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 Nick Nikhilananda, Green Party candidate for state House District 13, which includes Molokai, Lanai, Kahoolawe, Kahului, Paia, Haiku, Peahi, Keanae, Wailua, Kaeleku, Hana, Puuiki, Kipahulu and Kaupo. His opponents are Democrat Mahina Poepoe and Republican Scott Adam.

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 13

Nick Nikhilananda
Party Green
Age 71
Occupation Candidate
Residence Huelo, Maui

Website

Community organizations/prior offices held

Co-chair, Green Party of Hawaii, 2009–2014; co-chair, Maui County Green Party, 1994-2000; member, Coordinating Committee, Green Party of Hawaii, 2008-present; producer/host, Maui Talks-TV, 2002-2011; commissioner, Maui County Board of Variances and Appeals, 1995-2000; member, Maui County Mayor’s Task Force on Higher Education, 1993-1995; board of directors, member, Akaku: Maui Community Television, 2001-2006; board of directors, member, (past president), Haiku Community Association, 1999-2006; volunteer mediator, Mediation Services of Maui, 1991-2010; volunteer mediator, District Court, Small Claims Division, 2000-2002; volunteer counselor, Imua Rehab Summer Camp, 1991-1993, 1999.

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

The 13th District encompasses four islands; with three of the most remote areas of the state on three separate islands. They are bunched together to form one representative district; only one other state House district in Hawaii has parts of two islands!

This is fundamentally and patently unfair to the residents. I testified numerous times at the recent reapportionment commission to change the districts in Maui County. They failed to address this significant issue. Each area, from the water being diverted and stolen in East Maui and traffic, is important on Maui.

Lanai is faced with having one person own most of the island; impacting their traditions. Molokai is challenged with holding onto their way of life; a tight-knit community deficient in many social and governmental services. The entire district is lacking in economic opportunities and sufficient medical facilities. There are too many working families struggling. ALICE (asset limited, income constrained, employed) and unsheltered families and individuals are constantly growing in all areas of the district. We must develop affordable housing, which is lacking on all three islands. The growth of part-time owners, who do not live in the district nor Hawaii, is hitting critical mass.

Climate change and sea rise impacts everywhere.

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?

People want to travel; I have been to over 50 countries and all 50 states. We live on the most remote islands on the planet. Each island has a carrying capacity which, when exceeded, has a profound detrimental effect on the flora, fauna, aina and the local residents of Hawaii. When it is having negative impacts on the quality of life of Hawaii residents, then it is essential we must focus on this challenge.

We need to manage the number of visitors through increasing certain fees, while limiting the amount of rental vehicles, hotels, time-shares and other visitor accommodations. Shifting to “ecotourism” is important. We will not eliminate tourism nor the visitor industry, nor should we.

I support growing hemp, local agriculture, for sustainability plus food security, independence plus export. Expanding health care facilities, as has occurred in some foreign countries, is a must. Movie and television production are also possibilities. There are educational opportunities, since Hawaii is a perfect location for areas such as marine biology and astronomy. Research potential in the local culture, plus we are perfectly situated for the Pacific and Asian regions. Renewable energy, with wind, solar, wave and technologies not even thought of as of yet, are further growth opportunities.

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?

Our environment is the initial consideration. The quality of life in Hawaii is under assault. Starts with a major overhaul with our tax structure. Eliminating the tax on food and medicine, raising property taxes on second, third homes and those owned by nonresidents. The census concluded that nearly 20 percent of homes on Maui were not being lived in. We should re-evaluate land use, zoning while allowing second, tiny and smaller homes, while not allowing agricultural land for development. Perhaps slightly raise height limits on buildings in areas where it may be appropriate.

The Legislature raised the minimum wage, yet it does not take full affect until 2028, when the level then is what is needed now. ALICE individuals and families are suffering. The cost of living is increasing everywhere and Hawaii is no exception. In some surveys we are the most expensive place to live with no end in sight. We must focus on food security and independence. More assistance for local farmers, and everyone engaged in agriculture in the state is significant. Local small businesses need a major boost of support, in tax relief and with related areas. We should investigate the feasibility of a universal basic income for residents of Hawaii.

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 result is progressive legislation and ideas die on the floor each session, as the power of leadership dictates what is accomplished. Corruption is a major consequence, which showed its ugly head with the guilty pleas of two Democrat legislators, one a former party leader, for taking bribes.

A system of term limits is required. Truly beneficial legislation for the citizens of Hawaii; not small interest groups and friends of lobbyists. Those with the most money, loudest voices and most connections control our one-party Legislature. We must reduce the influence of money in our elections; adopting campaign finance reform, public financing of elections, viable sunshine plus punctilious conflict of interest rules. Many elected legislators do not pay any consequences for their questionable behavior.

Ranked choice/instant runoff voting would offer voters an opportunity to choose a candidate who may not have the funds and name recognition, yet would be their choice, thus removing the “spoiler” fear when voting. These alternatives may also save money and reduce the need for primaries. Printed plus on-line unbiased candidate information and voter guides need to be provided prior to both the primaries and general elections. The apothegm for my campaign is “Accountability, Sustainability and Transparency.”

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

For over 30 years of political and community involvement and activism, I have testified numerous times and advocated for not only the County of Maui to lower its threshold for allowing citizen initiatives and charter amendments to qualify for the ballot however but also the same for the State of Hawaii.

