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 Dale Kobayashi, Democratic candidate for state House District 22, which includes Manoa. The other Democratic candidate is Andrew Takuya Garrett.
1. What is the biggest issue facing your district, and what would you do about it?
Broadly speaking, the issues people are talking about in the district can be attributed to the effects of change. We’ve experienced significant change in a district where things happened much more slowly in our mostly idyllic past. The aggregate effect of which is quite overwhelming for many long-time residents. Indeed, increasing homelessness and crime, monster homes, illegal vacation rentals and large-scale development are all rooted in larger macro trends in our general society, locally, nationally and globally.
The key to managing these changes is having both an appreciation and understanding of where we come from and where we need to go. I grew up in the district, from early childhood in a McCully walkup and next to the freeway on Metcalf Street to coming of age and currently residing in Manoa Valley. A career spent in Europe and Asia in high finance provides me the counterpoint of a global perspective. I’m confident I bring both the heart and mind needed to successfully manage change in my district, that’s what it’s all about for me.
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?
Diversification away from tourism has been a priority for me from the start, Waikiki is just the new plantation. Everyone looks for the one magic pill, there is none, diversification needs to be rooted in dozens of initiatives, big and small, the aggregate effect gets us there.
I’m involved in and supportive of efforts related to development of Hawaii as a hedge fund domicile, private equity leader and baseball mecca. If we’re to be serious about economic diversification we can leave no stone unturned, serious consideration needs to be given to revenue sources such as lottery, gambling and recreational cannabis.
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?
The primary driver for me entering public office is my conviction there will be virtually no local people who can afford to live here within two generations at most. There’s a way forward for us but it’s completely different than what we’ve been doing, which rewarded a select few and left most behind. ‘Nuff already.
Again, there’s never one simple solution to complex problems. My priorities and efforts focus on affordability, economic diversification and public education, key pillars in creating a Hawaii for all.
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?
The growing gap between party ideologies primarily relates to social issues. If we strip away those differences and focus on fiscal policies, which have by far the greatest long-term impact on the electorate, what we have in this country are a far right and right of center party when looked at relative to international norms in developed countries. That’s really where the gap in balance lies.
Locally, the range of ideology among elected officials of both parties is vast. Among those in my majority party we have strong progressives, moderates and individuals as or more conservative than your average Republican. So while greater legislative balance between the parties is preferable, we do exhibit much diversity here in terms of the viewpoints within the majority party. So less of an echo chamber than one would think looking at it on the surface.
5. Hawaii is the only Western state without a statewide citizens initiative process. Do you support such a process?
I do not. The initiative model in California as an example is largely driven by corporate and other special interests and lots and lots of money. In most cases it comes down to which camp of special interests can sell the more appealing sound bites to voters while oversimplifying complex issues.
An exception would be issues where elected officials have obvious conflicts in the decision, such as public funding of elections, a constitutional amendment which our current system allows voters to decide directly.
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?
I’m for term limits. In my lifetime we’ve gone from a society where anybody who had a job could own a home to one where people need two jobs to be able to afford basic life necessities. Constitutionally mandated leadership changes would have given some assurance that the same failed policies wouldn’t be repeated forever, benefiting a few greatly while everyone else was left behind.
Current term limits in the council are easy to get around by resetting one’s clock, sitting out one term and going back. Or move to another branch of government like the current musical chairs. We need to close current loopholes in how we define the term limits.
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?
It’s ridiculous that we’re not subject to the Sunshine Law in the state Legislature. Banning campaign contributions during session is a start, but not even close to enough. Ditto the new transparency commission.
Campaign money drives the pay-to-play culture, everyone knows that. Public funding of elections would take that out completely. End of story. No more money in politics. Until we start seriously looking at public funding of elections all other efforts amount to so much virtue signaling.
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?
As chair of the House Legislative Management Committee, I made it my priority to ensure public access as much as possible. Several bills came before my committee which were aimed at restricting access, citing Covid health and safety issues as well as security issues using the Jan. 6 Capitol riots as justification. I killed these bills by refusing to schedule them for hearings.
The state Capitol belongs to the people of Hawaii, not the sitting legislators. While many legislative offices are locked and appointment-only, mine will always remain open, you don’t even need to knock, just come in anytime.
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?
Here in Hawaii we’ve always been more tolerant of those with views that may differ from us. As one would expect from a culture which is essentially a melting pot of various ethnicities. And the spirit of aloha which is ingrained in our local culture.
The divisiveness spills over from the growing culture of intolerance and division which has been festering on the mainland, particularly in recent years. We’re better than that here. While there’s no easy answer to widespread cultural aberrations, the key is for people here to never forget who we are and where we come from. That’s where you’ll find the answer to greater harmony.
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.
Use property taxes to effectively make it illegal to use our housing stock as a tool for financial speculation. All of our major woes can be traced back to the destruction of living standards caused by skyrocketing property values over the past 50 years. Absent speculative buying our housing would have remained available to anybody with a job, as it was before the speculative boom. Nobody would be forced to leave the place they’ve called home for generations because they can’t afford to stay here.
Every day, reminders of our once idyllic lifestyle here slip away before our eyes. Only government has the ability to rein in the immoral speculation on our most scarce life necessity, if left to market forces our way of life will be a memory within two generations. Hawaii will be nothing but a playground for the wealthy from Asia and the mainland. We need less posturing and more action.
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