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 Michael Tengan, a Democratic candidate for the state Senate in District 7, which covers Hana, East and Upcountry Maui, Molokai, Lanai, Kahoolawe. There are two other Democrat candidates, Kalani English and Gayla Haliniak-Lloyd.
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, Legislature should be transparent as I believe legislators should be held accountable for their actions and words. As leaders and representatives of our communities, elected officials must be held to a higher standard than we have historically seen.
An open and transparent government means that the public has access to what has been said and done by our legislators. Rather than closed-door committee meetings, the public should be privy to the happenings and conversations of our decision makers. Yet whether we are talking about sexual harassment policies or lobbyist regulations, I believe we must endeavor to revamp the systems that regulate them.
One model I believe presents a tremendous opportunity is through technology. While primarily associated with cryptocurrency, blockchain technology is an open ledger that records transactions on decentralized, encrypted blocks. What this means within our government is that we can track, publish, and record every transaction – emails, contributions, etc – that our officials initiate and receive, always. By implementing a permanent ledger like blockchain, I believe that we can maintain a greater degree of integrity and trust within our leadership.
2. Hawaii is the only Western state without a statewide citizens initiative process. Do you support such a process?
I absolutely support a statewide citizens’ initiative process. What we see in current governmental systems in Hawaii are remnants of antiquated, plantation era politics which intentionally kept decision making power from the people.
Through this process we can ensure that the will of the people is truly represented. Indeed this is the very purpose of a citizens initiative process — to create an avenue of direct democracy— for our people’s voice to be heard.
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?
Everything in nature is balanced. As any ecosystem will illustrate, when a single dominance emerges the entire system is skewed. Our democratic process is no different. Without proper checks and balances, our governmental processes become biased thereby misrepresenting our communities.
That said, I do feel that while many of our elected officials are identified as belonging to the Democratic party, it is by name alone. We see highly conservative legislation pass every session introduced, spearheaded, and supported by these same officials. While there is no easy solution to this situation, we must strive for a multi-party system to more accurately represent the inherent diversity of our island state.
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. We set a dangerous precedent when we allow our elections to be decided by who can raise the most money. Indeed, this has nothing to do with who can best represent the people.
I support more reporting as a start. Personally I feel that elections would more accurately reflect the will of the people if funding for campaigns were limited to the people who lived within our districts. Some politicians, for example, are funded up to 97 percent from outside of district contributions.
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?
As mentioned in a previous answer, I feel as if we can address this issue via blockchain technology. Our current information technology and management systems are outdated. By looking at creating an open ledger to document and display information, we can better provide the public access to records without the hassle of delays and fees. In fact, via a blockchain system we will be able to explore a depth of transparency, convenience, and availability of information for all people always.
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’s mismanagement of this issue has blown it way out of proportion. Starting small, it has steadily snowballed over time to create a fiscal crisis. Some lessons need to be learned the hard way. The opportunity here is to learn from other states who have created solutions to challenges like this. Firstly, we need to look at better transparency with our accounting and processing of this level of information. Next, we should revisit the benefits that are offered via the state, looking at more viable options that our taxpayers can can afford.
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 this amendment and believe that it will greatly help in providing funding for our public schools. While I feel this is merely the beginning of a deeply systemic challenge, it will absolutely support in taxing those who currently hold local housing inventory to partial subsize necessary costs for infrastructure.
If elected, I will focus upon maintaining the integrity of this bill by ensuring that enforcement and processing of funds are top priority. Legislation is only as good as it is upheld.
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?
Short-term rentals have created a housing crisis for our local families. Here in Maui County, one in seven homes are rentals. This means that much-needed houses for our local, working families are out of circulation — benefiting persons who, primarily, do not live here.
If the state of Hawaii were to collect the tax revenue on these properties we could generate an entire, active stream of income thereby reinvesting in affordable housing development. If elected, I will focus upon stricter regulations on short-term rentals and enforcement of taxation.
9. Do you support or oppose holding a state constitutional convention? Why or why not?
I support the vote for and holding a state constitutional convention. The issues we face within our government are systemic. Much of the dialogue we have about government and reform are merely the symptoms of a deeper-rooted source. This means, unless we are willing to work upon the very foundation of our constitution, it will forever be prey to the prejudices inherent to it. Yes, it is time.
10. What should Hawaii be doing to prepare for the effects of climate change, including sea level rise and threats to the reefs?
Hawaii is ill-equipped for both — steady long-term climate change as well as natural/man-made disaster scenarios. Firstly, if elected, I will push for greater coordinated disaster relief policies that look at localizing response within our communities. When we are connected and care for our neighbors we are better able to weather the storm.
Next I will focus upon providing solutions for clean energy, such as zero emissions resource recovery. This emerging technology has the capacity to support in solving our water and waste management issues statewide, while providing an innovative avenue for energy production. Finally, if elected, I will look at introducing legislation that will focus upon the steady reduction of transportation traffic by further fortifying our local food system and materials market through strategic agricultural development.
11. What do you see as the most pressing issue facing your district? What will you do about it?
Our communities are strained. The continued rise in our affordable housing, gas, food, etc., has challenged many long-term residents with keeping pace with the associated costs of living here in Hawaii. District 7 is comprised of the country areas of Maui County. We face the unique challenge of seeing long-term, multi-generational homes directly adjacent to newer, multi-million-dollar developments. This subtle, yet evident, divide between “old” and “new” has created friction within our district. This loss of the sense of community is something that is felt throughout.
If elected, I will focus upon approaching this issue from short, medium, and long-term strategies in making the everyday person’s capacity to live here easier and attainable. Short-term, I will push for such things as living wages, affordable housing reform (regarding specific language and processes within legislation), and agricultural development. Medium-term, I will focus upon agricultural/economic development regarding recreational marijuana and hemp markets, redirecting finance for a state/county housing projects, and community health initiatives. Long-term, I will focus upon taxation and how we can redistribute focus upon those more able to afford increased percentages in support of our communities’ well-being.