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 Sharon Har, Democratic candidate for state House District 42, which includes Varona Village, Ewa, Kapolei and Fernandez Village. The other Democratic candidates are Lori Goeas and Anthony Makana Paris.

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 42

Sharon Har
Party Democratic
Age 52
Occupation Affordable housing consultant
Residence Kapolei

Website

Community organizations/prior offices held

Member, House of Representatives, 2007-present; founder, Kapolei Keiki Wellness Day; founder, Kapolei Clean & Green Day; sponsor, E Olo Pono Ma Kapolei; board member, Better Tomorrows; former oresident, Korean American Bar Association; Boys and Girls Club of Hawaii, Alliance; Aloha United Way; director, Hawaii Korean Chamber of Commerce; Hawaii Blood Bank.

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

While the composition of District 42 has changed during my 16 years as a representative, the primary issue for West Oahu residents remains unchanged: quality of life. Quality of life encompasses a multitude of factors including making ends meet, ensuring our kids attend quality schools, the cost of living including the rise in prices of groceries, gasoline and utilities, all while trying to raise our families in a safe environment.

While families moved to West Oahu at the behest of government, the necessary planning and infrastructure was slow to follow. The crippling commutes that must be endured by area residents means that families lose two or more hours of their days that could be spent with their families.

To address quality of life, West Oahu residents need representation that is willing to roll up their sleeves to highlight issues and present common-sense solutions to the correct stakeholders. This is a skillset that West Oahu requires for its elected officials. As the district matures and the stakeholders change, I will continue to adapt to each problem to achieve a common-sense solution.

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?

A great asset of our part-time Legislature is that we all have outside employment. This external skillset is supposed to enrich the Legislature with a diversity of ideas while bringing experience and education in certain arenas. Attorneys are clearly over-represented, but there are few individuals with strong business or economics experience. Conventional wisdom dictates that deference be given to those with the greatest knowledge. In the absence of knowledge, the loudest voices win.

Government has a poor track record when it tries to be a kingmaker. Remember when the Legislature laid the groundwork for an in-state ethanol production using local agriculture? Rather than playing “kingmaker” with an incomplete deck of information – knowledge and expertise from business and industry leaders should augment decision-making.

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?

The Legislature is not blameless for the high cost of living and the dearth of affordable housing. Speaking with experience, the Legislature heard and moved bills this session that would require new affordable housing developments to have parking stalls that are electric-vehicle charging-ready. While this may have had the noblest of intentions, affordable housing is designed and planned for low- and middle-income families who deserve to live, work and play in a community where a vehicle is not required, let alone an electric vehicle. Environmental sustainability requires that government steers and rewards residents who make the choice to give up a personal vehicle. This proposal instead forces low- and middle- income families to finance an EV-ready parking stall that they will not use.

This push to electrify all parking stalls highlights a systemic problem of the House especially where leaders and committee chairs pass bills out of expedience rather than carefully examining the unintended consequences of all proposals. Environmentalists presumably do not want to drive up the cost of housing – but this proposal does.

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?

Leadership starts at the top.

But with the extraordinary power that is wielded by the House leaders and chairs, there is in practice very little reward for presenting a divergent voice. In fact, it is shunned upon. If you speak against proposals that present a differing viewpoint, it is well-accepted that there are consequences for speaking out. The people of Hawaii should benefit from 51 voices in the House of Representatives. Unfortunately, a powerful few instead tell the other members what they should think.

The Legislature has always exempted itself from Sunshine Law. But experience has shown that the public always loses when government takes place in darkness. Recent scandals only highlight that more Sunshine is needed – even if it takes more calendar days to execute the constitutionally mandated 60-day legislative process.

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

I wholly support a citizens initiative process that is implemented slowly and deliberately. However, this is easier said than done. I fear if this was to be implemented in the current climate of the House, any citizens initiative process would be made from expedience. For those who have forgotten, look to California’s experience when citizens initiatives were used by special interests to appropriate portions of the state budget.

Before we go down the citizens initiative process, we should be taking a hard look as to why the citizen’s initiative seems necessary. The House of Representatives – with terms of only two years – should always be a reflection of the State of Hawaii. If we are turning to the citizens initiative process, we need to ask why the House is not a reflection of the state.  For the House to be this diverse reflection of the state, it must honor, accept and empower all voices – not just special interests.

