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 Andrew Takuya Garrett, Democratic candidate for state House District 22, which includes Manoa. His opponent is Republican Jeffrey Imamura.

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 22

Andrew Takuya Garrett
Party Democratic
Age 44
Occupation Deputy director, state Department of Human Resources Development
Residence Manoa, Oahu

Website

Community organizations/prior offices held

Malama Manoa; Manoa Girls Athletic Club; Manoa Neighborhood Boar; Hawaii Pacific Gerontological Society; USA Softball/Oahu Junior Olympics.

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

At the macro level, the voters of District 22 in Manoa, Moiliili and Tantalus are concerned about the high cost of living and what seems to be the beginning of an exodus from Hawaii as more people are priced out of paradise. I’m running for office because I refuse to accept that as fait accompli. We’ve talked about these issues for years but haven’t been able to muster the political will necessary to address the systemic challenges that exist for my daughters and their generation to be able to stay home and thrive here. We need a new generation of leaders who are committed to investing in public education, building affordable housing for working class families and addressing the existential threat of climate change.

At the micro level, the voters I’ve talked to as I’ve canvassed the community are also very concerned about the rising level of crime in our community. I’m also horrified about the increasing physical and financial crimes targeting kupuna. I don’t believe strengthening penalties at the state level will do much (because I don’t think criminals really care), but we must support our county governments to ensure that our police departments have the resources they need to keep the community safe.

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 must accept that our islands have a carrying capacity, and we can’t continue the trend we were on pre-pandemic to break 10 million visitors a year. We saw the consequences of that over-reliance on tourism during our first shutdown in March 2020. I was among the dozens of volunteer state employees who showed up every day to the Convention Center to help address the avalanche of unemployment claims that came in. It was heartbreaking to hear the desperation in people’s voices as they wondered how they were going to provide for their family.

I’m glad that there seems to be a switch to “destination management” from the entities in charge of marketing Hawaii. It’s important for us to seek visitors who appreciate what Hawaii has to offer and don’t view us a playground where they can exploit our culture and our resources, then go home.

Tourism will always be a critical part of our economy, but we need to plant the seeds now to develop additional knowledge-based sectors to thrive into the next century. This should include careers in science, technology, energy and health care.

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 tragic that the middle class is being hollowed out and that we’re becoming a community of haves and have-nots. The lack of truly affordable housing is the biggest challenge facing working class families in Hawaii. Historically, owning a home has been one of the best ways to ensure financial stability through the building of equity and to ensure a sense of belonging in the community. We can address this by increasing available inventory (especially on un- or under-utilized state lands), supporting home ownership through first-time homebuyer tax credits and increasing property taxes on out-of-state speculators.

Another policy we must implement is paid family leave so working class families can take time off from work to care for elderly parents or to bond with their newborn. It is also important that paid sick leave become available to all employees. The pandemic highlighted this problem when employees who may have contracted Covid-19 showed up to work sick because they couldn’t afford to stay home.

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?

I’m not interested in keeping score of how many Democrats or Republicans are in office. But I don’t have much sympathy for a party that refuses to stand up to a wannabe tyrant who attempted a coup on our democracy on Jan. 6, 2021. It’s a very sad situation when people are willing to look the other way just because there were some things that the prior president did that they approved of. What we’re seeing nationally from the Republican Party is not exactly a profile in courage.

The Democratic Party is a big tent party with members that have differing viewpoints along the ideological spectrum. However, it would help democracy if we could make it easier for candidates to challenge incumbents. Primaries are a good thing, but unfortunately, we have a political culture where interested candidates are expected to wait until an incumbent retires or an opening is created through reapportionment. I believe instituting term limits would help reinvigorate our democratic process and ensure churn in the system.

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

No, I don’t support such a process. There have been too many instances in other states of “citizens initiatives” being hijacked by deep-pocketed special interests to work around its legislative institutions.

Unfortunately, voter apathy remains high in our state, and it’s not realistic to expect a majority of voters to get educated about the issues that might be included in such a referendum.

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?

Thankfully for me as a challenger, incumbents aren’t always re-elected, but I can personally relate to the premise of the question. Conceptually, I do support term limits for members of the Legislature because it’s important that we have new leaders step up to bring fresh ideas to the table.

We’ve had some wonderful legislators who’ve served for 30, 40, even 50 years, but I believe that politics should be a calling, not a career. The longer one serves in this capacity, the more they’re likely to become complacent and begin to believe that only they can do the job. Knowing that there’s a potential “expiration date” on one’s time at the Capitol should motivate legislators to act with a higher sense of urgency.

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?

One of the silver linings of the pandemic is how the state Legislature was able to utilize virtual meetings to improve citizen engagement in the legislative process. It allowed concerned citizens to participate without having to be physically present at the Capitol, and the Legislature did a great job of posting all their hearings and floor session on YouTube for on-demand viewing.

I’ve been following the work of the Committee to Improve Standards of Conduct and look forward to their final recommendations. Steps need to be taken to reduce the influence of money on politics, but I do worry that banning all contributions during the legislative session will shorten the window in which challengers can raise money to put forth a legitimate campaign. It may have the unintended effect of strengthening the advantage incumbents already have.

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 Legislature should continue to allow remote testimony and carry all hearings and floor sessions live, as they’ve done during the pandemic. Ultimately, it’s up to each elected member to conduct themselves in a transparent manner and engage their constituents through frequent newsletters or town hall meetings.

It’s important to focus training for state officials on lobbyists as well. I would encourage ending the practice of introducing bills “by request,” and believe that all bills that are scheduled for a hearing should have a vote taken on it. Too many bills are deferred indefinitely by the committee chairperson without an explanation.

Voting “with reservations” should also be banned. If legislators aren’t willing to take the heat for a “no” vote, perhaps they shouldn’t be in office.

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 firmly believe that Hawaii residents don’t differ that much on matters of policy. We want our children to have a great education, we appreciate our natural environment, and we know that anything is possible through hard work and perseverance.

Although we’re similar ideologically, social media platforms have been utilized by some to exploit our emotional differences through the spread of misinformation.  The pandemic limited our in-person social interactions, and we lost a sense of community in the process.

I’m just one person, but I hope to be part of a new generation of leaders who will approach public policy through a commitment to restoring that sense of community. The Legislature is intended to be a marketplace of ideas, so it’s natural that we won’t agree on everything. But we must try to find common ground and ratchet down hateful discourse that has no place in Hawaii.

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.

As a member of the governor’s cabinet, I’ve been touched by how most of the community understood that the public health measures that were implemented were necessary for us to protect one another.

Although our health-care system didn’t break, it did bend quite a bit, and we were fortunate that we were able to fly in staff from the mainland to support us when we were reaching full capacity. Without that assistance, it’s very likely we would have had to ration care. This highlighted the need for us to continue to grow our own health-care professionals to ensure that we’ll never get to that point.

I believe access to health care is a basic human right. As such, my One Big Idea is to make health care a pillar of our economy, much like tourism and construction. That begins with developing the workforce necessary to provide high-quality care to every community in the state. We’re not likely to ever produce enough physicians, so we should encourage our educational institutions to create programs to produce physician assistants and other physician-extenders.

The pandemic continues to highlight the challenges we have with providing mental health services. We must rebuild that system with a special focus on psychiatric services for our adolescents.

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