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 Mary Smart, the Republican candidate for the state House of Representatives District 37, which covers Mililani, Waipio Gentry and Waikele. There is one other candidate, Democrat Ryan Yamane.
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. Tactics such as “gut and replace” should not be allowed. Taxpayers should not be the source for “slush funds” used to offset sexual impropriety/harassment fines when the accused is found guilty of the transgression. All officials should receive equal treatment from the Campaign Finance Spending Commission.
It is tough to go against leadership because career politicians (mostly Democrat) primarily care about being re-elected and being assigned leadership positions. Republicans are free to express diverse opinions. If a Democrat goes against the mandates of their party, they are removed from their leadership positions or a challenger is supported in the next election. Lawmakers need to remember they are public servants. They must have the courage to speak up and the willingness to look for other employment when there is retaliation against them.
I don’t have a problem with fundraising during session since it is legal and the Campaign Spending Commission aggregate limits go from election to election. I would have a problem if the “funds” were donated in a “pay to play” scheme. It would be good to archive all hearings.
2. Hawaii is the only Western state without a statewide citizens initiative process.
Do you support such a process?
Although there is not a formal procedure for a statewide citizens’ initiative process, there is the grassroots process to influence the Legislature. Some groups do it well and get legislation passed that the majority of residents oppose. I would like to see more of our residents engage with the legislative process. Our community has become somewhat complacent about the laws being passed. It is time to get back into the “public square” and make our voices heard. We don’t need an initiative process but we do need dedicated community leaders to champion their proposals.
As a resident who reviews bills and submits testimony, it is impossible to weigh in on all bills that negatively affect our lives. It would be nice if the Legislature limited the number of bills considered each year based on an agreed prioritization system and that the public is notified well in advance of scheduled hearings. We need to ensure the bills represent the desires of our residents and not the demands of high-powered, well-funded outsiders.
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?
Until more Republicans run for office and are elected, people will have the will of the very few forced upon them. One party rule is harming the living conditions of our residents. The constant raising of taxes, instituting new fees, using obsolete methods and procedures, and the “Democrats’ group think” stagnate an economy. When the public makes the effort to participate in hearings, testifiers are often allowed just two minutes to detail the problems of very comprehensive bills. In the end, our input is frequently ignored. I have witnessed testifiers being treated rudely when needing a little more time to explain the many problems with the bill. Legislators need to remember our form of
government is “for and by” the people.
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?
No, there is enough reporting. Most candidates want to submit complete and accurate reports. Potential candidates don’t want to deal with the current number of reports and threats of fines for mistakes. Perhaps the focus should be on the campaigns that raise the most funds and not the “little guys” who are not professional politicians and don’t have CPA’s on the payroll. The Campaign Finance Commission needs to treat candidates equally when fines for violations are imposed.
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 would require agencies to post the releasable records on-line by a specific deadline. Any cost should be minimal. That would improve government transparency as well. At the same time, care must be taken to protect the privacy of personal information from unauthorized disclosure.
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?
No one should be satisfied with the current plans to pay for the state’s unfunded liabilities. It relies on a very optimistic investment rate of return. Our Democratic leadership continually kicks the can down the road. Surveys indicate that the most poorly run and most corrupt states and cities have Democrat leaders at the helm (California, New York, Detroit, Baltimore, Chicago, etc.). The Democrats’ only concept of problem-solving is to throw more money at an already failing solution, never audit or follow-through on recommended changes, and initiate new programs without eliminating the failing ones.
Democrats seem to have no concern about whether the residents agree with or can afford their “good intentions” method of problem solving. Our Democrat leaders are ineffective and need to be replaced. Government employees should see that voting for Democrats will not ensure their pension is available when it is time for them to collect.
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?
No. Added taxes on rental/investment property will hurt local renters. Studies show that high rents lead to increased homelessness. If rentals cost the landlord more than they receive in monthly payments, Hawaii’s rental market would soon be nearly nonexistent. Decreased supply leads to higher demand and subsequently higher cost to the renter. The counties alone have jurisdiction over property taxes and that should not be changed.
