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 Tracy Arakaki, Democratic candidate for state House District 33, which includes Halawa, Aiea and Waimalu. The other Democratic candidate is Sam Kong.

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 33

Tracy Arakaki
Party Democratic
Age 57
Occupation National television show producer
Residence Aiea, Oahu

Website

Community organizations/prior offices held

Aiea Neighborhood Board, 23 years.

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

One of the most pressing issues my district is facing is ensuring that our water is safe for the community. Everyone is concerned about the fuel leak at Red Hill. I have worked for years in the petroleum industry and know the dangers. This is why I sit on the Aiea board’s Red Hill committee.

As your Aiea representative I would continue holding government agencies accountable by ensuring the safe draining and decommissioning of the Red Hill fuel tanks. I will ensure that our community is apprised of the decommissioning as well as work with the responsible agencies to ensure it is done safely and quickly.

Another issue is working on housing and homelessness, two issues that are inseparable. Most Hawaii residents are just one paycheck or medical emergency away from financial disaster and/or homelessness. At the state level we could be finding ways to make affordable housing developments more attractive and tenable, to increase the affordable rental unit inventory.

On a smaller scale, I believe that we need to continue providing massive outreach to get the many individuals the social, medical and psychological help they need to get them off the streets.

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 economy?

I am a strong advocate for the trade and vocational schools as an alternative to traditional four-year college education.

While I don’t think that eliminating tourism is feasible, I do believe that the recent Covid-19 pandemic showed us the fragility of an economy wholly based on tourism. We should use this opportunity to diversify our economic sectors, which in turn could also benefit our education system as well as our workforce.

For example, if we were to bring more industries such as aerospace into the state, we could create pipelines in our public schools and the University of Hawaii. This would allow accelerated programs that would complement the needs of the emerging industry — from engineers and scientists to mechanics and welding, these new industries will need these necessary trades people.

We should continue with the destination management plan, but our policymakers should be thinking about long-term systemic change and I believe promoting our trade schools already in our college system is paramount to diversifying our state’s economy for generations to come.

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?

First and foremost, the prevailing cost of living is such a huge issue for our state. Locals are being priced out of their lands and homes and food is becoming more and more expensive as well as needs for the skyrocketing costs for fuel.

I support better wages for Hawaii’s working families. We can do this by attracting high-tech and specialized industry companies, through improving the business climate and also providing incentives.

I also support adjusting the low-income tax credit thresholds to current economic conditions, which should help the struggling families in Hawaii. I’m also interested in exploring ways in which the state of Hawaii can improve supply chains and make transportation of goods more equitable for our people.

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 that 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’ve served on the Aiea Neighborhood Board for over 23 years. In this capacity I’ve learned that good ideas can come from a wide spectrum of people, regardless of which side of the aisle they choose. As a member on the board, I learned to listen to as many sides as possible, and to keep an open mind and objectiveness.

With that being said, I also know that as a state representative I would consider the voices and opinions of my constituents first and foremost, regardless of my party. I support legislative term limits; I believe that such a policy would encourage a balance of ideas and power.

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

Yes, I support a statewide citizens initiative process.

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. Term limits would help give a fairer chance to first-time candidates and would lead to a more dynamic discourse in the capitol, with many new voices being added every session.

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 record laws to apply to the Legislature or banning campaign contributions during session?

Yes. I support banning fundraising during the legislation session to reduce the inferred influence on decisions throughout the legislative process via donations. I also support reforms strengthening Hawaii’s Sunshine Laws and improving access to documents and information relating to government records.

These reforms only help to encourage open and fair government that is centered on accountability.

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?

Yes, I believe conference committees should be open to the public. Since time is an issue, perhaps the Legislature could adopt internal rules that allow public testimony on conference issues but limits testimony to ensure timeliness.

I also believe that the system for ethics disclosures could be improved on, to improve public trust and to provide more thorough investigations of cases the Ethics Commission receives.

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?

I believe in an open approach to government. As state representative I will listen and work to bring everyone to the table.

The issues facing my district and the state are great, but I know there’s a lot of common ground we can find together to take care of our communities and our families.

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 would have committed significant funding toward a technology overhaul for all agencies of the state. Including our Department of Education, which suffered the biggest challenge due to many children not having access to either a laptop or internet connection.

As recently as 2021, some state agencies that accept payments for the state are still not accepting electronic or credit card payment. Even simple small changes like these could help many Hawaii families. The city has implemented kiosks for auto registration renewals, I believe we can have similar programs on the state side with equal success.

We also saw the state deal with an unprecedented number of unemployment insurance claims, something that should have been addressed and the technology been updated prior to the pandemic. I also would like to see a stronger pivot toward tech-focused job growth in the state, so that we can attract higher-paying and green jobs, which would benefit our people, the environment and our state.

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