The Civil Beat Editorial Board Interview: Camron Hurt Of Common Cause Hawaii - Honolulu Civil Beat

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Civil Beat Editorial Board

The members of The Civil Beat Editorial Board are Chad Blair, Patti Epler, Nathan Eagle, Kim Gamel, John Hill and Matthew Leonard. Opinions expressed by the editorial board reflect the group’s consensus view. Not all members may participate in every interview or essay. Chad Blair, the Politics and Opinion Editor, can be reached at

The new program manager for the longtime democracy watchdog has ambitious plans and goals.

Editor’s note: The Civil Beat Editorial Board spoke on Tuesday with the program director of Common Cause Hawaii. Camron Hurt said the organization under his leadership will focus on elections, voting access, government transparency and campaign finance reform. Hurt began by explaining what Common Cause does. This interview has been edited for length and clarity.

I would say that Common Cause is a democracy watchdog organization that is dedicated to the survival of American democracy and making sure that this great experiment that we started goes right based off of the way that we see it. We are a nonprofit that works with raising awareness on democratic issues or issues within democracy, in the democratic process, as well as working with state-elected and locally elected officials to help move their agenda if it’s going to advance the cause of democracy.

And Common Cause Hawaii is a chapter of a national organization. Does every state have one?

Every state does not. I think about states I lived in, such as Tennessee, where we see what’s going on with this supermajority being exposed and where they’re running rampant. They would do well with a Common Cause. I think when stepping into this position, one of the similarities that I linked is you do have to watch supermajority states, even if they tend to be of the party that you may or may not be affiliated with — you have to watch them. So having that here in Hawaii is a really extra safety guard that certain states don’t have. And we see how egregious it can even get in certain states if you don’t have something like this or a program like this occurring.

Tell us a little bit about your background.

Professionally? Personally?

Both, but professional-focused.

I am very eclectic. I really got my start out in working with the district attorney of Nashville. And that was an amazing experience. I come from a very humble background. I am the son of a retired military soldier, Army soldier, as well as a school teacher. I grew up in the projects until my family was able to save up enough to get me to the suburbs in my last two years of high school. So I had a really humble background, but I never saw what prosecuting from a state angle looks like, and I had to grapple with things at a very early age of about 20 of what’s it like to send a kid to jail for life that’s only 15 that looks like you. So that was a really unique experience.

Camron Hurt, Common Cause Hawaii's new Program Director dominates the image as he discusses elements of a free society with Civil Beat's Editorial Board
Camron Hurt, Common Cause Hawaii’s new program director, met with Civil Beat’s Editorial Board to discuss how to improve democracy. (David Croxford/Civil Beat/2023)

But from there I did work with the Indiana Criminal Justice Institute on best practice, block grants for reducing juvenile delinquency. Great experience. From there I would continue my studies, graduate, come out here and once I got out here for my grad school studies everything kind of changed. I knew I was going to go to school, going to do this, it was going to be great, be in and out Hawaii in two years. And then I’m gone.

I started working at Washington Middle School. I was in grad school, keeping some money coming. I’m working with a nonprofit, After-School All-Stars, and I met who would end up becoming my son, a struggling kid. And I just really needed an outlet and a way out. I was 22 at the time, so I had a very naive mindset that I could save the world. So I was going to start with this kid. When I ended up adopting my son, or taking guardianship first, that’s when I had to rethink my career plans with full-time school, with working in legal and politics. So I kept school, but I switched to education. I became a teacher working at Kalakaua Middle School, Washington Middle School, Voyager Public Charter School, began coaching at Punahou, where I still coach today. It’s clearly Hawaii, I was working four jobs at once.

One thing that I’m hellbent on is not focusing exclusively on Oahu. I want outer island participation to the max.

Once (my son) was good and he made his way to high school, I got back into politics, and what that looked like for me first was working at Associa Hawaii, working with managing boards of HOAs. The plan originally was for me to move into the lobbyist department there and begin lobbying. But during that time is when my grandmother fell sick. I left and just started working full time in legal, doing paralegal work in the corporate field and also working for disability rights as an advocate.

