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 Matt LoPresti, Democratic candidate for state House District 41, which includes Ewa Beach and Barbers Point. His opponent is Republican David Alcos.

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 41

Matt LoPresti
Party Democratic
Age 48
Occupation Legislator/professor of philosophy and humanities
Residence Ewa Beach, Oahu

Website

Community organizations/prior offices held

State representative, District 41, 2014-2018 and 2020-present; vice-president, Sons of the American Revolution (Hawaii Chapter); vice-chair, Sierra Club (Oahu Group) and lifetime member; Ewa Neighborhood Board member; Oahu Metropolitan Planning Organization member; co-chair, Platform Committee, Democratic Party of Hawaii, 2016; member, Navy League of the United States of America; block captain, Neighborhood Security Watch, KaMakana at Hoakalei; parent member, School Community Council at child’s public school; den leader, Cub Scouts Pack 167, Boy Scouts of America.

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

Overcrowded schools and traffic have long been the greatest issues. With room to address only one issue (on my website I address more), I’ve kept every promise regarding our schools, bringing $500 million and putting all of my effort to ensuring our state addresses Ewa’s needs.

I helped secure the $100 million to provide air conditioning for the schools in my first term and worked to get new buildings, elementary and middle schools, better athletics facilities (especially Title IX facilities), a 21st century science building, new portables, and the beginning of an athletics master plan for the Campbell High School complex in my second term. This last term, I fulfilled the promise to get the funding for a brand new mega-high school ($355 million) for Ewa Beach to alleviate the overcrowding at Campbell. We have also secured the funding for a new athletics stadium and girls title IX facilities for Campbell.

We need elected officials with bold plans like the ones I have fulfilled for our community. There is still more to do, like getting $25 million for a new sixth-grade building for ‘Ilima Intermediate and the $30 million to expand Fort Weaver Road south of Foodland where it bottlenecks every day.

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 previous years of Covid-19 were a major stress test on our reliance on tourism. As we are recovering from the impacts, we must take this opportunity to re-evaluate and make reasonable and innovative changes in strengthening our economy by supporting other industries.

We should look to find a balance between numbers of tourists and the money that is brought in. By targeting higher-paying tourists and finding ways to make the tourism industry work for the working people, we can keep more of the profits generated by our state in our state. This should also include Hawaii having more locally owned and operated hotels with workers and community members having an ownership stake in the industry to ensure it thrives and protects the community.

I believe in advocating to diversify the local economy by pursuing major infrastructure projects by leveraging state lands along the rail route for genuinely affordable housing projects, focusing on producing local food for local consumption, moving beyond solar, wind and geothermal energies to include harnessing wave energy, and for the development of emerging aerospace industries. Our keiki will also benefit from the latter by having higher-paying professional careers in the future that are in-state.

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?

Making affordable housing available should be the number one priority for the state. As you know, the cost-of-living is directly related to what we can afford to pay for rent or for a mortgage. The middle class is disappearing because they can no longer afford to live in Hawaii due to the rising cost of rents and homes that have exponentially increased in the last decade. Our local people have been competing with out-of-state home buyers, and in the end, are being forced to move to the mainland for better opportunities where they are able to afford their own homes and be able to provide for their families.

This past legislative session we took serious steps to help address various aspects of this problem, ranging from putting $300 million toward affordable housing projects, $600 million for the Department of Hawaiian Home Lands to help do away with the backlog of homes for Native Hawaiians, raising the minimum wage (which will have an upward impact on other wages), and even giving money directly back to taxpayers.

There is much more to do and as a member of the Housing Committee, I look forward to continuing to make progress on this issue.

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?

With parents that came from different parties, I understand both sides can have the same goal: an open and free society for all. Both groups are full of good people striving toward the same goals, just with different methods. Because of this, I do my best to represent common sense approaches that all can agree with.

Hawaii needs lawmakers who listen and work to represent all people, not just a select few, who provide thoughtful responses and not just vote the way their donors expect them to, those who know how to bring the services, infrastructure, schools, affordable housing and jobs to their communities. These issues are not red or blue but are everyone’s issues that need action.

Our democracy provides everyone with an equal and fair opportunity to run for any elected office and for communities to choose who to represent them. Many conservatives in my district have told me that I am the only Democrat that they have ever voted for because I tell it like it is, listen to their concerns, and can articulate how to respond to problems we face. When I make decisions, they know there is rational thought and care put into them for all.

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

While I am a strong supporter of “people-driven” political action, I am of two minds on this issue. On the one hand, I support the idea in principle but, ultimately such a process is a sword that cuts both ways and the dangers of dark money hijacking this process are real. This is how mainland influences can inject their culture wars into our state by allowing for unaccountable dark money to begin fake grassroots initiatives that would directly impact our society. It is for this reason that I cannot support a statewide initiative process at this time.

