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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 Gil Riviere, a Democratic candidate for state Senate District 23, which covers Kaneohe, Kaaawa, Hauula, Laie, Kahuku, Waialua, Haleiwa, Wahiawa, Schofield Barracks and Kunia. He is one of two Democratic candidates. The other is Clayton Hee.
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 have demonstrated my willingness to stand against the entire chamber on multiple occasions. I have also led the opposition to controversial and ill-conceived measures. Yes, we would benefit with these reforms, and I have supported them.
2. Hawaii is the only Western state without a statewide citizens initiative process. Do you support such a process?
Yes, I support the initiative process, but it should provide a mechanism for technical and legal checks and corrections before the measure is placed on the ballot, so that the new initiative does not inadvertently make ambiguous, or contradict, another statute.
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 support a robust discussion of alternative election formats, such as California’s Top-Two System, Maine’s Ranked-Choice Voting, and multi-member districts. Decision making is improved when alternative voices are expressed and considered.
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, the mid-July report should be moved earlier by one month and the second preliminary report should be moved forward to mid-July. Additionally, it is difficult to track the combined maximum contribution for any individual who has interests in multiple businesses. We might change the reporting to always use an individual’s name as primary donor, with a secondary listing of the entity or business, when appropriate.
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?
Agencies are required to respond within two weeks. If they are not doing so, it is not the law that is at fault. In such a case, public reporting of the delays may be the best way to focus their attention. Many people are not aware that the fees can often be waived upon request.
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 should continue to follow the plan set forth a couple years ago to increase contributions and fully fund our liabilities within the next 25 years or so. My concern is that future legislatures might alter the plan and reduce the necessary funding for some other purpose. Honoring our commitment to retirees is a priority that must be kept.
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?
No. I am the only legislator in both the House and the Senate to speak out and vote against this measure. The vote was 74-1. The budget has rapidly grown in recent years, but education funding has remained static. The problem is not the amount of funds in the budget, but a lack of priority.
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?
I have been one of the most prominent advocates to get control of illegal vacation rentals in the Legislature. We have changed the conversation in the past three years from tax all operators, illegal or legal, to this year’s Senate position of collecting tax revenue, along with enforcement against illegal operators. The counties should overhaul their ordinances to deliver swift enforcement, while creating a process to register and control a limited number of vacation rental operators. The ordinances should distinguish between owner-occupied B&Bs and investor-owned vacation units.
9. Do you support or oppose holding a state constitutional convention? Why or why not?
I do not have a strong opinion one way or the other. However, I believe there should be a process to vet and discuss potential constitutional changes before we choose to actually convene a con con. We should look into legislation to establish this early involvement process before the con con question returns again.
10. What should Hawaii be doing to prepare for the effects of climate change, including sea level rise and threats to the reefs?
We could start by executing the policies already established. Government officials talk a big game about managed retreat and sustainability, but decision makers regularly grant variances that cumulatively defeat these policies. This year, I stood alone in the Senate against a proposed seawall that would encroach onto the public beach at Kahana, Maui. The vote was 20-1.
11. What do you see as the most pressing issue facing your district? What will you do about it?
Our district is vast and diverse, so there are many important issues. However, the question asks for one, so I will offer that poor road maintenance and lack of action at Laniakea remain the greatest disappointment for much of our district. My three predecessors in this Senate seat, senators Bunda, Del Cruz, and Hee, all advocated for action at Laniakea over the past 12 years.
I have continued to push DOT since my days as a community advocate and now there are indications the alternatives study may finally be completed this year. We are exasperated when DOT spends time repainting lines on roads that are potholed and in drastic need of resurfacing. On a positive note, the additional lane on Kahekili Highway has proven a huge success in relieving that congestion.