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 Lynn Robinson-Onderko, a Democratic candidate for the state House of Representatives in District 41, which covers Ewa, Ewa Beach, Ewa Gentry, Ewa Villages, Hoakalei and Ocean Pointe. There is one other Democratic candidate, Rida Cabanilla Arakawa.
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 support full transparency and accountability in the Legislature. Televising and archiving all hearings should be standard, especially when our state is an island archipelago, making it difficult for many of our residents to access the state Capitol.
We need a zero tolerance sexual harassment policy. I will always advocate for mandatory sexual harassment prevention training. We also need safe reporting practices that are facilitated through the Human Resources Department and never through legislative leadership. Lobbyists should continue to be registered and regulated. I would support an end to fundraising during session.
2. Hawaii is the only Western state without a statewide citizen’s initiative process. Do you support such a process?
Yes. I support a statewide citizen’s initiative process as I believe it affords power to the people when government fails to take action on critical issues. I would add that we need to keep the citizenry well informed so that ballot measures are constitutionally sound and can become law.
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 people of Hawaii deserve lawmakers that can have an open exchange of ideas and embrace diverse perspectives. In my view, the biggest consequence of one-party control is the perception that only Democrats can get elected. Candidates use the “D” next to their name to get elected and then consistently vote against the Democratic Party platform. This is unfair to voters who use party platforms as a guide to make the best choice to represent them.
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?
I would support more frequent campaign finance reporting (between January and July) in election years. I will always support measures that would make disclosures informative and easily accessible to the public.
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?
In this age of technology, it’s time to digitize records and invest in systems that allow for easier accessibility. Records should be archived and available on-line. Until then, fees should only be assessed to recoup the costs of producing printed paper records.
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?
While I understand there is a good measure in place to bring the Hawaii Employer-Union Health Benefits Trust Fund to solvency, I think we can do more. We need to look at innovative ideas, to include diversifying Hawaii’s economy to bring in revenues that can feed the fund and protect workers’ benefits in the future.
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. Hawaii’s public schools are severely underfunded, leaving students and programs suffering. Teachers are leaving the state in search of better pay at alarming rates. A surcharge on out-of-state investment properties is a reasonable measure for funding. This revenue stream will allow us to recruit and retain quality teachers, improve infrastructure and support technology, affording our students a better education. That being said, we need to continue to find innovative revenue sources, outside of taxation, to better fund our public schools.
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?
Our tourists benefit from Hawaii state governmental services including the use of our roads, our police protection and lifeguards. They should help pay for those services through taxes on vacation rentals. I believe it would be best for taxes to be paid directly to the state and not be funneled through parent management groups for bulk payment.
If elected, I will advocate for strong oversight and enforcement in order to collect from legal, permitted vacation rental owners. The recent measure requiring all short term renters to include tax registration numbers in their rental agreements is a step in the right direction, but I would advocate for comprehensive reporting by owners to better assess tax obligations.
Of course we have to continue to address the crisis created by not cracking down on non-permitted rentals. I would advocate for getting systems in place that will stop illegal vacation rentals from taking over neighborhoods and decreasing inventories in our local housing market.
9. Do you support or oppose holding a state constitutional convention? Why or why not?
I understand the fundamental importance of periodically reassessing and amending our state constitution. I also understand citizens’ grave concerns about big money and extremist organizations influencing the process. I support a con con, adding that is it important that we weigh the risks. In the end, it is up to voters to decide and I will absolutely support that outcome.
10. What should Hawaii be doing to prepare for the effects of climate change, including sea level rise and threats to the reefs?
Firstly, we need to refrain from further development on our coastlines. Secondly, we need to make preventive reinforcement and building structures that can sustain natural disasters and shelter populations a top priority.
As a Public Administration major who studied Disaster Preparedness and Emergency Management and is trained as a Community Emergency Response Team (CERT) member, I understand the importance of preparedness. We have to continue to find effective programs to educate the public about the real threat associated with rising sea levels and increased ocean temperatures.
As we’ve seen in Puerto Rico, isolated islands are particularly vulnerable and we cannot rely on outside agencies to sustain us in the aftermath of a devastating storm. We need to continue on a path toward sustainable energy independence. We need to protect our fresh water and have ample local food sources and storage. Lawmakers need to fund public agencies and sustainable energy sources to ensure our state is ready.
Lastly, it is important that lawmakers understand that natural disasters cripple tourism and could devastate Hawaii’s economy. This is yet another reason why we need to focus on diversifying our economy.
11. What do you see as the most pressing issue facing your district? What will you do about it?
The pressing issue facing my district is the underfunding and overcrowding in our public schools. We have failing infrastructure and programs are suffering. Student-teacher ratios are at an all time high. Teachers are leaving the state to find better pay at an alarming rate. We have to make funding of our public schools a top priority. We have to find new, innovative funding sources, including revenues through the diversification of our economy. I know there is no better investment we can make in our future than a quality education for our young people.