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 Angus McKelvey, Democratic candidate for state Senate District 6, which includes Waikapu, Makena, Wailea, Kihei, Maalaea, Olowalu, Wainee, Lahaina, Puunoa, Lahainaluna, Kaanapali, Kahana and Honokohau. His opponents are Republican Sheila Walker and Melissah Shishido of the Green Party.

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 6

Angus McKelvey
Party Democratic
Age 54
Occupation State legislator
Residence Lahaina, Maui

Website

Community organizations/prior offices held

State representative District 10 (West Maui, Maalaea and North Kihei); director, LahainaTown Action Committee; member, Kihei Community Association; member, Rotary Club Lahaina Sunrise.

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

Dire lack of affordable housing and rentals that will remain affordable in perpetuity. The state, county and private businesses need to work together to increase the inventory of affordable housing and rentals and ensure they remain affordable in perpetuity. We need to fund and expand land trusts, execute the subsidies for down payments, and build affordable housing and rentals for teachers and emergency personnel near their workplaces.

Additionally, we must provide non-ceded state and county lands for affordable housing and rental development. We also must continue pushing our congressional delegation to create an “Alaska-style” exemption for the federal income formula required to qualify for affordable housing and rentals built with federal funds. These levels exclude people because they make too much insofar as mainland income, but in Hawaii, it’s just enough to get by. If we can’t get that kind of support, we need to partner with the counties and private entities to create affordable housing and rentals that would allow us to have higher AMI families still qualify.

We also need to aggressively purchase and refurbish existing units for affordable housing and contract experienced nonprofit management entities to maintain these units and overhaul the 201-H process.

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?

While tourism is still a large part of our economy, we must emphasize quality tourism over quantity. We should expand tourism management by adopting the multi-jurisdictional model to address overtourism, as has been done in Iceland and other areas. Like there, excess visitors not only deter people from visiting but also negatively impact the area’s cultural and environmental resources and simultaneously sour the local populous.

Insofar as economic diversification is concerned, the model of using exorbitant tax credits aimed at singular industries as a model of economic diversification has failed. We must look at collapsing these programs to spread these resources to as many small businesses and other sectors as possible that either choose to stay here permanently or need to be here because of Hawaii’s unique strategic position for their enterprise. These funds should also help Hawaii businesses underwrite the costs to ship island products to the mainland and other destinations so our companies can expand to these new markets and remain cost-competitive with their products.

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?

While we took a significant step forward this year by extending the Earned Income Tax Credit (EITC) in perpetuity and making it refundable, the amount of $300 per tax filer and dependent is nowhere near enough. Increasing the EITC amount and allowing tax filers to also claim back higher amounts on qualified expenses like food can help, as can allowing taxpayers to claim back other essentials like gas, medicine and school supplies.

We should consider allowing Hawaii taxpayer residents to claw back the General Excise Taxes (GET) they spend on food, medicine and school supplies. In essence, this approach eliminates the GET for working residents while still allowing it to generate revenue from visitors, wealthy residents and part-time residents. Finally, we need to continue to expand universal free Pre-K options and create a contributory long-term care savings program as we did with the individual retirement savings program this last session.

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 feel there is already an open exchange of ideas, as evidenced by the fact that nearly all the bills introduced have both Republicans and Democrats as co-sponsors. Additionally, split votes on bills with Democrats and Republicans on one side and Democrats and Republicans on the other are now the norm. I have worked with several Republican legislators and conversely have had sharp ideological, although always cordial, disagreements with other Democrat lawmakers.

By having the public engaged in the legislative process and using the tools of participation, we can advance these ideals of the exchange of ideas and transparency. Now that we made Zoom permanent, our neighbor island residents can be more involved and make their voices heard. I also think we need to get out of the square building and look at having committees conduct hearings and decision-making on actual bills at different public locations around Hawaii so we can better connect people to the essential workings of the Legislature during the session.

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

While I am open to the idea, it would have to be structured with checks and balances so the process wouldn’t obliterate the rights of the minority.

A great case in point is marriage equality. Given the recent U.S. Supreme Court ruling that eliminated federal constitutional protections, opposing parties could use the process to strip those rights away. The same goes for laws and programs to advance Native Hawaiian issues, protect reproductive rights and keep our streets safe from gun violence.

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?

As term limits go, I would support the Maui County model. However, to effectuate the change sought by the question, we need term limits for the various chair and leadership positions in the Legislature since it is through holding these positions for years that incumbents can build lofty war chests.

These limits would ensure the injection of fresh ideas and perspectives and create more well-rounded lawmakers because they would have experience in all the different areas the Legislature addresses and the internal structure of organizational leadership.

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?

As chair of the Government Reform Committee, we moved quickly to institute new laws to help strengthen accountability in government and restore the lost faith by these incidents. I resurrected and passed a bill that bans fundraising during regular and special sessions. While the bill’s title restricted me from doing more last session, I will support extending it to all contributions during this period if elected.

I also passed a measure for regular mandatory ethics training for all elected and other government officials. I also believe we must create additional disclosure reporting requirements for chairs and leadership positions to increase accountability.

I support applying UIPA to the Legislature; however, I don’t know how practical the Sunshine Law would be. Unlike county councils and boards, which have tiny memberships and meet all year long, it could be problematic to try to apply it in its present form to a 76-member organization that only has four months to complete its work.

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?

While conference committees are already open to the public and are now broadcast via YouTube and Zoom, I would support incorporating a public testimony portion into the conference committees after a posted proposed conference draft is made and before a vote takes place.

We must become more stringent on “gut and replace” and stop using the “it is germane” test. Instead, we need to require a strict three-reading rule and only allow language that has been in an official draft of a measure to be allowed in.

As a previous chair, I publicly explained the reasons behind a deferral so the public and members would know before taking such action. If I am elected and have the opportunity to be a chair again, I will build on this by instituting an informal affirmation vote before deferring a measure.

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 lawmaker, my approach has been finding commonality in the challenges we are facing in our communities so that when we address these issues, solutions help all of our constituencies. There is no such thing as just Lahaina traffic and Waianae traffic or Kapaa homeless or Kihei homeless; there is just traffic and homelessness.

My philosophy has been that a rising tide floats all boats, and by working with people of different backgrounds and viewpoints, we can put our ideas together to solve these issues for all.

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 create an innovation zone system incorporating benefits similar to enterprise zones but based on factors beyond traditional enterprise zone metrics that would create conditions for growth and success.

Beyond relaxing tax burdens and making other incentives in these areas, these specialized zones would be tailored for the needs of different industries by placing them in geographically suited areas for their growth and success.

Some of these zones could include health innovation zones, technological zones, renewable energy zones and agricultural zones, to name a few. Placing these zones near high school and college campuses could also tie them into educational opportunities. If these areas are also near workforce populations, it could also help to attract workers.

We could also give supporting businesses the same advantages as the target industries, which would help increase economic activity and provide even more benefits for the growth of companies within these sectors. Furthermore, we could amend 201-H incentives for these companies within the zones to build targeted workforce housing near or in these regions.

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