Okay. So you’re hired as the program manager — usually it’s an executive director that is the point person for Common Cause. What will you be doing as a program manager versus an executive director?

As a program manager, you’ll see me do a lot of the same functionality that an executive director would do. But what that gives is more support from the national office. As an ED I am more so out here on my own, making all the decisions as far as whether or not we will have staff, budgeting and all of that. A program manager allows me to get settled into this position and it allows me to solicit the advice of nationals on how to best do things, as I’m walking into this role brand new. So that’s what the title is for now. We’ll see what the future holds.

Tell us about your priorities. What do you want to do while you’re here?

My goals are going to be tied to what (the previous executive director) Sandy (Ma) already had going. So I’m definitely looking at expanding voter drop boxes, voter access. One thing that I’m hellbent on is not focusing exclusively on Oahu. I want outer island participation to the max. I have been courting funders all over the mainland and basically telling them, “Listen, give me money so I can get out to the rest of my state.” So we’re hoping to see big donations in that so we can make sure that’s happening.

We have an advisory board. I want to push the limits and do another advisory board. I’ll have two advisory boards, but this advisory board will be based solely on Native Hawaiian organizations and leaders. Living in Hawaii, you have to understand democracy through a Native Hawaiian lens. If you’re going to fully get the island to buy into the concept of democracy and that it can work even for people who have been illegally occupied. Democracy can be the solution. And I’m so interested in exploring the possible solutions with my team as well as the local Native Hawaiian leaders and organizations. I am also really big on spearheading campaign financing.

Speaking of voting and drop boxes, one of the things that Sandy pushed for is, as you know, we switched to all mail voting just very recently. And so far it’s been a success, although it dropped off this last election. And one of the things Sandy was worried about is it wasn’t so much drop boxes as it was voter centers that were available because when we first started this, our voting places were only a handful. There’s only two here on Oahu, and there were lines out the door and it took forever. And that was something she was pushing for. Can you talk a little bit more about getting more people to have access to voting, drop boxes, education centers and your plans along those lines?

Yes. So I’m also coming in with realistic eyes. I’m not setting my plan past quarter to quarter. That way I can make sure that I can make small, incremental steps that will be accomplished. I am going to be contracting out a brand new social media manager for Common Cause Hawaii and our team may be expanding to bring them on full time as a full part of the team. I think you can expect to see Common Cause personnel grow with me. But apart from that, making sure that we have the access on social media to information, because we know a lot of people engage, especially the younger generation, through social media.

Camron Hurt, Common Cause Hawaii's new Program Director dominates the image as he discusses elements of a free society with Civil Beat's Editorial Board
Hurt has ambitious goals for Common Cause, but it still includes voter access and publicly funded campaigns. (David Croxford/Civil Beat/2023)

We’ll also be holding town halls — be on the look-out for that. I’m going to make it my priority and my mission to be at every neighborhood board meeting virtually or in person for the next quarter. So I will be spreading information through there.

As far as what you’re saying with the election centers, that’s definitely something that I couple with the dropbox initiative, because I find an inequity in voter information. So hopefully with the town halls, with expanding access and knowledge on voting access issues and ways to get around it, we can see basically a bigger drive of participation and democracy. I’m very interested in seeing Micronesian and Native Hawaiian voter turnout go up. That’s a very big priority for me.

You mentioned social media. As we all know, there’s a distortion out there. There’s misinformation, disinformation. There’s actually a vocal group of primarily Republicans locally that talk about election integrity. And they’ve actually proposed some bills. They think maybe our system isn’t safe here. What does those words mean to you — election integrity — when you hear that?

When I hear election integrity, it means to form a more perfect union. You can’t form a more perfect union without election integrity. I think of access to voting. I think of what it looks like for people like me to vote. I think about what it looks like for any minority group to vote. So when we say our election integrity is in question locally, I would love to see concrete proof. I’m also a political scientist by education. You can’t just throw fancy words at me. They have to come with concrete facts.

