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 Mary Wagner, 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 Justin Hughey, Dain Kane and Troy Hashimoto.
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 should be more transparent and accountable. I launched an online petition urging the House to immediately reform its sexual harassment policies to ensure victims are protected. In addition, I support the work of the Office of Information Practices to enforce and strengthen our open-government laws and will introduce legislation to allow OIP to conduct its work with a greater degree of independence and professionalism.
2. Hawaii is the only Western state without a statewide citizens initiative process. Do you support such a process?
Yes, I support a citizens’ initiative process. Protections must be established to ensure basic civil rights and civil liberties aren’t subject to popular vote. We need to provide more opportunities for residents to play a role in their own government.
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?
Electing more women to the Legislature would bring about more openness and inclusiveness in the legislative process. Considering the GOP’s current extremism, the consequences of having a Democratic state are generally positive. We are able to have serious policy debates without undue influence from right-wing ideologues. I’m proud of the example Hawaii is setting for resisting the Trump administration’s extreme policies. But I recognize I will have constituents from numerous political parties and viewpoints. I will work hard to make them understand that I value their ideas and interests and will do my best to represent them.
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 support more frequent campaign finance reporting during election years, including before the primary. As an IT professional, I’m impressed with the Campaign Spending Commission’s work to make data available for public review and use. I will work with the commission, Common Cause and others to understand what resources should be provided to promote even more useful disclosures.
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?
I support the OIP’s open-government work. I will provide more resources to the Hawaii Open Data Project to facilitate access to government records, will study ways to improve the Uniform Information Practices Act and will use the budget process to impose both incentives and penalties to make agencies more transparent.
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 State of Hawaii is finally making up for years of neglect in paying for its obligations to public employees. I will study economic forecasts to determine what changes need to be made, and my decisions will be based on my duty to be responsible to taxpayers and employees (who are also taxpayers).
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 support the constitutional amendment to allow for an investment tax to fund the Department of Education. I will consult with the Board of Education and the Superintendent of Education in determining the Legislature’s most beneficial actions if the amendment is passed.
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?
The proliferation of unpermitted transient accommodations can lessen the availability of affordable housing. I support the counties’ efforts to enforce zoning laws.
9. Do you support or oppose holding a state constitutional convention? Why or why not?
I oppose holding a constitutional convention. Hawaii has one of the most progressive state constitutions. Well-financed special interests could have the ability to take over a convention and reverse progress made over the years in civil rights, environmental protection and labor rights.
10. What should Hawaii be doing to prepare for the effects of climate change, including sea level rise and threats to the reefs?
I encourage everyone running for office to join me in reading the Hawaii Sea Level Rise Vulnerability and Adaptation Report, published Dec. It’s available at climateadaptation.hawaii.gov. I support the report’s recommendations to the Legislature, including the following:
• Authorize the counties to provide incentives for landward relocation and shoreline conservation.
• Grant the Land Use Commission the authority to amend classifications to reduce hazard exposure and preserve environmentally sensitive areas.
• Require the counties to fully participate in the Community Rating System for flood insurance and provide corresponding funding and technical support.
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 facing District 8 residents. Hawaii now has the distinction of having the nation’s most unaffordable rent costs. The National Low Income Housing Coalition recently found a typical two-bedroom rental in Maui County has a market cost of $1,619 per month, and a tenant would need to earn more than $31 an hour just to stay sheltered.
Unfortunately, Hawaii’s minimum wage is only $10.10. The gap between our earnings and our housing expenses continues to widen for many of us, even with so many residents working two or more jobs. While our current officeholders have been discussing the issue of developing more homes for residents, no one has been able to bring all sides together to generate viable solutions. I will work with the newly elected Legislature to convene developers, government officials, environmentalists, farmers, housing advocates, bankers – anyone willing to come to the table in good faith – and finally prioritize affordable housing.