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 Marilyn Lee, the Democratic candidate for State House District 36, which covers Mililani and Mililani Mauka. There is one other candidate, Republican Val Okimoto.
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?
Obviously, the Legislature should be more transparent, especially when actions are taken late in the session. Then there is a great temptation to gut and replace measures with language that has never been seen by the public or by some legislators. The leadership needs to be strict on this and disallow passage until there is time for input on all measures.
As far as sexual harassment is concerned, it is not ethical for the Legislature to police itself. There must be a commitment to get rid of the conspiracy of silence.
Whenever the demand exists, televised hearings should be available. We are fortunate to have Olelo and Capitol TV, so the public may participate. There is a cost, but the benefit far outweighs it. Three -minute testimony with bells and buzzers are an insult to testifiers, and should be done only as a last resort.
2. Hawaii is the only Western state without a statewide citizens initiative process. Do you support such a process?
I support land use initiative, but I am not in favor of direct initiative in the California model. We are a representative democracy, and that means that people vote for those they think qualified to make important decisions within the context of the legislative process.
There is too much money and special interest involved in most direct initiatives. The process also takes up a lot of time and energy which could be used for conferences and task forces that bring people together rather than dividing them. Most folks are not able to invest the time and energy needed to understand complex issues, and depend on sound bites, so until the electorate signals it is ready to make that investment, it is better to depend upon the legislative participatory process.
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 consequences of one-party control sometimes leads to apathy and disillusionment in the electorate, and probably is one of the reasons for low voter turnout. Although it may seem like there is only one party in the two houses, there are factions which may be directly working against each other, or jockeying for power.
The Legislature may be lopsided in terms of numbers, but it also represents the will of the people who do have a chance to vote and/or run for office if they so choose. Our state also has an open primary which gives people of both parties an opportunity to crossover vote, rather than be restricted by party membership as is true in many other states.
I am encouraged by seeing a number of students being engaged in the legislative process, interested in the exchange of ideas in forums like Participation in Democracy, and visiting the Legislature to present testimony. We need to encourage the participation of young people and as a representative I would do everything possible to listen and invite them to be active on issues.
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 think that at least one report earlier than July 12 would be useful if only to know who is supporting the various candidates and with how much money. I am living within the campaign spending limits — $20,000 for a district this size should be more than sufficient. It would be interesting to know who is pouring in lots of money and why, early on.
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?
Hawaii’s public records should be made available upon request with the exception that huge numbers of copies should be limited or at least a nominal fee should be charged. Decisions on contentious issues should be facilitated as soon as possible. If the Office of Information Practices needs more staff, the Legislature should provide them. I like the League of Women voters criteria, especially the following: “State agencies should presume government documents are public and invoke exceptions to disclosure only if they must.”
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?
The amounts that have been proposed by the Legislature are reasonable, but never again should the Legislature borrow from the funds. Reimbursements to the funds should be completed on time, and public notice given if the payment is delayed for any reason.
7. Do you support changing the state sonstitution to allow taxing investment properties to fund the public schools? How would you implement it if it passes?
As a person who has worked with the schools for many years, I am aware of the many financial needs that are unmet in our schools. Bottom line is: The children are our future and we should support them in any way we can. Teachers need a living wage, and we must put public education at the top of our priorities. I support the constitutional amendment.
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?
One of the problems inherent is that each county has different laws related to illegal rentals. The mayors and the governor should draft similar laws and ordinances. After that, enforcement is the answer and needs to be swift and certain. The presence of short-time illegal rentals can have severe impacts on established neighborhoods and decrease property values and safety. The Legislature came close to agreement on a bill last session. This indicates interest in a fair solution.
9. Do you support or oppose holding a state constitutional convention? Why or why not?
I am undecided and want to hear all the arguments before I vote. I have read the Civil Beat articles about the Con Con Salon, and I see both pros and cons.
I have a concern about the possible loss of hard-fought rights to privacy and the progress that has been made in labor laws in our present constitution. Would opening up of the constitution bring out lots of monied lobbyists and special interest groups?
Yet I would very much like to see a constitutional amendment for victim’s rights. The people will have their chance to vote on this and it will be very informative to see the outcome. The debate should be taking place now.
10. What should Hawaii be doing to prepare for the effects of climate change, including sea level rise and threats to the reefs?
The inundation maps are an indication of where we need to limit development and to prepare residents for eventual flooding and/or damage to properties. Building permits should be limited to only properties outside of the inundation zones except for those who intend to build flood-safe developments.
The threat to our reefs is great, and the Legislature has taken a first step in banning some sunscreens. The death of corals is also related to pesticide and silt runoff. These issues need to be considered when dealing with development and farming practices.
Bottom line is, we must not pretend that sea level rise is not coming but must promote practices which protect our beaches and reefs. We must consider relocating facilities such as airports in the near future.
11. What do you see as the most pressing issue facing your district? What will you do about it?
As I walk my district and attend community and neighborhood board meetings, I have come to understand that there are a multitude of issues concerning our diverse neighborhoods in District 36. Among these are the proliferation of drug houses in neighborhoods, incursion of homeless folks into the shopping centers and parks, maintenance of streets and parks, need for infrastructure and traffic improvements, and improvements to our public schools. There are also side issues such as infestation of insects with damage to trees, rights of bicyclists vs. cars and trucks, disaster preparedness, and coverage by law enforcement. No single issue emerges.
As always, I will stay on top of these issues by organizing drug prevention forums, working with homeless advocates, and acting on issues when I feel it is appropriate. I am the only candidate for District 36 who is really aware of the issues important to all our neighborhoods, and I will fight for them all.