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 Chris Todd, the Democratic candidate for State House District 2, which covers Keaukaha, parts of Hilo, Panaewa and Waiakea. There is one other candidate, Republican Grace Manipol-Larson.
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, I believe there are reasonable advances we can make to be more transparent. I believe online streaming of all hearings, as an example, is very feasible and would go a long way to promoting more trust in government. I do believe that the Legislature is currently acting on substantive sexual harassment policy changes, and that our current House leadership is open and willing to consider the opinions of community members and legislators.
2. Hawaii is the only Western state without a statewide citizens initiative process. Do you support such a process?
I believe this is a natural step forward toward a truer democracy and would support this change.
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 don’t believe this is as big of a problem as it has been made out to be. Within the current Democratic Party representation at the Legislature, there is already a very broad spectrum of ideas and ideologies. If anything, with such a strong Democratic presence at the Legislature, we have historically seen a lot of centrism that has only recently begun to move farther to the left.
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 don’t see any problem with requiring more frequent reporting, but I’m not sure there would be a tangible benefit either. There is already a ton of reporting and that information is very easy to access. I believe that those who are interested in this information already have easy access and I’m not sure more reporting really makes a substantial difference. With that being said, I don’t feel strongly one way or another and tend to err on the side of being too transparent.
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?
I think the long-term solution is further digitization of government documents. The major issue at the moment is the tremendous amount of manpower it takes to produce records and if that could be done more efficiently it would solve that problem.
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?
I believe we area headed in the right direction. The state has taken significant action over the last few years to fund our long-term obligations and within the next couple years we should be in much better financial position.
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 do support the education constitutional amendment, but only provided that the Legislature carefully crafts legislation so that it does as little harm to local residents as possible. A strict definition of investment property that specifically targets luxury properties and foreign investors is the ideal outcome.
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?
The first step would be stricter regulation and reporting for these units. Vacation rentals can play an important role with our visitor industry provided they are regulated more carefully. Currently, these operations are too profitable when compared with long-term rentals — until we solve this fundamental imbalance there will be too much incentive to skirt regulations.
9. Do you support or oppose holding a state constitutional convention? Why or why not?
I oppose holding a state constitutional convention because the risks outweigh potential rewards. We currently have very strong labor and environmental protections in our state, and a con con puts that at risk. I believe we are better off crafting law with a scalpel and do not currently need a sledgehammer.
10. What should Hawaii be doing to prepare for the effects of climate change, including sea level rise and threats to the reefs?
I believe a reasonable step forward would be to begin setting aside tens of millions of dollars into a climate change/sea level rise mitigation fund. We passed legislation this year which would include sea level rise consideration as part of the EIS/EA process, and all future development in potential affected areas should be subject to strict review.
11. What do you see as the most pressing issue facing your district? What will you do about it?
Hilo lacks economic opportunity and many young people are moving away. We need a dramatic expansion of our early college program and CTE training at the high school level, along with strong incentives for local college grads to stay on the Big Island.