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 Wayne Kaululaau, Democratic candidate for state House District 40, which includes Lower Village, Iroquois Point and Ewa Beach. The other Democratic candidates are Rosebella Martinez and Julie Reyes Oda.
1. What is the biggest issue facing your district, and what would you do about it?
From speaking with various members of our community as well as my own experiences from being born and raised in my district, I believe one of our biggest issues is traffic. Before more homes or businesses are built within the community, we have to address this major concern for most people since it directly affects our daily lives and schedules. In my district, there’s only one main road that goes in and out of the area – Fort Weaver. Throughout the years, we’ve witnessed the increasing amount of traffic on and around this road due to new homes and businesses being established in the area.
If elected into office, I will work with my colleagues in the state House, as well as other decision-makers within both the state and city and county, to ensure that proper infrastructures are put in place to alleviate my community’s concerns. The people who live in our district understand the need for more homes and businesses to be built; they just want to mitigate the traffic issue.
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?
It’s challenging to limit tourism because we cannot completely stop the influx of people coming into Hawaii. Our islands draw in visitors every year because of their beauty and resources that are not found anywhere else, and our current systems are built to accommodate and economically benefit from tourism. Our state’s lawmakers need to have more meaningful discussions with tourism industry professionals to identify solutions that both support our economy and address the issues brought up by the local community.
I believe we should focus more on reviving Hawaii’s agriculture industry to diversify our economy. Agriculture has been here for many years, dating back to when Native Hawaiians began producing and cultivating taro plants on various parts of the islands. If fully developed and supported through funding and framework, I think it can be a very sustainable industry. It can even help ensure that we have a safe food source in case of any food shortages that may occur.
I also think we should focus more on providing opportunities for the creative media and film production industries to thrive in our 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?
One of my campaign priorities is job creation. As a former union leader, I have seen companies come to Hawaii and pay our local workers less than what they would pay people on the mainland for similar, comparable jobs, and I think this is unfair. I believe we should identify and build partnerships with interested mainland-based businesses that are willing to invest in putting up the infrastructure, as well as educate, train and hire local people to do the specific type of work their companies require, so our residents can get professionally trained and paid fair wages.
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 believe the Republican Party has to do better in engaging with the community and finding candidates that people can rely on so they can vote them into office.
As far as transparency goes, I think that regardless of what political party legislators identify with, they should always be able to sit down, work together, compromise as necessary and find solutions for what’s good for the community – not what’s good for just their specific party.
5. Hawaii is the only Western state without a statewide citizens initiative process. Do you support such a process?
I think the citizens initiative process is a good concept that allows for public input. However, there are times when corporations can get involved in the initiative process and skew measures to benefit just them. In California for example, certain businesses encourage people to get involved, although they may not necessarily tell these individuals the facts behind the proposed initiatives or their intentions for rallying support.
I believe in the initiative process without the involvement of corporations – and with the focus of the process on getting communities’ needs addressed.
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?
While I am in support of our current structure, I would also be supportive of staggered term limits for state legislators.
The challenge of having term limits in which the Legislature would have to re-elect all new individuals every two to four years, is the loss of institutional knowledge. The creation and implementation of laws take time, and the Legislature needs individuals who are experienced with the process – for continuity, effectiveness and to help guide newer public officials who get elected.
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 believe no campaign activities should be allowed during the legislative session. Efforts to raise campaign funds and accepting contributions should be done before or after the year’s session.
People want their government to be open and transparent, and every other institution here in Hawaii has to follow the Sunshine Law – except the state Legislature. The Legislature made the law, so the Legislature should abide by the 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?
Conference committees should be open to everyone. The public needs to know what is said during these crucial decision-making meetings because everything discussed there affects the people – and legislators work for the people. With government, everything should be open and transparent. The community should be allowed to attend all meetings held by the Legislature.
If elected to public office, I will strive to ensure that all committee meetings are open. I will work with my colleagues to remind leadership what government is all about – being fair, open and transparent for people to see and understand the process.
People should also have access to these meetings through virtual means – whether it be through public access television or online. A lot of times when people can’t be physically present at meetings, they may not understand what’s going on, and can get the feeling that things are being hidden from them or they’re not being told the truth. Whether it be through radio, TV, or online, every avenue should be made available for people to attend and tune in to meetings, in person or virtually.
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?
I think one way to solve any division is to be very inclusive of everyone; to me, it doesn’t matter whether you’re Republican, Democrat or independent – everybody should be involved in decision-making processes, not just one particular party or individual. We need to foster more environments in which everyone can sit down, compromise, and find solutions to the issues at hand as a collective.
Inclusivity starts within the community that I am aiming to represent. I would like to provide opportunities for one-on-one or community meetings, so people can share their ideas with me on how we can make things better. From there, I can take those concerns back to the Legislature and work with other legislators, discuss the community’s needs and possible solutions, and try to work these ideas into law to help the people.
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.
We need to improve the IT infrastructure within our state government. Failure to keep up with modern IT equipment was a large reason that caused the state’s Department of Labor to be delayed in responding to the needs of suddenly unemployed people during the height of Covid-19, which became a significant problem for our islands’ residents. For some people, it took two years to receive their unemployment checks.
There was also a significant lack of communication between government agencies, paired with the outdated IT system that didn’t allow for communications.
Seeing the need for jobs especially during the pandemic, one idea I have for Hawaii is to have our government further invest in programs that would focus on employing homeless/houseless individuals. Right now, it seems like that population is getting inadequate assistance, and that they are just being pushed to the side.
For example, instead of hiring contractors for jobs like street cleanups or bulk item pickups, we can create government positions that address these tasks. Through creating employment programs focused on these positions and providing the homeless/houseless population with pathways towards steady employment, we can give them opportunities to earn money and provide for their families, as well as gain job experience and open doors for higher-skilled jobs.