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 Tim Richards, Democratic candidate for state Senate District 4, which includes Kalaoa, Waikoloa, Puako, Waimea, Kawaihae, Hawi, Kapaau, Honokaa, Paauilo, Laupahoephoe, Papaaloa, Hakalau and Honomu. His opponent is Republican Nick Tancheff.

Go to Civil Beat’s Election Guide for general information, and check out other candidates on the General Election Ballot.

Candidate for State Senate District 4

Tim Richards
Party Democratic
Age 63
Occupation Hawaii County Council member, veterinarian, rancher
Residence Kahua Ranch, Hawaii island


Community organizations/prior offices held

Member, Hawaii County Council District 9, 2015-present; chair, County Council Committee on Agriculture, Water and Energy Sustainability; vice-chair, County Council Committee on Environmental Management; member, National Association of Counties Board of Directors; member, NACO Environment, Energy, and Land Use Steering Committee; vice-chair, Water Subcommittee of Healthy Counties Initiative advisory board; vice-chair, Parks, Open Spaces, and Trails Subcommittee of Healthy Counties Initiative advisory board.

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

The biggest challenge for my district, the county and the state is Hawaii’s enormous cost of living. The snowball effect of the lack of housing, the cost of housing if available, accessible health care, food and durable goods’ costs and energy prices is something we struggle with daily. Our communities are transforming. We are losing the next generation as they move away. The struggle of daily living exposed by the pandemic threatens to engulf us on all sides.

We must demolish the silos that prevent housing from being built. Remove the roadblocks and build housing that residents can afford!

My motivation for running is simple: Boost the next generation’s success. We must amplify our residents’ ability to shine by advancing affordable housing, accessible medical care and well-funded police, ambulance and fire departments.

We need to ignite our agriculture capabilities to improve our financial and food security. Beef up agriculture by launching value-added processing and increasing our exports. These steps will advance food security and create livable wage jobs. We can steer energy to make an economy around hydrogen for environmentally friendly energy and create an exportable product, creating good jobs that expand our economy.

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 we can diversify our economy again in two areas: agriculture and energy. Big Island has vast amounts of land, water and labor resources. We can raise substantially more food but not stop there. We must also value-add to that raw commodity; whether pre-cooked meats, flash frozen vegetable ulu, or taro chips; we can be creative and manufacture in our county, creating jobs and expanding the economy.

I firmly believe we can do the same with energy. The Big Island also has enormous resources of renewable energy; wind, photovoltaic, hydroelectric and geothermal. Hawaii County is already 60% renewable from our electric power grid. Expanding these renewable capabilities could lead to using that energy during off-peak to harvest hydrogen through electrolysis. This process creates a source of oxygen we can gather for medical-grade use. This production would create technical jobs that again expand the economy and would lead to an export product for our county to the state and Pacific Rim if we manage it correctly.

Transforming our economy by expanding agriculture and developing an energy economy provides the resources to reduce our cost of living and improve the quality of life for residents.

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?

Once again, this comes back to reducing the cost of living. Increasing wages is part of the formula but reducing the out-of-pocket costs for the middle and working classes is critical.

Funding must come from somewhere; expanding the economy is vital. Intensifying our efforts into agriculture and energy is part of the solution. Reducing the cost of food and energy reduces the cost of living. Launching a thriving hydrogen economy would reduce the energy cost and possibly pay a dividend to residents similar to what Alaska used to do with their oil revenues.

By some estimates, our county has a demand for 25,000 units by 2025, a staggering number — roughly 5,000 units a year for the next five years. Currently, we are building 300 to 400 houses a year. We must provide housing that residents can afford now! Demolishing the silos that are the roadblocks to attainable housing is vital to our working and middle class:

— To have housing that residents can afford, we must have inventory.

— To have the accommodation, we must build it.

— To create it, we must have good public policy combined with political will and a committed builder.

— The building is where the problems strike.

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?

I began my journey of becoming an accidental politician in the County Council the same way I hope to start in the Senate, by building bridges and finding common ground. I’m a business person, a man of science; dollars and details matter, and I look at things differently. I see problems as opportunities. And, I’m not afraid to take on the establishment or go against the grain to get things done.

I’m proud of what we were able to achieve together. By working with people from both parties, I have accomplished many things people thought improbable.

