About the Author

Patti Epler

Patti Epler is the Editor and General Manager of Civil Beat. She's been a reporter and editor for more than 30 years, primarily in Hawaii, Alaska, Washington and Arizona. You can follow her on twitter at @PattiEpler, email her at patti@civilbeat.org or call her at 808-377-0561.

The Legislature’s staff and tech people are working to keep legislative action and information up to date. Too bad lawmakers aren’t doing their part.

Let’s say you’re paying attention to the Hawaii Legislature this year and want to find out more about your own elected senator or House member.

The logical first place to start would be the Hawaii State Legislature’s website, right? That’s where you can find a list of all 51 House members and all 25 senators. Easy enough to find your people and click on their smiling face to find out more about them, like their background and how long they’ve been in office and what they are doing to keep you, their constituent, up to speed on their legislative work.

You will be sadly disappointed.

Most of those official legislator webpages are outdated — some even woefully so including a few that still display news stories or links from 10 to 12 years ago.

Many are completely blank. The lawmaker hasn’t bothered to put any information under any of the available tabs — About, Experience, News and Links. Many leave some of those categories empty and even the information they do provide is in some cases years old, undated or doesn’t tell a curious citizen basic information.

Let’s say you wanted to know how long your lawmaker has been in office. That would be impossible to tell by perusing bio pages for 31 of the House members and 15 of the senators. That’s more than half of the members of the Legislature.

The opening shot of Rep. Mark Hashem on the Legislature’s website. He doesn’t list Hawaii Kai as in his district, but I know it is since he is on my ballot every year. (Screenshot/2023)

Let’s pick on my own representative as an example. I live in House District 19 — Hawaii Kai — so my House member is Mark Hashem. I realized I know nothing about him other than he is a Democrat who never seems to have any serious opposition at election time. He has never bothered to respond to Civil Beat’s pre-election Q&A surveys in the eight years we have been doing them, since 2014.

I know that because one of the things that I did find reading Hashem’s About section on his official webpage is that he was first elected in 2010. Here’s his opening paragraph:

“Elected in 2010, Representative Mark J. Hashem represents House District 18. He serves as the Vice-Chair of the Committee on Agriculture and the Vice-Chair of the Committee on International Affairs. He is a member of the House Finance Committee, Economic Revitalization & Business Committee, and Tourism Committee.”

Maybe in a previous life. But not now and who knows when any of this was true or current.

First of all, he reps District 19, not 18. And he’s not even on the agriculture or international affairs committee (which apparently doesn’t even exist anymore.) He’s also not on any of those other committees.

Scroll down the page a little bit and you’ll see the section that is populated by the House clerk and the legislative tech support staff. They are the ones who provide a member’s current committee assignments and a list of bills they have introduced in the current session.

Mark Hashem’s About section is woefully behind the times. Fortunately, the House and Senate clerks and tech staff provide the current committees and bills introduced for every lawmaker (shown on the bottom half of the page), including those who seemingly can’t be bothered to update important information for their constituents. (Screenshot/2023)

You won’t be surprised to hear that it is the lawmakers themselves who are supposed to provide information for the top half of their official webpage. They fill out a form and send it to the clerk’s office which does all the rest. It takes the tech support people a day or two to update it.

So it’s not hard and certainly doesn’t take any technological savvy. It strikes me that you just need to care enough about your responsibility to the voters to update your official webpage every year and keep it up to date throughout the legislative session and over the interim if there is something your constituents should know.

You should definitely not let it languish in public sight for 12 years and just presume people are going to keep voting for you even if, sadly, they do. One more Mark Hashem screenshot. This is the lead news item on his page.

This is the lead (and only) news item on Rep. Mark Hashem’s biographical page. I’m hoping he updates it after he sees this article because I really would like to know what my own House member thinks is important. (Screenshot/2023)

Not every lawmaker abdicates their responsibility to the voters. In reviewing all 76 webpages I found quite a few that are well done, with extensive About write-ups and long lists of civic and government service as well as educational accomplishments. Many of those provide useful links to news stories, projects and programs they’ve helped put in place and links to their own legislative newsletters, some dating back years.

  • A Special Commentary Project

I was able to find the first year in office for 30 of the 76 lawmakers, either in the About or the Experience section. But not a lot of help if you were wanting to see, for instance, how many current legislators would be subject to the kinds of term limits being suggested these days.

Some of this years’s freshman class have taken the time to fill out every section although others have not. Veteran lawmakers are hit and miss.

House Speaker Scott Saiki keeps his official webpage pretty up to date, including with links to 2023 legislative newsletters and recent neighborhood board minutes.

