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 Lauren Cheape Matsumoto, Republican candidate for state House District 38, which includes Mililani and Waipio Acres. Her opponent is Democrat Marilyin Lee.

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 38

Lauren Cheape Matsumoto
Party Republican
Age 35
Occupation State representative
Residence Mililani, Oahu

Website

Community organizations/prior offices held

State House of Representatives, 2012-present; minority floor leader; Women In Government - National Board of Directors, vice chair; Women’s Legislative Caucus, co-convener; State Strategic Technological Task Force, appointed member; Salvation Army Echelon, founding board member.

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

Cost of living continues to be of the utmost concern. I have introduced legislation to eliminate the General Excise Tax on food, medicine and feminine hygiene products and to remove and/or lower the income tax based on tax brackets. Removing the GET would immediately lower daily living costs and help local families. Removing the income tax for minimum wage earners and reducing rates for the middle class would give families additional funds to save, invest or spend in the local economy.

Additionally, the price of housing in Hawaii is one of the largest contributors to our cost of living and needs long-term, dedicated solutions to ensure our future generations can afford to stay in Hawaii. Another component of addressing our high cost of living is creating quality, high-paying jobs for our residents.

We also need to look at our education system, especially higher education, to ensure our students are being prepared for future careers and will be ready to help diversify Hawaii’s economy. I’ve spent the last 10 years dedicated to reducing our high cost of living and would be honored to continue working toward making Hawaii more affordable for our valued residents.

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?

Three sectors we should invest in are the film industry, technology and agriculture/agricultural tourism.

Film is an existing yet underutilized industry we could leverage to stimulate our economy. It could quickly create jobs and add much-needed dollars to help our state recover.  As a member of the Legislature’s Economic Development Committee I have advocated to remove the current cap on the Hawaii Film Tax Credit. This would give us a competitive advantage over other film locations and push the film industry in our state forward.

We occupy a unique geographic position halfway between Asia and the continental U.S. I believe we can use this advantage to develop a strong local tech industry. I have championed several STEM bills that would strengthen the pipeline for technological jobs in our state. As an island state we have limited land and tech will provide high-paying jobs with a small footprint.

Lastly the state needs to provide the infrastructure to help our local farmers. Hawaii has the potential to be successful in agricultural tourism. We need to encourage our local farmers to begin to invest in value-added products to help them raise their bottom line.

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?

As I mentioned above, eliminating the GET on items such as food, medicine and feminine hygiene products would have a tremendous impact on the day-to-day living costs for many Hawaii residents. Typically this type of tax is felt most by those in the lower and middle income classes, and eliminating the GET would have an immediate impact on the cost of living for many families.

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?

As a member of the Minority Caucus in the House, I have experienced firsthand the effects of an essentially one-party system of government. It has always been my aim to work across the aisle and promote collaborative efforts toward our common goals. I work hard to maintain a genuine and professional working relationship with my colleagues regardless of our differing views and voting records.

Our current Legislature as a whole does not necessarily reflect the diverse range of views held by the thousands of people that populate Hawaii. This is why it is all the more important that legislators listen to the voices of the people and vote on legislation accordingly, not by party lines. In order to ensure I am held accountable to this as well, I survey my district several times a year so that I can best represent them with each piece of legislation I introduce and every vote I make on their behalf.

The main consequence I have seen as a result of one-party control is that too often bills fly through the Legislature without enough input or comment, which doesn’t produce the best possible legislation for our state.

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

I support a citizens initiative, but it is important to be mindful of how we set up this process. There have been many instances nationwide where citizens initiatives conflicted and confused existing laws and ended up confusing voters and/or using substantial state revenues to mitigate.

One of my top priorities has always been to listen to the community and represent their interest to the best of my ability. There are times when it is wise to cast a wider net and allow the residents to vote on specific issues that would directly affect them. Our democratic process is about amplifying the voice of the people and having their will translated into public policy.

At the same time, if a statewide citizens initiative process is instituted into our Hawaii legislative process, we need to ensure that we don’t allow the process to become an avenue for special interest groups and outside influences to directly impact policy.

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 a strong supporter of term limits for the state Legislature. We have limits in most every other level of elected office, it would make sense to implement it in the state House and Senate as well.

While I do believe term limits would create healthy turnover for the sake of fresh ideas and opportunities for innovative thinkers, I also understand that legislators need enough time in their elected office to fully utilize their position in order to increase effectiveness and accomplish their goals for their time in office.

Change takes time, but it should not take an entire lifetime.

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 support requiring the Legislature to comply with the Sunshine Law and open records law. Given the recent controversies and corruption scandals, the elected officials have lost the trust of the people.

Legislators must work to regain that trust, and being subject to the Sunshine Law is a good start. However, I am not in favor of banning campaign contributions during the legislative session because I do not believe it will accomplish the goal of reducing corruption. Our campaign spending commission reports on all of our contributions that we receive and it is an utterly transparent process.

However, we do need increased accountability and enforcement measures to ensure individuals are adhering to the proper process.

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?

For years I have advocated for and introduced legislation for a remote testimony program. I am pleased to say that we now have a hybrid program available to the public allowing people to submit testimony in person, or remotely. I also support increasing this access even further by introducing legislation that would allow pre-recorded testimony videos submitted before the convening of the committee hearing.

I support stronger disclosure requirements for lobbyists and lobbying organizations. While we currently have registration requirements for lobbyists, they do not have to disclose which bills they are lobbying for or against, or what their positions are on said bills. I would support requiring each registered lobbyist to disclose the bills they are addressing and what their positions are.

One of the best ways to ensure that our legislative process is transparent is to educate the public on how to get involved. There are a number of tools available to the public through the state Capitol, like the Public Access Room and legislative website. Additionally, my office has worked diligently to create instructional guides on how to get involved in the legislative process which are available.

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?

I would like to see Hawaii stop focusing on everything that separates us and instead remember the things that bring us together. As an elected official I do my best to listen to the concerns of every member of our community.

There are so many ways to open dialogues, and I believe that as a minority member in a supermajority Legislature, I have been part of the solution in bridging gaps and forging both bipartisan and nonpartisan efforts at finding common solutions that benefit all of Hawaii.

If elected, I will continue to work across the aisle both in the Legislature and in the community, listening to all points of view, and working with others to craft meaningful responses that both reflect my community as well as respect the potential impacts on other communities.

10. The coronavirus pandemic has exposed numerous flaws in Hawai‘i’s structure and systems, from outdated technology to economic disparity. If you could take this moment to reinvent Hawai‘i, 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 Hawai‘i. Be innovative, but be specific.

During my time in the Legislature I have introduced various measures to increase government transparency. Currently each department uses different databases to keep track of their projects and spending. We need a uniform financial database system to allow state agencies to collaborate and share information.

I introduced a bill which would create a database for all state agencies to use. This way departments, legislators, and the public will be able to access information more quickly, work more efficiently and ultimately save taxpayer dollars. This will also remove barriers from interagency accountability and allow legislators to make data-driven decisions, which is essential when it comes to fiscal responsibility.

This pandemic has increased the public’s awareness about different governmental agencies, the strengths and weaknesses of those in power, and the importance of knowing where every dollar of our taxpayer dollars goes. As a Legislature we need to work on keeping the public involved and informed and take advantage of the technology-driven creative solutions we utilized during this pandemic. We can improve transparency via technology, better communication, holding those in power accountable and knowing how every penny of our taxpayer monies is spent.

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