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 Cory Chun, Democratic candidate for state House District 35, which includes Pearl City, Waipahu and Crestview. His opponent is Republican Josiah Araki.

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 35

Cory Chun
Party Democratic
Age 44
Occupation Senior policy advisor
Residence Waipahu, Oahu

Website

Community organizations/prior offices held

Waipahu Neighborhood Board; University of Hawaii Cancer Center Patient Advocacy Council.

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

Because of the contamination of the aquifer from the Red Hill storage tanks, the Board of Water Supply (BWS) has had to close two of the shafts providing potable water to East Honolulu and the urban core. To meet this demand, BWS has had to divert water from other shafts. Unless new water access points are developed (i.e., new shafts and wells), we could see delays on new construction projects including affordable housing. It could also lead to a construction moratorium if the stress of pumping more from the existing wells harm the system.

A construction moratorium would have devastating impacts for our communities. This will harm local businesses and threaten all communities and families. A construction moratorium would also stop the development of affordable housing, which is desperately needed, as well as exacerbate the homeless crisis that is becoming even more prevalent.

It is imperative for the state to work with the City and County of Honolulu to develop new access points to the aquifer as well as do all it can to clean up the Red Hill shafts and decommission the storage tanks at Red Hill.

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?

Diversification of Hawaii’s economy will require patience, political will and visionary leadership that focuses on the next generation without allowing the current generation to hold them back. This will require an enormous amount of courage and commitment to building consensus across all fields, ideologies and perspectives.

People who are able to do this  command respect not only through their actions, but for staying true to what they want to achieve. Will our next governor have that kind of vision and ability to bring differing constituencies together for a common goal? That is what our state needs and I want to be there to help this cause.

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?

Housing costs in Hawaii are extremely high because there is an inadequate supply of affordable housing in our state. In 2015, DBEDT reported that the state would need to develop more than 36,000 new units by the year 2030.

This situation continues to worsen because of competing interests, fear of growth and the desire of investors and speculators to keep property values high. The result is that Hawaii continues to become a place where only affluent people can live.

As we re-evaluate our policies and make some difficult decisions, there may be further opportunities to also re-evaluate the best use of parcels that could be used to build affordable housing.

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 Hawaii is lopsided when it comes to representation from political parties, I don’t believe that it translates to a lack of accountability and exchange of ideas. Despite the differences of members belonging to the two major parties, there may be differences between members on certain issues.

That is why there are always some Democrats who do not vote “yes” on everything put before them. Every lawmaker is ultimately accountable to their constituents. Any efforts to change the balance would need to start with the parties having candidates that can win the confidence of the voters represented by that office.

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 because it allows special interest groups and vocal minorities to push positions on contentious issues without adequate discussion, community input and consensus.

Instead of an initiative process, what we need is greater participation in the legislative process by our people. Citizens need to be more involved and lawmakers need to do a better job at informing constituents and giving them a voice to share their mana’o.

6. Thanks to their campaign war chests and name familiarity, incumbents are almost always re-elected in the 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. Term limits can eliminate institutional knowledge within legislative bodies and narrows the focus of lawmakers to only the short time they will be in office.

Term limits also give lawmakers no urgency to arrive at the long-term results if he or she will be out of office by then. Short-term commitments do not facilitate sound long-term decisions and for that reason, I do not support term limits.

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 believe we need to have the discussion on how to improve the transparency and accountability of lawmakers. The Legislature should consider all recommendations that come out of the committee. Some aspects of the Sunshine Law could be considered for application to the Legislature. The Legislature will need to look at how it could be applied without amending Hawaii’s Constitution.

One of the issues will be if this prevents the Legislature from acting on short notice during a time of an emergency such as the Kaloko Dam breach or during the Covid-19 pandemic.

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?

Covid-19 precipitated the integration of teleconferencing in the public hearing process. This made it easier for citizens on the neighbor islands to participate in lawmaking.

Lawmakers should be in their districts meeting with their constituents. Traditionally during the session there would be the convening of get-togethers at a school or a rec center to discuss issues. We need to balance ongoing health concerns with the need for lawmakers to connect with their constituents.

One potential way to increase transparency is to add five-day recesses before first, second and final decking deadlines. Right now, there is only one mandatory five-day recess between the first lateral and first decking deadlines. This recess was intended to allow members to go to their districts and let their constituents know about legislation going through the process.

Why not do this before the three major votes that take place on legislation? This would promote better transparency and accountability, at least in theory.

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?

Hostility grows when people feel they are not able to voice their concerns or if they feel they are not being heard. If elected, I believe I have an obligation to listen and to discuss issues respectfully. A decade ago, lawmakers did not utilize time limits for testimony during public hearings. As a result, there were public hearings that would go on for hours and well into the late night. As staff during these times, public hearings were grueling, but it seemed as though the public was less upset because at the very minimum, they were given the opportunity to speak their mind.

I’m not saying that the Legislature should go back to that, but I do believe it is incumbent upon lawmakers to be empathetic to all testifiers and help them to participate in the process. It is vital for the public to see that lawmakers want to hear what they say and help them speak their minds.

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.

Covid-19 showed us all how unstable our social safety net is. Basic and essential services were stressed beyond capabilities. If it were not for an unprecedented provision of federal funding, stimulus payments, and the unwavering dedication of Hawaii’s nonprofit organizations, many more of our friends, family members and neighbors would have suffered even more. It is essential that fundamental changes be made to support nonprofit agencies so that they are vibrant, resilient and able to meet enormous demands when called for.

I believe the state should dedicate more resources so that nonprofits will have the resources to build their infrastructure and footprints within underprivileged communities.

In that same vein, a dedicated funding mechanism should be established to furnish resources for grant-in-aid — perhaps a trust fund — that would generate revenue on an annual basis specifically for nonprofit service providers. Further, some way of having these funds disbursed on merit rather than through “politics” would be ideal.

Covid-19 showed us that the state cannot go through years without providing grant-in-aid to our nonprofits. The work they do is so vital for the health and welfare of our citizens.

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