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 Lisa Marten, Democratic candidate for state House District 51, which includes Kailua, Lanikai, Keolu Hills, Waimanalo and the Northwestern Hawaiian Islands. Her opponent is Republican Kukana Kama-Toth.

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 51

Lisa Marten
Party Democratic
Age 55
Occupation State legislator
Residence Kailua, Oahu

Website

Community organizations/prior offices held

State representative since 2020; executive director, Healthy Climate Communities; founding board member, Trees for Honoluluʻs Future; Kailua Neighborhood Board; Lanikai Association; assistant professor, John A Burns School of Medicine, UH Manoa.

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

The concern most commonly expressed by my constituents in both Waimanalo and Kailua is homelessness on the street, in the parks, under bridges, and in natural areas. Our homeless are often substance abusers and/or suffer from other mental health disorders. Many, if not all, have been offered services or shelter by IHS outreach workers, but they are not ready to accept those services. I want to create more residential options, with a range of mental health services, on the Windward side and intensify outreach to get people into treatment and off the street.

This year’s point in time count of unsheltered individuals identified 75 people in Kailua and 94 in Waimanalo. Those numbers are not impossible to house. The number in Waimanalo has already improved due to the re-opening of Wienberg Village (state funded) transitional housing and the community funded and run Hui Mahiʻai ʻĀina which is on state land. I would like to expand both facilities.

In Kailua, one source of homeless is from individuals brought for psychiatric evaluation to Adventist Health Castle by police. I have had meetings with Castle, as well as law enforcement, Department of Health and IHS to improve hospital discharge outcomes.  Ideally patients should be discharged to a residential treatment facility rather than to the street.

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?

I support fostering a broad range of sustainable industries, but I would start by making tourism itself more sustainable. This process has started already. I and the majority in the Legislature want HTA to move from marketing toward management of tourism. We sent a strong signal that HTA needs to be responsive by making their funding contingent on legislative approval last session.

DLNR is also moving toward active management of their attractions. They have reservation systems in place on Maui, Kauai, Diamond Head, and we are working on a similar system for over-utilized attractions in Kailua. We want to reduce the number of tourists and target high-spending tourists. Tourism is a business, not a charity to benefit visitors at the expense of our taxpayers.

The other industries I am focused on by writing and supporting legislation and funding is renewable energy and agriculture. We can stop sending what we earn with tourism and other industries right back out of the state through purchase of imported fossil fuels and food.

I actively support through legislation our transition to 100% local, renewable energy which will keep money and jobs here. I also support an increase in agricultural production for local consumption.

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 a freshman, it was very exciting for me to be part of a body that passed legislation to address problems to help with the high cost of living and housing that I had shared with leadership as my priorities. Highlights included increasing the minimum wage, making the earned income tax credit permanent and refundable, giving some of our surplus back to people in the form of a rebate, creating a retirement savings program for people who work for small businesses and putting around $1 billion into affordable housing.

Given that my district has a large Native Hawaiian population, I was especially proud to have a significant investment in DHHL housing so that we can get people off the waitlist and out of overcrowded living situations and into their own homes.

For future initiatives, I would support exempting food and medication from general excise taxes, and to continue to fund and build more 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?

Legislators who self-identify as Democrats are diverse in their views and positions. I believe they represent the diversity we also find in our state. In another state some of our conservative legislators may have registered as Republicans, but they choose to join the majority in order to engage more in the process or maybe just to increase their odds of election.

I have heard that when there were more Republicans in the Legislature the majority caucus stuck together more, whereas now they vote their own conscience. I approve of everyone voting to represent their constituents, not their party.

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

No. In other states it is well-funded interest groups that spend big money to shape public perception and push ideas through. I am open to introducing legislation through our existing process for anyone with good ideas they want considered.

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 do support term limits. I think the terms should be long and the exact length should be the subject of public debate. Effective legislators need to become knowledgeable about a wide range of issues and it takes time on the job to do so. Within a term there is an opportunity to vote out incumbents every two or four years.

Although there is already high turnover in the Legislature, one reason I support term limits is to discourage career politicians. I worry that elected officials who do not have other professional credentials or career options may be too desperate to hold on to their jobs and be more likely to be for sale to interests that will help keep them in office.

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 look forward to their recommendations and expect that I will support them all, as I have supported the ones they came up with for this session. Shining the Sunshine Law on the Legislature would benefit both the public as well as members of the Legislature itself. Everyone should better understand how and why legislation was developed.

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?

As described above, I am open to and supportive of commission recommendations to increase transparency. In terms of accessibility I think that Covid-19 has shown us the way to make the Legislature accessible to the public.  All hearings should continue to be hybrid with a virtual option, and should be broadcast live as well as made available online to watch whenever.

People who live on neighbor islands, those who work, those who have children to care for, and those that have physical barriers to travel and spending time at the Capital are now able to participate.

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?

My solution is to focus on local issues and local problems. If it is local, everyone can see first-hand and experience first hand the reality of our situation and we can agree on the same set of facts. It is a challenge when people are educated by media or social media to believe completely different truths about the world, and about what has or has not happened.

I do find that if you focus on how someone here is personally affected by something, or the specific fear or problem that they have, you can move beyond the second hand information that creates barriers and find common ground and common solutions.

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.

One thing I would like to see is a return to holistic thinking as was done with the ahupuaa system when Hawaii was managed sustainably despite a large population.

My district includes Waimanalo and Kailua, which both run from the Koolaus to the ocean and have fertile land and water flowing in between. They both have reefs and ocean. They are perfect examples of how this thinking could help us better manage these beautiful communities so that our children will be even better off than we are.

I would like to see our water clean with flow restored. I would like to see expansion of farmed areas, including loi. I woud like to see our ocean water free of contamination and the fishery returned to health. I think the ahupuaa thinking can also be applied to management of the way our resources are used by residents and tourists. This would include roads, parking spaces, beaches and trails.

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