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 Kanani Souza, Republican candidate for state House District 43, which includes Kapolei, Akupu and Makakilo. Her opponent is Democrat Stacelynn Eli.

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 43

Kanani Souza
Party Republican
Age 36
Occupation Attorney, educator
Residence Kapolei

Website

Community organizations/prior offices held

Former member, Board of Directors, American Civil Liberties Union of Hawaii; advisory board member, Caring for Hawaii Neonates (association of international neonatal nurses); Hawaii State Bar Association; District of Columbia Bar; University of Southern California Alumni Association.

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

My family moved to Kapolei in 1991 when I was 5 years old. I grew up in our district since its infancy and have seen how our community’s issues have evolved over three decades.

After going door-to-door over the last few months and hearing the concerns of my community members, the consistent issue raised is the uptick in crime in my district.  From the homicide that occurred directly outside of the Kapolei police station to the “smash and grab” incidents at our community businesses, crime is on the rise.

I plan to continue to collaborate with the Honolulu Police Department to figure out the needs of law enforcement in our community so we can have the proper resources in place to address this issue.

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?

We can never completely forgo our reliance on the dominant tourism industry in Hawaii, but we need to diversify the economy and must identify industries that have potential for growth, such as the technology sector and energy sector.

An industry we need to explore further is the film industry. Not only would our economy thrive with an emphasis on this industry, but aspiring filmmakers will be provided more opportunities to be a part of the production process.

While an undergraduate at the University of Southern California, I minored in cinema/television (critical studies). I was able to immerse myself in the culture of the film industry in Southern California, where numerous opportunities were available for me. Growth in this industry will boost our economy and provide opportunities for film students locally. Industries that provide synergistic solutions are best to help our local workers and economy thrive simultaneously.

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?

Middle class and working families are hardest hit when it comes to the daily costs of living here in Hawaii. Prices at the gas pump and grocery costs are making it harder each day for our local families to financially survive. Many locals are also priced out of the real estate market.

In order to ease these everyday challenges, we can explore lowering taxes, first-time homebuyer tax credits (similar to the Mortgage Credit Certificate program at the federal level), programs for down payment assistance, strengthening paid family leave and child care assistance.

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?

We need balance in the Hawaii State Legislature. As a Republican, my goal is to bring that balance to our government. The consequences of one-party control are detrimental, especially when we encounter more complex issues.

Having a Legislature that is overwhelmingly Democrat does not allow for healthy debate and dissent, which is necessary to create the best policies and laws. The lack of proper “checks and balances” within the Legislature perpetuates dysfunction and hinders transparency.

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

Yes, I support a statewide citizens initiative process.  This process would allow the people of our state to be able to affect changes in the law that do not involve the legislative process.

I am a strong advocate for the people of Hawaii to always have a seat at the table at every juncture, so this is just another avenue to promote that sentiment.

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?

Term limits are necessary in order to combat complacency and encourage fresh perspectives and new ideas. Therefore, term limits should apply to state legislators.

With the power of incumbency, it is possible for legislators to have what seems like lifetime appointments to the Legislature. With a limited tenure, legislators will have to work swiftly and efficiently to make positive changes for constituents, fostering productivity and halting exclusivity of the seat beyond a fixed time frame.

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?

Transparency is essential to government accountability. I am very supportive of policies that increase transparency and allow the people of Hawaii to thrive in the legislative process.

I am open to ideas such as requiring the Sunshine Law and open records law to apply to the Legislature. I support banning campaign contributions during session, but also acknowledge that campaign contributions outside of session can have the same influential effect.

The fact that we must police our elected officials to this extent is the greater problem. We can deter corruption in the first place by electing leaders who hold themselves to the highest ethical standards.

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?

The Legislature needs to be more transparent and accessible to the public by allowing the public to be present at every proceeding, which includes conference committees.

I also support stricter disclosure requirements on lobbying and lobbyists.  The Legislature has lax internal rules that do not fully embrace public involvement. Rewriting the rules with transparency in mind is necessary.

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?

The growing division we are seeing when it comes to politics, development, health mandates and other issues stems from individuals feeling that they are not being heard. Many elected officials and government administrators are inaccessible and treat the people of our state as if their voices and concerns do not matter.

In order to bridge these gaps, I would create opportunities for the public to share their concerns with lawmakers outside of formal hearings or capitol visits. Elected officials answer to the public and allowing methods for communication and open conversation in the community is imperative.

In my district specifically, I plan to implement monthly town hall meetings when elected where I will be available for community members to come to the table and talk about any issues. During the town halls, we can brainstorm and formulate a plan of action or next steps to address any concerns.

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.

Allowing our community members an opportunity to bring ideas to the table is important. We should implement processes to invite creative ideas in an open forum, such as a housing innovation challenge, like The Los Angeles County Homeless Initiative Innovation Challenge, in order to bring solid ideas to the forefront from our very own community members.

We need to forge a sense of collaboration with our community instead of continuing to create a rift between the people of Hawaii and government. Offering opportunities for public involvement in problem-solving will not only help make Hawaii a better place, but will bring people together.

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