I firmly believe there is as much variance within any given party as there is between political parties, far left or far right. The danger anyone should worry about in a one-party system would be all individuals believing in only one set of policies. There is a broad spectrum of beliefs within the Democratic Party which contributes to and facilitates its diversity. My way of dealing with the lopsidedness of the Legislature is to keep lines of communication open and transparent.

We need more people willing to work together to get things done. That’s how we’ll move our state forward.

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

Conceptually, a voter initiative makes sense. I am concerned that a well-funded out-of-state entity could come in and get an initiative on our ballot due to our relatively small population and thus be able to support a measure with fewer resources.

We do not want dark money to control Hawaii’s future. We have seen this occur in the county and other states where outside interests push a seemingly innocuous initiative forward. Similar to walking up a flight of stairs, they advance their measures in small measured movements. Then it’s used as justification for passing other legislation.

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 an interesting idea that needs to be balanced. Elections are term limits imposed by constituents who vote. I’m not convinced they work well in county government.

Longer-tenured leaders know how much hard work goes into getting anything done. They can be more effective at accomplishing goals due to experience with conflict resolution over time — something which does not always come naturally or automatically when you’re new on your job!

I understand that this question is currently under review by the state, and a report is forthcoming. My concern about term limits is we limit the potential success of our state. With my National Association of Counties work and sitting on County Council, I have learned that many counties do not have term limits at the national level. The people genuinely moving the needle for their county/state are members/commissioners that have been in office for 10-15 years. During that time, they have developed the relationships and trust of others, facilitating accomplishing great things.

If counties compete against each other at the federal level, those with the most tenure seemingly do the best. If everyone had term limits, there would be an even playing field.

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?

Any corruption is unacceptable. To ensure no further corrosion occurs to break the public trust, I am open to conversations on this subject matter. Reform on campaign contribution during sessions seems logical. Having worked within the confines of the Sunshine Law during my time on County Council, I wonder how that could function in the state Legislature with any efficiency.

Commonly in the Legislature, there is a 24-hour notice of a hearing. At the council, we have to give a six-day notice of hearing. I look forward to the report from the commission appointed to review this.

As a legislator, I will illuminate the need to enforce our current laws. Heighten governance and enforcement with full prosecution. Democracy dies in darkness. The state and counties must continue to lead with transparency by making information accessible to the public for accountability.

My track record on the County Council is self-evident. I have a standing platform where anyone can ask any question on anything. I stand firm on that.

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?

I think the opening of the Legislature is already underway. The pandemic forced virtual testimony, which has shown promise in increasing accessibility to the Legislature. Making more committees and meetings publicly available online would encourage constituent participation while adding access, especially for outer island residents.

Increased participation encourages constituent participation and removes silos while adding transparency. Internal rules of observation and involvement will need to be reviewed and revised to strike a balance between accessibility and function.

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?

As a leader, you have an opportunity and responsibility to step outside your echo chamber and hear from all sides. We must listen not just to the loudest voices but often the quietest ones and even the silent ones who need an advocate; it’s our duty as elected leaders to represent everyone.

Communication and conversation are critical to bridging the gaps. We must continue improving the process by ensuring elected leaders communicate with constituents. We must balance decisions with data/science to ensure we’re not listening only to loud voices on social media or in hearings.

Agree or disagree, in the beginning all voices must be at the table presenting their side. Everyone is entitled to their beliefs and opinions and the ability to offer their perspective. Once started, the conversation continues until a majority opinion is reached — democracy functions on the majority. Society needs to respect the minority, but the majority opinion prevails. Once decided, we must move forward.

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.

The pandemic taught us that we have a fragile supply chain. I have always believed that we should retool agriculture in our state to be more food-secure. We have vast resources of land, water and renewable energy. One of the reasons I am running for the Senate is to advance my food nexus plan. I want to develop a synergy of agriculture/water/energy that fuses these initiatives, to expand our economy and provide a sustainable way of life for Hawaii residents.

The growth in these industries increases the demand for technical skills, thus creating professional jobs. The plan contributes toward an enhanced food and energy self-reliance and economic growth that will serve our island and county well into the future.

Suppose we think outside the box? By escorting private and public stakeholders to the table, we can start solving our society’s needs, including food self-reliance, energy self-reliance, environmental management, job opportunities and economic growth.

Increasing food security while expanding our economy and reducing energy self-reliance equals a supercharged and sustainable Hawaii.

It is time to plant the seeds of change.

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