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 Kaialiʻi Kahele, the only Democratic candidate for state Senate District 1, which covers Hilo.

Go to Civil Beat’s Elections Guide for general information, and check out other candidates on the Primary Election Ballot.

Candidate for State Senate District 1

Kaialiʻi Kahele
Party Democrat
Age 44
Occupation Commercial pilot, Air National Guard pilot
Residency Hilo

Website

Community organizations/prior offices held

Former executive director, Paʻa Pono Miloliʻi.

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, I believe there is always room for increased transparency and accountability in government. Trust in government must be earned and elected officials should strive for the highest degree of transparency, integrity, disclosure and accountability to the public. Needed reform is not going to be accomplished by going against leadership but rather finding consensus and common ground amongst a majority of legislators and working with leadership to implement those changes.  

2. Hawaii is the only Western state without a statewide citizens initiative process. Do you support such a process?

No. I feel that this undermines our elected government by circumventing the process by which our elected representatives of the people enact laws and policy. 

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 Democratic Party came to become the dominant party in Hawaii following 61 years of oligarchical rule by the sugarcane plantations, the Big Five and the descendants of the architects of the illegal overthrow of the internationally recognized Hawaiian monarchy. Through the years the Democratic Party has stood for equal opportunity, racial equality, social justice, reproductive rights, quality education, fair labor laws, higher minimum wages and affordable and quality health care.

Hawaii is dominated by one party because the other political parties are unable to put forth quality candidates with a better vision for Hawaii. In this current election many seats in the Legislature are going unchallenged and with lower voter turnout expected most incumbents will return to the Legislature next session. Despite the state Senate’s 25-0 Democratic representation, I can tell you that there is constantly a spirited debate on many issues within the Senate chamber and nothing is “rubber stamped.” Senators are free to vote how they feel and there is a lot of work, negotiations and discussions put in to achieve the best policies for Hawaii. 

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, I support additional reporting during election years, especially before the primary.

To increase transparency, I would require that individuals and lobbyists that lobby the executive and legislative branches be made public monthly. 

I believe our current laws governing financial disclosures are adequate. 

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 do not believe that high fees or department delays should be a roadblock for a public records request. I support converting to an automated and electronic system that can make public records requests easier, cheaper and much more accessible for everyone. Printing records requests on paper, should be a thing of the past as we strive to protect our environment, eliminate waste and reduce the high cost of print production. I also support, given appropriate staffing requirements a quicker turn-around time for a records 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?

I believe the Ige administration has done a good job addressing the stateʻs unfunded liabilities, however more can always be done. A multitiered approach is required to appropriately address this issue and it starts with a thriving economy led by our public, private and nonprofit sectors of the economy. 

If we want to reduce the unfunded portion of our pension liability and or increase the funded portion we need to do several things:

• Expand and grow our economy to increase revenues.

• Modernize, streamline and create efficiencies as well as standard practices across our State government, departments and core services.

• Cut and or reduce spending where there is waste, abuse or not absolutely essential.

• Achieve and maintain the highest credit rating possible so the debt service on our bonds are the lowest possible.

• Negotiate the best multi-year agreements with our collective bargaining units that maximizes productivity but also ensures a compensation package that is reasonable and fair to Hawaii’s working families. 

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 supported legislation to put on the 2018 ballot the question of wether the state constitution should be changed to tax investment properties to pay for public education and will be voting “yes” on the ballot measure as well. However, if the measure passes it will be the details that will have to be worked out and negotiated at the Legislature.

Generally speaking, I do support taxing investment properties that are owned by out-of-state investors regardless of dollar threshold to help pay for public education. However, I do have concerns on taxing local (in-state) residents that own investment properties and I have concerns on the impact to the counties that utilize property taxes as their primary source of revenue and their ability to increase, or decrease, those rates in the future. I do support the current threshold of general funding for public education and support increasing that funding in the next biennium.

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?

Yes this is a problem. 

The Legislature and the counties need to come to an agreement in the 2019 legislative session to solve this major issue. Transient vacation rentals, most of which are illegal and owned by out-of-state investors, continue to proliferate at the expense of local residents by reducing the availability of affordable housing and changing the fabric of our communities. In addition, illegal vacation rentals have the potential to affect not just our hotel and lodging industry but the thousands of people that work in this industry.

To tackle this issue requires a multipronged solution that would encourage and or incentivize the counties to update their ordinances, allow the state to provide enforcement to penalize & discourage illegal operators as well as collect both TAT and GE taxes from legal operators and find a balance between online transient accommodations brokers to collect and remit those taxes on behalf of legal vacation rental operators. During this past legislative session I supported the Senate version of this solution and had hoped that there would have been a compromised solution with the House in conference. Unfortunately for the third year in a row the Legislature was unable to get this done.

9. Do you support or oppose holding a state constitutional convention? Why or why not?

 Oppose. 

Although there are certain aspects of our stateʻs constitution I would like to see amended, I do not believe having a constitutional convention at this time is necessary. If there is something in the constitution that needs to be changed it can be changed by the Legislature through meaningful legislation, a majority vote, a signature by the governor and a constitutional amendment ratification on the ballot by the voting electorate. 

10. What should Hawaii be doing to prepare for the effects of climate change, including sea level rise and threats to the reefs?

State government needs to take the lead in preparing future generations for climate change by exercising its constitutional mandate to conserve and protect Hawaiiʻs natural beauty and its natural resources. We need to educate our citizens on being good stewards of the environment and how our actions affect the long term viability of Hawaii’s future.

Shoreline setbacks, investment and modification to Hawaii’s core infrastructure in the coastal inundation zones, improving our solid waste reduction plan and investment in a balanced, sustainable energy future for Hawaii are some steps that can be taken to address these issues. We can also take positive steps to restore our watersheds and streams that support healthy reefs and nearshore fisheries as well as continued investment in agriculture, aquaculture and independent food security and sustainability. 

11. What do you see as the most pressing issue facing your district? What will you do about it?

The most pressing issue facing Senate District 1 (Hilo) is the unexpected and now severely destructive eruption of Kilauea volcano that began in early May. Hawaii Island’s economy was on an upswing before the volcano erupted but the continued eruption for the last several months is having a major effect on our economy that is primarily driven by the tourism and agricultural industry. Hotel occupancy is down islandwide, airline flights to Hilo airport have been reduced due to lower seat bookings, the Volcano National Park has been closed for two months now and the major cruise ship industry has reduced its arrivals to Hilo Harbor.

The air quality has affected the health of our residents, especially the ones in Kau and South Kona, and the ash fallout and acidity in the rain has decimated our papaya, coffee and tropical cut ornamental flower industry. Many residents have lost their homes or have been displaced.

Tough challenges pave the way for new opportunities and Hawaii Island may need to reinvent itself. This will take a collaborative effort by leaders in our state and county governments and our business community working with our residents to brainstorm creative solutions and I look forward to being part of that process.