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 Dru Kanuha, the Democratic candidate for State Senate District 3, which covers Kona and Kau. There is one other candidate, Libertarian Michael Last.
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 participation in government is not a nice-to-have, it’s our responsibility to the people we represent and serve.
Offering neighbor island residents the opportunity to participate in their state government through technology is not only the right thing to do, it’s inexcusable that we haven’t done it yet. The County of Hawaii has been leading the state in this regard with council members in two chambers holding committee and council meetings in real time with constituents at six sites islandwide. More recently, we’ve added a live web stream for viewing anywhere in the world. I am happy to lend whatever assistance I can in bringing this effort to the Legislature, and will introduce a measure to do so.
In order to bring about change and needed reform it is extremely important that you work with leadership and the majority of members to find consensus.
2. Hawaii is the only Western state without a statewide citizens initiative process. Do you support such a process?
Yes, I support some type of citizens initiative process. This process may have a positive impact in the way people participate in government.
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?
I have always had an open door policy. I make it a goal to respond to every request and be as transparent as possible. Although many legislators are of the Democratic Party, each have their own unique experiences of bringing diversity to the state Legislature.
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?
The current campaign finance reporting are effective but I would have no problem with improving the frequency that we would have to report.
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?
The government’s business is the people’s business – plain and simple. Government should make records easily available to the public whenever possible, and when that is not possible, be responsive to records requests. I applaud the hard work of the Office of Information Practices and platforms like data.hawaii.gov and dashboard.hawaii.gov that make public information easily accessible. I would like to see more records on that or similar open platforms. In 2018, there is no excuse.
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?
Yes, the state is on the right track but there is always room to improve. Greater resources will be needed though to meet the state’s obligations. In order to maintain payments we will have to look at finding additional revenue sources as well as where cuts need to be made.
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 ability of the voters to decide whether the state constitution should be changed to allow the taxation of investment properties to fund public schools. If passed, the accompanying legislation will have to be vetted thoroughly by the community and Legislature. I would make sure that the only investment properties taxed would be those of the super wealthy, vacation rentals, and investors that do not call Hawaii their home.
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, illegal short-term vacation rentals are a huge problem in Hawaii. I along with fellow council member Karen Eoff, introduced legislation to adequately regulate short-term vacation rentals on Hawaii Island (The only county that does not regulate vacation rentals). It is currently going through the legislative process and provides a mechanism to locate all vacation rentals, whether legal or illegal and tax them appropriately. Fees will be assessed to those in compliance and alternately, fines will be given to those not in compliance with county and state law.
It is important to keep our residential neighborhoods for residential use while allowing short term vacation rentals to exist in areas meant for transients.
9. Do you support or oppose holding a state constitutional convention? Why or why not?
Yes. We have not had a constitutional convention since 1978 – six years before I was born. Hawaii today is much different than Hawaii in 1978, yet we still face many of the same challenges that we faced in 1978.
10. What should Hawaii be doing to prepare for the effects of climate change, including sea level rise and threats to the reefs?
With the adoption of Act 286 and aligning its goals with the Paris Climate Agreement, Hawaii is one of the few states that is taking climate change seriously. I will continue to advocate for policies and guidelines that address impacts of climate change on our near shore waters, agriculture, infrastructure, housing, economy, etc.
11. What do you see as the most pressing issue facing your district? What will you do about it?
Keeping our community healthy is the number one issue facing West Hawaii now, the primary kuleana of government, and my commitment to my constituents. We must increase access to health care by working with community health centers, urgent care centers, solo providers, insurers and our county-based paramedics to increase their reach into the most rural corners of our island. Building a new hospital is a priority, but supporting and expanding the reach of the doctors and other professionals we already have is equally as important and more timely.
We must also keep people healthier in the first place to reduce the burden on our health care system. We worked to bring the Blue Zones Project to West Hawaii to encourage healthier lifestyles, and we invested in parks, playgrounds, bike lanes and walking paths to give residents the spaces for healthy lifestyles. We supported senior programs with funding and equipment. And for our youth and future generations, we passed legislation to raise the legal age for tobacco products to 21 – making us one of the first counties in the nation to do so.