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 Lisa Marten, Democratic candidate for state House District 51, which includes Kailua and Waimanalo. The other Democratic candidates are Alan Akao, Coby Chock and Scott Grimmer.
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?
Kudos to our leadership for avoiding loss of life and health care worker trauma. I have a doctorate in Public Health and experience with the HIV epidemic. We could have used our excellent local and global COVID-19 data even better to make timely, evidence-based decisions. Due to our limited hospital capacity, I created a petition to shut off overseas travel earlier, as done by some island nations.
We could have kept more of our local economy open, kept kids in school, maintained preventive and elective medical care, and avoided social isolation. Based on science, we should have promoted universal mask wearing from the start. By May, we had “flattened the curve,” increased our testing capacity and hospital readiness, and learned more about transmission and treatment. Yet we did not reopen outdoor spaces or allow interisland travel. Batch testing for sentinel surveillance of high interest groups is affordable and should be in use to strategically monitor so we can crack down early on hot spots, and ease unwarranted restrictions.
When a shutdown was planned, human resources should have been shifted immediately to help the Department of Labor process unemployment claims and to help applicants for federal assistance fill out forms correctly.
2. The state budget is facing record shortfalls. How would you balance the budget? What would you cut? What would you protect?
The requirement for a balanced budget can be waived by the governor when public welfare is threatened. So, rather than balancing the budget during this unprecedented economic crisis, I would want to focus on avoiding a prolonged recession that we know follows sharply reduced government spending.
Federal aid should be used to maintain social services for the unemployed, including health insurance through Med-Quest, continued unemployment benefits, and payment of state employees. As needed, we should borrow funds to cover vital expenses, while at the same time stimulating our economy. Hawaii currently has an excellent credit rating which gives us favorable interest rates. The Federal Reserve Municipal Liquidity Facility $1.2 billion line of credit is also available (albeit at an over-market interest rate).
3. What do you think should be done to diversify the economy? What would you do as an elected official to make that happen?
Subsidies to diversify into technology and film yielded net losses. We should support local markets for energy and agriculture, keeping more money at home. These sectors create local jobs, environmental and health benefits, and greater security in case of war, pandemics or natural disasters.
My non-profit has pushed for local, renewable energy for many years. Successes include the 100% renewable power and transportation mandate, HECOʻs economic incentives re-aligned with clean energy goals, and building codes requiring solar energy. Now we need to impose clean energy standards on Hawaii Gas, to create infrastructure, building codes and incentives for electric vehicles, and to lead the way with government contracts and fleets.
With our year-round growing season, we can grow more of our own food. It will not necessarily be cheaper, but it will keep our money in Hawaii to support local jobs. Farming has also proven a way to connect struggling youth with a purpose. The state can play a big role through training and apprenticeships, through access to state agricultural lands, and shared equipment and processing facilities.
For tourism, we should focus on fewer tourists willing to pay more for an exclusive experience that is safe, environmentally healthy, and culturally rich.
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?
We need to meet the state’s obligations to public workers. The Legislature has been working to pay down this debt already. The investments portfolios have been managed for resilience against market crashes and may maintain their value in the long-term. If government workers continue to be paid through federal aid and loans, contributions into the fund will remain stable.
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?
Very difficult decisions had to be made for a crisis over which we lack institutional experience, and it is not surprising that there were differences of opinion. We need an open and transparent the deliberation process, with full disclosure of information to our residents. This will increase confidence that decisions made are the best possible, given the constraints.
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 boardsthat have been established in recent years?
Hawaii’s issues are different than the mainland. However, we have had corruption at the highest levels as seen in the Kealoha case, as well as sexual and other types of assault by officers. A study by the Hawaii State Commission on the Status of Women on sex trafficking suggests that misconduct is frequent. Measures to prevent and punish police misconduct are important to maintain public trust. I propose the following:
• Pass HB 285 which requires that officers who are suspended be identified in the annual reports to the Legislature and the public, as is the case for all other government employees.
• Fund the independent statewide police oversight board created by Act 220 in 2018. We need statewide standards for conduct and training, and an independent body with the power to revoke police certification.
