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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 Heather Kimball, one of two Democratic candidates for State Senate District 4, which covers Hilo, Hamakua, Kohala, Waimea, Waikoloa and Kona. The other candidate is Lorraine Inouye.
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, without a doubt our Legislature should be more transparent and accountable. One of the common themes I have heard while canvassing District 4 is a general distrust of the Legislature. This distrust stems from the lack of transparency; the sense that decisions are made behind closed doors before public testimony is heard and that bills die either by not being heard or in conference rather than by a vote in the public view. I will always be open with my constituents about the process and my vote.
The rules regarding sexual harassment absolutely must be changed. I will advocate for these rule changes so that victims of sexual harassment can file complaints safely and without fear of retribution. I support legislation that requires lobbying firms to report who they represent, to more frequently report their expenditures and to impose stiffer fines on those who engage in lobbying activities and are not registered as a lobbyist.
For elected officials and candidates, I support more frequent reporting, especially as the primary election approaches and support a prohibition on fundraising during session. Finally, I support televising and archiving all hearings and allowing for remote testimony from the neighbor islands.
2. Hawaii is the only Western state without a statewide citizens initiative process. Do you support such a process?
When the Legislature fails to act on the will of the people a citizens initiative would provide a possible alternative. I support a citizen’s initiative as a way for the public to act and to hold their elected officials accountable. Certain safeguards would have to be in place that would prohibit the citizens initiative process from being used to take away the civil rights from any of Hawaii’s citizens or to change the state’s budgetary obligations.
I would also want to ensure that citizen’s initiative legislation also included public disclosure of any funding sources used to promote a particular initiative and the clear language was used to describe the impacts of the initiative on the ballot.
However, if Hawaii were to adopt a citizen’s initiative process, legislators should not be given a pass on doing their job. Advocating for legislation on behalf of the people they represent is what we pay them to do and our most powerful tool is still our vote at the ballot box.
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?
Our legislative system is based on the foundational principle that debate over ideas results in better legislation. A single-party system has the consequence of reducing the level of debate and keeping most of the legislative process out of the public view. However, it is up to the voters to hold their legislators accountable to the platform of their party and ensure that they serve the will of their community, regardless of party.
Therefore, increasing voter turnout in primary elections is critical. I support rank-choice voting and all-mail elections. I also support campaign spending limits and public campaign financing so that voters have a more diverse choice of candidates. In our one-party system candidates matter more than party affiliation. It is up to the voters to say, “not just any blue will do”.
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?
Where a candidate’s funding comes from matters and the public deserves more timely access to this information. I do support more frequent campaign spending disclosure, especially in election years and running up to the primary. I support more frequent disclosures of expenditures by lobbyists and disclosure of their contributors. Upgrading the campaign spending reporting system to allowing for batch uploading of deposits and expenditures would facilitate more frequent reporting and reduce errors in reporting.
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?
State agencies should be required to provide public records as requested within two weeks. In this age of technology there should be no reason that public records are not stored and shared electronically without fees unless multiple hard copies are requested. Access to public documents is the right of Hawaii citizens and is critical to government accountability. I support funding to transition our public record keeping to a searchable online database.
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 currently has one of the highest levels of unfunded liabilities per capita in the country. Projections to make the fund solvent in 30 years are overly optimistic on the rate of return on invested funds and forecasted payout amounts.
Funds in the Employer-Union Health Benefits Trust Fund should not be used for any other purpose than to cover employee benefit obligations. This is a promise we have made to Hawaii’s workers and it is a promise we must keep. The state should continue to contribute annually to this fund and increase that amount annually to compensate for differences in projected and actual investment returns.
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?
Hawaii’s public schools have been systematically starved for decades. This is evident in the severe shortage of qualified teachers and the backlog of capital improvements and repairs needed for our schools. We are the only state in the country with a statewide Department of Education and the only jurisdiction that does not use some form of property taxes to pay for public schools.
I fully support a constitutional amendment that would allow the state to use property taxes to support public education. Should this pass by the electorate I support imposing the tax on investment properties valued at over $1 million. Further, I support maintaining the current rate of funding for public education that currently comes from the general fund.
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?
Many of my constituents have raised this as a concern in relation to the impact on the availability of long term rentals and the impact on quality of life in our district’s neighborhoods. In some areas of our district there are entire cul-de-sacs in residential areas that are all vacation rentals. It is currently much more profitable to utilize a property as a vacation rental than as long-term rental.
We need to correct this imbalance through enforcement actions on illegal rentals. The regulation of vacation rentals falls to the county and the zoning codes already on the books. The creation of any new ordinances to moderate the proliferation of vacation rentals should differentiate between owner-occupied properties and investment-owned properties.
9. Do you support or oppose holding a state constitutional convention? Why or why not?
Our constitution should be considered a living document that needs to be adjusted to reflect changing times, changing needs and changing technology. However, I prefer to do this through a robust amendment process than through a constitutional convention. Our current constitution provides protections for workers’ rights, Native Hawaiians and the environment that could all be threatened if moneyed interests were to get involved in the delegate election process.
It is up to the voters to decide if we will engage in a constitutional convention. If it passes, I will be active in ensuring my constituents are informed and in supporting delegates who share the values of our community.
10. What should Hawaii be doing to prepare for the effects of climate change, including sea level rise and threats to the reefs?
I am a scientist that has been working for the past several years in the field of climate change adaptation and mitigation. While sea level rise is one of the most impactful consequences of climate change to our island state, other impacts include more frequent and more intense storms, drought, greater risk of wildfire, more rapid spread of plant and animal disease and damage to critical infrastructure.
The need to prepare and build our resilience to climate change is urgent and the costs of making proactive changes is much less that the cost of doing nothing. The good news is that we are at a point in history where what is good for the economy, the environment and our communities are in alignment, it just takes the political will to do what needs to be done.
We need to engage in managed retreat of critical infrastructure and enterprise zones from costal areas, invest in more distributed renewable energy production and storage, increase local food production and ensure that the manner in which we adapt will also promote social and economic justice.
11. What do you see as the most pressing issue facing your district? What will you do about it?
State Senate District 4 is the largest district in the state and has several distinct communities, each with their own unique concerns. The underlying issue for many of these concerns is that so many of our residents are living on the brink, only one medical bill or car repair away from not being able to make their housing payment.
I will work toward greater economic equity by working on legislation that keeps more money in the pockets of our working families, such as tax fairness policy and updating renter’s and food credits. I also will support investing in opportunities for greater economic diversity, creating more good-paying jobs for our residents and building resilience in our community.
Hawaii Island is expected to have the highest growth rate of all the islands, with our population doubling in about 35 years. We need to plan for this growth and ensure that as we grow that the current infrastructure and government service needs of our residents are met and we grow in a way that is sustainable and protects our natural resources. To achieve this, we will have to become more efficient and reduce the waste in government so that we can do more with less.