The state already imposes a 4 percent (4.5 percent on Oahu) GET on residential and commercial real
property rentals. The state needs to prudently use funds they already collect. Targeting investors for excessive taxes negatively impacts the well-being of local residents. This constitutional amendment is too vague regarding the amount being taxed and there are no restrictions on how the funds will be used. The number of students in our public schools has decreased. More students are being homeschooled and are going to charter schools. School costs should be going down. We need an audit of the Board of Education to determine why we can’t live within our education budget. It is time to consider breaking up the statewide system and consider alternatives.
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 state isn’t collecting the tax revenue because we have ineffective Democratic leadership in this state. That needs to change. If they are illegal rentals, enforce the law. If the zoning was residential when a person purchased their home, they have a reasonable expectation that the community residents will be somewhat stable (minimum of six-month duration in normal circumstances).
Since there is a demand for vacation rentals, why isn’t there a thriving business set up in areas outside the residential communities to take advantage of the demand? A hotel room, even with one or two bedrooms, often isn’t large enough to meet the need of families who are trying to enjoy Hawaii on a budget. Hawaii leaders never think out-of-the-box but are always erecting obstacles that impede our economy and the well-being of our taxpaying residents.
9. Do you support or oppose holding a state constitutional convention? Why or why
I am personally not in favor of a constitutional convention and will vote “no.” We elect the people to the Legislature that we have confidence in to represent our interests. There is no reason to believe that unnamed delegates would be any wiser than our legislators. Running a separate election and paying for the venue and wages of the delegates seems to be an unneeded expense at this time. Without knowing who will be elected as delegates or the issues that will be considered, we are voting blindly when we approve the convention. The wording of a constitutional amendment is critical. In the past we were told that an amendment meant one thing, only to be told 10 years later that it meant the exact opposite. When the charter amendments were on the ballot, many voters found the
explanations of the changes to be poorly written and there were an overwhelming number of changes to consider at one time.
I recommend that people desiring to be delegates, initiate a grassroots effort and lobby their representatives/senators to champion their proposal(s) or run in future elections to represent their community in the State Senate or House.
10. What should Hawaii be doing to prepare for the effects of climate change, including sea level rise and threats to the reefs?
There are much more imminent issues to consider than “climate change” such as volcanic
eruptions, hurricanes, earthquakes and tsunamis. We need to focus our efforts on obvious dangers rather than what a model predicts might occur in the distant future. Many homes on the coastline are luxury homes that belong to those who knowingly risk diminishing shorelines caused by erosion or weather conditions (hurricane, tsunami, or climate change). Mapunapuna floods and yet the businesses stay and absorb the loss when it occurs year after year. It is not the responsibility of Hawaii residents or government to bail out individuals who build homes and businesses in hazard-prone areas.
Current residential, commercial and mass transit projects being built close to the shoreline at low elevations are either the result of poor planning, or leadership doesn’t actually believe the climate change predictions.
Although the Legislature banned certain sunscreens, I am concerned about the wastewater discharges into our waterways. It was reported that three wastewater discharges occurred in Hilo, Hawaii. caused by Hurricane Lane’s heavy rainfall. We need to get our sewage
treatment systems properly sized and maintained if we are going to protect marine life.
11. What do you see as the most pressing issue facing your district? What will you
do about it?
The most pressing issues are the high cost of living caused by government mismanagement. Our legislators focus on trivial issues (for example: the thickness and cost of plastic check-out bags and banning plastic straws) rather than correcting the high cost of mismanaged projects such as rail; the deterioration of road and water main/sewer/waste management systems; and not addressing the housing, teacher, and doctor shortages and especially their failure to resolve the persistent homelessness problem, which is a serious public safety issue.
It is time to prioritize and resolve the most serious issues before addressing the nice-to-have projects that are easier, less controversial and therefore less likely to negatively impact the next election. We need to eliminate programs that are not producing the expected return on investment. We need to stop generating unfunded liabilities and other debt that will negatively impact the generations that follow us. Hawaii must become financially responsible.