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 Terez Amato, a Democratic candidate for State Senate District 6, which covers South and West Maui. There is one other Democratic candidate, Roz Baker.
1a. 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: For too long backroom deals with corporations that have hijacked our political system have dominated Hawaii politics. Lobbyists pay for protecting special interests, not the interests of the people. Transparency must go hand in hand with campaign finance reform. I plan to put webcams in my Senate office so that the public is invited to view discussions. In my office there will be no secret deals.
Accountability: You deserve a new senator who works for you, not corporations or lobbyists. That is why I made a solid commitment to never accept corporate or lobbyist donations.
Televising: I’ll support legislation to televise all hearings allowing neighbor island citizens to testify without having to buy an airline ticket, and an online database listing all bills, status and how every politician votes. I’ll initiate digital polling to know how people want me to vote.
Sexual harassment policies: Any abuse of power, any harassment, any retribution is wrong. We must not tolerate hostile work environments.
Lobbyist regulation: I will advocate for new campaign finance reform transparency legislation requiring lobbyists to publicly report who funds their donations and for what purpose. I will personally never take any corporate or lobbyist donations.
2. Hawaii is the only Western state without a statewide citizens initiative process. Do you support such a process?
I absolutely support citizens initiatives at both a county and state level. I am committed to ensuring that the people of Hawaii have the ability to pass meaningful legislation even, and especially, when elected officials fail to act.
As an example, whichever way people decided to vote on the last Maui citizens initiative, it engaged people and strengthened democracy. State level would do the same.
I believe so strongly in individuals having a strong and powerful voice at the state level, I was endorsed by Direct Democracy Hawaii for this stance. We must serve the people. We must never jeopardize democracy by silencing citizens voices in any way. We are there to serve. I will be working for the people 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?
The biggest problem is not parties, but that our Legislature has been hijacked by corporations and lobbyists. Open exchange and transparency will result from campaign spending reform and by electing people like me who refuse all corporate and lobbyist donations. That way the people will know I am representing them. Accountability will come when people vote for elected leaders who are working for the people and serving their interests.
I am running as a Democrat because I am a true progressive and I care about people. I do not believe in single party control. Just as competition gives better service and prices in economic markets, true competition at the polls makes for a better democracy.
We must be open to all voices and all walks of life. I welcome all challengers in all parties as this makes our democratic process more robust. Ultimately the people benefit from having a choice. I support their right to choose the representative they want.
My supporters choose to stand by me because I will stand up for them and their families, I represent the values of the people. This is the essence of democracy and we must protect it at all costs.
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?
We must have transparency, not paid politicians that accept protection money from special interests. So I support frequent monthly campaign spending updates so the people can track who is donating and why. This must be a democracy not a protection racket.
I’ll go further: I would strongly support legislation that requires lobbyist donations to have a paper trail link to those who are actually giving the money. This type of accountability would limit backroom deals and provide unprecedented transparency. It is about time we had politicians who are actually working for the people!
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?
There is no excuse for the lack of transparency in the current system. If administrators violate the law they should be dismissed or disciplined. Political appointees seem to think this is their purview, to pay back for an appointment — I disagree.
I will personally insist on transparency and expose back room deals. Further, any fees for document requests should be waived by providing digital copies only.
If our society is to remain free information must belong to everyone, not just those who can afford to pay.
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?
We can lower taxes for residents while funding needed programs from nonresident investors by being smart about revenue generation. Here are 3 ways:
Non-esident investors extracting money from Hawaii’s economy must pay their fair share. Many nonresident investors pay no GET and have unreasonably low property taxes. An example is the recent $1.1 billion Grand-Wailea hotel sale: The property is assessed and taxed at less than a third of its value. This is wrong and corrupt.
This is an example of why, unlike my opponent, I won’t accept any hotel, construction or any corporate donations. I am not for sale: I am working for the people. I depend on your donation.
