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 Carol Fukunaga, Democratic candidate for state Senate District 11, which includes Manoa and Makiki Heights. Her opponent is Republican Benjamin Sakai.
1. What is the biggest issue facing your district, and what would you do about it?
Senate District 11 residents today face many of the same issues that residents in other communities face — whether from skyrocketing property taxes, increased crime, homelessness and the frustrations of not being able to make ends meet.
At the same time, city, state and federal agencies cannot resolve these multi-jurisdictional problems with the same levels of resources that were used in the past.
We need to apply the same level of “emergency” problem-solving that was used during the Covid-19 shutdowns of the past two years to identify what each agency brings to the table, and to let residents know where we need their help. The biggest pivot from Covid-19 is learning that we ultimately have to solve our problems together!
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?
The shift toward a “destination management” approach makes practical sense in terms of reducing the total numbers of visitors at the same time that Hawaii encourages visitors to participate in stewardship and “taking care of the land” and its people.
Globally, many high-demand destinations are also pursuing a different type of visitor experience for travelers who value authenticity and respect for “malama the aina” as opposed to a marketing-only strategy.
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?
State and county governments should accelerate expansion of growth industries in cybersecurity, health and wellness, film and media or related industries to create hundreds of new jobs — many of which are characterized by high-paying salaries (e.g., annual incomes in excess of $100,000-$125,000) that can boost Hawaii’s middle class and reduce brain drain out of Hawaii.
For example, University of Hawaii’s West Oahu campus has been identified as a site for media production facilities that could serve to position Hawaii as an Asia-Pacific hub for content creation; and the Queens Health Systems is pursuing major expansion of its Ewa/West Loch campus. Boosting the creation of hundreds or thousands of new jobs in West Oahu, and stimulating new job hubs, would be a big step forward in diversifying Hawaii’s economy.
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?
Unfortunately, the shift to single-member districts has reduced the number of Republican members of the Legislature since the 1980s. Previously, many communities — including the new Senate District 11 — elected both Democratic and Republican members to “balance” the approaches used to solve pressing concerns.
For example, former Sen. Wadsworth Yee and Sen. Neil Abercrombie represented the multi-member Senate district that includes the new District 11. Similar trends occurred in east Honolulu, where Sen. Pat Saiki (Republican) was elected alongside Sen. Dennis O’Connor (Democrat). I believe that Hawaii could be well-served by a return to multi-member districts; or alternatively, by shifting toward working more collaboratively on community issues with stakeholders that include Democratic and Republican stakeholders, and a wider range of nonprofit/community stakeholders.
5. Hawaii is the only Western state without a statewide citizens initiative process. Do you support such a process?
Chapter 4 of the Honolulu City Charter establishes a county-level initiative, where it has been used successfully to address county-level zoning issues involving island-wide concerns. I believe this process has served as a reasonable tool to address land use issues during the past two decades.
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?
I do not support term limits for state legislative offices because state legislative action sets policy rather than executive branch implementation or County Council actions that involve zoning decisions.
I favor multi-member legislative districts to increase competition for legislative representation on Oahu; that alternative could encourage promotion of new ideas and problem-solving approaches within regions and has worked well within neighbor island delegations.
Alternatively, the provision of voter guides, sponsoring of issues forums by public media, and making legislative positions full-time rather than part-time could go a long way in restoring public confidence in elective politics.
7. Hawaii has recently experienced a number of 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 have long advocated for public access and open records laws, both at the state Legislature and at the City Council. As one of the earliest proponents of the Legislature’s Public Access Room and posting of legislative information online in the 1980s, and Open Data legislation at state/county levels, I believe that providing citizens with access to information is one of the most important ways to insure accountability in government.
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?
Zoom meetings, while not perfect, and other videoconferencing technology, have helped the Legislature enable neighbor island/rural participation in new ways during the past two years.
The City Council has also adopted more videoconferencing tools to facilitate public participation, which should be combined with provision of the same level of information to public reviewers as that which is available to committee members (e.g., all written testimonies and other departmental materials prior to votes in committee, proposed drafts of bills and measures, etc.). The same availability of information should be applicable to the state Legislature.
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?
Increased civic engagement and the use of trusted community service partners in developing community outreach models provided a valuable lesson during the Covid-19 pandemic.
For example, the best means of providing key health care information and outreach within specific communities (Pacific Islanders, Southeast Asian, Filipino and Hawaiian communities) was to use trusted health care/social services partners to share information and to encourage vaccination or testing when traditional channels (e.g., state health agency or hospital medical providers) of information were less effective.
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 big takeaway from our Covid-19 experience is that state and county governments must respond faster to big problem areas — e.g., state unemployment insurance, essential services and county-level drivers’ licensing and vehicle registration complaints.
My staff and I worked closely with the SBA and our congressional offices when the small business loans and grants were first announced. We saw that state and county governments could learn a lot from how quickly Hawaii’s local banks and credit unions worked to provide rapid turnarounds for Hawaii small businesses, immigrant/veteran-owned/women-owned businesses and individual proprietors during the first months of the pandemic.
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