Gary Cordery wants Hawaii’s executive branch to have more elected officials instead of government appointees, something seen in many other states beside Hawaii.

Duke Aiona called for increased access to public records, even though he agreed with a recent decision by Gov. David Ige to veto a bill that would have made records cheaper for the public. Meanwhile, Heidi Tsuneyoshi called for limits on the governor’s powers and more funding for government ethics organizations.

Civil Beat asked the top Republican gubernatorial candidates for their top priorities for reforming government and making it more transparent. Those are some of the ideas they offered up.

Government reform and transparency became issues for all candidates this year following the convictions of two former state lawmakers who took part in a bribery scheme to influence wastewater legislation.

Most Republican candidates for governor support easier access to public records. Nathan Eagle/Civil Beat/2013

The revelation that two elected officials were part of such a scheme spurred calls for government reform. To address some of those concerns, the House created a Commission to Improve Standards of Conduct.

Earlier this year, the commission recommended passage of a measure to lower the cost of public records. In July, Ige vetoed that bill, Senate Bill 3252. He said lowering the cost of records could open the door to vague requests that could eat into agency resources.

Aiona agreed.

“That was the biggest nightmare, frivolous requests,” Aiona, who oversaw the Office of Information Practices as lieutenant governor, said. “A lot of them were either smokescreens or broad and general.”

Records requests made in the public interest, which would be subject to reduced costs, account for a small number of all requests made of the government. And Aiona said he was still unsure if he would have vetoed the bill or signed it.

Still, Aiona said he would want to make more public records accessible online. Aiona pointed to things like business filings or land leases, which are available online but only if people pay a fee.

He also wants to make available documents that are public records but not easily accessible on the internet, like records of legislative allowances.

Aiona also supports term limits for state legislators, something the leading Democrats for governor also endorse. However, getting such a measure through the Legislature will prove difficult.

Like Aiona, Tsuneyoshi also wants to improve online access to government records. However, she said she would have signed the public records bill.

“I question the thought process behind (the governor’s) decision,” Tsuneyoshi said. “Public records should be available to the public no matter what.”

Tsuneyoshi also said she supports measures that would allow the Legislature to end emergency declarations made by a sitting governor. The Legislature passed such a bill this session, but Ige vetoed that one as well.

Cordery said talk of public records access skirts around the issue of corruption.

He believes gubernatorial appointments to offices could open the door to corruption and conflicts of interest if the appointments are all coming from the same party, whether that be Democrats or Republicans.

He proposes converting more positions in Hawaii that are traditionally appointed to be elected positions instead. Those include the state AG, the state sheriff and state judges.

Methods of selecting judges vary by state to state, but at least 20 states outside Hawaii hold nonpartisan elections for at least some judges. In Hawaii, judges for the Circuit Court, Intermediate Court of Appeals and the state Supreme Court are appointed by the governor from a list forwarded by the Judicial Selection Commission.

District court judges are appointed by the chief justice. All judicial nominees need to be confirmed by the Senate.

Forty-three other states also have elected AGs, and most counties in the U.S. have elected sheriffs. And Hawaii is unique in that its Sheriffs Division actually provides law enforcement services statewide.

But more elected positions opens the door to the same outside influences that put pressure on officials and spend money to sway the public opinion for preferred candidates. Cordery said ultimately, his idea is about putting power back in the hands of the people.

“Is there always the possibility that all these people care more about power and having the finest seat at the table? That’s always a risk, it’s part of humanity,” he said. “But if they are appointed by a sitting authority, that’s an invitation, not a risk.”

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