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 Ian Ross, Democratic candidate for state Senate District 11, which includes Manoa and Makiki Heights. The other Democratic candidate is Carol Fukunaga.

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 11

Ian Ross
Party Democratic
Age 31
Occupation Former legislative aide
Residence Makiki


Community organizations/prior offices held

Chair, Makiki/Lower Punchbowl/Tantalus Neighborhood Board; Alzheimer’s Association-Hawaii; secretary, Democratic Party District Council 24; member, Manoa Lions Club; volunteer, Rapid Albizia Death (community invasive species working group); member, Shutdown Red Hill Coalition.

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

Housing and homelessness. I’ll work to enact legislation to increase housing and decrease homelessness through the measures below. Regarding housing, I support:

— Protecting our residential neighborhoods from monster homes and the proliferation of illegal vacation rentals.

— Adopting the ALOHA Homes plan to provide Hawaii residents with affordable housing.

— Building more affordable rentals.

— Focusing on development in urban cores and protecting our low-density communities from sprawl.

— Encouraging more development of housing below 140% AMI.

— Exploring options to tax vacant, out-of-state property and their owners.

Regarding homelessness, I support:

— Taking greater advantage of Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services 1115 waivers and CMMI grants to utilize Medicaid funds for supportive services around housing, potentially saving $300,000,000 in Medicaid spending per year.

— Reversing the trend of homeless shelters shutting down and making sure more people experiencing homelessness are sheltered and not on the street.

— Establishing more facilities and programs similar to Hawaiʻi Homeless Healthcare Hui to expand access for individuals with mental illness.

— Ensuring rental assistance programs are available to help more individuals and families from losing their housing in the first place, especially during disasters such as the ongoing Covid-19 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?

Tourism will continue to play a critical role in our economy, but the economy’s health requires innovative thinking beyond the bounds of a particular industry. Since the decline of plantation agriculture, tourism has long been the driver of Hawaii’s economy. As the tourism industry reaches a point of maturation, we have previously reached the threshold on the number of tourists the islands can handle, especially in light of the Red Hill fuel water contamination at Pearl Harbor base and the current shutdown of the Halawa aquifer.

Our University of Hawaii System needs to take a more significant role as an economic driver. UH is a force multiplier for innovation. We should commercialize patents and continue teaming up with and accelerating small businesses. We need our colleges and community colleges to continue to produce professionals skilled in trades, media specialties, aquaculture (fish, oyster, and seaweed farming), engineering and entrepreneurship.

I have a degree in economics and have always been deeply interested in how Hawaii’s economy can better serve our residents. I am confident people will invest when the right capital, government policies, and employees are in place. We can start by reducing electricity and health-care costs and improving broadband access. Finally, we must enable growth in the medical field by shrinking the nurse and doctor shortage.

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 struggles of Hawaii’s working residents’ are one of my main inspirations to run. A single mother raised me, and life wasn’t always easy. I am running for the state Senate not just for the people doing well but for people facing real challenges. We must ensure that more people are given the economic, social and educational opportunities to do great things in their lives.

I was born here, and most of my friends from school and college have moved away due to our high cost of living and relatively low wages. Decisions being made at the Legislature in the next session will profoundly influence who can afford to own a home, start a family, or create a business in the Aloha State. That is why we must elect more leaders in tune with these problems.

Millennials and Gen-Z have been hit hard throughout their lives by recessions, a pandemic, and shrinking opportunities to get ahead. Hawaii must immediately invest in these generations if we expect to secure a brighter future. If we don’t, the mass exodus will continue. Today most people from Hawaii with college degrees no longer live in the state.

Maintaining foundational infrastructure, lowering operating costs, and equipping employees and businesses to meet the needs of the 21st-century economy is critical.

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 bizarre and dangerous behavior of many Republicans on the continent taints the brand here in Hawaii. Here in Hawaii, Republicans fail to offer compelling ideas or strong candidates to champion their message. However, plenty of elected legislators champion conservative ideas privately and publicly, most of whom are members of the big-tent Democratic Party. There is a great deal of ideological diversity in the Democratic Party. There is little coverage on the nature of this diversity at times, but Nathan Eagle’s April 2016 Civil Beat article, “The Hawaii House: Where Factions Determine Power And Influence,” was an example.

Our greatest political need is more people in government with fresh perspectives and who work for everyone. As a neighborhood board chair, I know that there is no such thing as “Republican” or “Democratic” potholes, “partisan” dangerous intersections, or “ideological” abandoned homes. Those are neighborhood problems that need real solutions. As a Democrat, I may not appeal to every Republican, but I will also endeavor to do the right thing for all our neighborhoods and communities.

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

Yes, but with conditions. Safeguards and thresholds must be part of the process; we need a system to limit the number of initiatives in any given year, prevent conflicting questions, and provide voter guides that clearly and accurately explain each side’s reasoning. If left without such safeguards, voters won’t be fully empowered by the system.

