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 Shaina Forsyth, Democratic candidate for state Senate District 6, which includes Waikapu, Makena, Wailea, Kihei, Maalaea, Olowalu, Wainee, Lahaina, Puunoa, Lahainaluna, Kaanapali, Kahana and Honokohau. The other Democratic candidates are Angus McKelvey and Tamara Goebbert.

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 6

Shaina Forsyth
Party Democratic
Age 37
Occupation Director of residences
Residence Lahaina, Maui

Website

Community organizations/prior offices held

None provided.

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

I think most people will agree that the shortage of housing is a crisis in my district, West and South Maui. This is where most of the Maui hospitality jobs are, and yet there is a severe shortage of homes for the working class people in Lahaina, Kihei and Wailea.

If I am elected, I plan to work with the state, the County of Maui and key stakeholders to bring the right people together. By working with the county, we can procure land at a lower cost and help lower the cost of the required infrastructure. These savings can go through to the end product, and ultimately, to the homebuyers.

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 is an important part of our economy, and it always will be. However, it has reached a tipping point where the level of tourism is so high that it is negatively impacting our environment and our quality of life for our local residents.

I believe that tourism needs to be managed to keep it to a reasonable level. We can do this by better enforcing illegal vacation rentals, and conducting studies on tourism levels. After a baseline study, each county in the state should determine what manageable and sustainable tourism levels are for them, and implement these visitor caps.

I believe we can diversify our economy more by supporting local agriculture and renewable energy industries. These will provide more local jobs and will keep our economy more local, not to mention, more sustainable for the future.

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?

I empathize with working class families. It is becoming difficult to make ends meet.

The Hawaii Legislature has been working hard to ease financial burdens for working class families, and if I am elected, I plan to continue to support these efforts. The Legislature is working to increase the minimum wage in Hawaii, provide tax rebates and invest more funding into affordable housing development.

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?

I actually come from a family with many diverse political opinions across the whole political spectrum. As such, I have grown up learning how to respectfully discuss topics with people who have varying perspectives. We are all people and all deserve the opportunity to engage with one another in productive conversations. This is at the core of democracy and is what allows us to keep progressing as a society.

If I am elected, I plan to bring this perspective to the Legislature and plan to work collaboratively and respectfully with all other elected representatives.

I do believe that the people elect their representatives. The current one-party control in Hawaii is a result of how the majority of Hawaii residents vote. However, we may see more diversification in this year’s election. If that is the case, I think it will be healthy to have more political representation in Hawaii.

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

I think it could be beneficial for Hawaii to explore this. Government is for the people, after all, so the more that citizens can be involved, the more that our laws will be serving the people.

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 believe there should be term limits for legislators. I support the idea of putting this to the voters to gauge how Hawaii residents feel about this. When people are in power for too long, they can lose touch with their constituents. I think it is important to keep power in check by having term limits and regularly changing legislators throughout the years.

If the people of Hawaii agree, I will support pursuing this.

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 believe the oath of office for legislators is serious, and that legislators should take the oath to heart and live by it. I intend to do so if elected.

To ensure accountability, the Legislature needs to engage freely with Hawaii media, so that the media can report in real time to the people of Hawaii. I also support providing more resources for the Hawaii State Ethics Commission and watchdog agencies to monitor our legislators.

I am open to the ideas of the Sunshine Law and open records law applying to the Legislature, as well as banning campaign contributions during 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 do think we can make the Legislature more transparent by requiring stricter financial and ethical disclosures as well as stricter disclosures of conflicts of interest.

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 come from a family that covers all parts of the political spectrum. We all love each other and can engage in healthy and constructive conversations about controversial topics. I think this is at the core of democracy and this freedom to openly disagree on topics is what is so special to democracy.

I believe this experience in my life will serve me well in the Legislature and allow me to bring people together, bridge gaps and encourage respectful conversations among the people of Hawaii.

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.

I would like to see Hawaii become more self-sufficient. In recent history, the Kingdom of Hawaii produced all the food that its people needed, and we can strive to go toward that again.

I want to support local agriculture so that we can start to have more food for Hawaii residents, produced right here. Not only is this more sustainable, but it will lower costs and allow people to have fresher food, instead of food that spent days on a barge coming here. If we can couple more local agriculture with more sustainable energy sources and more affordable housing, I believe we can start to turn a corner and get working class families back on their feet so that the people of Hawaii can continue to live here, generation after generation.

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