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 Shannon Matson, Democratic candidate for state House District 3, which includes Hilo, Keaukaha, Orchidlands Estate, Ainaloa, Hawaiian Acres, Fern Acres, Kurtistown and Keaau. The other Democratic candidate is Chris Todd.
1. What is the biggest issue facing your district, and what would you do about it?
District 3 is home to numerous unimproved subdivisions, as well as Hawaiian Homelands, much of which is without basic infrastructure. People living in these subdivisions drive long distances on unpaved roads to get to work and school; many lack access to utility power; some don’t have reliable internet; some fill water jugs at the end of a long day’s work, for safe water to drink.
These subdivisions were created decades ago, yet their residents have never had their needs represented at the Legislature. Lack of access to clean water is unacceptable; it puts a burden on the district’s families and is a public health safety concern.
This long-standing problem won’t be solved in a single session, its eventual solution depends on a professional assessment of both needs and solutions; securing funding for this in-depth analysis is a priority. Supporting infrastructure development as a way to provide jobs post-pandemic while meeting the needs of some of Hawai’i’s most under-represented working families is crucial. Addressing the crisis of affordable housing and getting DHHL properties up to code and move-in ready for Hawaiian families is key to supporting our struggling community members.
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 Pono Pledge is a step in the right direction. We need to encourage responsible and sustainable tourism.
Covid shutdowns showed us the importance of not being as reliant on tourism, and the importance in diversification. It showed the immense strain and impacts unregulated tourism has on our service/hospitality workers, traffic, environment, etc. We need to heed those lessons and make conscious steps to focus on regenerative agriculture, supporting the growth of green technology jobs and alternative energy production as priorities.
As we currently still import over 85% of our food, but we have a year-round growing season, I would like our top priority in diversification to be improving support for local, small-scale, sustainable agriculture. I support farm-to-table programs at the DOE level and through other state programs. Creating opportunities for students to have active participation in learning about and supporting farming practices in school is crucial; growing, harvesting, preparing and eating their own food.
If we create interactive and fun programs where our keiki learn the importance of being food self-sufficient and experience the joy in feeding themselves from food they grow, we will help create the next generation of family farmers.
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?
As a social services navigator, one area to focus on is making sure we are doing everything we can to keep vulnerable people housed. I have helped numerous folks on the edge of losing their properties or homes remain housed through various federal, state or county programs. The population that is on the edge of becoming unsheltered is crucial to connect with and support.
Regarding the middle class; we need to reduce the growing cost of living by increasing wages and supporting our working families through publicly funded preschool, paid family leave and universal health care, including dental and vision. We need to invest in education for in-demand fields outside of tourism: medical personnel, teachers, social workers, etc.
The affordable housing crisis has reached a pinnacle that needs numerous solutions. Building more affordable housing is only one way to address this, and one that doesn’t seem to be coming fast enough, therefore, rent control, and additional tax incentives for landlords to encourage affordable rental prices are all solutions that must be considered.
Corporate and off-island real estate investors must pay their fair share instead of allowing them to evict our neighbors while raking in profits from some of the most expensive properties in the world.
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 consequences of a one-party system is the apathy it creates in voters which in turn leads to the lack of accountability in some of our elected leaders. Unfortunately, while we may have a strong Democratic Party Platform, there is no requirement for our elected leaders to follow it in any sort of an actionable way. They are not worried about losing their campaigns for re-election; as we can clearly see, yet again, many incumbents are continuing to run unopposed.
Trust in government is a major issue and it’s not just a problem that our majority party is facing. Honestly, I don’t think balancing out based on just two parties is a solution, it’s much more important to look at the individuals we are electing; what do they stand for, who is supporting them, how are they funding their campaign?
I work hard to ensure that my community can trust me by being transparent and open in addressing whatever issues are before me, and if elected I would bring my values of justice and equality into all conversations with my colleagues.
5. Hawaii is the only Western state without a statewide citizens initiative process. Do you support such a process?
I support any process that empowers Hawaii voters to hold elected officials more accountable and a statewide citizens initiative process aims to do just that.
