exact same issues we are still dealing with today. Thankfully, all but one legislator voted to pass the constitutional amendment to raise property taxes on investment properties to increase education funding. When voters pass this in November, I will work to ensure that the new funding is spent on fixing the problems that have existed since 1911, like filling all teaching positions by providing a competitive salaries with other districts that have the same cost of living and providing safe, climate controlled, air conditioned building structures.
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?
This is such a big problem. I was shocked that the Legislature failed to pass a measure taxing Airbnb and similar vacation rental business once again this year. I know teachers moving out, as we speak, because affordable rentals are being pushed out of the market by vacation rentals. If you are going to profit off of vacation rentals, you need to pay your fair share in taxes. The people vacationing here need to help pay for the infrastructure they are using.
9. Do you support or oppose holding a state constitutional convention? Why or why not?
While I am in favor of the people ultimately deciding this question, I will always be against a con con. I would not want to see our constitution perverted by special interest money from lobbyists, who could undermine collective bargaining rights, which would hurt our working families. They could also fight to allow school vouchers, which would strip away much-needed funding for our keiki in a state that already spends less on education than any other state in the country.
I believe changing the constitution through a legislative bill is the best way to make changes to our state’s founding document. The Legislature can bring up specific issues, debate them, hold hearings, and, if a proposed amendment has enough support, pass a measure placing the question before voters, just like we are doing now with the constitutional amendment to raise property taxes on investment properties in order to adequately fund our public schools.
10. What should Hawaii be doing to prepare for the effects of climate change, including sea level rise and threats to the reefs?
With current coastal erosion, there is no reason we should be building next to the coastline. We need to move our critical infrastructure to higher ground, out of tsunami flood zones.
We also need to invest in wind, solar and wave energy. Increasing tax incentives for battery storage for renewable energy generation could help stabilize supply to demand. Germany has moved away from nuclear energy by subsidizing personal solar panels on individual homes. They have cloudy weather two-thirds of the year. We should be doing a much better job taking advantage of our natural energy resources, including sunshine, waves, and wind.
With the help of the federal government, we need to move away from combustion engines and better subsidize electric cars, like China is doing. Burning fossil fuels has led to ocean acidification, too, which in turn damages our precious marine ecosystems and reefs.
11. What do you see as the most pressing issue facing your district? What will you do about it?
Affordable housing is the most pressing issue in my district. Studies estimate that 64,000 to 66,000 homes must be built to provide decent, safe, affordable homes for the ever-increasing population of Hawaii. I believe local, hardworking residents are in dire need of truly affordable housing. Our family and friends shouldn’t be moving away because nonresidents are buying up all of Hawaii’s property for profit, making purchasing a home almost impossible.
Thanks to Wailuku’s own Na Hale O Maui, a community land trust nonprofit, I was able to purchase a truly affordable home. We can take the successful seed of Na Hale O Maui and have it germinate statewide.
First, we need to change the federal definition of community land trusts into House concurrent resolutions, defining what is, or is not, a community land trust in Hawaii. This would allow us to establish a special funding stream, like the Rental Housing Trust Fund, so that organizations like Na Hale O Maui could offer more opportunities for more hard-working families to achieve affordable home ownership. Second, I want to create a task force to study the establishment of a statewide land trust. At the Democratic Party State Convention, I passed a resolution to promote this very idea.