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 Shawn Richey, Democratic candidate for state House District 49, which includes Kaneohe, Puohala Village and Maunawili. The other Democratic candidates are Scot Matayoshi and Kana Naipo.
1. What is the biggest issue facing your district, and what would you do about it?
The biggest issue facing my district is the biggest issue facing all of Hawaii: the disenfranchisement of the voting population, especially those 18-35 years old. We grew up being told not to and not knowing how to talk about or articulate our politics. On top of this our generation has lived through 9/11 and the subsequent wars, the housing crash and the concept of “too big to fail” and now the pandemic and the effects of the lockdowns and restrictions. The result is a generation that has little trust or expectations in the current system of government that is built to benefit their lives.
To reconnect this lost generation we must start by electing young leaders who can inspire a new generation to have hope through empowerment and avenues of participation. To address this issue I intend to invest in my community, to meet my generation where they are at and empower the voices of the communities they have already built. Then I want to connect them through technology and participation in politics and our local economy. I will champion their voice for reasonable changes which move us forward and make life better for future generations.
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?
The last few years exposed the flaws and dangers of having all our economic eggs in the tourism basket. While tourism will likely always have a major role in our economy, it is time to diversify in ways that empower pride and participation in the marketplace.
I grew up in Aiea near the iconic Sugar Mill which was the last vestige of our cash crop economy. I would advocate for a new cash crop to support a new generation of workers and industry. I believe the most versatile and prolific untapped crop would be hemp, which can be used to create everything from toilet paper to building materials, fuel and clothes. It would be amazing to have anything made with hemp in the United States synonymous with “Made in Hawaii.”
Additionally, the Hawaii government should be empowering technology innovation and industry through telework, decentralized networking and e-commerce investments. Finally I would look to cultivate local investment opportunities for people to connect, support and participate in local businesses, projects and developments. The goal should be efforts to reduce barriers of entry for locals into local markets and a dedication to keep money in our economy and reduce money leaving Hawaii.
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 last few years have seen the greatest wealth transfer in the history of mankind. For anyone under 40 this is yet another blow to the prospects for our future. In order to fulfill the democratic ideal of drastically reducing the wealth gap and to address the issues facing the lower and middle class we must reduce the barriers of entry for people, especially young people, to get into careers and the economy. We must take a bottom-up approach instead of the top-down approach that has been used for decades.
This means efforts which support community independence instead of mass dependence on large corporations, monopolies and the government. This means an investment in sustainable business models, small businesses and strategic deregulation which allow for an agile market and government to meet the needs of the population.
The wealth divide will only continue to grow until we make a decision as a population to embrace the change needed to make things better. It is time to invest in systemic solutions to the problems facing Hawaii’s middle and lower class which is best accomplished by putting local people first and investing in the culture and communities that make Hawaii special.
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?
Having a one-party system for so long that it controls all checks and balances creates the same problems as any monopoly. When all the modes and means of power and change are in one set of hands it creates a system of cronyism and corruption. I believe a balance along political parties may help, but in order to address the issues of the monopoly we must look to break it up.
Transparency and accountability are best attained through reform to campaign contributions and lobbying, which can easily drown out the voice of people. To address the monopolies I would put more power in the hands of the people through measures like converting public interest positions from appointees to elected officials. I would also consider term limits as a way to incentivize competition in political elections.
Political party dominance is not as important to me as having trusted and reliable checks and balances to keep the government accountable to the people. So long as the government is representative of the will of the people, I don’t have a problem with one-party dominance. Again, so long as there are appropriate checks and balances that prevent it from becoming a monopoly.
5. Hawaii is the only Western state without a statewide citizens initiative process. Do you support such a 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?
Term limits are only part of the equation to address the issues with voting apathy and incumbent dominance in local politics. We need to address campaign contribution reform that ensures the people’s voice is louder than any other in that conversation.
However, the most important piece is educating people on how and why it is important to participate in local government. We need to normalize the best and brightest from our communities stepping up for a chance to serve their community. It should be an honor to be in the Legislature for your term and then move on.
In order for me to support term limits the other pieces would need to be addressed and the limits must be reasonable for innovation and progress. To me the goal is getting more competition and instilling a sustainable desire to raise and elect local candidates with community in mind.
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?
Corruption happens behind closed doors, so opening the doors to financing and other backroom deals is important. Holding office as a public official should be one of the most ethical positions in all of government. No one should get rich being a public servant. When politicians are becoming millionaires and the middle class is collapsing something is wrong.
I would support measures for public and periodic ethical reviews where the Ethics Commission hears complaints against officials. I would be open to ideas such as requiring the Sunshine Law and open records laws to apply to the Legislature and banning campaign contributions during session.
You cannot serve two masters and it must be clear that the purpose of elected officials is to serve the public above everything else.
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?
Addressing the problems with lobbyists and contributions is a priority but it is more important to address the apathy of the people to help them care. We must normalize participation in government and that requires a fundamental change in how we discuss and promote local politics.
Education, gamification and other incentives may be appropriate to break through to the next generation. Once it is easy to adopt and people feel like participating makes a difference, then they will be more attentive to the process. We must look to simultaneously reduce barriers and increase the number of eyes to ensure transparency exists. I would also be open to new government watchdog groups, including ones partially funded by taxpayers.
I believe that the Legislature could require public polls for each district during session. I also think that there should be more of an emphasis to have public votes for controversial issues such as critical race theory. This will ensure the voice of the people is honored when it is difficult for the Legislature to clearly convey its will.
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?
My entire platform is based on this issue. We must put people first and agree to common principles and understandings that allow for open discourse and solution-oriented conversations. When everyone is standing their ground, then no one is moving. We must find and create reasons to step into the middle to have progress in improving the lives of the people of Hawaii.
Edward Bernays is credited with saying the greatest weapon mankind has is an idea. It is time for Hawaii to adopt a new and healthy idea that commits to appropriate change. For my campaign that idea is, “We can do better.”
How do we do better? We put people first in legislation and budgeting actions to ensure their voice matters and to encourage participation and open conversations on the issues that matter most and to which we are most divided. If we can commit as people to doing better, it will force us to have conversations and look to compromise in the name of progress.
When we start to build up the middle ground, it will become the high ground.
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 Big Idea needs to cover all the issues raised in this questionnaire. It needs to better the economy, increase transparency, inspire participation and make a noticeable difference in the lives of local people. The most important thing it must do is build trust between the people and the government.
As with any big change there will be trouble with transitions, especially for those stuck in their ways. However, if we want to really see a difference in the quality of life for future generations we must commit to gracefully embracing improvement.
This improvement can be found in creating decentralized trust systems that allow for the ownership and exchange of ideas and intellectual property. The system would need to include an immutable ledger shared among the public which allows for personal and anonymous participation. Participation in your personal capacity would generate points which could then be exchanged or harnessed in a manner that incentivizes further use.
Building exchanges on these systems and ensuring that they are not centralized will create an opportunity to reinvent Hawaii for the people. The technology to build these systems exists and it can be done if we commit to electing and empowering the right people.
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