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 Nathan Takeuchi, Democratic candidate for state House District 35, which includes Pearl City, Waipahu and Crestview. The other Democratic candidates are Cory Chun, Jolyn Priete and Inam Rahman.
Pearl City Neighborhood Board, served as board secretary, vice-chair of Legislative Committee and Publicity Committee; Pearl City Community Association, member, board of directors.
1. What is the biggest issue facing your district, and what would you do about it?
After walking door-to-door to most of the district, the number one concern that was brought up is crime. There has been an increase in crime at a time when HPD has hundreds of officer vacancies. This limits their ability to handle calls for service and conduct special enforcement to address serious crimes harming our community.
I will strongly support legislation that offers financial incentives to assist the HPD with recruitment. For example, we can consider higher education grants for students pursuing a career in law enforcement; signing bonuses for first-time law enforcement officers; and a student loan forgiveness program for officers.
We should also consider creating a grant program to reimburse law enforcement agencies for the cost of recruitment and retention incentives they may offer and consider recruiting from retired law enforcement officers by allowing them to work again without having their pensions penalized.
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?
I support “sustainable tourism” that considers the economic, social and environmental impacts of tourism on our communities. We need to try and maximize the social and economic benefits of the tourism industry while respecting, preserving and enhancing Hawaii’s natural, cultural and community assets.
We should also encourage visitors to explore Hawaii in a way that is respectful of the Native Hawaiian culture and local residents.
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?
Another issue that came up frequently while I was walking the district is the high cost of living. There are two ways that we can immediately assist middle class and working families that are struggling. The first is to eliminate the general excise tax on food. This would reduce the cost of groceries by 4% statewide and 4.5% on Oahu. Second, reducing or suspending the state’s gas tax, even temporarily, would help working families with long commutes during this time of high gas prices.
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 graduated from UH Manoa with a Master’s degree in Public Administration (MPA). My MPA program instilled in me the values of being inclusive, respecting traditions and being culturally sensitive. So, I will always welcome everyone’s input on issues being considered by the Legislature and I will gladly listen to any suggestions on how to solve a problem.
5. Hawaii is the only Western state without a statewide citizens initiative process. Do you support such a process?
I’ve worked a total of eight legislative sessions in the state House of Representatives. I started out as a University of Hawaii intern, then working my way up to a legislative aide, a committee clerk, and finally an office manager for three sessions. I strongly feel that the legislative process is the fairest way to create well-written laws.
One of the biggest criticisms of the citizens initiative process is that it results in badly drafted laws. The initiative process doesn’t rely on the expertise of state lawyers and experienced legislators who are familiar with the drafting process. This can lead to meaningless, ineffective laws that must be redrafted. In some cases, laws created by the initiative process are found to be unconstitutional.
Another disadvantage is that it is difficult for voters to make informed decisions when there are too many complex initiatives on the ballot. It’s not fair to expect voters to make decisions on complicated issues that they, unlike elected representatives, do not have the time to learn about. This opens the door for well-financed special interest groups to take over the process and promote their own agenda.
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?
After working in the state House of Representatives for eight legislative sessions and experiencing how difficult it is to get good legislation passed, I do not think term limits for state legislators would be a good idea.
It can take years of dedication and hard work to learn complex public policy issues. It takes even more years to learn all the nuances and procedures to effectively chair a major committee. It would not improve the quality of the legislation being passed by the State House and Senate if we got rid of our most experienced legislators.
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?
I support requiring lawmakers and all other state employees to undergo regular ethics training every four years. I also support providing funding for a new fraud unit in the Attorney General’s Office that would investigate public corruption.
I am open to applying the Sunshine Law to the Legislature. However, I am concerned that the law’s strict requirements for meetings may not be workable and could slow the legislative process down to a crawl.
I would be open to a total ban on any donations during the legislative session. I would also like to see increased public funding for elections to reduce the influence of money in politics.
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?
The Legislature and all public boards should be required to archive recordings of their meetings.
To reform lobbying, we could require lawmakers to keep a log of visits by lobbyists or require lobbying organizations to disclose a list of bills that they support or oppose.
We should also require lawmakers to disclose the backers of bills they introduced “by request.”
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 would lean heavily on the values I learned through my Master of Public Administration (MPA) program, which always emphasized improving collaboration within organizations and the community so that we can creatively solve problems.
The MPA program also taught me to always be willing and able to adapt to changing environments; listen to and work with others; be aware and sensitive toward traditions; and provide an inclusive culture and environment.
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.
Hawaii has many challenges that we need to meet, challenges that will require significant resources. It is imperative that we diversify our economy and build new, billion-dollar industries that will provide good jobs and, most importantly, the tax revenues we need to sustain our state and increase our opportunities.
I believe a promising industry is creative media or film. It doesn’t pollute, it helps tourism by showing off Hawaii’s beauty, and it will provide young people with jobs in creative fields. This new industry would only be limited by our own creativity, and I believe it is an underutilized resource.
We should take advantage of improving technology that is dropping the barriers that prevented previous generations from expressing themselves to the world. I can see the Academy for Creative Media at UH West Oahu becoming a hub for this new billion-dollar industry. It’s going to require state support to grow, but it’s an investment for the future.
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