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 Leilani Soon, Republican candidate for state Senate District 10, which includes Maunalani Heights, Wilhelmina Rise, Kaimuki, Kapahulu and St. Louis Heights. Her opponent is Democrat Les Ihara.
OccupationFormer flight attendant, professional hula dancer
Community organizations/prior offices held
Chinese Chamber of Commerce; Salvation Army's Echelon; former Narcissus 2nd Princess; former Miss Hawaii Chinese; Former Miss Hawaii International.
1. What is the biggest issue facing your district, and what would you do about it?
I believe the biggest issue facing my district and our islands as a whole is the rising cost of living. As a consequence, we have seen and continue to see an exodus of local people leaving Hawaii and migrating to other cities that have a lower cost of living.
A major cause of the rising cost of living in Hawaii is the limited supply of available housing coupled with the large influx of people from other states or countries who are able to pay higher prices for homes in Hawaii.
One of the things I would do to address the rising cost of living would be to work with my colleagues across the aisle to pass a bill limiting foreign direct investment in Hawaii, which would thereby open up opportunities for local people to own their own homes and properties.
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 believe an important part in diversifying our local economy would be to encourage the growth of small businesses in Hawaii and I would do this through promoting initiatives that support small businesses here in Hawaii such as business incubator programs that provide funding and training for local entrepreneurs.
I would also like to help our islands become self-sustaining by continuing and expanding support to local farms, including livestock and animal farms so that we could produce and consume more locally grown eggs, meat, etc.
Regarding tourism, I would like to promote eco-tourism as a way to help our visitors learn about, care for, and have a healthy respect for our precious land, resources and Hawaiian culture.
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?
One of the biggest issues that middle class and working families face is the high cost of living here in Hawaii.
One of the things I would do to reduce the cost of living would be to modify the Jones Act so that goods can be shipped directly to and from Hawaii instead of first being diverted to California, which would cut down a lot on the cost of shipping and thereby reduce the price of our goods.
In addition to modifying the Jones Act, I believe that it is crucial to update the infrastructure at our harbors and ports.
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?
One-party control has created a situation where the people of our islands are struggling, and the open exchange of ideas, transparency and accountability for decisions has been lost and/or mainly revealed through public investigations or arrests.
I would address this issue of one-party control by helping the public understand the importance of the issues that are affecting all of our lives and how their legislators are voting on these important issues through more town halls and community meetings in person and online.
5. Hawaii is the only Western state without a statewide citizens initiative process. Do you support such a process?
Yes, I support a citizens initiative process that would allow people’s voices to be heard. The first Amendment of the Constitution gives us the right to freedom of speech, and I believe a citizens initiative process is an important and necessary way to give people the power to influence the creation of laws that address the issues that are affecting them.
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?
Yes, I agree that there should be term limits for state legislators for the same reasons that there are limits on other offices. It’s always good to have new blood and fresh ideas in our legislative process so that the main focus (representing and protecting our people) is always on the hearts and minds of those who have been chosen to serve.
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 the people who elected these public servants into office should be able to hold them accountable.
I believe the Sunshine Laws should be amended and that open records laws should apply to the Legislature. I also believe there should be an elected board who oversees the Legislature to make sure that they are following ethics codes.
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?
Yes, I would make conference committee meetings open to the public to share their concerns on bills as they are making their way through the legislative process.
I also believe it would be very beneficial to give the public more time to respond to calls for testimony and would advocate for stricter disclosure requirements on lobbying and lobbyists. In fact, I would like to have legislators disclose on their websites the companies or people who are contributing to them for more transparency.
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 want to help our people learn what is contained in our founding documents and the Hawaii State Constitution so that everyone will know what our freedoms and rights are.
I would like to help create community councils where people can come to share issues that are happening in their communities as well as learn about things that are affecting them and positive actions that they can take on those issues.
I will do my best to find common ground and bring people together around common goals. I believe that every parent wants their child to have a brighter future.
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.
I would like to help people to remember to treat each other with the one thing that separates us from all other locations on earth: the true aloha spirit.
I feel that some of this aloha spirit has been lost during the past two years of the pandemic, and thus I would like to foster an environment where the aloha spirit is supported and encouraged.
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