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 Tamara Goebbert, 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 Shaina Forsyth.
1. What is the biggest issue facing your district, and what would you do about it?
I believe that the most pressing issue in my district is the lack of affordable housing. Maui’s quality of life depends on affordable housing. To keep up with the rent, many people live in multigenerational housing or work two or three jobs in order to afford the cost of rent. The price of housing has risen disproportionately with income due partially to speculative investment, and is exacerbated by illegal vacation rentals and lack of government commitment to this growing problem.
Because affordable housing is a county issue, I promise to work closely with the Maui County Council to obtain funding, both state and federal, to secure affordable housing for the residents of Maui.
Nonresident owners, who do not make Hawaii their home for at least a majority of the year, or who do not rent to residents, should pay additional taxes. Community land trust models can reduce the cost of land. New affordable housing development is sorely needed and will be a priority during my tenure.
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?
Post-overthrow, powerful American continental corporations, such as the Big Five and mainland resort chains, have dominated Hawaii’s economy. Agriculture was first, and tourism is an industry built on the labor of indigenous and local populations.
I propose that we expand our exclusive focus away from tourism and instead consider agricultural alternatives. Agroforestry, as demonstrated by Ke Kula Nui o Waimānalo’s ʻUlu Pono Mahiʻāina project, demonstrates a more environmentally friendly model, and it can be led by master gardeners such as those certified by the University of Hawaii’s College of Tropical Agriculture and Human Resources. This promotes island self-sufficiency as well as food sovereignty.
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?
It’s no surprise that Hawaii has such a high cost of living; it’s one of the reasons why local families are looking for work elsewhere. Many people here live paycheck to paycheck and are unable to save for unexpected expenses. I believe that the HB-2510 minimum wage bill should be expedited, as well as affordable housing solutions and diversification of the local economy.
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?
Openness and transparency are essential ingredients in establishing accountability and trust, both of which are required for democracies and market economies to function properly. We must remind ourselves that compromise was the foundation of democracy and the formation of the United States government.
We must work together to ensure that the public understands that we speak for them and are here to help them. Personally, I’d like to remain objective and continue to seek information from experts in the field, meet with legislators and discuss solutions, and develop a plan that will benefit all of our islands, regardless of affiliation.
It’s natural to believe that too much power concentration is dangerous and frequently corrupting. We as a government could over-dominate with one-sided power, leaving other parties feeling ignored. That is something we do not want to happen. I’d like to encourage lawmakers to collaborate and strive for objectivity so that our state understands we care about them. As a result, I believe it is critical to be open-minded, to hear and internalize the words of the ostensible opposition, to seek solutions to problems rather than contempt, and to cultivate the ability to compromise.
5. Hawaii is the only Western state without a statewide citizens initiative process. Do you support such a process?
Yes, I fully support the citizens initiative process, particularly if it brings the community closer together and educates others of all ages about how they can make a difference. I believe it is critical for citizens to be able to participate in their government in this way and not feel ignored. Only the people, I believe, know what is best for them.
However, I hope that our community will have enough faith in those in the Legislature to believe that they are looking out for their best interests and will listen to them when they have something to say.
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?
Yes, I believe term limits should be implemented because they will provide the Legislature with new members who will bring fresh ideas to the table and will be focused closely on serving the needs of their constituents during their tenure in office.
Rising community leaders have been getting younger and younger in recent years. I’m following in the footsteps of young leaders like Jeanné Kapela, who joined office in her early to mid-20s. This turnover is needed to keep government focused on the needs of the population.
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?
In Hawaii, the Sunshine Law is in full force, and I will continue to support it. I believe that knowing exactly what our state’s leaders are doing and holding them accountable is critical.
State and county governments are subject to both the Sunshine and open records laws, but I believe the process for obtaining these records should be made simpler and more accessible.
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?
The Capitol was closed to the public due to Covid-19, and it was only recently reopened in March. All meetings at the Capitol are open to the public, and if you can’t make it in person, you can watch them on YouTube.
Working in the Legislature, I’ve seen a wide range of legislators’ efforts. Some legislators actively encouraged all constituents who called about specific bills to testify in support or opposition of those bills, while others didn’t bother to call their constituents back.
I believe that the Capitol is as accessible as it can be, but it is up to legislators to reaffirm that it is open to the public and that community members can be involved. I am in favor of stricter disclosure requirements on both lobbying and lobbyists.
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?
As Covid-19 restrictions and mandates are eased, I would encourage our community to maintain mutual respect. This is a matter of continued education and passing clear, evidence-based direction to the public.
As a legislator, I will continue to meet with public health experts and share my findings with the general public, to clarify how solutions that protect our most vulnerable such as kupuna and keiki are necessary. The costs of shutdowns and restrictions must be understood in the broadest sense to include economic costs and impacts on childhood development.
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.
Diversification of our economy away from sole dependence on tourism. I have confidence in our core values, however, a reinvigorated approach that emphasizes the wellness and education of our residents is very much needed and this begins with an economy that has multiple pillars of strength.
Together with a focus on affordable housing, a diverse economy that includes sustainable agriculture and new high-tech initiatives that find solutions for global climate change such as green energy will provide a hopeful future for all residents.
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