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 Julie Reyes Oda, Democratic candidate for state House District 40, which includes Lower Village, Iroquois Point and Ewa Beach. The other Democratic candidates are Wayne Kaululaau and Rosebella Martinez.
1. What is the biggest issue facing your district, and what would you do about it?
In speaking with residents in my district, there was no one issue that was common in all the areas. I heard concerns about development, homelessness, safety, fireworks, feral cats/chickens, parking issues and overcrowded schools. Some mentioned abandoned cars in their neighborhoods and a street that was used as a dump.
The one thing I would want to do is get the district to talk about what is going on. When I spoke to residents, they were surprised other people shared the same concerns. The community should decide what they want to do about issues, this is their home and if I am their representative, I want to facilitate and amplify their voice.
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?
If we are going to be reliant on tourism, invest in the people who work in the industry. We are nothing without them.
When we talk about diversifying the economy, we want to educate our kids and have them stay, but feeding into the next question, we don’t want them to be the 60% of residents struggling. We need to provide opportunities. While our high schools are creating career or pathway academies, it should be in high-demand jobs here in our state. For example, Campbell High School has an A+ Certification Pathway in addition to their Computer Science Pathway. Upon graduation, students could then choose to attend UHWO for Cybersecurity, UHM for Computer Science, or go to community college.
If we are creating pathways in high school for kids, they should be on a continuum that allows them to be successful in Hawaii so they can afford to stay. We need to nurture dynamic kids who will grow up one day to be good neighbors and citizens of ours. This is just one example, but we must invest in more than just tourism. Hawaii is more than a vacation spot. This is our home.
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?
A large portion of what residents have to pay is for housing. So, I searched on the internet for “normal cost of housing in a budget” and what number came up frequently was “no more than 30%.” That included all things related to housing, not just the rent. I looked up rent in Ewa Beach and I found a two-bedroom townhouse for $2,400. If that was exactly 30%, the income would be $8,000/month or $96,000/year. We have all seen the cost of food, gas, and practically all consumer goods go up recently, so making $100,000/year just doesn’t seem to cut it anymore.
The direct answer to helping someone continue to live on this budget is to either pay them more or to reduce their expenses and therein lies the conundrum. Where does the money come from? There are no easy solutions to these kinds of problems. I am trying my best to answer these questions, but just offering people opportunities just isn’t good enough when they are struggling right now.
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?
Each community chooses their representative and senator in an election. While there are only a few Republicans in our Legislature, both Republicans and Democrats have a wide range of views that cross party lines at times. We need to make laws in the open, have discussions in the open, and always allow public testimony.
Regarding one-party control, only that community decides who represents them, but every voice matters, Republican or Democrat.
5. Hawaii is the only Western state without a statewide citizens initiative process. Do you support such a process?
I do. I like the idea that citizens can gather together and propose ideas directly without going through the Legislature. The thought that citizens would write an initiative and gather enough signatures is an amazing feat!
My excitement for direct democracy was crushed when I started reading articles on how much money influences the initiative process. Even after reading about the influence of big money on the initiative process, I still support it and believe in the people of our state. I want the people to have the power.
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?
When I answered questions like this before, I said yes. After thinking about this more, I believe the issue is more about campaign finances. Incumbents are almost always re-elected because, of course, they know how to campaign, but also because they have the money to do so. Campaigning for office is not cheap and I mean in time and money. Citizens are not that engaged in government and you can tell if many are voting on name recognition alone.
Term limits are there to counteract that when in reality, we want more engaged citizens. I would like to see a more robust discussion on campaign finances and what that money does or is intending to do before we talk about term limits. I am unsure if term limits are the root cause of the problem.
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 would push for ethics and lobbying reforms that make sense. I would be open to seeing how the Sunshine Law and open records laws would apply to the Legislature.
I thought about the banning of campaign contributions during session, but that could possibly mean those same contributions come the day after session ends. In this case, it is probably better to discuss campaign finance reform as a whole rather than campaign contributions during session as a piecemeal reform measure.
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 want the Legislature to keep hybrid meetings: in person and online. The ability for people to give testimony remotely is essential to being more accessible. We should also see more in the process of drafting, editing and publishing bills. I want the public to see where the changes were made and who made them.
Yes, conference committees should be open to the public. Yes, we need more disclosures on lobbying and lobbyists.
The Legislature should always allow public testimony. There should never be a committee hearing with no public testimony.
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 have to try and understand where someone is coming from to be able to recognize the gap. People can come together in one place (virtual or in person) and have discussions in a planned format that would be able to allow people to be heard.
The idea is not to convince someone to move positions, but to understand where the other person is coming from so that they can choose to move themselves if they so choose.
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.
We had a break and got to see what Hawaii looked like without tourists, when it was just us. Let’s design this place the way we want it to be. We can’t stop people from coming here, our state is incredible, but we can surely put limits on how we want our natural resources used and respected.
We cannot replace our environment if we ruin it beyond repair. Hawaii is always ranked one of the healthiest states and we should match that with being good stewards of our land, air and water. Everyone should have access to clean water. Let our actions speak louder than our words.
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