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

Scot Matayoshi
Party Democratic
Age 37
Occupation Attorney, state legislator
Residence Kaneohe, Oahu

Website

Community organizations/prior offices held

Current state representative; Malama Honua Public Charter School Foundation, board member; Hawaii United Okinawa Association Legal Committee; Ko'olaupoko Hawaiian Civic Club.

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

I’m not sure there is a single “biggest” issue facing my district. We certainly need more funding for education, both for facilities and to increase teacher retention. I’ve been working on a project to build below-market rental housing for teachers in their first five or so years of teaching. As a former public schoolteacher, I can attest that the first few years in the classroom are very rough.

My district is also home to many seniors who are aging in place, so providing services to allow them to continue to age in place is important. Care homes can bankrupt a family.

Our streams and drainage channels are overgrown, but I have been working with the city to remedy this issue and have successfully cleared a major portion of Kamooalii stream that was prone to flooding houses. I also organized a cleaning of Kawa stream last year.

We have seen an uptick in homeless on the Windward side, which I’ve attempted to address through the Kaneohe Joint Outreach Center, though the pandemic had other plans. I’ve also been working to get funding to refurbish the Guensberg building at the State Hospital so it can medically treat more non-forensic individuals, including homeless, and to make the Bishop building into an intake center.

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 don’t think we will ever be without tourism. Tourism is something Hawaii has a competitive advantage in. But what we need is another pillar of our economy. I strongly believe agriculture is that pillar. I want to see Hawaii growing crops and animals (mostly aquatic animals) that we can do better than anywhere else in the world. We need to be focusing on agriculture that gives Hawaii a competitive advantage, not be chasing Silicon Valley.

SPF shrimp is a great example of a high-value product we can do better than other places. There are many others, we just need to focus and encourage the industry, with funding if needed.

I passed a bill last year requiring the state to purchase at least 50% of its produce locally by 2050 in an effort to infuse more money into our agricultural industry, and I have been working with the departments to make sure they are offering long-term agricultural contracts to allow farmers to amortize the cost of infrastructure on their farms (and get the bank loans needed) to fulfill them. But my bill is just the start. We need to show workers that the agricultural industry is worth getting into.

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?

Constructing more affordable housing is one, which I think can be done by using state lands to construct rental housing. Cracking down hard on illegal vacation rentals can also put more houses on the market and bring peace to our neighborhoods.

Last year I proposed a bill to increase the refundable amount of the food excise tax credit. I hope a renewed agricultural industry can offer our residents sustainable jobs. There is no silver bullet to this problem, though. I think the one thing everyone can agree on is that we need a lot of irons in the fire.

Both of my sisters moved to the mainland, and I know my story isn’t unique. I don’t want everyone’s family parties to keep shrinking every year.

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?

My constituents know that they can approach me to discuss just about anything. Communication, especially with people you can civilly disagree with, is an essential part of a working democracy. This doesn’t mean we will agree on everything, but it does mean that ideas will be heard and vetted.

A good idea shouldn’t have an R or D next to it.

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

I do not. Depending on how initiatives are worded, some very bad legislation can be passed through this process. I remember hearing about a citizens initiative in California to allow a specific police officer to continue using his ventriloquist doll during presentations.

We have a legislative process that solicits public input through public hearings. We have legislators happy to take good ideas and turn them into bills.

I do not want to see our government muddled by a thousand ideas that have not gone through the legislative process or have not been properly vetted. I’m willing to listen to arguments in favor of this idea, but right now I am against it.

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 do not think term limits are a good idea. It takes a long time to learn the legislative process. We need experience in the Capitol. You don’t make a place better by removing all of the experienced workers.

By the time someone becomes a governor, they typically have a lot of government experience already.  This is usually not true for legislators. While incumbents do have an advantage, it is certainly not insurmountable. If a community thinks its elected official is doing a bad job, what they need is a strong candidate to challenge the incumbent.

But it takes a community’s choice away by denying them the chance to vote for the candidate of their choice. I acknowledge this is a touchy subject, but I like to think voters are smart enough to be trusted.

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 am fine with banning campaign contributions during the legislative session, and voted to do so. This issue needs to be addressed at all levels of government, though.

I think the ethics laws are in a good place right now, though I was still required to return a loaf of banana bread recently.

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?

Covid-19 aside, the Capitol is a pretty open place. People can walk into just about anyone’s office to meet with legislators. Hearings are public, televised and available online.

I love that technology has allowed virtual testimony, which makes testifying easier for seniors, working people and those on the neighbor islands.

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?

Listening is key. I think civil discussion is the best way to bridge the divide, and also to recognize that the other side is composed of people trying to do what they think is best. We may fundamentally disagree with someone, but that does not make them a monster.

I once spent an entire night arguing with a Republican friend about abortion. When the sun came up, we both still disagreed, but it gave me a better understanding of his position and where he was coming from. It is important to have friends on the other side of issues.

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 cannot rely so heavily on tourism. The pandemic showed the weakness in our economy. We need to diversify, and as I stated above, I believe agriculture is the industry we need to grow.

Tourism is great when things are going great, but we have all our eggs in that basket. I do not think we should abandon tourism — I think we should support the industry — but it cannot be our only industry.

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