The amount of dark money that influences issues via the referendum process in other states deeply troubles me. The honest process of citizen engagement could easily become corrupted by outside dark money with their own private agendas. Once we can ensure transparency for dark money, we could then more reasonably consider a referendum process.

This concern about money in politics is why I am running a publicly financed campaign. To demonstrate that I am only beholden to the citizens who elect me. We need a stronger public financing option for candidates first that could then be a model for a possible citizen initiative process.

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?

In my relatively short time in office, I have witnessed dysfunction from lifelong elected officials. It is difficult to unseat entrenched incumbents, and this has convinced me that we need term limits. However, genuine concerns come with this change. In states with too short of limits, aspects of state policy seem to be run by unelected lobbyists. Also, I have come to realize that the skill set required to understand important aspects of the job requires years of expertise and wisdom that can only be gained on the job.

I think the real solution is to fight to get money out of politics as much as possible and encourage publicly financed elections and then we will see many of the problems begin to fix themselves. Running for office with a publicly financed campaign levels the playing field. However, this seems to be discouraged by the system.

I know this because I use this option in order to demonstrate my commitment to campaign finance reform. This is one of the hardest things to do in Hawaii politics, but it is possible. If we change the way campaigns are financed, we change the culture of politics in Hawaii that celebrates grass-roots candidates.

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 have been introducing and co-sponsoring stronger ethics laws since I was first elected in 2014, but the Legislature repeatedly refused to pass or even consider some of these bills. Now that there is much greater public scrutiny, I very much look forward to passing stronger ethics laws including limiting campaign contributions, the times they can be given, and increasing reporting requirements for lobbyists. Those taking bribes, which are already illegal, were not stopped by the laws that we have, but we must nevertheless strive to restore confidence in government and alter the culture of “legal” corruption whereby donations are provided in reward or anticipation of favorable legislation for special interests.

We should require lobbyists with legislation before the body to report any office visits or outside-the-building interactions with policymakers in a timely fashion and that the committee structure should re-orient power back into the hands of committee members rather than just the chair. This will further discourage attempts and possibilities of corruption by democratizing political power more into the hands of individual legislators rather than as few as three or four people in power positions who solely determine what does and what does not become law.

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?

We need to give more power back to the committees as a whole and not just the chair of the committees. We must allow for remote testimony for all citizens. Conducting business during the pandemic proved we can do this, and we should continue to do this for all. It takes so much time and effort to follow a bill, hours of waiting just to testify, and usually involving many committees that consider a single bill.

We need to make government and the hearing of legislation more open to the public so citizens can remain at work and still testify without having to take many days off just to do their duty as an active citizen. Empowering citizens in this way automatically reduces the influence of special interests by making it possible for average citizens to be just as engaged as paid lobbyists in the legislative process.

There should be disclosure requirements for when and how often lobbyists meet with legislators. Lastly, we must revisit the rules of both legislative bodies to guarantee that political power is shared more equally among elected officials and not just by the few. This is good for the sake of our democracy.

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?

We need more opportunities for nonpolitical civic engagement. We should encourage more involvement with clubs, community groups and cultural fairs that are explicitly nonpolitical. We have lost the space of the commons in our society, both physically and digitally, and we need to restore opportunities for the community to engage one another in friendly group activities that don’t involve politics.

I try to lead by example in my community, serving as a captain for the neighborhood watch, volunteering with Boy Scouts, and participating in cleanups. We all have busy lives, but when we give back to our community, we are all the better for it.

As a former college athlete, I would like to see a push to create adult-league sports, where adults can sign up for team sports. No matter what your politics or your background, when you play team sports you form bonds stronger than the political divisions created on social media and the various news bubbles. We have lost a sense of teamwork, fair play, and being able to disagree without being disagreeable. I strongly believe in the good nature of people and if we create meaningful opportunities for adults to engage, we can truly make a difference.

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. 

Were it not for the artificial length limitations of our responses I would address four remaining major issues for my district, our state and the larger region in which my district is situated. Unfortunately, this survey only gave 200 words to reply to questions and did not even ask about the crucial issues of growing crime, sea level rise, and our desperate need for more affordable housing, so please visit www.Matt4Ewa.com for those responses.

This past term I authored and passed a bipartisan resolution at the Legislature supporting a new police district for Ewa Beach and Kapolei so we can have more police officers and better response times supporting our growing community.

Traffic mitigation is paramount for Ewa. I’ve secured new stoplights, crosswalks and other measures throughout Ewa Beach. I’ve advocated for and helped fund better maintenance and expanding H-1 and our Ewa on ramp and this term we funded $135 million to expand Farrington Highway. I will focus on expanding the zipper lane to Kapolei, installing an afternoon zipper lane, exploring contraflow lanes on Fort Weaver Road, smart lights, staggered work times, telecommuting, completing rail and moving more jobs from town to Kapolei.

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