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 Scott Saiki, Democratic candidate for state House District 25, which includes Ala Moana, Kakaako and Downtown Honolulu. His opponent is Republican Rob Novak.

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 25

Scott Saiki
Party Democrat
Age 57
Occupation Attorney
Residence Honolulu

Website

Community organizations/prior offices held

Speaker of the House of Representatives, 2017-present; member, House of Representatives, 1994-present; president, National Conference of State Legislatures.

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

It’s a combination of homelessness, crime and cost of living/housing.

The Legislature has taken homelessness seriously: In 2021 and 2022, the Legislature spent $45 million on ohana zones; provided $500 in monthly rental assistance to 4,000 persons; completed a new 200-patient wing at the Kaneohe State Hospital; and authorized $30 million for nonprofit homeless services.

We need to continue multiple approaches: maximize funding for nonprofit intervention services, including ohana zones and mental health services; streamline the guardianship legal process to direct treatment; and build affordable rental units using the legislative $300 million appropriation.

Our district has set an example for affordable rental development. Hale Kalele (on Alder Street) opened two months ago and provides 200 units at the 60% AMI level. It was funded through public and private sources and developed by a private developer. This project should be replicated on state land in other communities.

Crime is another priority. Although Hawaii has an “A-“ rating from the Gabby Giffords gun control foundation, we need to prohibit guns in more public places, strengthen registration requirements, and support community-based efforts to control crime, such as residents did when they created the Ala Moana-Kakaako security watch a few months ago.

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?

Hawaii cannot rely on one dominant economic industry. With increased public scrutiny, serious work is underway to better manage tourism and its impact on residents, culture and the environment. Different agencies, such as the Hawaii Tourism Authority and the county governments, understand that things must change.

The Legislature has enabled change through increased oversight of tourism-related appropriations, HTA-implemented tourism destination management, authorization for state-imposed impact fees, and equitable county TAT distribution.

Outside of tourism, the greatest role that the state can play in diversifying our economy is by making Hawaii a stable place to experiment and generate initiatives. This requires stabilization of our state and county government infrastructure (e.g., taxation, land use, permitting), a stable judicial system, private sector financial systems (capital), and an educational system that prepares youth and workers but also attracts other skilled people to Hawaii.

Hawaii needs to prepare for the digital economy by creating broadband infrastructure, making broadband and technology accessible throughout the state, and building skills.

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?

In May, the Legislature approved an $18 minimum wage and expansion of a tax credit for working families (EITC), which will result in an additional $30,000 of annual income for a family of four; a $500 monthly rent supplement for low-income families; and a tax rebate (between $100-$300 per person).

Housing costs are still a problem and District 25 residents deserve credit for making Hale Kalele possible. In May, the Legislature approved $150 million for projects like Hale Kalele and $600 million for DHHL to provide beneficiary housing. The Legislature will need to oversee strategic and timely implementation of both projects because thousands of families will benefit from them.

Our schools and universities need to enable skill-building so that young people can compete in this changing economy. A preschool program will better prepare children. Facilities need to be modernized. And adequate compensation within schools will enhance recruitment and retention.

The Legislature should consider elimination of the state income tax on lower salaries to decrease paycheck withholding; relief on food costs; and ways to strengthen small businesses which employ workers.

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 best way to avoid one-party or other forms of control is to enable the House members and ensure their independence. As speaker, I have given much latitude to committee chairs and defer to their judgment when managing legislation. I have consistently informed our House members that their job is to “vote their conscience” and that it is okay to vote “no” or to dissent. I believe that dissent improves our legislative process.

I have also made special efforts to keep the Republican caucus involved and informed. The House majority has not gone out of its way to sideline the Republican members. Please recall that it was a bipartisan coalition that led to me becoming speaker.

The House should consider how to improve decision-making and communication. One silver lining to the pandemic was that it led to the virtual legislative system for committee hearings and floor sessions. The House will continue the virtual system even when the pandemic is over.

As discussed in No. 7 below, I look forward to the Foley Commission’s recommendations on how to improve our legislative process and build more credibility and integrity into it.

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

I do not support an initiative process that would allow a majority to extinguish the rights of minorities, similar to a situation where five judges can unilaterally vote to end women’s rights and civil rights in the United States.

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?

There are pros and cons to legislative term limits, as evidenced by the difference of opinion within the Hawaii Democratic Party. I have seen firsthand how term limits affect other states – legislators basically cycle through their terms and take turns serving in leadership positions without having an incentive to develop themselves. Especially in states with lower limits, it seems that there is no continuity or depth of experience, resulting in a diminished, transient Legislature.

On the other hand, there is value in having a system that allows for more and new participation while also allowing legislators to serve in different leadership roles. Term limits should be reasonable and allow legislators to learn and grow. Every effort needs to be made to ensure that the Legislature is an independent and strong body that can serve as a check within and outside of government.

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?

The House of Representatives condemned the actions of the former legislators. Their conduct was unacceptable. It is unfortunate that their actions tainted the work of many well-intentioned and dedicated legislators.

Following the legislative corruption indictments, I asked the House to create an independent commission to assess and recommend improvements to our ethics laws. The House members agreed, which serves as a testament to their acknowledgment that we need to improve government. The commission is chaired by Judge Dan Foley and consists of the League of Women Voters, Common Cause Hawaii, the State Ethics Commission, the Campaign Spending Commission, the former U.S. attorney for Hawaii, and House GOP leader Barbara Marumoto.

The commission began meeting in March and will issue final recommendations in December. Its scope includes ethics, elections, campaign finance, criminal prosecution, fraud and open government. The meetings are held virtually and in person and the public is invited to participate. So far, the commission has invited expert panels to discuss current laws and procedures. They have had very interesting, substantive discussions and the recordings are also available at capitol.hawaii.gov.

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 House has asked the Foley Commission to assess these topics and I am awaiting its final recommendations.

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?

Hawaii is a mature state and the general public wants Hawaii to advance, modernize and offer opportunity for all residents while maintaining our culture and environment. For several years, it seems that there has been growing division in Hawaii, particularly between cultural, environmental and economic interests. In my opinion, this division has been most apparent at Mauna Kea.

This is why, in my House opening day speech in January 2021, I asked the University of Hawaii to stop managing Mauna Kea and proposed the creation of a working group to assess an alternative Mauna Kea governance and management model. The House agreed and the group worked for eight months on a proposal. In May, the Legislature approved the Mauna Kea Authority (House Bill 2024), which is now law.

HB 2024 showed us that we can take on the most daunting challenges. Those with polar opposite viewpoints knew that something had to be done. This effort gave me much hope for the future of 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.

Resolve problems in the manner established by the HB 2024 working group. Resolving conflict will lead to a vibrant state, diversified economy, jobs, housing and stronger communities. If we can build a community in a diverse area like District 25, then we can build a community anywhere in Hawaii.

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.