If momentum for the adoption of such a process builds, I would work with others to find ways to make it less burdensome and costly. I am certain there are ways to use technology, including the internet, to gather signatures that do not require such a heavy burden on the grassroots organizations that typically rely on such initiatives to drive reform.
I would also like to investigate what safeguards can be put into place through these types of processes to keep private interest money from co-opting these initiatives so that they can truly be a representation of the will of the people and not for for-profit entities.
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?
Currently I am in support of term limits for exactly the reasons you stated above. Large campaign spending accounts, and name familiarity provide incumbents an almost insurmountable advantage, hence why we see so many incumbents running unopposed or holding onto their seats for decades.
At the same time, I recognize the value in having experienced leaders in these roles and know that frequent turnover isn’t helpful to actually getting things accomplished either. My solution is to focus instead on election spending reform; including further limits to campaign spending, and providing higher rates of matching public funding, with even greater incentives to encourage candidates to run on public funds and small donations rather than being beholden to large corporate donors.
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?
As an active participant in my county government, having served on my county’s Real Property Tax Working Group, and currently serving as a commissioner for the County of Hawaii Cost of Government Commission, I believe the Sunshine Law is an important step toward government transparency. If we are requiring county commissioners and councils to follow these laws, why should the state Legislature be exempt?
I am in strong support of banning campaign contributions and fundraising during session.
My previous answer addressed this question further, as the best and most important government reform is to make campaign spending changes to ensure more candidates run on public funds. I also support mandatory ethics training and am glad to see that bill passed this session.
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 will always be in favor of transparency and openness in government. Our officials are elected to protect and serve our community interests, and to truly build trust all proceedings need to be as open and accessible as possible. The state Legislature shouldn’t be exempt from the Sunshine Law.
I would like to see more electronic versions available of public records so that they can be obtained quickly and easily by those who seek them out. I support the work the Commission to Improve Standards of Conduct is doing and hope they are able to support the recommendations of the Ethics Commission director toward increasing transparency and accountability in our elected officials.
We also deserve to have equal access to our government from all islands — before Covid-19 non-Oahu residents’ ability to participate in the state decision-making process was time-consuming and cost-prohibitive. Most of us cannot afford to take the time and money to travel off-island to testify on issues important to us. We need to be able to continue to submit remote testimony to make true participation in our democracy accessible for all, regardless of health, ability, and/or wealth.
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?
In the last few years of my work on food distributions, community cleanups, road maintenance, building playgrounds, etc., I have found that once one gets off the internet and gets out into the community there is a lot less talk about these controversial issues and a lot more willingness to work on whatever the task at hand is together.
Overall I believe that there is more that unites those of us who choose to live in paradise than divides us. The concept of aloha is unique to our islands, and our people. We can respectfully disagree on how to get to certain outcomes, but overall the majority of our people here believe in the same basic values of working together within our communities, taking care of our most vulnerable, fairness, being respectful, taking care of our aina, kai and wai. I think if we are able to continue to focus on these things that we agree on we can overcome some of the unpleasant divisiveness we see on a national level.
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.
Because of our uniqueness, Hawaii could truly be an example of what independence and self-sustainability looks like — something the rest of the world could aspire to. Our physical isolation, climate, culture, and natural resources could all be showcased as we create a model of a self-reliant, environmentally thriving, compassionate community.
Our islands and people have proven their resiliency and ability to adapt; surviving tsunamis, hurricanes, volcanic eruptions, global pandemics. I see this idea becoming a reality in many places on a small scale around my district. People are rising up and taking care of one another — creating food co-ops, child care-sharing, nonmonetary barter systems, etc.
The state Legislature could be setting the path forward by applying these practices on a larger scale — taking bold action to incentivize PV systems and divesting away from fossil fuel money. Creating support and education around farming to feed our people first, and truly encouraging “buy local” programs that make sure we have enough food on our islands to withstand whatever disasters may be coming next.
We could reduce our waste, carbon emissions, and improve our quality of life all by choosing to really support sustainable living practices and re-create a new Hawaii that is once again not reliant on outside food or fuel to truly thrive.
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