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 Kana Naipo, Democratic candidate for state House District 49, which includes Kaneohe, Puohala Village and Maunawili. The other Democratic candidates are Scot Matayoshi and Shawn Richey.

Go to Civil Beat’s Election Guide for general information, and check out other candidates on the Primary Election Ballot.

Candidate for State Senate District 49

Kana Naipo
Party Democratic
Occupation Teacher
Residence Kaneohe, Oahu

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

It may be best to start focusing our efforts on social well-being and mental health concerns, to begin healing from the damage caused by Covid-19. As a teacher I saw fewer students in the class than I have at any time during my 15 years of teaching. Those who choose to homeschool their keiki or continue with remote learning did so in fear of contracting Covid-19 and possibly infecting family members.

People in my community lost jobs, breadwinners were too sick to go to work, and others wanted to stay home to feel safe, but couldn’t. So, I believe the biggest issue right now is trying to help Kaneohe, and Hawaii, recover from the devastation of the pandemic.

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?

We need to get the hotel/tourist industry to work in partnership with the legislators and local residents to find solutions that will benefit everyone. In Waikiki we have high-priced stores with products that don’t necessarily fit in with our climate or culture. For every dollar we spend on luring the tourists in, we should spend the same amount to help local businesses come up with ways to make us less dependent on tourism.

We could help our hotels connect visitors with nonprofit organizations that perpetuate malama aina, kuleana or hookipa, providing them choices of an authentic Hawaiian experience. This way the visitors will understand the importance of preserving the environment and respecting our culture.

Yes, we are reliant on tourism but I believe we can take that reality and turn it into a positive for our people, while we work at diversifying our economy.

We learned the harsh reality of what the pandemic did to our economy or how heavily reliant on tourismwe are. We need to rethink other means of economic stability which I believe could mean looking at farming, alternative energies, marine sciences and high-tech industries.

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?

Have all nonresident property owners pay a tax or fee for the privilege of owning a piece of Hawaii. Also, multi-property owners should pay the same tax or fee as nonresident property owners. If they aren’t going to live on the property and bought it as an investment, they should pay their fair share.

Then we need to ensure that the monies raised are used to help alleviate some of the stress working families face, such as offering free or low-cost child care, or encouraging businesses to open up on-site day care. Open up more adult care centers where they are close enough in the neighborhood for tutu or tutu kane to be dropped off and picked up without adding more driving time to their caregiver’s sometimes long commute to work or school.

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?

The only consequence I see is a possibility of one party losing its members to the other party. On the upside there should be nothing to fight about with one-party control; less filibustering, less party line and divisions.

Here’s an idea: I think the only way we are going to get more representation of other parties is to bring back civics in the schools. Train our keiki to know how the government works and encourage them to take an active role in the voting process. Teach them to take a stance, stand up to what they believe based on research and defend it. Once they learn and develop the processes that civility entails and about the power their voice carries, then they will have the necessary tools to make informed decisions.

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

My understanding is that there already exists a county citizens initiative process. However, I do not support the citizens’ initiative process at a statewide level. If citizens were able to introduce new laws, why would we need a Legislature?

In other states where this is a legal process small interest groups flood ballots with self-serving initiatives confusing voters and causing frustration; voters then often hastily vote without any understanding.

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?

I don’t think there should be term limits unless those limits allow more than two terms. Most of the law-making happens in the Legislature and there needs to be enough time for the legislators to do their job.

We know that the work of passing legislation to meet the needs of its citizens takes time. If a legislator is limited to two terms as is the case with the governor and county council members there potentially will be a lot of lame duck action.

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?

Results of the commission should be made available to the public for opinions and suggestions. I’m open to ideas like the Sunshine Law, and open records laws.

I am not comfortable with opening up all committee meetings to everyone. There should be a process in place that ensures that delicate matters are held in private so not to be misunderstood or taken out of context to create sensationalism.

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 don’t know if I fully support the approval of opening conference committees to the public. I feel like there should be a “need to know” policy which would give guidance on who should be privy to the discussions during executive meetings.

As for “stricter disclosure requirements,” without some examples this would be  something I feel I need to know more before commenting on this issue. Until I become a legislator I do not know what the internal rules are so I can’t say how I would change them to be more open.

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 expect those in leadership positions to lead by example and show how to bridge the gaps. Once the session begins, all stakeholders need to work as one cohesive group. Fellow legislators who have an obligation to follow their party’s leader, should also feel comfortable to cross party lines to either seek or offer support on issues they believe in.

I would encourage all parties to voice suggestions to make legislation stronger, regardless of what side of the aisle they sit on.

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 need to stop relying on outside entities to provide for us. I would encourage agriculture to provide us with our produce as well as medicines. I would support dairy and beef farmers to provide Hawaii with fresh milk products and meat so we don’t rely heavily on imports. I would expand our aquaculture to not only provide us food from the sea, but to lead the way in practicing conservation of these riches so our future generations can enjoy them, too.

At the same time I support continuing renewable forms of energy so we don’t depend on foreign oil.

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