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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 Melissah Shishido, the Green Party candidate for State Senate District 6, which covers South and West Maui. There is one other candidate, Democrat Roz Baker.
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 believe the Legislature should be more transparent and accountable. This would allow for all constituents to regain their trust in the government and make decisions easier for the decision maker. Both transparency and accountability are reasons many have lost trust in the government, particularly, the legislative branch. With this, it should change the face of government and place the power where it belongs, with the people and not with lobbyists or corporations.
Exposure and purpose would become the thermometer to allow individual lawmakers to actually do the job the voters actually believe they voted lawmakers into office to do. Rather than representing our individual agendas, do what the constituents place value on, our ability to make decisions to better the state and not our personal reputation and investment interests.
Lobbyist regulation is so needful. These lobbyists are there to serve a corporation’s interests and have created great fear among so many. Properly regulating them would allow a more informative process to meet the needs of the voters/constituencies. Without regulations, they run lawless and unaccountable, thereby leaving many people to wonder what is the real purpose of politicians and if their votes truly matter.
2. Hawaii is the only Western state without a statewide citizens initiative process. Do you support such a process?
I would support a process so the power of the people rest in the people as opposed to the corporations who found an avenue to be sure their special interests are served. Allowing the people to vote on laws would truly make this a democracy. The voters on Maui voted unanimously on an an item four years ago only for us to find out that the county says it’s a state issue, Monsanto goes to court and files a lawsuit agains the county and wins! The morale of voters on Maui surely took a hit and leaves us to assume that the democratic process is anything but!
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?
One of the reasons I am running is to exemplify an open exchange of ideas, transparency, and accountability. When I was flying to the state Capitol to testify in support of SB 3095 as Senator Roz Baker did her best to kill it — then actually uses it in her campaign — I saw this firsthand, I realized the decisions do not lie in the hands of voters. It lies in the hands of those with special interests. They are almost untouchable and continue to do it, term after term. She and many other elected officials are not held accountable, and if questioned, they simply evade answering. This makes for the most of us to cringe and wonder if there is an end to the madness.
Having one-party control simply means that their votes are and will be skewed by the majority and not taking into account. If it is good for the party, then it is good for the skewed vote. I would like to first point out that I am not that pushover, I was a high school teacher, mother, and now grandmother. The issues that don’t seemingly have a solution, really do. I will hold my ground and although it might not be the most popular vote, I will insure voters that they will be given the truth, at all times. If exposing dishonesty and back door deals is what I may need to do, then I will. That is probably what is good about putting grassroots candidates in office, we have nothing but our grassroots to adhere to.
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 do support more frequent campaign finance reporting during election years simply because it will allow for the public to know who is supporting the various candidates and allow for the public to make informed decisions when voting. It will further help candidates to think twice about why we are running? Too often politicians start off with the people’s best intention and somehow lose that vision all because of the promise of money!
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?
It has really turned into an oxymoron. The department’s process should be reviewed and revamped. I believe a survey asking the public for their opinion would yield us some definitive answers to a simplified process. The imposition of excessive fees needs to be re-evaluated. Whenever I have had to go into these public offices, it seems like there is a secret code to be unlocked. It is rare that someone wants to help me solve an issue.
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?
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?
I would definitely support allowing taxing investment properties to fund public schools. Main reason being that their monies generated from these investment properties are not benefitting our state, it is immeasurably benefitting somewhere. If you want to own a piece of paradise, pay the necessary taxes in paradise. If changing the constitution is what it would take to insure this, then yes, change the constitution.
I do not believe that document was intended to be sealed in stone, I believe it was meant to be a working document allowing for the changing of times and issues. It was created during that time, conducive to the issues of that time. It does, however, allow for the control to remain in the hands of the people, not the government.
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?
While we know many illegal vacation rentals exist, a task force should be initiated to oversee this problem. This task force will find a way and execute the identification of these said rentals, allow them to become legal, and inevitably tax them accordingly. In my neighborhood alone, I am surrounded by five vacation rentals, legal of course, and my proposal of a task force is what I would do.
Illegal vacation rentals are a real problem in our communities. District 6 is certainly riddled with this problem, which has in turn affected proper taxing. They do not pay income taxes or transient accommodation taxes, they disrupt the hotels’ revenue, which adversely affects the working people of hotels. Legislation needs to be in place.
9. Do you support or oppose holding a state constitutional convention? Why or why not?
“The official purpose of the Constitutional Convention that met in Philadelphia beginning on May 25, 1787 was to amend the Articles of Confederation. It had, by that time, become clear that the Articles of Confederation were not a good enough constitution for the new nation.”
I support holding a state constitutional convention. My belief is that that document was intended to be working and living document. It should be more conducive to the issues that are we face here in the islands as opposed to those faced by the continental U.S. We can keep Hawaii as the thriving place it was, hundreds of years ago.
10. What should Hawaii be doing to prepare for the effects of climate change, including sea level rise and threats to the reefs?
Before building any more condo units, especially shoreline construction, we should simply put them through a process so they can do and pay for the research necessary and project out 20 years on the effects of climate change, sea level rise and the threats to the reefs. Any type of near-ocean construction should be put through a more thorough process of projected issues that will imminently rise, and take a more serious approach to its long term effects on our environment and land.
It is our sole responsibility to take notes from islands that were not properly cared for and are now in the middle of the ocean. I am more supportive of no longer building near the ocean and/or shoreline.
11. What do you see as the most pressing issue facing your district? What will you do about it?
This is a loaded question, so rather than pick the lesser of two evils, I will take the road less traveled and focus on an issue that has been hard-pressed on my heart: education.
With the 16-plus year promise — incidentally much progress always seems to surface on an election year — of Kihei High School is always a good thing to hear. And as soon as elections are over in November, we won’t hear anything about it until another four years has lapsed. Rather than use this as fuel for a campaign, we need to make sure that our education system does not implode!
Our teachers need to be justly compensated so we can attract more teachers that will remain here, attract teachers that know and will make a difference in the lives of our future generations. Our curriculum needs to be explored to make sure we are not just competing with other states, but that we are giving our students a better running start long before high school graduation.