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 James Logue, Democratic candidate for state House District 20, which includes Kahala, Kaalawai, Waialae, Kaimuki and Kapahulu. The other Democratic candidate is Bertrand Kobayoshi.
Go to Civil Beat’s Election Guide for general information, and check out other candidates on the Primary Election Ballot.
1. What is the biggest issue facing your district, and what would you do about it?
The biggest issue residents discuss, which is in the purview of the state, is homelessness. It’s an issue with many underlying causes, from costs of living and lower than national average wages to drug/alcohol addiction and mental illness. We can’t expect anything to change for the better if we keep throwing money at short-term solutions. We need to focus on economic policies that lower costs of living and enhance the lives of the working class so they and their families can stay in Hawaii.
So, my focus would be on developing economic policies that help our residents and local businesses as opposed to outside interests and investors as has been the case for too long. I would also like to expand our state hospital system to create more long-term and permanent care facilities for those who suffer from mental illness and can not care for themselves. We’re not solving any problems by funding temporary beds and solutions. We need true long-term care for those who cannot care for themselves.
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 think there needs to be a balance between tourism, the lives of residents and the environment. During Covid-19 shutdowns we saw the oceans, trails and animals heal themselves. We saw the real negative impacts on the environment that heavy tourism had been creating. We also saw how a lack of tourism boosted the ability of residents to enjoy much of Hawaii’s landscape. And we saw how many vehicles on our roads are tourists, which is a ton.
Hawaii has finite land and resources, yet politicians continue to want to build and pave over everything. We need to find a balance between the amount of people and the ability of the environment to sustain.
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?
As an eligibility worker for the State of Hawaii I know all too well just how bad the economy is for our residents. I assist people applying for government assistance. I see single parents working three jobs and still qualifying for SNAP. I’ve seen families opt to cut their own hours or not even find work because it would cause them to lose health coverage for their children. Like everyone else, I experience the exorbitant costs of living on a daily basis.
We can help the middle class by allowing them to keep more money in their pockets. We can achieve this by giving tax breaks or tax relief. We can do this by cutting government spending on things such as office buildings. Many state-owned buildings are barely occupied but yet we are paying a lease, utilities and maintenance. That means a building that can fit 200 workers is only housing 50 but the air conditioning, lights, etc., are all still running during the day.
The state has a maintenance backlog of over $13 billion. Instead of raising people’s taxes to throw in the black hole of government spending we should be cutting the costs of operating our government.
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 am a firm believer in exchanging ideas with those whom you might not agree. This way you can craft something that addresses at least some concerns of the minority party’s constituency. Having discussions and working with the minority party is something that used to be normal in U.S. politics.
I believe that having one-party rule is never healthy for democracy. It leaves too many marginalized people out of the discussions and conversations as to what should be done. I would ensure to take as many concerns and ideas as possible to craft meaningful legislation that helps raise as many residents out of poverty as possible.
5. Hawaii is the only Western state without a statewide citizens initiative process. Do you support such a process?
I support a citizens initiative 100%. Too often our elected leaders fail to hear what the people really want. They get so tied to special interests and really fail to truly understand the impacts of their legislation.
A citizens initiative is another system of checks and balances that the people could use to move Hawaii forward.
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 do believe in term limits. I see it as another system of checks and balances for the political system.
We can look at the current situation in Hawaii and see that because many incumbents have enjoyed being re-elected many times over that they have lost the will to fight. Many of them simply sit back and remain quiet. If we had term limits it would allow turnover of fresh energy and passion in the conversation.
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?
The Legislature should most definitely be required to apply the Sunshine Law and open records laws. The people tend to forget that elected officials work for us. They are our employees. As their employers we should demand transparency as they have the power to add to or take away from our wallets.
I don’t believe that lawmakers should be able to accept gifts. There really is no need. There’s no need to have fancy dinners with lobbyists to discuss legislation that benefits them and hurts the people of Hawaii.
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 could end the unilateral control of committee chairs. Anyone who has worked at the Capitol knows that committee hearings are pretty much a dog and pony show for the public. All decisions on the bills are made beforehand, by the committee chair, and usually without much input from committee members. We need to put the power back in the hands of the people.
All meetings and hearings should be open to the public. As mentioned previously, they are employees of the residents and therefore we have a right to know what discussions are being had on legislation that impacts our daily lives.
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?
While we have many differences in how we want issues taken care of, in the end we all want the same outcome. We want better schools, access to early childhood education, lower costs of living, housing, higher wages, and more opportunities to succeed.
I think this is how we connect people. We get to the core of what they desire and build out from there to find a middle road were we can work together.
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.
I would focus on non-tourism related revenue generation. Whether it be legalizing and taxing marijuana, expanding the hemp industry, or providing incentives to bring companies such as Google or Tesla to the islands.
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