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 Corey Rosenlee, Democratic candidate for state House District 39, which includes Royal Kunia, Waipahu, Honouliuli and Lower Village. His opponent is Republican Elijah Pierick.

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 39

Corey Rosenlee
Party Democratic
Age 49
Occupation Social studies teacher
Residence West Loch, Oahu


Community organizations/prior offices held

President, Hawaii State Teachers Association (2015-2021); Special Education Task Force (2018); Jump Start Breakfast Advisory Board Member (2019); Hawaii Labor Coalition, English Language Learning Task Force (2018).

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

Traffic is a quality of life issue. For too many people, the daily commute has become a source of frustration, taking time away from our loved ones. I support expanding zipper lane access during rush hour commutes.

To advance Hawaii’s clean transportation goals, we should build more charging stations for electric vehicles and require all new developments to reserve a higher percentage of parking stalls for EVs. We also must invest in new technologies, including traffic lights that employ artificial intelligence, driverless cars, and creating the regulatory infrastructure for electric vertical take-off and landing vehicles.

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?

Singapore, an island nation with limited resources, knew that in order to improve their economy, the best investment that it could make was to educate its people. Hawaii should do the same.

I support universal preschool, fully funding our public education system, and joining the eight other states who have made college tuition-free. When we invest in the education of our people, they will create a more prosperous and sustainable future for Hawaii.

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?

I fully support increasing the minimum wage to a living wage, passing paid family leave and establishing a child care tax credit. Legislators should also take action to resolve our affordable housing crisis by incentivizing the counties to increase taxes on vacant homes and investment properties. On Maui, property investors and second-home owners own over 60% of condominiums and apartments, while 52% of homes are sold to nonresidents.

I am encouraged by projects like Hale Kalele on Piikoi Street, where units range from $542 per month for a studio to $1,480 per month for a two-bedroom apartment. These kinds of affordable housing projects can serve as a model for our state.

Lawmakers must also fulfill their promise to Native Hawaiians by fully funding Hawaiian Homeland initiatives.

Finally, we should urge our congressional delegation to seek funding for more on-base military housing, so that military families do not deplete the housing supply available in local communities.

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 high school social studies teacher for over 20 years, I teach my students the importance of becoming active citizens in their own democracy. Just like Congress, Hawaii’s legislature is a mixture of conservative and liberal ideas, even among members of the Democratic Party. Those divisions are evident in the policies that are passed and appear regularly in floor debates.

Hawaii residents have the power to hold our elected leaders accountable by communicating with legislative offices, attending public forums and community events, and ultimately at the ballot box. We must make the most of those opportunities.

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

In 2018, as president of the Hawaii State Teachers Association, I proposed a constitutional amendment to tax wealthy investment properties to fund education. This process was similar to an initiative process, in that the people could vote on this change to the Hawaii State Constitution.

What I saw firsthand was how big money and outside corporations can outspend advocacy organizations and community members to disrupt legislation that advances the public interest. A statewide citizens initiative process will only support organizations that are well financed and favor wealthier interests, unless we start by passing comprehensive campaign finance reform.

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?

Of the 51 members of Hawaii’s House of Representatives who served in 2009, only 11 are running for reelection this year. For any institution, new ideas must be balanced with experience and institutional memory. At the state Legislature, it can take years for an idea to move forward. Laws also often need to be modified after being implemented to address unintended consequences that weren’t anticipated at the time of their passage.

Term limits are a reactionary response to the very real problem of political accountability, which can be better served by establishing a robust public funding program for local elections.

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?

Hawaii must pass laws that eliminate the influence of corporate money in our elections and political decision-making. This can be achieved by fully funding public elections, as Maine has done, thereby ending the overwhelming electoral advantage held by candidates who seek corporate campaign contributions.

Additionally, we should create an independent ombudsman position within the Hawaii State Ethics Commission to determine if legislators have conflicts of interest when introducing or voting on bills. If a conflict is found to exist, then legislators should recuse themselves from taking action on those proposals.

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?

During the pandemic, the state Legislature began broadcasting all hearings and floor sessions, and implemented a remote testimony system. Hawaii should continue these practices, which will support greater transparency and participation in the legislative process, especially from the neighbor islands, individuals who can’t afford to miss work or family responsibilities to testify, and people living with disabilities.

Additionally, lobbyists who are paid $1,000 or more to represent for-profit businesses should be required to provide an oral disclaimer about their compensation before testifying on their clients’ behalf.

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?

Most of the people of Hawaii and across the U.S. agree on common sense solutions to our society’s problems, even on many controversial issues. A recent poll found that 93% of Americans agree that our communities should be guaranteed the right to clean air and water, and 92% about the right to a quality education. The poll also found that 89% of respondents support affordable health care, 72% agree with a woman’s right to choose, and 88% support universal background checks for gun purchases.

In Hawaii, 86% polled said that traffic is a pressing issue and 85% of people are concerned about our lack of affordable housing. As legislators, we must recognize the concerns that are being raised by our community and work together to deliver comprehensive solutions that benefit our communities and our entire island home.

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.

There are many good-paying, high-demand jobs that do not require a four-year college degree. Unfortunately, our schools are not designed to help interested students obtain these jobs. Instead, our school system has a “college or bust” mentality. I will advocate for Hawaii to follow the Massachusetts model of vocational education by allowing high school students to take up to 50% of their credits in career and technical education (CTE).

In order to allow this transition to occur, we will need approximately 500 new CTE teachers. I am proposing that we achieve this by offering sabbaticals to current teachers who want to become qualified to teach CTE courses, give them a year’s salary as they become qualified to teach CTE, and then hire them as CTE specialists once they have completed their programs. We should also allow schools to create an inclusion model for CTE programs, in which a CTE specialist and education specialist co-teach vocational education courses to maximize their industrial and academic benefit.

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