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 Eric Sarrafian, Democratic candidate for state House District 37, which includes Waipio and Mililani. The other Democratic candidate is Ryan Yamane.

Go to Civil Beat’s Election Guide for general information, and check out other candidates on the Primary Election Ballot.

Candidate for State House District 37

Eric Sarrafian
Party Democratic
Occupation Student treasurer
Residence Waipahu, Oahu

Website

Community organizations/prior offices held

Member, 808Cleanups; member, Rotary Club; Leeward Community College student senator and treasurer; member, Oahu Housing Now.

1. What is the biggest issue facing your district, and what would you do about it?

The biggest issue we are facing is an increase in homelessness. From my experience talking with people who were homeless, and experts in dealing with homelessness the main causes are drug issues and mental health. Our current homeless shelters are not safe places to get help and are riddled with drugs.

If elected, I would work to improve the accessibility of mental health care and drug rehabilitation to the homeless population along with increasing funding to homeless shelters for improved conditions where people can feel safe.

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?

We need change for tourism. We need to restructure the Hawaii Tourism Authority to focus more on sustainability of natural resources instead of just getting people to the islands. I would like to include community voices in the decision-making and the HTA should encourage tourists to support our beautiful local farms, other than Kapiolani Community College to help rebuild our agricultural industry.

There are many ways we could improve the economy, encouraging green industries, such as renewable energy technology. We could implement tax breaks or other incentives for startups to help grow our economy.

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 would support increasing the minimum wage to help in the short term, removing the GE tax on necessities like food and medicine, and implementing financial literacy classes as a required class in high school to help the next generation survive.

Beyond that we need to increase the amount of affordable housing for citizens who need it.

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?

I would support laws that implement ranked choice voting. That means people who are from third parties can still get a voice and people who don’t like Republicans or Democrats no longer need to vote for, in their eyes, the “lesser evil” and can simply vote for who they believe is the best candidate.

5. Hawaii is the only Western state without a statewide citizens initiative process. Do you support such a process? 

Yes, this is a necessity if we are to have any hope at stopping the widespread corruption and nepotism we face today that blocks laws the people desperately want.

I was in the Democratic State Convention where we were voting on whether to urge the state Legislature to allow the people to vote on whether we want term limits or not. It was terrifying to me that instead of letting the people decide we overwhelmingly said no; that we know better than what the people want.

That is not what a democracy is, that is an oligarchy, and we need to be better.

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?

Yes there should be term limits, I am seeing first-hand how it’s extremely difficult if not impossible for new people to become a politician since established politicians will be given massive contributions from corporations and other politicians.

Having the same politicians representing the people every year does not allow new ideas to flourish and brings stagnation and complacency.

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?

Sunshine Laws, open records and banning contributions during session is a must. Faith in our government and institutions is at an all-time low, we need to do whatever it takes to restore it.

I promise to support all legislation for improving and increasing transparency and would highly recommend anyone reading this to go and check the Campaign Spending Commission’s website to see your local politicians and who they have accepted money from.

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?

If I could, I would ban lobbying entirely but due to the Supreme Court’s decision concerning the Citizens United case that is not an option. Opening conference committees to the public is a great idea and can easily be opened through the use of applications like Zoom to not only people on Oahu but all of Hawaii.

As mentioned earlier, having a citizens initiative process would be something I highly support as well. The people need improved access to who is lobbying our politicians.

We already have a legislative newsletter sent out to the public which is free advertising for the current incumbents. Why not have a newsletter from the Campaign Spending Commission with a list of who exactly is donating to our politicians?

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?

This is unfortunately an issue that can’t be solved in a short period of time. In Hawaii ever since the United States invaded there has always been a disconnect and lack of faith between the people and the government. This has created division whenever any development has happened.

The recent corruption scandals are just the latest in a long, nearly insurmountable line of issues that makes many people feel validated in not trusting the government. I am not so foolhardy to say I can solve generations of hatred, vastly complex political and moral issues. But I do think I know where we can start.

Empathy and understanding are the only way we can hope to overcome these issues together. Denmark has empathy classes in their curriculum, and I believe that by improving the emotional intelligence of our children we can improve their empathy and in doing so give the future generation a better tomorrow.

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.

I don’t believe that I should have that power in the first place; this is a democracy, and no single person should have the ability to rebuild the state to their image, but I digress.

I would implement term limits to make sure new blood gets into office that can handle the new challenges of an ever-changing world. To make sure that no single person or small group of individuals can control the state indefinitely. We put term limits on our president and on our governors for the same reason, there’s no logical reason why we should have one group of politicians with term limits but not another.

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