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 Terez Amato, Democratic candidate for state House District 11, which includes Maalaea, Kihei, Keawakapu, Wailea, Makena, Kanahena and Keoneoio. Her opponent is Republican Shekinah Cantere.

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

Candidate for State House District 11

Terez Amato
Party Democratic
Age 46
Occupation Advocate for the people
Residence Kihei Maui

Website

Community organizations/prior offices held

Sierra Club, board member, treasurer; Maui Farmers Union, member; Surfrider Foundation, volunteer; Maui Film Festival, volunteer; Maui Forest Bird Recovery Project, volunteer; Auwahi Leeward Haleakalā Watershed Restoration Partnership, volunteer; Friends of Haleakalā, volunteer; West Maui Mountains Watershed Partnership, volunteer.

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

There are many issues; however, I’ll select one. The cost of living is exploding. There are multiple components I’ll directly address:

— We have a serious housing crisis: The fact that such a small amount of land is available for housing is one of the largest cost drivers creating the housing crisis. I support initiatives to use state land to build affordable housing using union workers. I’ll support executive branch action freeing up state land that is not in environmentally or culturally sensitive areas. This will generate housing at half the cost as the land is free. I’ll submit legislation to use state funds to build that housing and allocate a dedicated percentage of it for teachers, health care workers and other civil servants. This is more than just talk: It will help address our housing crisis, create good jobs and help people.

— A living wage is needed: A minimum wage is insufficient. People should be able to afford their basic needs on 40 hours a week: I support more than just higher wages over a six-year period as passed in HB2510. We must add to that good start, a living wage geared to the cost of living index.

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?

We need a tourism cap: I favor limiting tourism to each island’s carrying capacity within realistic limits. We should focus on quality tourism limiting arrivals to a community’s carrying capacity for lodging, transportation and resources, while maintaining current job levels. Our environment is our economy. Let’s cap it to sustain it, not kill the golden goose.

To diversify we must invest in providing vocational training and also free college education for anyone who gets educated here then chooses to remain in Hawaii working in that field for a four-year minimum following graduation. This will increase opportunities to develop other industries and have people go into other areas besides tourism as well as fill current shortages including teaching, health care and other fields. Thirty states have free community college. It is time to do that and even more for our people.

Additionally I support statewide micro-credentialing, badging and licensing efforts for apprenticeships, in conjunction with discussion with UH departments to obtain buy-in for apprenticeship credit requirements or options. In Silicon valley credentialing and certification is the new wave. It can help in Hawaii as well. We can begin to diversify through education and vocational training.

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?

See my real solution above on drastically increasing truly affordable housing in perpetuity. And I note that the regressive GE tax hurts those who have the least. I propose suspending the GE tax and additional outer island gas tax during this period of high inflation, and permanently repealing the general excise tax on groceries, prescription medication and medical procedures. This would immediately put cash back in people’s pockets.

Additionally, many households earn too much for public health care assistance. This must be changed: We must provide for an emergency safety net and necessities like housing and health care simultaneously.

A perverse example is that State QUEST health care payments are terminated if someone has over $2,000 in savings.  People must be allowed a safety net without losing health benefits! For state-controlled program limits where the Legislature has a say I’ll advocate for increased maximum income threshold levels. For programs with federally mandated limits, I’ll advocate for supplemental payments in analogy with the existing low-income housing credit.

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 biggest problem is not parties, but that our Legislature has been hijacked by corporations and lobbyists. Open exchange and transparency will result from campaign spending reform and by electing people like me who refuse all corporate and lobbyist donations. That way the people will know I am representing them and truly working for the people. Accountability will come when people vote for elected leaders who are actually serving their interests, not corporations.

I am running as a Democrat because I am a true progressive and I care about people. I do not believe in single-party control. Just as competition gives better service and prices in economic markets, true competition at the polls makes for a better democracy.

We must be open to all voices. I welcome all challengers from all parties as this makes our democratic process more robust. Ultimately the people benefit from having a choice. I support their right to choose the representative they want.

My supporters choose to stand by me because I’ll stand up for them and their families; I represent the values of the people. This is the essence of democracy and we must protect it at all costs.

