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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 Micah Kalama Pregitzer, the Democratic candidate for the state House of Representatives, District 50, which covers Kailua and Kaneohe Bay. There is one other candidate, Republican Cynthia Thielen.
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. Closed door committee meetings should not be allowed, except for executive sessions, which should have the reason for going into executive session explained in the minutes, which should also be public.
Additionally, all legislative business could easily be streamed and archived using resources such as Facebook Live or similar cheap and already easily available and widespread technology.
Lastly, campaign funding needs to be completely redone. In its current form it is legalized bribery, making politicians that are supposed to be representing their constituents, beholden to their wealthy and corporate donors. Publicly financed campaigns would help to level the playing field and get rid of outside interests influencing policy.
2. Hawaii is the only Western state without a statewide citizens initiative process. Do you support such a process?
Absolutely. Government is supposed to work for the people and represent their interests. What better way to do that then by having a process for actual citizens and communities to introduce petitions for potential legislation?
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?
Although Hawaii’s Legislature is controlled by mostly Democrats, there is a wide range of ideals and beliefs represented there. Many of the currently elected Democrats are even more conservative than some of the remaining Republicans. Also, several Republicans have recently switched over to Democrats, but their beliefs and policy agendas still align with mostly Republican values.
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, more information and accountability is always a good thing. Former politicians should not be allowed to be paid lobbyists after they are no longer in office. Also, PACs and corporate money have no place in politics. If individuals want to donate their own personal money, up to a reasonable amount, they should be free to do so, but corporations don’t get to vote, so they shouldn’t be able to influence elections. It is legalized bribery.
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?
There should be strict laws regulating how long an agency has to release information after a request, and the limit on the fees for such requests should be capped at the processing costs alone.
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. Unfortunately the state is currently using the Employer-Union Health Benefits Trust Fund’s very optimistic return rate of 7 percent to calculate our unfunded liability and attempt to pay it down in 30 years. It has been recommended that the state use a more realistic number to calculate their figures. If elected, I will work to ensure that better accounting practices and more transparency is used when calculating our Other Post Employment Benefit liabilities. Once that is accomplished, then we can look at other ways to reduce and eliminate our debt while continuing to provide the contractually agreed upon retirement benefits for our retired public employees.
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, this plan provides a sustainable source to adequately fund public education in Hawaii that does not put an undue burden on the average citizen. If the constitutional amendment passes, and I am elected, I will work to ensure that the original intention of the bill is implemented with enabling legislation. The funds collected will only be for education, and the surcharge will only be on investment properties (not primary residences) valued at a minimum of $1 million or more. Also low-income rental properties should also be exempt from the surcharge.
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?
Absolutely, living in Kailua this is a huge problem. They result in properties being bought up as investments to be used as short-term vacation rentals, which causes an inflation of the housing shortage for residents, resulting in rent and home costs to drastically increase. Current laws already in place need to be enforced more stringently.
9. Do you support or oppose holding a state constitutional convention? Why or why not?
The idea of a constitutional convention is a great idea to try and give the citizens direct input into our state constitution. Unfortunately in our current political climate, I fear that special interest groups, with their unlimited funding from super PACs, will manipulate it to redo our constitution to benefit corporations and wealthy donors, not average citizens. For this reason I do not support having a constitutional convention this time.
10. What should Hawaii be doing to prepare for the effects of climate change, including sea level rise and threats to the reefs?
As one of the most isolated land masses in the world, it is paramount that we decrease our reliance on fossil fuels, which are one of the leading contributing factors to man-made climate change. We are blessed with an abundance of clean renewable resources right here, from solar to wind and wave energy. We need to invest in those technologies to ensure that we are clean and self sufficient as soon as possible. The legislation recently signed into law by Gov. David Ige to adopt the Paris Climate Accord is also a step in the right direction that will help to stave off climate change and its negative effects in Hawaii.
11. What do you see as the most pressing issue facing your district? What will you do about it?
The rising cost of living. Local residents and small businesses are constantly being pushed out by real estate investors and larger corporate businesses. First, we need to better enforce our current vacation rental laws before looking at revising them and opening it up to more legal rentals. Additionally, I would work with companies like Alexander & Baldwin to create breaks in lease payments for smaller local businesses so that they can have a more level playing field against the larger corporate businesses setting up shop in our small town by the droves. This would help to preserve the small local feel our communities are used to and promote long term growth of the communities.