It is unacceptable that Hawaii does not allow write-in voting and is the only Western state blocking citizens from exercising their more direct democratic rights to organize and petition the government to place statewide initiatives, along with recall and referendum, on the ballot. Care must be taken that outside, special interest lobbying groups do not overly influence nor corrupt the will of the local citizens and community.

Having these available allows for instituting grassroots democracy, rather than only top down control. The process allows citizens to refer legislation to the ballot for a popular vote, to propose new law, allowing legislation to be reviewed by voters and citizens plus remove an elected official. It gives the people a way to propose laws without having to go through the Legislature for their support or possible nonaction by locally elected Hawaii officials.

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, most definitely there needs to be term limits for both the state House and Senate. It may be terms or years. The fallacious argument that elections are a natural “term limit” check is bogus. The vast amounts of money raised, the impact of PACs, interest groups and lobbyists plus access to media and name recognition have skewed what needs to be an equal playing field.

I have spoken about, campaigned for and testified that we must have campaign finance reform and public financing of elections. Our democracy is being negatively impacted by single-party, long-term representatives. Beneficial progressive legislation continually gets blocked. There is no need in our structure of government to have life-long elected officials. It is bad enough that the same names move from county/city councils to state House to state Senate to U.S. House to U.S. Senate. We also must demand the Office of Elections distribute printed plus on-line unbiased candidate information and voter guides for both the primaries and general elections.

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?

It was my state senator, whom I have known for thirty years, who plead guilty to taking a bribe; thus it hits quite close to home. It is my sense that there are others and other action which rises to the level bordering on corruption.

Examples given above are nonstarters for most current elected and long-term representatives. Otherwise they would have been mandated and already instituted. Banning campaign contributions while the Legislature is in session will have minimal impact, though banning during session would not be bad. Some people feel that legal campaign contributions may be considered “quid pro quo” bribes.

The Sunshine Law must be required of the Legislature. Civil Beat has had personal experience with attempting to obtain records and yes, we must expand the open records law while reducing fees charged for obtaining documents and information. Openness is fundamental to representative government. The challenge is finding the appropriate balance between transparency and confidentiality, while leaning toward more openness. We must balance reasonable legislative secrecy with the need for more transparency. Though not an absolute, openness is a paramount value in democratic systems; too much secrecy is detrimental to representative government; too little could hinder effective governance.

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?

Examples given here are just the tip. There must be more rules which are hidden from the public. One urgent change is where they “gut and replace” the contents of legislation at the last minute to something different than what was contained within the original bill.

The Legislature is not subject to the same Sunshine Laws which county governments are required to follow. I would push for the recording of all votes, and the easy access of such votes, televising hearings as much as possible plus continue accepting testimony via closed circuit from neighbor islands. Committee chairs have too much and excessive power.

The influence of money in politics is out of control. I would seek out like-minded colleagues and press for these needed changes in the power of lobbyists, and the extravagant fundraising which goes on. I would demand that any funds which are raised through PACs, corporations or businesses be made public.

Campaign finance reform and public financing of elections is possibly the most potent change which could bring about a more equal playing field. It is horrendous the huge amount of money necessary to stand for elective office, and the influence it has after one is elected.

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?

Being a trained mediator and currently studying nonviolent communication are aids in creating dialogue between and among individuals who hold diametrically opposite views and beliefs. With overwhelmingly single-party, committee chair and leadership control plus the impact of lobbyists, money and the lack of term limits, there is little motivation for integration of fresh ideas and positions.

Nevertheless, holding numerous meet-and-greets with constituents, listening to and gathering information rather than lecturing or talking is immensely significant. Most that I have attended have been less than adequate. Elected officials present power points, leaving little room for dialogue, questions and clarifications. I receive newsletters from some of my representatives and none from others. This House district comprises three inhabited islands, with some of the more remote communities in the state, making in-person contact more challenging. There is the benefit of technology; these gatherings may be held on-line. The needs in one area are urgent; in another section of the House district they are not.

Affordable housing, mental health services, food distribution and government services affects everyone. Those unsheltered is a challenge in some regions. Having residents respectfully listen to each other is important and as necessary as speaking.

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.

Now is the time to re-evaluate the relationship Hawaii has with the rest of the United States. This was an independent nation, whose government was overthrown and the archipelago appropriated and annexed. That situation and those wrongs have never fully been exposed and rectified. Perhaps some form of reconciliation entity needs to be established. We must put the residents first and stop obeisance to the visitor and tourist industry.

Structurally we must put the power back into the hands of the residents. Too many are struggling to survive on low wages, working numerous jobs, with housing which is increasingly out of reach for numerous long-time residents. As a result, our unsheltered population is growing. Our tax structure needs a major overhaul, deleting taxes on food and medicine while having those who can afford it pay their fair share and close tax loopholes and write-offs.

Simultaneously raise taxes on more expensive and second, third, fourth houses. Individuals who do not reside in the state for more than half the year need to pay for that reality. Counties must revisit their zoning ordinances and modify long-standing rules which have blocked creative and affordable development. Transparency by government is urgently needed.

Support nonprofit, independent journalism.

During this election season, we hope that our coverage provides you with the information to make informed decisions on issues that you care deeply about.

Whether it’s affordable housing, education or the environment, these issues depend on your vote, and our ability to report on them depends on your support.

Every contribution, however big or small, allows us to continue keeping readers informed through election day and beyond. So, if you found value in our coverage, please take the next step by making a contribution to Civil Beat today.