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 Chris Todd, Democratic candidate for state House District 3, which includes Hilo, Keaukaha, Orchidlands Estate, Ainaloa, Hawaiian Acres, Fern Acres, Kurtistown and Keaau. His opponent is Devinshaw McMackin of the Aloha Aina Party.

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 3

Chris Todd
Party Democratic
Age 34
Occupation State representative
Residence Hilo

Website

Community organizations/prior offices held

State representative, 2017-present; Hilo High School football coach, 2010-present; Hilo High School Academic Decathlon coach, 2015-2016; Kalanianaole Middle School basketball coach, 2015-2016

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

Like much of the state, East Hawaii is facing an affordability crisis. Over the past six years, I have done everything in my power to address this issue at the state Capitol. When I entered the Legislature, Hawaii was ranked 49th out of 50 states for the tax burden placed on working class families. While there is much more work to do, our state now has the fourth most progressive income tax code in the nation.

Going forward, I will continue to advocate for local families in every way possible, including working for the expansion of early childhood education, shifting tax burden away from our poorest residents, investing in our public schools, and working to reduce the impact of the GET on essential goods and services.

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?

In the wake of the Covid-19 pandemic, the conversation around tourism has shifted away from growth and toward management/mitigation. I believe our focus for the tourism industry should be on maximizing value for local residents while minimizing impact on day-to-day life and our natural resources.

We need to do more to keep tourism dollars here within our state and reduce the percentage of revenue that ends up exporting to large corporate interests and shareholders.

Beyond that, there is no silver bullet for diversifying our economy. Instead of trying to find a specific industry to supplant tourism, the state should take a comprehensive approach to support emerging industries, reduce our dependence on overseas goods, and do more to ensure that we reverse the “brain drain.” This all starts with our education system, which is underutilized as a way to build our future economy.

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?

Since I entered the Legislature, we have made progress at the Capitol in shifting tax burden away from the working class and toward tourists and our wealthiest residents. We need to continue this movement in a sustainable way by reducing our government’s dependence on the GET and fuel tax, which disproportionately impact low and medium-income families.

Beyond that, we need to continue the Legislature’s recent commitment to affordable housing and do more to disincentivize foreign investment and speculation in our real estate market.

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?

There is a lot more we can do within government to create an environment of trust, openness and accountability. This year, I supported the creation of an independent working group to make future recommendations to the Legislature to address these issues.

In addition to this short-term process, we should go further and ensure that there is a comparable body which makes periodic suggestions. At the state Legislature, in particular, too much happens behind closed doors, and we would be better served to have a more public decision-making process. The exchange of ideas is there, but it rarely happens in plain view.

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

I support a citizens initiative process. There are many issues that the Legislature has shied away from due to political concerns that would be best decided by a more directly democratic approach.

The voting public deserves the opportunity to make decisions on critical issues like cannabis and gambling regulations, or on hot-button topics that the Legislature has proven unwilling or unable to address.

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 am open to the idea of term limits and support capping “war chests” to reduce the incumbent advantage. Term limits are not a cure-all, and I do not believe there is a direct correlation between capping length of service and the effectiveness of government. Still, we should be doing everything we can to restore public trust in government and term limits may be one way to do so.

Additionally, I believe we should fully implement ranked choice voting for all local and state elections to further encourage more people to seek public office.

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 will support all constructive recommendations to come out of the commission and believe there is a lot more we can do to ensure accountability and transparency within government. I believe many tenets of the Sunshine Law should be applied to the Legislature and there are several simple changes that would go a long way to restoring trust.

I have no issue with banning campaign contributions during the legislative session, but don’t believe it would accomplish a ton. Instead, there should be greater transparency around campaign finance and less authority for individual legislators to decide whether a bill passes or fails.

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?

One major barrier to transparency and access is the short legislative calendar paired with the introduction of too many bills and resolutions. With a jam-packed schedule, there isn’t enough time for public input and process. If the legislative session was extended by a month or there were harder caps placed on the introduction of frequently duplicative legislation, this would help to clean things up and potentially allow for greater public input and notice.

Recently, I have seen the suggestion that all legislation that is introduced with a majority of a body signing on should receive at least one public hearing with a vote — this seems like a commonsense tweak that could do some good.

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?

While these divisions are real, they are also magnified due to social media. When people talk face-to-face, it is typically with respect and aloha. It is not possible to get everyone to agree on the multitude of issues facing our community but having these discussions in person is more meaningful and productive than doing so online.

Through six sessions in the state House, I don’t recall ever having an antagonistic conversation with a constituent. It’s a lot more difficult to vilify someone if you’ve met them and shared your thoughts and concerns one-on-one.

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.

A lot of what is wrong with our state dates back to the original sin of the overthrow of the Hawaiian Kingdom, and the subsequent dominance of the sugar plantations. While it isn’t possible to undo these many wrongs, restoring the self-determination of the Hawaiian people is a necessary step to heal and empower.

Additionally, Hawaii’s tax code has been fundamentally broken since its inception. Our state has the lowest property tax rates in the country while having the highest state taxes, which has created a paradigm of real estate speculation, land banking, and an over-taxation of working-class families via the GET. We need complex legislation to shift tax burden away from our low- and medium-income residents and ensure that there are disincentives for large corporate entities and foreign investors to compete with locals for housing and agricultural.

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