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 Sonny Ganaden, Democratic candidate for state House District 30, which includes Kalihi, Kalihi Kai, Keehi Lagoon, Hickam Air Force Base and Hickam Village. His opponent is Republican P.M. Azinga.

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 30

Sonny Ganaden
Party Democratic
Age 41
Occupation Lawyer, writer
Residence Kalihi, Oahu

Website

Community organizations/prior offices held

Coordinator, Kalihi Valley Instructional Bike Exchange; Kokua Kalihi Valley health center; court-appointed counsel, Honolulu District Court; former staff attorney, Domestic Violence Action Center; former lead writer, Native Hawaiian Justice Task Force Report.

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

The increase in the cost of living as compared to wages is pushing the middle class out of Hawaii. The ratio is off. This last legislative session, I supported numerous measures that keep money in working people’s accounts and in the local economy, including raising the minimum wage, ensuring the Earned Income Tax Credit  (EITC) is permanent and refundable, investing in numerous housing initiatives, increasing taxation on visitors, expedited permitting for transitional housing, ending the reliance on the criminal justice system to ameliorate the unsheltered, ensuring that the human right to clean water is maintained, and support for public education to incentivize families to stay here at home.

The pandemic has taught us that seemingly radical policy proposals can become logical in a crisis. We are in a continuing economic crisis for the middle class. Therefore ideas for a universal basic income, fair taxes for the wealthiest among us, and ending the incentives for out-of-state homeowners to purchase investment property must be on the table.

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?

The state Legislature has reorganized the Hawaii Tourism Authority, and increased the use of impact fees. We hope these measures will make a difference.

I proudly represent an urban district where people work hard in the tourism industry. Corporate hotels have been slow to rehire unionized and nonunionized workers this year despite soaring stocks. This has led to significant stress for workers, and a reliance on the state to fill the needs in unemployment and support. The state may need to mandate that daily room cleanings occur, and that hotels are staffed commensurate with bookings.

I reiterate a need for local ownership of our tourism industry. Profits are shipped overseas. Workers should own hotels as cooperatives. Workers themselves should be the majority stockholders in the visitor industry here on the islands. Thousands of people in Kalihi have given their best working years to make Honolulu an international destination, so they should have the first say in who manages the industry, and how profits align with values.

Government must pass laws and support economic intermediaries that help finance worker co-op transitions, changing the leadership of the hotel industry from foreign asset managers to local employee-owned companies.

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?

Including the response to question No. 1, our government must prioritize housing. We must do everything we can to stabilize the housing market, encourage first-time home buyers to purchase here, and to dismantle the economic incentives for out-of-state nonresident buyers to purchase homes on the islands.

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 public should know that there is an unbelievable diversity within the state Democratic Party. We disagree on many issues. Because America is essentially a two-party system, candidates throw their lot in with one of two parties despite being on a spectrum that in other first-world nations would have them identifying otherwise on the ballot.

In previous eras, Democrats enshrined numerous protections for the environment, indigenous rights, labor rights and legal rights for the most vulnerable. The consequences of single-party control, which could look like benevolent totalitarianism, can be mitigated by diversity within the party. That diversity should be made public in vigorous discussions in the community and during the legislative session. Civil disagreement is healthy. In this system, elected officials still have a single vote each, and are protected in their speech in association with their duties.

In order to maintain an open exchange of ideas, I support publicly funded elections, and reiterate a need to get money out of politics. That may lead to a flourishing of new parties, creating a body that looks like other Pacific Island or European nations. Our diversity, and our mutual respect for each other is our strength.

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

Yes.

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?

No. Terms are discussed every two years for House members and every four years for senators at the ballot. The public can throw politicians out like diapers, for the same reason. There is a significant amount of turnover in the state House as a result of elections, and a constant reshuffling of our political deck.

Losing more institutional knowledge would be against the wishes of voters and, as has happened in states which experimented with term limits, would lead to an outsized influence of lobbyists, corporate PACs, and despotic department heads (all staffed by former legislators looking for employment) who would capitalize on a lack of knowledge about the intricacies of state government, procurement, and management.

Many elected officials have no “war chest” of campaign donations, and see ourselves as overly glorified public servants. Many of our names were unknown until they were repeated ad infinitum at our neighbors’ doorsteps.

We should be aiming to remove dark PAC money from state elections — those organizations that do not need to disclose their donors, and can receive unlimited donations from corporations, individuals and advocacy groups to support or attack candidates.

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?

We must do all we can to ensure transparency in our elective process, and accountability for elected officials. Elected officials should receive no special treatment. This is public service. It is an honor to receive the public trust in drafting legislation.

To be honest, before I read this question I thought the Sunshine Law and numerous open records laws currently applied to the Legislature, and I have acted accordingly. I supported banning campaign contributions during the legislative session, and I support more drastic measures to publicly fund elections and remove money from politics.

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?

In 2019, though the technology was readily available, yet the Legislature was hesitant to use telecommunication for testimony. All that has changed post-Covid.

We should enshrine in law the ability to testify by video conference for individuals and communities that have a difficult time appearing in person to hearings, moving this practice to a right. This practice has led to an increase in participation from rural and neighbor island constituents, and underserved communities.

An unexpected outcome of closing the Capitol in 2021 was an increase in transparency when individuals had to sign in to visit the building. When the visitor list was made available pursuant to Sunshine Law, it sparked a conversation about access and influence from lobbyists. We could mandate that sign-in process for registered lobbyists; they could fill a simple online form when visiting.

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?

Despite political divisions, the pandemic brought our communities together to feed each other, with the lowest death rate in the United States.

Aspects of American political life are incongruent with our island home. For example, the gun violence and tragedy that accompanies it in our schools and places of worship has not been repeated here (no bachi). We further have a deep respect for our environment and the rights of indigenous peoples and immigrants that is dissimilar from other states.

To bring people to government, I repeat questions that I was taught to ask: How can I be of service to people unlike me? Who is not at the table? As even a small amount of power can be blinding, how am I humbling myself to seek answers from the community?

As a  lawyer, I was taught a pedagogy of conservativism, in seeking and respecting the past. Yet there are so many spaces where injustice not only persists but is expanding. It’s taught to us if we ingest too much corporate media.

To bring people together, I hope to continue my role in a clean, efficient and honest government, and to make difficult decisions in an open and transparent way.

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.

My big idea is not mine, and is an old idea. The state of Hawaii must reframe its ongoing relationship and partnership with the U.S. military. The ongoing Red Hill crisis, and the ways state and county officials were treated in attempting to defend our human right to clean water, laid bare the ways that the U.S. military sees our island home, and the strategic importance of this archipelago in geopolitics and 21st century military aggression.

We should engage the public with the possible return of land leased to the U.S. military that is owned by the state of Hawaii, the environmental remediation of that land, and the use of that land for our collective benefit. Decades of work by advocates from intersecting indigenous, environmental and economic perspectives must be respected.

Our Supreme Court has articulated a necessity to oversee the military, and our Legislature has expanded protections of native forests, aquifers and endangered species. There is an irony in how contrary these measures are when compared to the historic use of land by the U.S. military. It is time we be brave. It is time we move from the poetic language of protest to the language of sensible legislation.

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