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 Jamaica Cullen, Democratic candidate for state House District 39, which includes Royal Kunia, Waipahu, Honouliuli and Lower Village. The other Democratic candidates are Corey Rosenlee and Kevin Wilson.

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 39

Jamaica Cullen
Party Democratic
Age 29
Occupation Committee clerk
Residence Ewa Beach, Oahu

Website

Community organizations/prior offices held

None provided.

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

As someone who grew up in the neighborhood, I am aware that the rising cost of living has imposed many issues for our families, forcing many of them to move out of our neighborhood. Many community members continue to express growing concerns that their children will not be able to afford living in Hawaii.

I want to provide families with more options and opportunities so that they can continue to live and work within our community if they choose to. I recognize that this is a complex issue, however. To address this, I would provide tax reliefs for working families, increase local and livable wage jobs, develop more affordable housing and adequate surrounding infrastructure.

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?

Hawaii’s largest economic driver continues to be tourism and many of the people in our district rely on tourism as a major source of income. However, we also know that tourism has considerable negative environmental and social impacts and we need to be equally dedicated to safeguarding the environment and our cultural heritage as we are to supporting the tourism industry.

It is more important now than ever to ensure that we can properly and sustainably manage tourism by limiting tourism to each island’s capacity, ensuring our most valuable resources like water are prioritized for local residents over tourists, and establishing revenue generating policies like green fees that can help ensure our visitors are also contributing to the sustenance of our environment.

Moreover, it behooves us to continue enhancing support and investments into other economic sectors, such as agriculture and locally grown produce, technology, entertainment and government.

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?

Hawaii’s population continues to decline, equaling the third-fastest population decline per capita in the entire nation. Each year, we continue to see a mass exodus of local residents because of the high cost of living and poor career opportunities. As someone who wants to live in the community I grew up in, it’s important to me to support policies that provide local residents options and opportunities to remain here if they choose.

I would focus on measures that would provide tax relief to low- and middle-income earners to ensure that they are taking home more money. As mentioned before, I would also prioritize increasing local and livable wage jobs and develop more affordable housing and adequate surrounding infrastructure.

Also, recognizing that we have an aging population which can add a financial burden to many families, I will also support increasing funding for kupuna and family care services.

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?

There is just as much diversity within parties as there is between parties and although an open exchange between colleagues is important, if I become an elected official, it would be my priority to listen to the concerns of my constituents and community members, placing their needs and concerns over that of my party. I will implement an open-door policy for constituents to voice their concerns and suggestions.

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

The inner workings of our government are founded on a democratic process in which public input is integral to function properly. I support transparency in government and ensuring processes that provide for public input are protected.

If elected, I would be open to considering policies that would allow for the public to have more voice in the lawmaking 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?

Part of the electoral process is to allow voters the opportunity to elect the candidate of their choosing every two to four years. Constituents have the power to change their elected official if they are dissatisfied and this right and opportunity afforded to voters should be protected.

Moreover, policy and lawmaking is a specialized field which benefits from institutional knowledge which takes time to build. If elected, I am committed to dedicating time and effort needed to support the needs of my community.

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?

Our government was founded on a checks and balance system. Accountability is integral in ensuring a democratic process.

I do believe it is important to implement internal accountability measures within the Legislature that promotes transparency and prevents corruption, such as requiring the Sunshine Law to apply to the legislative branch, enforcing open records laws, banning campaign contributions during session, and enforcing disclosure requirements.

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?

Opportunities for the public to engage with the Legislature are critical to uphold our democracy. The Covid-19 pandemic demonstrated some of the inequitable access to the legislative process that some members of the public faced. I would like to see virtual options to testify in hearings and recordings to remain in place as this allows greater accessibility, particularly for those on neighbor islands, to engage in the political process. I also think it’s important to provide the public more opportunities to engage with legislators, such as during conference and special sessions.

If elected, I also understand that I must act in accordance with the law that promotes public confidence. It would be my personal practice to refrain from accepting financial contributions during the legislative session and to fully adhere to all disclosure laws. I also am open to answering questions constituents may have about funding I have accepted and the decision-making behind my votes.

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?

Although we may have different ideas on how to get there, it is important to remember that we all want to do what is best for our communities. I am committed to promoting collaboration and respectful discourse in which we can tackle ideas rather than individuals.

Hawaii is unique in that we have the aloha spirit law, which outlines how to respectfully interact with each other, which I would uphold and maintain. Having respect, civility and friendship are very important if we want to implement and effectuate good policy that allows all of Hawaii’s residents to thrive.

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.

The Covid-19 pandemic flipped archaic business models upside down. With the increase in remote work options and flexible work days/hours we saw that this had alleviated many barriers.

I would continue promoting flexible working options as it addressed many of the issues that impact Hawaii residents. It alleviates traffic and reduces infrastructure costs and individual out-of-pocket expenses such as gas and car maintenance fees. There are now more commercial properties available due to decreased usage by private businesses that we as a state could invest in and repurpose for affordable housing.

With more flexible and remote options for employees, businesses reduce operational cost and I would encourage businesses to use the cost savings to increase employee wages.

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