And that goes for both sides, right? I grew up in Tennessee. I can sit down, hold my own, and enjoy a conversation with a Republican. I can understand their ideals. I can sit down and have a great conversation with a Democrat. I can understand their ideas and their ideals. However, I’m not going to get into inflammatory language just so we can hype things up. So when you say things like election integrity, I also go to who’s saying it and to what degree, because it feels like in third grade when we learned a word of the week and everybody wants to say it now.

We’ve been doing this Let the Sunshine In project all year long. And one of the things that I’m curious about is whether you think there’s a need for this kind of special commission to keep going, because it sort of stopped work after it turned in its final report at the beginning of the last session. I’m just curious what you think about that idea and also what’s still to be done in your mind when it comes to transparency and accountability?

From my end you guys are a very huge tool for me in what I’m doing in defending democracy. So I think the commission is one of the best things to highlight.

I’m very interested in seeing Micronesian and Native Hawaiian voter turnout go up. That’s a very big priority for me.

I give you guys credit for three new partnerships that we’ve been able to forge. It gives us a calling. One of my quarter three build-outs is to make sure that I’m working with local news and radio. So I think that it gives people a medium to be like, “Hey, where do you go to get your information? I was at a City Council meeting where they’re talking about the Kuilei Place in McCully that’s going up there. Where do you go?” You guys can come to us for information. But also Civil Beat.

I think we’ll be launching scorecards of our politicians within the next two quarters. I would love to see what that leads to as far as sunshine and accessibility and questions that people ask and more things that we look for that we want to know from our government. I think we definitely have an issue when, say, somebody like me who is completely understanding the want of the City Council to raise their salary — it makes sense. You don’t get paid anything. I’m not a hater. However, you go about it in so many foul ways that now, not only have you given yourself a raise, you’ve eroded trust in democracy further. And that can’t happen. That has to stop.

Is there more campaign finance specific issues or flaws in the campaign finance process that they could be working on?

They could actually start a statewide process — that way they could at least have flaws. We have the ability to lead the country in campaign financing — us, Hawaii. We didn’t expect campaign financing to take off. The fact that it made it as far as it did before it got gutted, it surprised us.

You’re talking about full public financing.

Yeah, the full public financing bill. What I found was there wasn’t any knowledge in the public. Even I didn’t get the knowledge that the bill was going on until I got in with Common Cause. I would love to see an effort in concert with all our coalition partners that we will take the next four months to really educate the public on campaign financing. We will go back and we will meet with the senators who will propose the bill and see what shortcomings they have, what they don’t want, what they do want.

There may have been smiles on the faces of lawmakers when the 2023 legislative session ended, but many important bills died in the final hours. (David Croxford/Civil Beat/2023)

However, I’m also going to be going to Big Island to look at the facets of campaign financing that they have for local elections. I want to see what they’re doing, too. I’m not interested in letting the perfect be the enemy of good. So if I can’t get it passed comprehensively statewide, I’m still interested if I can get it passed in Kauai, or anywhere else. So anywhere we can see it, even bring it to the City Council of Honolulu and let them decide. We’ve got to start the conversations and we’ve got to get people on record saying, “No, I don’t want this,” especially in the era of post-Citizens United.

I wanted to just get directly to the Legislature a little bit more. What do you think would be the most important reform that we could possibly achieve if we were talking about one reform?

I would say campaign financing. If you can pass campaign finance, you can take out big money. There’s a certain kind of people who run for politics out here, and those are people who have big pockets and they’re people who come with friends and they hire their friends.

So campaign financing can level the playing field in a way that we’ve never seen. It’s never been done. And I think even more so now when we look at recent decisions from the Supreme Court and we go back and we look at Citizens United, how much this is a continuation. So I would I bet my right shoe — a Southern saying — that if you if you pass comprehensive campaign financing, situations like the Kealohas couldn’t exist, situations where we’ve seen corruption with even grandiose politicians, senators and such. But it does go all the way down to your chief of police if you can pass campaign financing. So that would be my one thing.

You were watching the legislative session unfold, and especially in the final days when the bill for public campaign financing was killed, pretty much at the direction of one or two very, very powerful money committee chairs. So if that’s the biggest issue, how do we make it happen in this legislative environment?