These hundreds of millions at stake can help to fund our state and county public employee retirement, improve medical care and reduce housing costs. It is time large corporations paid their fair share instead of overtaxing hard working residents!
I support dedicating a fraction of hotel TAT tax to public school improvement. I support legalization of recreational marijuana for adults and taxing only nonresidents for its purchase.There is at least $100 million a year at stake here. Hawaii is missing the boat.
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. Our teachers are the foundation of our future. I strongly support establishing additional dedicated funding sources for public education. I support levying a surcharge on non-resident investment properties.
I’ll go further: I support dedicating a fraction of the hotel TAT tax to public school improvement and funding of new schools and programs. Further I support proposing taxing real estate investments at actual use rate as some are taxed on valuations over 20 years old, and making a fraction of that increase available to education.
We must support our keiki and our future: Teachers are underpaid. I support salary increases for all teachers, as well as union nurses and other medical professionals. We as a society must take care of those that ensure a good future for our children.
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 a problem for many people who are residents of Hawaii, including my four children and many of my friends. Many families and Kupuna are forced from their homes. Just tonight I spoke to a mother who can’t find a rental because people won’t rent to her with a child. This is wrong and illegal. Indeed we are all affected.
I understand people needing additional income and renting a room out and that is fine. But overabundance of Illegal vacation rentals makes life harder for all of us. Out of state owners must be taxed appropriately, and the state and county both need to diligently collect taxes on all rentals as is already required by law.
Our families are being hurt, people are being made homeless, a generation is leaving at great cost to our society indeed to our way of life. We must correct this now.
9. Do you support or oppose holding a state constitutional convention? Why or why not?
There is a very real risk as people who would participate in a constitutional convention are elected to it, so large special interests could pay to put regressive policies into the state constitution. That would not be OK.
I would support such elections for a con con if no corporate and lobbyist money is allowed to support the representatives participating in the convention. This would ensure the people’s needs are put first. Also I’ll ask my constituents, the people of South and West Maui, they can decide what they want, after all my job is to do what they want.
Let me be clear: Regardless of the lies people have been told, corporations are not people. The people of Hawaii deserve new elected officials and convention representatives who will never be influenced by corporations and special interests. Our constitution must never be for sale.
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 real. Sea level rise is ongoing and imminent. I will actively support a seawall ban. Unlike my opponent I will never support destructive seawalls that damage our beaches. I was shocked my opponent sponsored legislation supporting a Lahaina seawall this year and in 2015. Some people don’t care about the ocean or beaches. Our reefs and our natural resources are important! Our environment is our economy, funds most of our tourism jobs and is our future. We must replace the old pretend-environmentalist legislators with new people who truly care. It is time for change!
We must reinstate net metering and aggressive tax breaks on solar power collection and storage. Maui has the most expensive electricity in the United States yet has plentiful free sunlight. We must assist people via no-interest loans and via real tax breaks to go solar. This means investing in storage and updating our distribution not using natural gas.
Instead of polluting we can be saving. This is a priority for everyone except the utility and oil companies. Again it comes down to taking money to protect special interests. That is why their money is unacceptable.
11. What do you see as the most pressing issue facing your district? What will you do about it?
We have many important issues including; Campaign finance reform, assisting seniors, a housing and pay crisis, supporting childcare, defending workers against a federal attack on unions and Medicare, lack of affordable health insurance, overdevelopment, traffic, poop water and injection wells destroying our reefs, and corrupt politicians that are already in power. We have much work to do. that is why I am running for office, for our future generations.
Our environment is our economy and our future. Our jobs depend on it.
Maui is not for sale. Our government must always serve our community and protect our environment, ensuring that all of Hawaii’s families share a healthful and prosperous future. That is why I have vowed to never take any money from corporations or lobbyists. Ever.
It’s time to unite with our neighbors to create new leadership this year. Our families’ future depends on the choices we make today. We must choose leaders who are working for the people, not corporations. On Aug. 11, the people of Hawaii will take back their political system.
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