Editor’s note: For Hawaii’s Aug. 13 Primary 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 Sharon Moriwaki, Democratic candidate for state Senate District 12, which includes Waikiki, Ala Moana and Kakaako.
1. What is the biggest issue facing your district, and what would you do about it?
Homelessness and the concomitant lack of affordable housing. We must solve the lack of coordination among the various sectors and agencies dealing with homelessness and housing problems as well as mental health and substance abuse services.
Last year I called together 14 agencies — police, prosecutor, public defender, court, state and county homeless coordinators, state departments of health, human services and public safety and homeless community agencies — to identify gaps where closing them would help end homelessness.
The Legislature passed bills or funding to help with five gaps:
— Housing assistance.
— Ohana zoning.
— Triage one-stop place for unsheltered homeless to get mental health, substance abuse, medical services and shelter.
— Prisoner re-entry support upon release.
— A permanent state homeless and housing solutions office.
I will continue working to implement these initiatives, and advocating for adequate funding and authorization to build the needed housing and shelter.
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 support the Hawaii Tourism Authority’s pivot from “putting heads to beds” to creating quality experiences across the state that emphasize our culture and environment. Additionally, new green industries not only attract the global market but also train and educate future leaders to make us competitive in renewable energy, agri-business and value-added agriculture, environmental research, and climate change/sea level rise mitigation and adaptation.
We also need to build Hawaii’s high-tech future through well-financed broadband infrastructure and a strong UH research and education system that generates the high paying jobs our youth need to remain here.
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?
Government needs to get involved. The Legislature increased the minimum wage, established a permanent refundable earned income tax credit and passed bills to help small businesses survive.
We also need to build homes affordable for families earning less than $80,000 a year. The private housing market fails such households, forcing families out of state. Government can help by providing land, infrastructure and financing.
We did pass a bill (HB1837) that will bring key sectors together to reduce barriers to building affordable housing.
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?
While Democratic Party domination of Hawaii is real, this does not negate the needed open exchange of ideas and accountability among decision-makers. We have differences and tensions between the branches and members of the two legislative houses.
Ensuring transparency and accountability, we provide cable coverage of all hearings enabling the public to participate and evaluate their representatives. Increased media coverage of candidates and issues such as that provided by Civil Beat leads to further public engagement with their representatives.
5. Hawaii is the only Western state without a statewide citizens initiative process. Do you support such a 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?
I believe in the voters. Let them decide. I would thus favor providing voters with the opportunity to vote on term limits.
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?
Stop “pay to play.” We should fine and publicize all violators of the campaign finance law. A start is the recently passed HB1475, mandating ethics training of legislators, executive department heads and selected boards. We also passed SB555 prohibiting fundraising events by any state or county elected official during the legislative session.
We should revisit SB2930 next session, which would have established an anti-corruption/white collar crime investigation and prosecution unit in the Department of the Attorney General. We did provide AG with staff and funding so they may be used to address this major problem.
I am open to ideas such as requiring the Sunshine Law and open records laws to apply to the Legislature and banning campaign contributions during session.
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?
Yes to opening conference committees to the public, and yes to stricter lobbying laws, including training of lobbyists on the law. The Legislature’s internal rules could be changed to identify and eliminate conflicts of interest and require open discussions at hearings and briefings.
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?
Communication among those with differing values, opinions and interests is critical. Informal discussion on major divisive issues should include the public prior to and during the legislative session, thereby generating better solutions.
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.
Reinvent government to eliminate entrenched, anti-public bureaucratic procedures and the resulting silos within and between departments.
This will require government-wide sharing of data with the public. It will refocus government on better serving the public’s and Hawaii’s changing needs.
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