I’ve lived in a few states, and one thing that I know to be true is community here is strong, unlike most places you’ll find in the mainland. I believe here you could get a good old-fashioned shaming of your politicians if you get the information out there. So that’s why this next five months is crucial for driving that information campaign so we can make people aware.

We can go have pockets, too. There is a lot of donation money here in Hawaii. However, it’s not as cohesive as you would see in other places. So you have money going out to a lot of things, and we can consolidate some of that support and put it into one area for several interest groups and coalitions. I think we can very much shake the table, as it were.

I think also what the HAPA organization (Hawaii Alliance for Progressive Action ) is doing with their Kuleana Academy — you know, teaching people about how to govern from a Hawaiian lens, a Native Hawaiian lens. I think what they’re doing is going to be a big game changer that you will see in the next couple of years, too.

You mentioned partners that Common Cause has worked with. Could you name two or three that we would recognize?

The League of Women Voters of Hawaii, ACLU. HAPA. I’m leaving here to actually go meet with the consulate of the Marshall Islands. I’m also reaching out to the state Republican (party) as well as Republican organizations. I’m looking forward to sitting down with the Grassroots Institute and doing some work with them, as they kind of pride themselves on being bipartisan, but with the right slant.

What do you think about the governor’s emergency proclamation on housing? It suspends like half a dozen laws. I’m just curious from a democracy point of view, what you think about that?

It doesn’t serve democracy to get rid of these safeguards. The emergency, yes, we need housing. How about the units that we have sitting empty right now? Where is the money going in to modernize these units? We know they’re empty. We know some of them are probably sitting in decay. So where’s the money to develop that? There’s so many things we can do.

I’m wondering how bad this is going to hurt us in seven years. I’m wondering what would be the fallout. The heart is there. The intention is good. The intentionality is there. But what’s really being done in the immediate? And I’m not seeing anything there. I’m seeing an array of situations that are going to make rich people richer and distrustful people more distrustful of their government and housing’s still going to be an issue.

I think (the governor) has gotten us all excited for the potential of new housing and a new approach to housing. But I don’t know what makes this different. Seems like more of the same.

Hawaii is a predominantly Democratic state, right? And a lot of people say that, especially with these corruption cases, that part of the reason is that it’s totally Democratic and therefore there’s no real check on them. What do you think about that? Do you have any ideas about how to address that?

I think it’s 100% true. And I’ll say that on the record. I don’t know any supermajority state that does not have severe ethical concerns at the moment.

So I think that is definitely an issue. I don’t know that it can be solved from the people. I think the actual organization is going to need to get involved. The Republican Party does not invest in Hawaii at all. They don’t send anything really here. So your messaging on conservative economics is not going to get out there. Your messaging of traditional values is not going to get out there. You’re depending on Fox News and Twitter to project the ideas of conservatism in Hawaii. And that’s not going to hold.

However, I do think if you made a true conscious effort of what it is to be a conservative and you brought it out here, that would be a very good step in the right direction. I think we do have a lot of conservatives in this state who are not represented adequately. And I do think that the Democrats, for everything they have with a supermajority, fight and (have) chaos so much that you would think that more would get done in a state that has such a strong history of a Democratic supermajority.

In terms of the Democratic hold over Hawaii, one of the kind of weird anomalies, it seems to me, is how un-Democratic the kind of attitudes around prison, incarceration, criminal justice are. When I look at, say, the attitudes around imprisonment, how to respond to crime, they’re all very much out of the conservative kind of playbook. Do you agree with that or do you have a different take on it?

I think what you’re saying is accurate, but I’m Black, so I’m not new to this. Of course, the attitudes are more conservative. Who’s mostly incarcerated? Nine times out of 10 and being specific, they’re either going to be Micronesian or Native Hawaiian at a disproportionate rate. Are we really shocked that we see a disdain there towards people who are banned from practicing their culture? It’s very real. You can take anybody who’s been affected by colonialism and white supremacy, and even in their native land, they’re looked down upon the worst. So, yes, there’s definitely a harsh sentiment towards criminals because that was indoctrinated 100% and it would be foolish to overlook that.

