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 Jenna Takenouchi, Democratic candidate for state House District 27, which includes Pacific Heights, Nuuanu and Makiki Heights. Her opponent is Republican Margaret Lim.

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 27

Jenna Takenouchi
Party Democratic
Age 38
Occupation Office manager for Rep. Takashi Ohno
Residence Puunui, Oahu

Website

Community organizations/prior offices held

Assistant secretary, Democratic Party of Hawaii Oahu County Committee.

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

In going door-to-door in the district, nearly every discussion I’ve had with people in the community has touched on crime and safety as an issue. Either they have been victimized, know someone who has, or they just don’t feel safe in their homes or in our public spaces. Many of the stories I hear are crimes of opportunity involving car break-ins, stolen catalytic converters or home burglaries.

I believe that we need to keep crime off our streets, but I know that this is a complex issue that requires long-term solutions. Accessible mental health and substance abuse treatment is a key first step. In addition, I believe that after someone has been incarcerated, we need to ensure that they have adequate tools to re-enter society and be productive members of the community. We need to ensure they have IDs, housing, job opportunities and access to health care to set them on the right path forward.

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?

I agree with the shift toward sustainable tourism to limit the impact of tourists on Hawaii’s fragile environment. Another opportunity that was highlighted by the Covid-19 pandemic was the value of telework and I believe we should lean into expanding and encouraging this work modality.

I will prioritize increasing stable broadband access in Hawaii, especially in our rural communities. Investing in this critical infrastructure provides an opportunity not only for local businesses to expand capacity, but also for more local residents to work remotely for national or international companies. For decades we’ve talked about brain drain as more and more of our young people choose to move to the mainland to pursue better opportunities. Remote work allows locals to be able to live in Hawaii with their families without passing up job opportunities in competitive fields.

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 high cost of living in Hawaii is most starkly illustrated by the high cost of housing and high bar for entry into home ownership. In speaking with residents in the district, many of them feel priced out of the idea of ever being able to own property as they believe that affordable housing isn’t affordable to them. Even those fortunate to purchase or live in a family home worry that homeownership for their children will never be possible as they see more of their friends and family opt to relocate out of Hawaii where the cost of living is lower.

I believe that we should continue to provide financial help to first-time homebuyers through down payment assistance, loan options and finding other means to support and maintain home ownership for local residents. As more people are able to get past the barrier to purchase homes, more rental housing options are freed up for others still working toward their own home ownership goals.

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?

While we do see a strong majority of Democrats in both the state House and Senate, I believe that strong discourse, dialogue and disagreement on the details of many issues still exists. The Democratic Party of Hawaii is truly a “big tent” party that welcomes all viewpoints.

To me, the most important viewpoint is that of my community. If elected, I plan to foster an open office where constituents are always welcome to share their thoughts and concerns on any work that I do at the Legislature, regardless of whether we agree or disagree on an issue. I strongly believe that government should always be working for the people, and I want the residents of District 27 to feel confident that I will bring a voice to their unique experiences when working on legislative solutions with my future colleagues.

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

While citizens initiatives are a creative idea to encourage direct involvement in government processes, I have strong concerns. When it comes down to it, it’s the special interest groups who will have the funding and resources to organize the required number of signatures to place an issue on the ballot. I do not want out-of-state special interest groups to funnel money into our state and flood our ballots with initiatives where deliberate and thoughtful dialogue will be difficult to achieve.

Our democracy is based on a balance of power between three equal branches of government. The Legislature is the branch of government responsible for deliberating and making law on behalf of the people. If elected, I fully intend to be responsive to the constituents of my district to ensure that their concerns and opinions are represented in the legislative process.

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 do not support term limits for state legislators. Legislators should be afforded the opportunity to invest their time into the communities they serve and be held continuously accountable to those communities through elections. Moreover, term limits create “lame duck” officials who will not have to face their electorate and be accountable to them in an upcoming election.

The state House of Representatives is up for election every two years, which allows for ample scrutiny and feedback from constituents as they cast their ballots. If a legislator is fulfilling the needs of the community, each individual community should be able to choose someone who represents their priorities at the Legislature as is allowed under the current system.

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 supported the passage of Senate Bill 555, which prohibits current legislators from fundraising while convened in a legislative session. I believe the bill was a first step in the right direction and highlights a commitment to earning back public trust.

I look forward to discussions on how other recommendations from the special committee can be implemented into the work done at the Legislature, whether that is through legislation or updates to our internal processes. I am committed to creating strong relationships and fostering trust with constituents in the district through openness and being responsive to the community. If elected, residents can expect my door, phone line, and email inbox to remain open to them to share concerns or provide feedback on the work I am doing at the Legislature on their behalf.

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 support continuing the remote testifying options for committee hearings and live streaming of committee hearings, informational briefings, and floor sessions on YouTube, as it was a good start to increasing accessibility and transparency to the public.

However, digital equity and digital literacy gaps still exist in many communities, where access to stable broadband connection and smart devices as well as the skills to navigate website submissions and Zoom meetings remain a barrier. I support creating more free venues in our public libraries and other community spaces to enhance these initial steps taken.

Additionally, I believe each elected official has a personal responsibility to encourage active citizenship and participation in the legislative process within their community. For the past 10 years as the office manager of the current representative, Takashi Ohno, I drafted bills and resolutions for the residents of District 27 and walked them through the committee hearing process to champion their ideas. Our legislative system is set up to work best with the public’s input and, if elected, I am eager to continue to facilitate participation for residents unfamiliar with the Legislature’s processes.

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?

Over the last 10 years working for the residents of District 27, I’ve heard a growing sense of dissatisfaction and apathy toward government overall. When the public considers government as an inscrutable conglomerate, it fosters disconnection and divisiveness.

However, I’ve also seen firsthand through my work that putting a face to a government office and providing a personal connection with residents transforms this sentiment. Knowing that there is an actual person behind the title allows people to feel comfortable enough to have an open dialogue and discuss the best ways to find solutions to the community’s problems. They may not always agree with me, or with one another, but I want the residents of District 27 to know that I am dedicated to listening to their concerns and coming together to find solutions.

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.

I am passionate about data-driven decision-making, especially when it involves the use of public funds. I would like to focus on standardizing the data fields that each state agency is collecting for government programs and services to facilitate sharing that information across departments within a statewide system.

The Criminal Justice Research Institute is currently working on a similar initiative focused on consolidating data for pretrial justice reform recommendations. From arrest, diversion programs, trial proceedings, incarceration and parole, many would agree this information is important to garnering the “big picture” view of our criminal justice system.

However, each department is collecting its own data sets on different systems which do not easily “speak” to one another. Similarly, our social service and safety net programs span numerous departments as they touch on issues from housing and food security to senior support and keiki in our school systems. One central data system would give clarity to the public and to decision-makers on the effectiveness of government services and programs as well as identify opportunities for cross-department collaboration, address gap groups, and ensure public monies are being maximized efficiently.

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.