Make use of body cams standard, to protect the public as well as to protect officers from false accusations.
Let police focus on fighting crime. Police should not be charged with managing problems like mentally illness and homelessness, unless an individual is violent. Social service organizations are better equipped to help and should be funded to do so.
7. Hawaii is the only Western state without a statewide citizen’s initiative process. Do you support such a process?
I believe it has been an important check on legislative power in some states, such as introducing campaign finance controls and decreasing opportunities for gerrymandering. However, there is also the risk that moneyed or other influential groups will mislead or confuse voters to pass legislation benefiting themselves. It can be hard for citizens to know the true intent of the legislation proposed, especially if there are multiple initiatives to keep track of.
I hope that my constituents would know they have access to introduce legislation, including controls on campaign contributions, through my office.
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?
The suspension was reversed, so even Gov. Ige did not agree with his action.
Going forward, we can set in place procedures to use the many electronic fixes that allow people to view meetings, provide testimony and obtain documents remotely. We have become accustomed to viewing meetings on Facebook and Olelo, we have participated through Zoom or other applications, and documents can be shared electronically.
In fact, these types of options should become standard as they will reduce barriers to participation for people who are working, who are disabled, or who are outer-island.
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?
I am a public health professional who sees climate change as the biggest public health threat of our time. We already have schools too hot to learn in, more frequent hurricane threats, flooding, erosion of beaches and coastal infrastructure, and coral bleaching.
I founded a non-profit which promotes local education and action on climate change. We lobbied for 100% local renewable power and transportation. The energy transition has started, but requires additional legislation to close loopholes, update our building codes, invest in infrastructure for clean transportation, lead the way with government contracts and fleets, and implement a carbon tax that will change incentives without burdening the poor.
We need more trees to sequester carbon, absorb storm water and keep us cool. I have planted thousands of native trees with school groups in a collaboration with DLNR in Kailua, and promoted an increase in tree canopy adopted by the mayor in my role as founding officer of Trees for Honolulu’s Future.
New building and renovations must plan for resilience in the face of sea level rise, storm surges, and rising water tables along the coast and low-lying areas. The planning involves design, materials and relocation away from threatened areas.
10. What do you see as the most pressing issue facing your district? What will you do about it?
Our district of Waimanalo and Kailua is socioeconomically diverse, but we are uniformly rich in that we live in a place of rare beauty, strong communities and deep cultural roots. Our good fortune has been threatened by aggressive marketing of our home for tourism. Our beaches, parks and trails are overrun. Traffic and parking are problems. Vacation rentals compete with residents for housing. Businesses catering to tourists replace old businesses for locals. Developers seek to change and push the boundaries on zoning protections. With so much competition for our home, it is hard for local people to afford to stay and will be even harder for our children.
Along with other community members, I have fought to protect conservation land from development, agricultural land from resort and residential use, and residential land from vacation rentals and monster houses. As a legislator, I can help work on making this place more affordable to our residents by raising the minimum wage, supporting universal health insurance, paid leave and pre-school. I want to plan, along with the community, for affordable housing targeting our working low-income residents. I also support a new initiative to get homeless who are not job-ready off the street.
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.
The massive disruption that COVID-19 has imposed on us has a silver lining. It gives us choices as to how we direct the massive public subsidies that will be distributed in our recovery. We can choose to fund enterprises owned by women and employing women. We can provide temporary employment through public work that will restore our natural resources through DLNR and environmental non-profits.
We can make investments that will help diversify our economy in the long run, adding to our security in the face of natural disasters, conflict or the next pandemic. These include local, renewable energy that reduces the out-of-pocket costs for residents, keeps more of our money in the state, makes us more energy-secure and fights climate change.
Another one that is suited for our district is initiatives to train and support small farmers, making us more food-secure and creating opportunities for youth. This would also create business opportunities to process and market the agricultural products. Again, our expenditures would stay here while our community becomes healthier and more food secure.
We enjoyed fewer tourists and can strive to replace our mass tourism with a higher-spending, more exclusive tourist experience.