Senate President Ron Kouchi is not such a shining example. It’s kind of hard to tell when he last updated it — his About write-up is pretty basic and his experience section seems to basically end at 2018. Perhaps that is why his News section leads with a March 2018 road report from Kauai. His Links section links to newsletters from 2011 and 2012.

Here’s what a number of legislator webpages looks like:

Sen. Chris Lee is a longtime lawmaker who jumped from the House to the Senate. Every one of the tabs on his page is as empty as the first one. (Screenshot/2023)

Senate Communications Director Jacob Aki is well aware of the lapses in information by his members. He says he and his staff try their best to make sure senators are populating their official pages and they are not running afoul of what is legislative business and what is campaign fodder. The Senate staff pays particular attention to what members are posting on social media and their other webpages, he says.

A handful of Senate and House members — eight of them as far as I could tell — have built legislative pages that are not part of the official Legislature site but have .com urls. At least those are the ones who link to separate pages from their Legislature bio pages. If there are others who have built commercial websites you wouldn’t know it by going to the official .gov webpage. That makes it tough for the random constituent to find out more about you.

Here’s Sharon Moriwaki’s News section on the Legislature site. She’s left up an old post but does let people know where to go for current information.

Sen. Sharon Moriwaki is one of a handful of legislators who spends most of her public effort on a private webpage that she considers to be her legislative site. (Screenshot/2023)

And here’s a screenshot from her private legislative webpage.

This is apparently not considered to be a campaign website even though lawmakers are allowed to use campaign funds to pay for them. (Screenshot/2023)

Most of the .com websites created by Hawaii lawmakers that I looked at use the official seal of the House or Senate somewhere on the page. Aki says they are considered to be state-sanctioned websites.

Some lawmakers pay for the websites, including design and upkeep, through their legislative allowances. For instance, Sen. Brenton Awa notes on his recently posted legislative expenditure report $413 for a one-year subscription to Squarespace website builder.

But legislators are also allowed to pay for the websites with campaign funds, Aki says, and several of them do use their campaign donations to pay for the sites.

Googling the lawmakers who have a private legislator page also brings up their campaign page, of course. Here’s Sharon Moriwaki’s campaign for state Senate site, and you’d forgive the casual googler who might be confused as to which one is which.

This is state Sen. Sharon Moriwaki’s campaign website. She has a website for her Senate office that looks fairly similar. (Screenshot/2023)

To be honest, using campaign cash to pay for a second legislative site seems like another huge benefit for an incumbent — they get a taxpayer-funded official webpage on the Legislature’s site and then a pretty slick nongovernment site paid for by either taxpayers or campaign contributors.

But that’s if they bother to do it, and it appears not many are taking advantage of that particular perk. Perhaps more of them should. It would be one more opportunity for constituents to find out much more about what their lawmaker is doing during session.

Read this next:

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About the Author

Patti Epler

Patti Epler is the Editor and General Manager of Civil Beat. She's been a reporter and editor for more than 30 years, primarily in Hawaii, Alaska, Washington and Arizona. You can follow her on twitter at @PattiEpler, email her at patti@civilbeat.org or call her at 808-377-0561.

Latest Comments (0)

I just want to send out kudos for my District Senator: Jarrett Keohokalole and Representatives: Scot Matayoshi and Lisa Kitagawa for their weekly updates and extra reminders such as: road closures, emergency situations, etc. I do not visit their website since I receive regular correspondences. Recently, I had logged into one of my D.C. legislative concerns email blast and responded to stopping a Senate Bill. It had been erroneously sent to my local representative who immediately responded that he had no knowledge about the bill. I apologized at the same time I was aware that he cared enough to find out about a constituent's concern. I am grateful.

ChiyoTash · 10 months ago

Mahalo Patti for noting and reporting on this apparent lack of respect (my interpretation) toward the constituency. Yes, each of us could resort to 'Google' or become amateur investigative journalists to better understand what our legislators are really up to, but this 'slippery slope' from no information to misinformation to disinformation and its attendant shell game at taxpayer expense, should not be condoned. We have already seen and felt this erosion of transparency in all parts of society leading to a general loss of faith in our institutions. That's the real threat.

MarkT · 10 months ago

"Most of the .com websites created by Hawaii lawmakers...are considered to be state-sanctioned websites"This begs the question: How much of the local government could be privatized thereby making its services more efficient and cost saving for the tax payers?Is anyone else as concerned, and think we should file a missing persons report to the police dept. for Mark Hashem?Patti Epler's article is the kind of the in-your-face, probing journalism we need in Hawaii if we're going to survive the rising tides of current events.

Joseppi · 11 months ago

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