Editor’s note: For Hawaii’s Aug. 13 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 Michael Starr, Republican candidate for state House District 40, which includes Lower Village, Iroquois Point and Ewa Beach. The other Republican candidate is Janie Gueso.
1. What is the biggest issue facing your district, and what would you do about it?
Education and educational infrastructure. Money is not the only solution. We need a more independently minded local group of leaders in education who can develop and implement effective programs that empower our students to compete in the global digital economy (which would also give them access to higher-paying jobs without having to leave the state).
The best education needs to be determined locally — we know what our keiki are good at, need help with, and can accomplish, better than any bureaucrat halfway around the world. Let’s start here. We can build the best Ewa Beach education possible.
2. Many people have talked about diversifying the local economy for many years now, and yet Hawaii is still heavily reliant on tourism. What, if anything, should be done differently about tourism and the economy?
The answer to this question begins with education. The (digital) world is flat and has been for a while now. Our competition in this new borderless economy might not even live in the same hemisphere. We need to prepare our keiki for the types of jobs that move people forward and open doors by re-examining education programs and expanding programs that will prepare them to excel.
Tourism will always be a major part of Hawaii’s economy but creating a new generation of Hawaiians to lead in the flat world of a global digital economy will ensure we expand the economy into ever more innovative and lucrative areas.
3. An estimated 60% of Hawaii residents are struggling to get by, a problem that reaches far beyond low income and into the middle class, which is disappearing. What ideas do you have to help the middle class and working families who are finding it hard to continue to live here?
I disagree with the statement that the middle class “is disappearing.” Sounds too passive. The causes are obvious to all but the most obtuse: Legislators are crushing the middle class with their decisions.
Tax incentives that attract large corporations combined with mandates that crush local businesses do not seem to serve Hawaiians’ best interests.
We live in a global digital economy and need to prepare students to compete with their global peers. Better skill sets lead to better outcomes and higher earning potential for Hawaiians. Let’s prioritize individual success through education, training and targeted infrastructure, and deprioritize corporate-government golf outings at our citizens’ expense.
4. Hawaii has the most lopsided Legislature in the country, with only one Republican in the Senate and only four 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?
Transparency equals accountability. We need open, free, fair elections. Get rid of the bad apples through free and fair elections. If Hawaiians really knew everything about all the politicians and decision-making, they would vote differently.
Hawaiians seem to be among the most libertarian thinkers on the planet, but then seem to vote like socialists. That disconnect is made possible because of a lack of transparency and a subsequent lack of consequences because elected officials aren’t held to account and voted out of office.
Open up all decision-making to public discourse. We need more input from our constituents, and less self-interest-driven policymaking from elected officials. Bottom-up beats top-down decision making any day. Only a robust vote and an engaged citizenry can prevent incumbent despots from removing rights and freedoms that aren’t theirs to remove in the first place.
5. Hawaii is the only Western state without a statewide citizens initiative process. Do you support such a process?
Yes, I do support this, but I hesitate. So long as dark money cannot influence the process, I will guarantee my support. Dark money not an issue? Then, I’m all in, 100%. The direct voice of the people is always the better way. Bottom-up beats top-down decision-making any day. This is the way.
6. Thanks to their campaign war chests and name familiarity, incumbents are almost always re-elected in Hawaii legislative races. Should there be term limits for state legislators, as there are for the governor’s office and county councils? Why or why not?
Absolutely. Yes. The last thing Hawaii needs are obstacles to fresh ideas and new minds.
Term limits should be long enough for representatives to make good on their promises, but not so long that they grow entrenched and create impenetrable barriers even when they fail to live up to those promises. Limit government by limiting terms. This is the way.
7. Hawaii has recently experienced a number of prominent corruption scandals, prompting the state House of Representatives to appoint a commission tasked with improving government transparency through ethics and lobbying reforms. What will you do to ensure accountability at the Legislature? Are you open to ideas such as requiring the Sunshine Law and open records laws to apply to the Legislature or banning campaign contributions during session?
If lawmakers are afraid of the light, they are not acting in our best interests. Period. So, yes. Humans are fallible, and accountability helps mitigate the damage. Laws that shine a light and open information for the public to scrutinize will have my support.
The timing of campaign contributions seems important, but even more important is the “why” of such contributions and the “from what entity.” Sadly, government is so big (and getting bigger) that entities sometimes seem to consider campaign contributions as investments in their own future. This is a problem.
Surely if government were shrinking and kept limited, entities with their own interests firmly ahead of Hawaiians would have no incentive to “invest” in a campaign, no? People support people. Sometimes that support is monetary. I see less cause for concern on that level. Entities support their own interests, and in the extreme such support tends to beget corruption. This is not the way.
8. How would you make the Legislature more transparent and accessible to the public? Opening conference committees to the public? Stricter disclosure requirements on lobbying and lobbyists? How could the Legislature change its own internal rules to be more open?
I am for openness. Any employee who hides his doings from his employer is up to no good. We all know this. We need to vote this way. Elected officials (employees) need to conduct business in such a way that open forum and free access will not seem a threat to the legislative or decision-making process.
Ideally unfettered access to all records for Hawaiians should be normalized. Any legislator who says otherwise might know something we don’t, but still, we (Hawaiians) deserve to know as well and be empowered as the employer.
9. Hawaii has seen a growing division when it comes to politics, development, health mandates and other issues. What would you do to bridge those gaps and bring people together in spite of their differences?
Breathe on them. Hug them. Meet them face to face. Expose them to respectful debate and different data. Ultimately, we are all on the same team. It is easy to get angry when some car cuts you off on a commute to work, but when we see it was just grandma driving there and no bad intention, we always forgive and move on hoping she has a good day.
Same in politics. We are not the boogeyman opponents and their minions want to make us out to be (each to the other). We all want a better, more prosperous, happy Hawaii for our extended ohana. Aloha is the way.
10. 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 reaction to corona is to blame/thank for highlighting the many challenges Hawaii faces, not the virus itself. Ultimately “reinventing Hawaii,” as you say, boils down to transparency, accountability, integrity and freedom. Any government that thinks less freedom equals more safety is operating on a false premise. An empowered citizenry (especially one as naturally compassionate and caring as we have in Hawaii) has far more tools at their disposal to face any challenge than a government mired in scandal no matter the good intentions of the majority of those working in that government. Imagine a fully empowered Hawaiian citizenry excited about their future? Paradise lost, regained.
Big idea: Imagine we develop the most robust regenerative local farming infrastructure the world has ever seen by removing legal and other government-imposed barriers to entry. Healthier food equals healthier citizens equals healthier society. We need fewer legislative restrictions (that industrial interests can easily overcome) and more local support for our farmers. Industrial farming at its worst destroys farmland. Regenerative farming replenishes: a foundation for a sustained strengthening of the environment as well as a path toward food independence that would benefit all Hawaiians. Hawaii can be a shining example of regenerative farming for the world to emulate.
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