Editor’s note: For Hawaii’s Aug. 8 Primary 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 Lynn DeCoite, Democratic candidate for state House District 13, which includes Haiku, Hana, Kaupo, Kipahulu, Nahiku, Paia, Kahoolawe, Lanai, Molokai and Molokini. The other Democratic candidate is Walter Ritte.
1. Hawaii has been deeply affected by the coronavirus pandemic. Perhaps the biggest impact is to the economy and the tourism industry, which has been Hawaii’s biggest economic driver. Do you think state leaders have handled the response to the virus effectively, including the approach to testing and health care as well as the stay-at-home orders that have caused serious economic harm? What would you have done differently?
While our state has suffered major economic setbacks, it would have been worse if we stayed open and let our residents get sick. Luckily, District 13 has seen low numbers of COVID-19 and on Lanai, none at all as of this writing. And that is due to the vigilance of the Lanai community determined to keep themselves safe. Same on Molokai, in Hana and in Haiku and Paia – our community members took cases seriously and really looked out for everyone in their communities.
I advocated for shutting down of non-essential/non-resident travel to East Maui, Molokai and Lanai early on with letters to the governor on March 12, March 17 and on March 21 (letters posted to my Rep. Lynn DeCoite Facebook page). I was also able to talk directly with the governor and Adjutant General Hara about the interisland quarantine to express community concerns and give input on the travel/quarantine requirements
During this pandemic, I worked with all levels of government, including our congressional delegation to get the proper information and services to my constituents.
I would have liked to see better coordination between the county (Maui) and the state early on. I feel that communication is better now, not perfect, but better.
2. The state budget is facing record shortfalls. How would you balance the budget? What would you cut? What would you protect?
I would portion off tourism funding, then protect and prioritize Health and Human Services. I would also encourage and boost agriculture support and funding on all islands.
3. What do you think should be done to diversify the economy? What would you do as an elected official to make that happen?
We’ve all seen in the past few months what happens when we focus too much on one industry – tourism. I’ve been a long supporter and participant in agriculture. During this pandemic, people wanted food, fresh local produce is what was being given out and there were a lot cars lined up for it.
We need to look at how to truly support the agriculture industry in a way that encourages the growth of food.
Since being appointed in 2015, I have worked on legislation to assist farmers with Food Safety Modernization Act (FSMA) certification and the costs associated with it. I have worked with HDOA, CTAHR, the Farm Bureau and the Farmers Union to see what resources would truly help farmers (and ranchers) be productive producers.
4. 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? Would you support reductions in benefits including in pension contributions for public employees in light of virus-related budget shortfalls?
No, I would stop giving it to investors who are actually gambling with our pensions. Anytime you invest our money and you are not guaranteed on the return, you are gambling. I would look to get a guarantee out of a return investment or make sure the investment is committed.
5. The state’s virus response effort has exposed deep rifts within the top levels of government, including between the Legislature and Gov. David Ige. He will be in office two more years, so what would you do to ensure public confidence in Hawaii’s government officials and top executives?
I have a good working relationship with Gov. Ige and have been able to work with him on a number of issues. The same with my colleagues in the Legislature. I have a longstanding belief that we don’t need to agree on everything, we can work together on the issues we agree on and agree to disagree on the issues we don’t agree on. But just because we disagree does not mean we cannot work together to find solutions.
I don’t discount or write off anyone. Being able to work with my colleagues in the Legislature, the various department heads, the lieutenant governor and governor is how I am able to serve my constituents.
6. Recent deaths of citizens at the hands of police are igniting protests and calls for reform across the country, primarily aimed at preventing discrimination against people of color. How important do you see this as an issue for Hawaii? What should be done to improve policing and police accountability throughout the state? Do you support police reform efforts such as mandatory disclosure of misconduct records by police agencies and adequate funding for law enforcement oversight boards that have been established in recent years?
With our state being as diverse as it is, it is important for everyone to be treated equally in all aspects of their lives. I appreciate the care and support that the Maui police chief and the Maui police officers showed the recent protesters.
We should have uniformity across the state with the police commissions and citizen review boards so that there is consistency for the disclosures of misconduct across the state.
7. Hawaii is the only Western state without a statewide citizens initiative process. Do you support such a process?
I support it with concerns that making sure that the proper wording passes legal checks and balances and that there are no competing resolutions that can cancel each other out.
8. Hawaii’s public records law mandates that public records be made available whenever possible. Gov. David Ige suspended the open government laws under an emergency order during the pandemic. Do you agree or disagree with his action? What would you do to ensure the public has access to open meetings and public records in a timely fashion?
I understand and support the need for some of these requirements to be made. As we’ve seen over the past few months, our state was seriously lacking when it came to technology. We needed to learn how to operate in a distanced environment. All of these live-streaming sessions and meetings via Zoom, teams, Bluejeans, etc., took some getting used to.
And while I support the ease on physical meeting restrictions, I believe that decisions need to be made with transparency and input from our community members. You all have a voice and as elected officials (or appointed officials when it comes to boards and commissions) we should hear from you before we make decisions.
And public records should always be accessible. Our department websites need to be easier to use and public documents should be readily accessible and easy to find on any government department/agency website.
9. What should Hawaii be doing to prepare for the effects of climate change, including sea level rise and threats to the reefs? How big of a priority is this for you?
We need to stop building next to the ocean and move future improvements of schools and infrastructure away from areas that have sea level rise. This has been a priority of mine for a while. I have worked with DLNR to hold public meetings in Molokai regarding “Sea Level Rise Vulnerability and Adaptation.” We have been working to raise awareness and prepare our communities.
I have also been a long supporter of protecting our reefs. I introduced legislation on the effects of oxybenzone in 2016 (and 2017 and 2018) and since this have introduced legislation about protecting our reefs from runoff as well as to help control invasive species.
10. What do you see as the most pressing issue facing your district? What will you do about it?
The greatest need for my district and my main priority remains the same: to ensure outreach and inclusion of all islands and residents when it comes to state services, resources, programs and jobs. Representing the only true canoe district is not easy. I have East Maui, Molokai and Lanai along with Kahoolawe and Molokini. District 13 has so many unique and beautiful communities, and we also have similar needs and concerns that need to be addressed, along with natural resources that need to be protected, yet we struggle for the services that people in urban districts don’t need to worry about.
I will continue to work with department heads for services and work with my colleagues in the Legislature to ensure our district continues to receive the much needed CIP and GIA funds. I will continue to advocate for the areas in District 13 as I have done the past five years , like the funds I have gotten for Haiku School, Paia School , Molokai High School, Hana Elementary and High School and Lanai Elementary and High School, well as funding for road improvements on Hana Highway, the Paia bypass and for our health centers and hospitals in our district.
11. The coronavirus pandemic has exposed numerous flaws in Hawaii’s structure and systems, from outdated technology to economic disparity. If you could take this moment to reinvent Hawaii, to build on what we’ve learned and create a better state, a better way of doing things, what would you do? Please share One Big Idea you have for Hawaii. Be innovative, but be specific.
I would put agriculture first and build a base foundation with agri-tourism. We need to limit the number of people coming into the state and prioritize our resources. We then promote agri-tourism like the Azores in Portugal — if you build it they will come. We can just have better control as to how it is all done. We also need to be better about protecting our water supply.
Another plan is to look to the type of jobs we want here, jobs that our residents can fill. We should work with businesses, like Hawaiian airlines, to bring their call centers to Hawaii. We have the capacity and we have people who need jobs.