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 Val Okimoto, the Republican candidate for State House District 36, which covers Mililani and Mililani Mauka. There is one other candidate, Democrat Marilyn Lee.
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, the Legislature should be more transparent and accountable. Currently with the one-party rule in Hawaii, transparency and accountability is lacking, which is why I am running for public office. As a minority member of the Legislature, my role would be to critically view the package put out by the majority and make sure it offers a balanced approach to all the people in Hawaii, not just the special interest groups.
2. Hawaii is the only Western state without a statewide citizens initiative process. Do you support such a process?
Hawaii residents should be empowered to have a voice in their government. The Legislature should not be creating and passing an endless amount of bills and regulations based on special interests; instead they should represent the people. Allowing a statewide citizens initiative process would once again allow the people of Hawaii a voice in their government. I do support such a 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?
Democracy requires checks and balances in order to make it stronger. Minority members of the Legislature carry the invaluable role of the loyal opposition. It is the minority party’s responsibility to offer that balance by challenging the majority when needed, and holding officials accountable for their decisions.
It is important for a two-party system to be present in our statewide government in order to offer checks and balances. Under a one-party rule, the cost of living in Hawaii is among the highest in the nation, homelessness is becoming a rising epidemic, our people are taxed greatly and carry the burdens of the government’s inefficient (and often unethical) spending.
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?
There is always a need to have more transparency in government. If there is any need for more campaign spending regulations it should be aimed at lobbyists and special interests that often take advantage of small states like Hawaii.
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?
State agencies should not be able to find loopholes or ways to resist the release of records. They should be expected to follow the law, like everyone else, and allow the public access to government records. If this law is not adhered to, then there should be consequences, just as any law. We teach this principal in our homes, at school in the classroom, and in our community. There should be no reason or excuse for those in state agencies to not be expected to the same. If the law requires that records be made available whenever possible, then that is what should be enforced. One of the main reasons I am running for office is to hold government accountable. As a minority member, the focus will not be on regulations, but on the laws being followed.
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?
Due to decades of mismanagement of state funds, our government has put itself in a situation where it is unable to meet the needs of retired public workers. When there is a surplus, the state should work on paying off its debt as opposed to expanding government through creating new government departments or programs.
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?
It is my understanding that the Legislature passed a bill, SB 2922, this year that will allow the people to vote in November regarding this issue. Should the people vote “yes”, I will support the will of the people; however, with any law passed the Legislature must define specifically what an investment property is.
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 economy in Hawaii is based on tourism. With illegal vacation rentals now in every community, it changes the faces in our neighborhoods, affects the property values, and competes with the hotel industry. If the hotel and resort industry is required to pay the TAT (transient accommodations tax), so should illegal vacation rentals be required to pay their fair share to the government. In order to address this issue, it would be prudent to see what is done in other states where tourism is their biggest industry. The state and city and county need to find some compromise where this is regulated, allowing the state to collect the TAT while providing disclosure.
9. Do you support or oppose holding a state constitutional convention? Why or why not?
Overall, I do support a state constitutional convention. The last constitutional convention was held in 1978, it is long overdue. Holding the state con con would allow Hawaii residents to have a say in their government outside of the normal election. I support the opportunity for the people to have a voice in government.
10. What should Hawaii be doing to prepare for the effects of climate change, including sea level rise and threats to the reefs?
Studies show that climate change is undeniable. Because Hawaii is “paradise,” a place of beauty, and the number one source of our economy is tourism, we must do all we can to protect our oceans, reefs, and environment. It would be in the best interest of all parties involved for the private and public sectors to work together in protecting our No. 1 industry resource, the environment.
11. What do you see as the most pressing issue facing your district? What will you do about it?
The most pressing issue facing the people of Mililani is the cost of living, which in turn negatively affects their quality of life. Many live paycheck to paycheck. Educated adult children are required to live with their parents, unable to afford their own homes. We lose Hawaii residents to the mainland, where the cost of living is more feasible than here. Seniors are on fixed incomes, and are affected by raised taxes. Small business owners struggle to remain in business. I will continue to look for, and support ways to reduce the cost of living here, as well as introduce and support bills that will assist small businesses. I will revisit some of the government mandates that are forcing our small businesses to close their doors.