Editor’s note: For Hawaii’s Nov. 6 General Election, 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 Jen Mather, the Green Party candidate for the state House of Representatives District 10, which covers West Maui, Maalaea and North Kihei. There are two other candidates, Republican Chayne Marten and Democrat Angus McKelvey.
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?
Transparency and accountability are essential in all organizations but especially in government where the Legislature should be beholden to none other than the people represented. As a Green Party member, our platform calls for a requirement to have outside counsel investigate any complaints of breaching policies or regulations, and also advocates for tougher punishments for corruption, abuse of power, or any wrongdoing. I believe in strengthening our “sunshine laws.” I also advocate for utilizing technology to facilitate and archive live streams of all meetings, creating easier to search databases on legislative votes in committee and on the floor, and layman interpretations of bills which would allow people to better engage with the legislative process.
2. Hawaii is the only Western state without a statewide citizens initiative process. Do you support such a process?
My first voting experience was in California, where citizen initiatives have been a norm for more than a century. Hawaii is seemingly so progressive and yet it lacks direct democratic referendums or initiatives.
I wholly support citizens actively taking part in policymaking. We should be crafting legislation that is meaningful and enables communities to get what they need and what may be overlooked by their legislators. We would, of course, need to ensure an independent agency to assist in drafting citizen initiatives to waylay any possible corruption of the original intent of the legislation.
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?
It is my understanding that the lopsided Legislature is a product of the iron-fisted plantation era, however, I believe we have outgrown the necessity of self-perpetuating single party rule. If anything we should be encouraged to educate ourselves on platforms beyond just Republican and Democrat. In my opinion, a one-party system has increased susceptibility to corruption and infiltration of legislation by special interests when organizations need only contribute to the party in control and their incumbents.
Hawaii voters have historically elected incumbents and Democratic Party candidates almost always have a head start due to sheer numbers. To combat single party rule we should introduce term limits, stricter funding limits, and create an equitable and fair playing field for new candidates by offering complete, front end public funding of campaigns. We should also crack down on lobbying and insist on severe
consequences for politicians that represent special interests above the best interests of the people, as single party rule is just a symptom of the underlying issue of political corruption.
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 believe voters should have the right to access information about campaign contributions throughout election years at more frequent intervals than is currently required. Although this may seem onerous on
the candidate and their candidate committee, it has become increasingly necessary to be able to see where campaign funding is being sourced. To create more transparency, we should also be able to link contributions from senior employees and lobbyists to their companies to ascertain the
actual total amount given to one candidate. We also need to ensure the data is freely accessible, widely published, and easily understandable. We may even find it necessary to mandate that all political mailers include a funding fact sheet on that particular candidate’s contributions (i.e. in state vs. out of state, within district, and by industry).
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?
All records, at this point, should be archived electronically and ready for upload to a database hosted by the state as a clearinghouse for all state agency records. If there is a need to redact any information, that
should be completed before uploading to the central server. Unpublished records should still be referenced and there should be a way to challenge redacted or unpublished info and access even those records at minimal cost. All electronically archived and published records should then be free to access via the Internet with a pay for page print option. It should never take weeks or months nor extortionate amounts of user fees to obtain what should be readily accessible to the public.
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?
It is necessary to meet pension and health obligations for public workers, however, we should be adopting a universal single payer healthcare system to drive down health care costs. We should also stop pension manipulation. We could possibly switch from final salary to a 401(k) like private businesses utilize for their employees’ retirement funds. If we continue using final salary the formula should be based on the inflation adjusted average of all years as a public worker and not the final three top five years to prevent padding of overtime or quick promotions in those final years. Employees should contribute fair amounts to their own pension funds and the state must budget enough to ensure the deficit is reduced over two
economic cycles and no future deficit occurs.
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 the constitutional amendment to levy a property tax surcharge on investment properties worth over $1 million to create an education fund to be solely, and equitably, disbursed to all public schools throughout the state. I believe everyone who pays income tax in the state of Hawaii should be allowed to have one domicile with a preferential tax rate. Any property owners not paying income tax in Hawaii, a resident of Hawaii, or those with multiple properties over $1 million would be subject to a substantial property tax surcharge. Of course, with our affordable housing crisis, we would need to encourage tax breaks for multi-property owners that rent to Hawaii residents for long term leases of six months or more.
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 absolutely see illegal vacation rentals as a problem for our communities. Not only do they not pay income tax and transient accommodation tax, thereby affecting our state revenue, they drive down hotel rates, affecting our hotel revenue and therefore wages for our workforce. I work in a neighborhood that has seen an increase in illegal short term rentals (STR). Our West Maui community plan only allows for 88 legal STR permits and according to the county we are not at that limit, yet one only has to search Airbnb’s website to see the vast array of rental opportunities in the vicinity of my workplace. The state
Legislature needs to enact legislation to permit, register, regulate, and inspect all transient accommodations and enforce that legislation to ensure the best interests of residents, communities, and businesses are taken into account.
9. Do you support or oppose holding a state constitutional convention? Why or why not?
It’s been 40 years since we have had a constitutional convention. Within 40 years much has changed in our state. Much like direct citizen initiatives create a pathway for community involvement, a constitutional convention allows immediate direction about how we are governed without having to muddle through the normal legislative process.
10. What should Hawaii be doing to prepare for the effects of climate change, including sea level rise and threats to the reefs?
Hawaii has declared it will be carbon neutral by 2045 and to do that we need to aggressively convert our energy needs from fossil fuel to solar, wind, and biofuel, as well as actively advocate for carbon sequestering programs that are more stringent than cap and trade programs that have been known to become corrupt. Sea levels will continue to rise even as we begin to lessen and sequester our greenhouse gas emissions, therefore, it is my opinion that Hawaii should be mandating and planning for managed
retreat of all infrastructure located within inundation zones and coastal flooding areas. The state should also no longer permit any structures to be built on our coastal lands and should not engage in the permission of seawalls and coastal armoring projects without exception.
11. What do you see as the most pressing issue facing your district? What will you do about it?
Choosing one issue that is more pressing than all others is difficult as many of our challenges are interconnected. At this moment I believe our biggest problem is the housing crisis. Not unlike the rest of Hawaii, District 10 has no affordable housing inventory for sale or to rent. The state and county need to collaborate on housing projects that create affordable homes in perpetuity. The state can lease land, the county can provide infrastructure, and potential homeowners can build homes they qualify for at this time and add on if necessary. Equity formulas have been used by other community land trust organizations to ensure that these affordable homes still allow homeowners to build equity while maintaining affordability, ensuring future generations an opportunity to get on the housing ladder before progressing into market value homes.