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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 Terri Napeahi, a Democratic candidate for State House District 2, which covers Keaukaha, parts of Hilo, Panaewa and Waiakea. There is one other Democratic candidate, Chris Todd.
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, transparency is important because it shows accountability to your constituents and that you care about their best interests. Representation of districts at the decision-making table is fair and allows dialogue for good policy. This is a concern to me especially for those who are at a disadvantage on the outer islands during each legislative session. The current system does not allow much time for neighbor islanders to appropriately engage with input on bills, because they are not present.
Leaders should especially be held accountable for legislation and if there is a need for question I believe fellow policymakers should be allowed to present justifiable content and be heard even if differences occur. I believe I would have a positive approach to this process and am confident that I can deliver conversations in the most appropriate way to come to a true understanding.
2. Hawaii is the only Western state without a statewide citizens initiative process. Do you support such a process?
It is a process that could give people the tools to adopt laws and constitutional amendments without the support of the governor or the Legislature. This new Legislature would potentially allow constitutional amendments on the ballot that could place more control of Hawaii politics directly into the hands of the people. This kind of process could allow the state the ability to recall elected officials, the right to repeal laws by referendum, and the ability to enact state laws by initiative.
It would have its pro and cons of course. This process would definitely give outer island constituents an opportunity to be more proactive and up to par with legislation proposals each year. Another positive would be that we do not have to rely on the “power structured politics” played on the legislative floor every year, hoping that lawmakers will prioritize good law. The cons could be addressed as the process is created for your state. Giving people the power is my priority as a candidate.
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?
We have experienced this since the day of statehood. Regardless of party affiliations the problem has always been in existence. Unfortunately the typical political process to me is shaped by a “power structured” format that in my opinion have phenomenally positioned itself by influence directly related topower. Influence and power will keep it lopsided unless the citizens stand in solidarity for good law. I would really like to vote for people who are worthy of that seat regardless of what party you belong to. In my opinion it really is a “people” numbers game and true democracy should be built on a strong foundation that benefits them, the people.
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?
Throughout the years, the Campaign Spending Commission has worked to fine-tune a tighter ship because of past lobbying and financing experiences with political candidates and policymakers. In the past there were no regulations to limit contributions. I would hope that the integrity of potential candidates and current legislators would be made a priority. However, it is difficult when there is pressure by factions in the Legislature, special interests groups, organizations, businesses and coalitions.
As a candidate running for a House seat, I have experienced how strict the campaign spending requirements are and cannot imagine what it was like when there were no regulations to control mega 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?
I think lawmakers should take a good look at this issue of concern. I too have requested numerous records that have been a very cumbersome process. According to the FOIA (Freedom of Information Act) records requested should be distributed in a timely manner. I have experienced first-hand what some of the problems might be and could suggest some remedy for stream lining public requests for information. Legislators can create or amend current laws to improve its process by ensuring state agencies are held accountable to ensure public access of government records and some of the improvements could be the waving of fees if public records were not released on time.
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?
Previous legislators discussed remedies in various ways. Some lawmakers in the past were more interested in using the money for new social welfare programs, unlike Gov. Abercrombie’s administration which offered a plan to pay down future obligations to state workers and retirees. I believe government funding has a direct relationship with Hawaii’s economy. I will support initiatives that would help increase revenue for government spending that is produced by clean and safe operations. Operations that will not compromise the health and safety of community, as well as initiatives that encourage local businesses to support each other and promote self-reliance.
Hawaii will become a thriving destination for visitors and a permanent home for future generations. We would be happy to contribute to government pensions and health obligations for public workers if we were able to increase our GDP annually. A surplus can be generated if lawmakers prioritized the protection of Hawaii’s resources, the health and safety of its people and supporting its local economy.
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?
I support changing the state constitution to allow taxing investment properties to fund initiatives for our public schools. Our public schools have been chronically underfunded for at least a hundred years. If it passes I would help to ensure that it would maintain a progressive position and not where it would burden residential owners who are not using properties for commercial use. We need to provide our educators wages that can competitively keep up with inflation and services that would enhance the appeal of learning as government leaders and policymakers prioritize educational needs in the state of Hawaii.
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?
They should be paying taxes. Communities cannot turn into mini-resorts. If they choose to do commercial business ventures then they should be taxed. My home in Keaukaha, Hilo, is a great an example of this issue. It has always been a community subsistence gathering and recreational beach area and for years local residents have fought for it to remain as such. The increase of commercial development near the shoreline has raised concerns of inflated property tax and the probability that developers do not live here in Hawaii and that revenues are really not simulating Hawaii’s economy. I’m also worried that vacation renters may not be sensitive to the community’s local culture.
9. Do you support or oppose holding a state constitutional convention? Why or why not?
I am not in support of the con con, everything should remain. Governmental departments can adjust and change their own policies to their needs, but not change the constitution. The state of Hawaii constitutional convention and its creation in 1978 have provided so many benefits for Hawaii’s people, some of which would be detrimental to amend or eliminate. Many of its laws were in place for the protection of Hawaii resources and its people.
10. What should Hawaii be doing to prepare for the effects of climate change, including sea level rise and threats to the reefs?
They should create new shoreline setback rules for that would be necessary to prepare for the rising tides. Move development and storage facilities inland and away from shoreline and create preventative policies and regulations to prepare for potential disasters that would be catastrophic. Global warming will not affect our reefs as much as the increase of erosion, pollution, invasive species, over commercialization of reef life and recreational abuse would have on our shoreline. We can be more proactive and not reactive in keeping our community safe.
11. What do you see as the most pressing issue facing your district? What will you do about it?
District 2 in Hilo is where industrial facilities, commercial businesses, the DOT airport and DOT harbor reside. Many of which have been operating since the early 1900s. Infrastructure upgrades are needed and repairs are costly. Reports of leaks and excessive exposure of hazardous wastes have not yet been addressed and cannot be left on the back burner any longer.
Gov. Ige passed a bill that will require homeowners and businesses to convert cesspools to a sewage system or septic. Keaukaha Action Network submitted legislation this year, SR 19, which suggests a feasibility study for an alternative sewage system that would be much more resourceful and less harmful to our shoreline and environment. The health and safety of our community needs to be prioritized.