I am also concerned about the role of monied interests. Outside groups may try to utilize super-PACs to funnel unlimited funds to pass initiatives that are not in the people’s best interest, as we have learned from locally influenced initiatives and referenda across the rest of the country. As the Citizens United Supreme Court ruling allows for this unlimited campaign spending, the best protection from abuse is detailed reporting requirements for political organizations, a diligent press, and empowered voters who can successfully prevent misuse.

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?

Unfortunately, term limits are not a silver bullet for solving problems in government; there is no correlation between term limits and better legislative outcomes.

Still, voters should be concerned about the accumulation of political power over time. Service at the Legislature should be a calling, not a career. While it is essential to have experienced legislators, I support term limits on the higher end, restricting decades-long political careers.

It is time for fresh perspectives to address the many problems facing Hawaii. We should:

— Expand public financing for legislative candidates.

— Limit the ability of lobbyists to donate to chairs and vice chairs of committees they lobby during the legislative session.

— Place a cap on the maximum size of state war chests left over at the end of campaign years.

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?

Legislators accepting bribes is unacceptable – such news disgusts me and only serves to deepen mistrust for local government. Government officials can’t sell their votes and bill introductions with impunity. It’s for the best that those former legislators are in court, and the FBI should continue catching and preventing criminality in government. I hope that vigorous investigation into the methods undertaken by such lawmakers:

– Educates the public on the nuances of corruption.

— Functions as a warning to present-day members of Hawaii’s political environment.

To ensure accountability, we must:

— Stop the unilateral power of chairs to kill bills just before the end of session in the conference committee process. Currently, if a conference chair doesn’t attend the conference meeting, a bill dies. Instead, the conference committee should still be allowed to vote to approve or oppose it before the end of the process.

— Increase the notice period to more than the current 48-hours to provide more time for public testimony.

– Keep online video testimony, even after the pandemic ends.

— Ban lobbyist contributions to the chairs and vice-chairs of committees during the session.

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 mentioned a few of these in response to the previous question.

We should keep video testimony. This is a fantastic innovation to come out of Covid-19 that we must maintain. This development will remain important for neighbor island residents, parents, sick individuals, and working families who don’t live close to downtown Honolulu.

We should also limit the power of conference committee chairs. Currently, individual legislators kill bills at the 11th hour without a vote. This can be done by a chair simply refusing to attend a meeting, and no other member may proceed in their absence.  Requiring conference committee chairs to defer or vote down a measure would be an enormous step forward for transparency.

I also believe that many problems around transparency and accessibility are related to our short legislative session. We should extend the legislative session to provide more time to hear from the people and solve the state’s problems. This would give ample opportunity to change the 48-hour agenda notice to something that provides adequate public time. Short turnarounds are prohibitively difficult for the public to navigate and submit testimony in time, giving a greater influence to lobbyists and insiders.

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?

Hawaii’s sense of community is strained, and political and socio-cultural divides are cutting deep. During this pandemic, I reflected upon this tragedy externally as a public health and policy advocate with the Alzheimer’s Association-Hawaii and internally as an aide to a state senator. In my experience, the most profound divide is between our local communities and government. It has become so vast – partially due to the Covid-19 and mandates – that it is hard for residents and advocates to feel heard.

I’m running for state Senate to serve as a bridge for the people of Manoa, Makiki, Papakolea and Tantalus. I suspect that most people in Hawaii feel ignored in the halls of the Legislature. Many feel forgotten. This pains me, and I hate the demoralization it is causing. I see it on the faces of neighborhood board members when the government refuses to budge on providing essential services. And I hear it in the voices of the nearly 5,000 neighbors my volunteers and I canvassed.

The people deserve a leader who listens. That’s why I run a grassroots campaign, knocking on doors across my district, giving out my number, and speaking with neighbors. I’m listening. If elected, I’ll keep listening.

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 must support Hawaii’s working families caring for aging family members by establishing public long-term care insurance.

A decade ago, a study found that it was feasible and would support kupuna who need assistance. While the Legislature failed to act, Washington state made it a reality with the WA Cares Fund.

Seven in ten residents will need long-term care services.  A modestly-sized program is affordable and would help kupuna live their lives in dignity.

Currently, one in five Hawaii adults is a caregiver; 52,000 caregivers bear the incredible burden of assisting people living with Alzheimer’s disease. I’ve seen the dramatic impact this has on families. Countless caregivers fall into debt, dip into retirement, or leave the workforce. This burden doesn’t fall evenly — 59% of caregivers are women. Things should not be this bad for families.

Under this program, individuals and families who have lived in Hawaii and paid in will have access to a lifetime benefit amount. Residents may use this benefit for a wide range of services that meet the needs of each individual. Let’s implement a long-term care insurance model and provide peace of mind, help families keep their savings, and address this urgent need.

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