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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 Cynthia Thielen, the Republican candidate for the state House of Representatives, District 50, which covers Kailua and Kaneohe Bay. There is one other candidate, Democrat Micah Kalama Pregitzer.
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?
Definitely the Legislature should be more transparent and accountable, as presently decisions are made in Majority room Caucuses behind closed doors. As an outspoken member of the minority, I publicly challenge decisions when I see they are wrong and strongly speak out against bad policy in public and in committee hearings. I have been pushing leadership to draft meaningful sexual harassment policies for the House to enable victims to have a safe, secure and responsive method to report such behavior.
When I observed offensive behavior and reported it, I saw the system was lacking sensitivity, responsiveness and timeliness. I co-sponsor bills to ban fundraising during session, and am championing televised hearings and connections to neighbor islands to enable live testimony. With increasing impact of lobbyists, there needs to be broader disclosure of their presence and activities.
2. Hawaii is the only Western state without a statewide citizens initiative process. Do you support such a process?
I consistently have supported a statewide initiative process. Think back to the Save Sandy Beach struggle, where the City and County of Honolulu did not permit an initiative and stonewalled citizen efforts to prevent development of this legacy area. Due to strong leadership in the Save Sandy Beach movement and its vocal supporters, this land use battle ultimately was won. But an initiative process would give more direct and timely access to government decision-makers, and I will continue efforts to enact a statewide initiative law.
Please note that a citizen’s initiative process must include land use matters. In prior deliberations, some wanted to exempt land use decisions from an initiative process. However, in Hawaii, with our precious land and natural resources, most often citizens will want to have the ability to protect these through an initiative 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?
In the majority party, decisions are made in their caucus. Don’t let anyone try to argue otherwise. Our minority party challenges poor policies in the open, in vigorous debates on the House floor, in committee hearings, and in op-editorials.
Last session, a senator’s bill would have hidden the monetary range of holdings that persons had who were being appointed to important boards and commissions. For example, an appointee to the Public Utilities Commission could have hidden the amount of Hawaiian Electric stock she/he held. I moved to recommit the bill and fought it on all fronts, and it died. The minority party and an active media are key to open exchange of ideas and transparency.
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 there definitely should be more frequent campaign finance reporting in the months and weeks before the primary, as unfortunately many races are decided in the primary in Hawaii. The present system doesn’t give the public and media meaningful information in time, particularly where about 60 percent of the people vote by absentee ballot. There could be a threshold donation amount, and then require weekly reporting of the donations which exceed that value, from June up until the August primary date.
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?
One solution could be to amend Chapter 92, HRS, and impose fines and attorney’s fees when access to public records is unreasonably delayed or hindered by excessive fees. Importantly, make sure the fine comes out of the agency’s appropriations and not out of the general fund.
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?
There should be a prohibition on raiding pension and health obligations for public workers. While there has been a move to periodically reduce the unfunded liabilities, there needs to be a financial plan where these legal requirements will be funded in full by a set date.
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 voted in favor of allowing the public to vote on changing the state constitution. There needs to be adequate information made widely available in advance of the general election, so the public will know what is at stake.
In the past, when a new source of funding became available, legislative leaders reduced the percentage of general funds going to the same entity. So in reality, it became a new tax without adding to the financial needs of the recipient department. If the public approves the proposed amendment, I will strongly oppose any attempt by legislative leaders to reduce the general fund appropriations for education. I will not be (and have not been) controlled by majority leadership.
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?
Illegal vacation rentals, particularly whole house rentals, are depriving locals of housing. The vast majority of transient vacation units (TVUs) are owned by out-of-state investors, driving up prices and removing housing choices from the local population. I have given Mayor Kirk Caldwell a six-page memo outlining the steps his administration legally can take now to shut down these illegal operations, but they are failing to enforce city ordinances.
A good bill last session would have required platforms like Airbnb to require owners to prove they were legally permitted to rent these homes before listing the rental. The company and its lobbyists opposed the bill, and it died. I am continuing to work with colleagues to get more support for this needed reform.
9. Do you support or oppose holding a state constitutional convention? Why or why not?
I have supported holding a ConCon for years. Leadership and some lobbyists appear to be apprehensive of what the ConCon delegates might propose, but I believe it is time for the citizen-based convention. The end result would be placed before the voters for decision, and this is how a democracy should work.
10. What should Hawaii be doing to prepare for the effects of climate change, including sea level rise and threats to the reefs?
The scientific Hawaii Climate Change Mitigation and Adaptation Report details the impending crisis for our islands and sets forth some suggestions. I have drafted a bill to implement the suggested method to preserve our beaches and shoreline resources. I also am working with like-minded colleagues to move rail out of the flood plain that runs from Middle Street to Ala Moana shopping center, and instead run that portion inland along the King/Beretania route.
In the face of inevitable sea level rise, it is senseless to “build rail to withstand up to 6 feet of inundation.” Save that excessive cost, move rail inland and enable transit-oriented development to occur along the inland route, enabling growth, housing for locals, and business development.
11. What do you see as the most pressing issue facing your district? What will you do about it?
Housing: for locals and for the “Housing First” program for homeless. One out of every 24 homes statewide, primarily owned by out-of-state investors, operate as an unpermitted transient vacation unit. Loss of these long-term rentals means loss of housing for locals. And with the lack of new low-cost housing, there aren’t enough rentals for the Housing First program for homeless.
Many of those living on the streets suffer from severe mental illnesses such as schizophrenia and bi-polar disorder. The cost of their care through emergency room visits clogs our health system and lowers their quality of life. Multiple national studies show that moving people into permanent housing with support services attached is the most effective way to get people off the streets.
I have met with Castle Hospital to encourage a homeless outpatient facility at its new campus at Hawaii Pacific University and have submitted such comments on its draft environmental analysis. I am working with colleagues to pass legislation to shut down unlicensed whole house rentals. I’m also supporting more incentives for local builders to infill areas with affordable housing units. Lack of affordable housing is a statewide crisis, one which we must put at the top of the list for the next legislative session.