Editor’s note: For Hawaii’s Nov. 8 General 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 Stanley Chang, Democratic candidate for state Senate District 9, which includes Hawaii Kai, Niu Valley, Wailupe, Waialae, Kahala, Kaalawai, Kapahulu and Kaimuki. The other candidate is Republican Michael Parrish.

Go to Civil Beat’s Election Guide for general information, and check out other candidates on the General Election Ballot.

Candidate for State Senate District 9

Stanley Chang
Party Democratic
Age 39
Occupation State senator
Residence Waialae-Kahala, Oahu

Community organizations/prior offices held

State senator, 2016-present; Honolulu City Council member, 2011-15.

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

The most pressing issue facing my district and the state is the housing shortage. The most visible manifestation of the housing shortage is the large homeless population statewide, including in Hawaii Kai, Kahala, Diamond Head, and other neighborhoods that may not be considered traditional hotspots for homelessness.

But these individuals are just the tip of the iceberg. An even greater crisis is the people we don’t see on the streets, because they have moved to the mainland. It is no longer realistic for most young people to have good jobs, buy homes, start families and live good lives comparable to previous generations of local people. For the past three straight years, Hawaii has lost population — the first time since statehood. The exodus of our young people to the mainland now greatly exceeds migration from the mainland to Hawaii. Hawaii is becoming affordable only to the few, and the very few.

I have proposed a plan called ALOHA Homes to end Hawaii’s housing shortage through the construction of high density residential units on state-owned lands.

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?

There are several promising economic sectors that the state should grow, as the pandemic has exposed the economic vulnerability of the tourism industry. Two sectors offer the lowest-hanging fruit.

First, the demand for affordable housing has only grown with the downturn in the economy. With existing construction techniques, new housing units can be built for as little as $300,000 each, which translates to a mortgage or rental payment of $1,500 per month, which a majority of Hawaii residents consider to be affordable. Proper safeguards can ensure that these units will be available to Hawaii residents. The continued production of these homes for every generation of local people, without taxpayer subsidy, would provide a steady construction job pipeline for years and decades to come.

Second, Hawaii can replace the fossil fuels that currently supply the large majority of our electricity with renewable sources. Hawaii’s abundance of wind, solar, biofuel and other clean energy sources could make us the Saudi Arabia of clean energy. Every year, we send over $5 billion out of state to buy oil. Keeping that money in state enables it to be deployed to create jobs and stimulate the economy here, rather than overseas.

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 biggest driver of the cost of living in Hawaii is the cost of housing. By providing low-cost homes to all Hawaii residents regardless of income, we can bring the cost of housing to within reach of most Hawaii families.

Other large costs for Hawaii families include energy for electricity and transportation, both of which currently depend largely on the rising price of oil. By accelerating our transition to renewable energy and by making communities more walkable and cycle-able, Hawaii residents will pay much less for their basic necessities.

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?

Although there is a single party in control, there are Democrats in the Legislature representing the full spectrum of views on virtually every public policy issue. Indeed, many of the Democratic legislators today were Republicans in the past. Every legislative session I’ve participated in has had extensive debate and disagreement on such controversial topics as the minimum wage, abortion and guns. The idea that Hawaii’s Legislature lacks an open exchange of ideas is simply wrong.

Today, I represent an ideologically diverse district with robust communities of both Republicans and Democrats. I have served by focusing on issues where we can find bipartisan common ground, and many of my proposals incorporate elements from both parties.

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

I don’t support a citizens initiative process. In California, big money special interests have repeatedly hijacked the initiative process to pass measures that have long-term negative impacts on the state. Moreover, an initiative does not include opportunities for ironing out details that the legislative process affords.

In Hawaii, voters do vote on constitutional amendments, and that process has illustrated some of the problems with initiatives. In the 2018 election, the Hawaii Supreme Court struck down a constitutional amendment ballot question to raise property taxes for education funding because it was too vague.