An official ballot drop box in Hawaii Kai.
Improving voter access is a Common Cause Hawaii priority. (Nathan Eagle/Civil Beat/2022)

So I think that that correlation is strong, but I’d say the correlation is probably the same that you would see in an African-American community in Mississippi. You’ve been systematically oppressed, brainwashed, and your way of thinking has been annihilated. So the fact that even Native Hawaiians hold on to aloha as best they do is amazing. I don’t find that to be anything out of the ordinary. I do find that to be a byproduct of white supremacy, of colonialism.

On a different topic, because you’re an educator as well, looking at things like civics, teaching democracy in schools — do you have some comments around that?

Yes. So we’re going to be getting into the high schools. I want to actually try to touch every high school senior class doing a voter registration drive. Even if you can’t register, let’s do a mock one. Also trying to get some elected leaders from their schools to come out and talk to them.

You have to get the kids excited. I used to be a teacher. I was a cool, fun teacher. So hoping to bring that excitement back around this time and see if I can get some more excited. But again, hoping to touch every school, public and private with the emphasis being on schools with a predominantly native population.

I’m curious to know, it sounds like a lot of these things you could also be working on if you were to be an elected official. What is it about being program manager of Common Cause Hawaii that you think you can accomplish in this role rather than in elected office?

In this role I work exclusively for pretty much my judgment of democracy and its needs. Now, I have advisers who check my judgment, but I get to kind of make that pace. I’m not burdened with the popular opinion. I can make that unpopular opinion. Also, longevity here. I could stay here until I’m 50. You know, I would be a part of the problem if I held up a political office from now until 50. So I can touch so many more people. I feel like I’m not relegated to my district.

So this allows more freedom. It allows me to be more personalized. Allows me to be truly, truly, truly the people. I’m not worried about a donor. I don’t have to go out and campaign. I don’t have to work one job and then work a half job. No shame for anybody doing that. But I get to really work for the people and be that warrior.

My final question is more of an observation, and I’d like you to react to it. You’re interested in education, interested in pay issues, pay equity, criminal justice reform, housing. It seems to me that you are looking to expand the role of Common Cause Hawaii beyond just a purely pro-democracy watchdog. Is it an accurate observation?

I wouldn’t say it’s accurate because I think all of those things are democracy watchdog issues. If the government is supposed to work for the people, how do you work for the people if the people ain’t got housing? We are in an era where everything is questioned and it’s made to be of skepticism. You guys are journalists. You get it. There’s a way to do this. There is a way of research, of investigation, of verifying facts. I find that we live in a time where that seems to have been thrown out the window, and people who do that are mocked. That’s a democracy issue. When we look at social justice, there can’t be an equitable society if there’s not equitable justice. So all of those are democracy issues now.

What I will say is we will expand past voting. Voting is not the only cornerstone of democracy, and we will not shy away from defending democracy in all levels, be it campaign finance, coming out in full and just unwavering support of women and their right to choose what’s best for their body between them and their doctors. Those are all still the same to me when I look at democracy.

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About the Author

Civil Beat Editorial Board

The members of The Civil Beat Editorial Board are Chad Blair, Patti Epler, Nathan Eagle, Kim Gamel, John Hill and Matthew Leonard. Opinions expressed by the editorial board reflect the group’s consensus view. Not all members may participate in every interview or essay. Chad Blair, the Politics and Opinion Editor, can be reached at

Latest Comments (0)

Calling people who are concerned about election integrity "third grade" means you're not the right person to have those conversations.

Cackles · 2 months ago

Welcome, Cameron! You sound like a dedicated person whom I hope can revitalize Common Cause Hawaii. Re: the interview--the final question appeared to suggest that his interests were too scattered. I was glad to see that his definition of democracy is very broad. He made very clear what his primary focus within that would be, but he would be very narrow if that were all that he thought about.

JusticePlease · 2 months ago

My suggestion to level the playing field to all politicians….all campaign donations must go into a general pot and will be divided equally to all. No single single person will get the lions share of funding . This will eliminate pay to play.

2cents · 2 months ago

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