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

I absolutely support citizens initiatives at both a county and state level. I am committed to ensuring that the people of Hawaii have the ability to pass meaningful legislation even, and especially, when elected officials fail to act.

As an example, whichever way people decided to vote on the last Maui citizens initiative, it engaged people and strengthened democracy. A state level citizens initiative process would do the same.

I believe so strongly in individuals having a strong and powerful voice at the state level, I was endorsed previously by Direct Democracy Hawaii for this stance. We must serve the people. We must never jeopardize democracy by silencing citizens’ voices in any way. We are there to serve. I will be working for the people of Hawaii.

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?

We must put an end to political corporate dynasties and ancient political dinosaurs.

We must have term limits! Politics was never meant to be a career: The long-term old boy network in the Legislature is a corporate roadblock stopping progressive policies. It is time for new ideas. And it is time to stop the corruption and legal bribery from corporate donors.

Corporations are not people. As a society, we must not tolerate owners of corporations who go into politics or donate to politicians to control our government, just so they can make money.

This election is not just about progressive policies it’s about building a stronger coalition of progressives and helping the middle class. It is about providing housing, not about making developers richer. It is about supporting workers and unions, not taking bribes. I’m not in this race for a job or to make some corporation more profitable.

Our democracy depends on putting an end to political and corporate dynasties. Politics is not a career for me. I am in this to help people. I’m in this for you!

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?

Transparency is critical!  I’ll put live cameras in my own office.

Campaign finance reform is imperative. I am hopeful that others will follow my lead and vow as I have for the last decade: I will never take a penny from any corporation or lobbyist. I am working for the people, not corporations! Some are now coming around to this idea, an idea that I have strictly adhered to for my entire political career.

I’ll introduce additional anti-corruption bills: We need laws to make it a crime to lie to the people.

I propose an independent  “Anti-corruption Commission” separate from the state Ethics Commission. No more Sunshine Law violations: The Sunshine and open records law should be applied. I strongly support the idea of banning contributions during session, but that is not enough.

We must address fraud and corruption and systemic abuse by corporate politicians and corporate goons that run for office so I will introduce bills to shore up campaign spending commission efforts to deter corruption, as five Ethics Commission employees is not enough to fix a corrupt system. Further, we need laws to ensure prosecution of campaign spending violations. There will be no backroom deals on my watch!

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 will put live cameras in my own office. Campaign spending organizational reports should be more frequent to ensure transparency. All committee meetings should be public. We must allow public testimony by zoom and after 9-5 working hours. I propose funding for polling so that people in each district can weigh in on each discussion.

I will sponsor “open issue night” at my office and by zoom so that people can engage on the issues and let their feelings be known. Then I can act on what the public wants. After all, this is not about my opinions, it is about representing the public. I want to know what they want done. Representing them is my job. I am working for the people.

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?

We have more in common than we have differences. We can not tolerate obvious lies and disinformation from politicians who seek to gain power by dividing us. We must start by working on common ground goals such as health, housing and environment.

Personally, my door will always be open to members of other parties and other coalitions to discuss issues. Additionally I plan to take mediation training to enhance my communication with others of varied opinions and to help build coalitions to support my constituents’ needs.

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.

If I could reinvent our political system I would ban all corporate contributions. But as this is unlikely I will focus here on our environment:

We must move away from burning fuel. Electric cars are not enough! At a PUC commission meeting I noted that, for the cost of the rental car garage at OGG, every man, woman and child on Maui could be given a Tesla-wall battery (or similar) to help stabilize the electric grid and move our communities toward solar without stability issues. If parking can be funded by a rental car tax, so can solar!

I support zero-interest PV installation loans for homeowners who occupy their homes and for homes used for local housing. I propose a grant program to pay for charging station installation by providing zero-interest loans and assistance for loan payment on a sliding scale, including homes and commercial venues. If people can charge they will convert.

I propose a tax credit for PV system owners that passes savings to renters. This will help our environment and reduce everyone’s electric bill, whether they rent or own, whether or not they can afford a Tesla!  That’s what I call working for the people!

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