The legislative process includes several chances for public input on the text of a bill and for legislators to address any issues that do arise, which makes it a preferable process to the initiative.

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’m open to term limits. I agree that the decades-long incumbencies of many legislators can lead to resistance to change and lack of accountability to the voters. I previously served on the Honolulu City Council, where members are limited to two consecutive terms. I believe that the members’ knowledge that they only had limited time within the body expedited legislation and eliminated excuses to act decisively on issues presented to us.

I believe that the Legislature should also consider term limits on committee chairmanships and leadership positions. When these positions are held by members for years and years, there are fewer opportunities for fresh perspectives on important issues.

To further address this question, I’ve felt that gubernatorial appointments to vacant legislative seats confer an unfair advantage to those candidates, because incumbency is an enormous electoral benefit when running for re-election, allowing for greater fundraising capacity and name recognition. These individuals often have never been elected to anything by the people before. The Legislature should seriously consider a statute to prohibit appointees to vacant seats from running for re-election.

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 support applying the Sunshine Law and open records laws to the Legislature. If the Sunshine Law were to apply to the Legislature, the current calendar would need to be modified to allow for six-day notice of hearings and other meetings, as the Honolulu City Council and other Sunshine Law bodies must provide.

I support removing the financial barrier for those seeking access to public records.

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 believe that the single most effective way to make the Legislature more transparent, accessible to the public, and predictable, is a year-round, continuous legislative session, as the four county councils currently provide.

Those councils provide six days’ notice for hearings and votes, while the Legislature provides 48-hour notice. Clearly, the greater time the public has notice, the greater the potential for submitting testimony.

The current January-May legislative session is a series of deadlines. This sparks a rush of action that’s impossible for legislators, much less the public, to follow. The deadlines begin with the bill introduction deadline in January, which forces each legislator to dump bills into the hopper instead of being able to introduce bills throughout the year. As a result, 3,000 bills are introduced on average per session. Legislators simply cannot read that many bills.

Many of the shady tactics practiced in the Legislature to kill or advance bills depend on the many deadlines by which bills must either move forward or die.

Perhaps most importantly, a continuous session would provide a better deliberative process. Even if a bill has a worthy kernel of an idea, unless it is absolutely perfect, there simply is insufficient time to have a robust public discussion to put forth a refined concept.

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 have been doing it since my first run for office, going door to door listening to constituents. I feel all legislators should either walk door to door or call and talk to constituents in their district every year, not just when they feel their race for public office is competitive.

Once this discussion starts, relationships build. We as a community have vibrant discussions while remaining civil to one another once the “other” becomes not someone you’ve talked at, but someone you’ve talked with. It also reveals the true concerns the community has.

I’ve often thought that if the governor or other high-ranking officials could simply hear the frustration and anger in the community about homelessness and the housing shortage, unmediated by the press, they would feel a much greater sense of urgency to seriously address those issues rather than just offering Band-Aids and lip service.

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.

My Big Idea is a new social compact with the people of Hawaii: If you work full-time, your family will be able to live a good life. We already have many of the components, such as universal free K-12 education and near-universal health care. The biggest missing component of the vision is housing.

ALOHA Homes is one solution. ALOHA stands for Affordable, Locally Owned Homes for All. The state would take existing lands that it owns near rail stations, such as parcels already slated for redevelopment or other underutilized parcels, and build high-density housing.

These developments would be highly walkable, and their residents would commute via rail instead of in cars. They would be sold at cost, as little as $400,000, which is affordable to a family of four making $70,500. There would be no taxpayer subsidy, and only Hawaii residents who would be owner-occupants and own no other real property could buy them. These projects would be built on existing urbanized lands and would involve not one inch of agricultural, conservation or otherwise undeveloped land.

Hawaii can house its future generations. The accelerating exodus to the mainland and the homelessness crisis on our streets are not inevitable. By building at sufficient density, maximizing walkability, minimizing building cost, and restricting ownership to Hawaii residents, we can achieve an abundance of affordable housing.

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