With power consolidated by a handful of powerful leaders, it is no wonder that the House not only lacks a diversity of voices, but no longer reflects the state. Rather than a citizens initiative process, shouldn’t common sense dictate new leadership instead?

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?

An educated and informed public is the foundation upon which our democracy was built. Respectful and intelligent discussion properly does the job of what term limits is attempting to accomplish. Lawmakers at all levels of government who do not fit the public’s interests should not be re-elected.

As an elected official in the House of Representatives, I re-interview for my job every two years. And every two years I hope that my track record speaks for itself. I conduct community surveys and (prior to the pandemic), talk story sessions with our constituents of District 42, to inform our residents of the current bills before the Legislature. But most importantly, to create dialogue examining the issues facing our district, with a critical eye to how we can address them.

As a problem-solver I much prefer to address the root cause. I view term limits removing many more good legislators who do fit their districts than the handful of bad legislators beholden to special interests.  Transparency and campaign spending reform do a much better job of rooting out any “bad” while allowing us to retain the “good.” Should critical discourse lead us back to term limits – I can fully support this cause.

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 a lawmaker (among many obligations), I aspire to kīnāʻole: doing the right thing, in the right way, at the right time, in the right place, to the right person, for the right reason, with the right feeling – always on the first try.

For this reason, I am troubled by the praise that has been heaped on House leaders who have waited until they were beset by scandals to move “good government” bills. These bills should have been passed years ago.

I have long supported all of these bills to make a better, more transparent Legislature – and strongly support that Sunshine Law must be evenly applied to the Legislature. The public is best served when the Legislature’s motives are transparent. I also support a prohibition of attorneys — in their capacity as state legislators – from serving as committee chairs or any other leadership positions, if they cannot declare their conflicts of interest.

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?

While I cannot speak for the Senate, being more open starts with following their own rules. Late hearing notices that violate the 48-hour requirement occur on a near daily basis as if the rule were merely a suggestion. The very same rules require careful consideration when a representative asks about a potential conflict of interest. Without deliberation, these declarations are glossed over as “no conflict.”

To better consider these conflicts of interest, any person who cannot openly declare their conflicts of interest should be prohibited from holding powerful leadership and chairmanship positions. Attorneys who lobby the Legislature have mechanisms to be transparent about their clients – these same safeguards should evenly apply to all elected officials.

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 find that the growing division reflects a lack of discourse – a lack of tolerance for different viewpoints whether just nuanced or wholly divergent. Improving our society is increasingly seen as a zero sum game: “For my cause to triumph, they must be penalized or punished.” This toxicity is also present under the watchful gaze of House leadership. Ideas that are nuanced or wholly divergent are marginalized by powerful committee chairs and leaders. It is no wonder that this same questionnaire contains questions about term limits and transparency.

A wise mentor taught me as a young Democrat that, “Rising tides, float all boats.” I aspire to this even though this is frequently the path less taken. Finding consensus and compromise to find common ground takes perseverance and frequently lacks reward other than a “job well done.” Democracy requires government to deliberate and carefully vet proposals, and the public is not served when a 60-day calendar is used as an excuse to exempt the Legislature from the Sunshine Law.

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 coronavirus pandemic amazed me about the resilience we have as humans, and the empathy that was still there. It may be a fleeting memory, but we as a society managed to forget our differences and to look only at the immediate human condition and how we could improve it. Some sewed quilts, others held food drives. When there was suffering, everyone looked for a way – however big or small – toward this one transcendent goal.

One of many disconcerting issues to me highlighted during the pandemic, was the digital divide. Low income and rural communities were at a significant disadvantage for remote work and remote learning. Broadband providers stepped up and did the right thing, in the right way, at the right time, when it was needed. However, government must now do more to eliminate this inequity. Before the pandemic, broadband was seen as a luxury. But in this era — remote work and remote learning — it is now a necessity. Universal broadband cannot happen soon enough, and government must empower and subsidize this significant public interest.

Because after all, rising tides, float all boats.

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