Editor’s Note: For the August 13 primary elections in Hawaii, Civil Beat asked candidates to answer a few questions about where they stand on various issues and what their priorities would be if elected.
The following came from Corey Rosenlee, Democratic candidate for State House District 39, which includes Royal Kunia, Waipahu, Honouliuli and Lower Village. The other Democratic candidates are Jamaica Cullen and Kevin Wilson.
Access Civil Beat’s election guide for general information and learn about other primary candidates.
1. What is the biggest problem facing your district and what would you do about it?
Traffic is a quality of life issue. For too many people, daily commutes have become a source of frustration, taking time away from loved ones. I support expanding access to zip lanes during rush hour commutes.
To advance Hawaii’s clean transportation goals, we should build more electric vehicle charging stations and require all new developments to reserve a higher percentage of parking spaces for electric vehicles. We also need to invest in new technologies, including traffic lights that use artificial intelligence, driverless cars, and creating the regulatory infrastructure for electric vertical take-off and landing vehicles.
2. Many people have been talking about diversifying the local economy for many years now, and yet Hawaii still relies heavily on tourism. What, if anything, should be done differently regarding tourism and the economy?
Singapore, an island nation with limited resources, knew that to improve its economy, the best investment it could make was to educate its people. Hawaii should do the same.
I support universal preschool, fully funding our public education system and joining eight other states that have made college tuition free. When we invest in the education of our people, they will create a more prosperous and sustainable future for Hawaii.
3. An estimated 60% of Hawaii residents are struggling, a problem that goes well beyond low income and into the disappearing middle class. What ideas do you have for helping middle class and working class families struggling to continue living here?
I fully support raising the minimum wage to a living wage, enacting paid family leave, and establishing a child care tax credit. Lawmakers should also take action to solve our affordable housing crisis by encouraging counties to raise taxes on vacant homes and investment properties. On Maui, real estate investors and second home owners own more than 60% of condos and apartments, while 52% of homes are sold to nonresidents.
I’m encouraged by projects like Hale Kalele on Piikoi Street, where units range from $542 per month for a studio to $1,480 per month for a two-bedroom apartment. These types of affordable housing projects can serve as a model for our state.
Lawmakers must also deliver on their promise to Native Hawaiians by fully funding homeland Hawaii initiatives.
Finally, we should urge our congressional delegation to seek funding for more military housing on base, so that military families do not exhaust the supply of housing available in local communities.
4. Hawaii has the most lopsided legislature in the country, with only one Republican in the Senate and just four in the House. How would you ensure an open exchange of ideas, transparency and accountability of decisions? What do you see as the consequences of single-party control, and how would you address them?
As a high school social studies teacher for over 20 years, I teach my students the importance of becoming active citizens in their own democracy. Much like Congress, Hawaii’s legislature is a mix of conservative and liberal ideas, even among Democratic Party members. These divisions are evident in the policies adopted and appear regularly in the debates in the halls.
Hawaiians have the power to hold our elected leaders accountable by communicating with legislative offices, attending public forums and community events, and ultimately at the ballot box. We must make the most of these opportunities.
5. Hawaii is the only western state without a statewide citizens’ initiative process. Do you support such a process?
In 2018, as president of the Hawaii State Teachers Association, I proposed a constitutional amendment to tax wealthy investment properties to fund education. This process was similar to an initiative process, in that the people could vote on this amendment to the Hawaii State Constitution.
What I’ve seen with my own eyes is how big money and outside companies can outspend advocacy organizations and community members to disrupt legislation that advances the public interest. A statewide citizens’ initiative process will only support organizations that are well funded and further the wealthiest interests, unless we begin by enacting comprehensive campaign finance reform.
6. Thanks to their campaign war chests and name familiarity, incumbents are almost always re-elected in legislative races in Hawaii. Should there be term limits for state legislators, like there are for the governor’s office and county councils? Why or why not?
Of the 51 members of the Hawaii House of Representatives who served in 2009, only 11 are up for re-election this year. For any institution, new ideas must be balanced with experience and institutional memory. In the state legislature, it can take years for an idea to progress. Laws also often need to be changed after they are implemented to deal with unintended consequences that were not foreseen at the time of their adoption.
Term limits are a reactionary response to the very real problem of political accountability, which can best be served by establishing a strong public funding program for local elections.
7. Hawaii has recently experienced a number of significant corruption scandals, prompting the state’s House of Representatives to appoint a commission to improve government transparency through ethics and lobbying reforms. What will you do to ensure accountability in the Legislative Assembly? Are you open to ideas such as requiring enforcement of the Sunshine Law and open documents laws in the Legislative Assembly or banning campaign contributions during the session?
Hawaii must pass laws that eliminate the influence of corporate money on our elections and political decisions. This can be achieved by fully funding public elections, as Maine has done, ending the overwhelming electoral advantage held by candidates who seek corporate campaign contributions.
Additionally, we should create an independent ombudsman position within the Hawaii State Ethics Commission to determine if lawmakers have conflicts of interest when introducing or passing bills. If it turns out that a conflict exists, legislators must recuse themselves from following up on these proposals.
8. How would you make the legislature more transparent and accessible to the public? Opening of 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?
During the pandemic, the state legislature began broadcasting all courtrooms and floor sessions, and implemented a remote testimony system. Hawaii should continue these practices, which will promote greater transparency and participation in the legislative process, especially from neighboring islands, people who cannot afford to take time off work or family responsibilities to testify, and people living with a disability.
Additionally, lobbyists who are paid $1,000 or more to represent for-profit companies should be required to provide an oral disclaimer about their compensation before testifying on behalf of their clients.
9. Hawaii has seen growing division on politics, development, health mandates and other issues. What would you do to bridge these gaps and bring people together despite their differences?
Most people in Hawaii and the United States agree on common sense solutions to our society’s problems, even on many controversial issues. A recent poll found that 93% of Americans agree that our communities should be guaranteed the right to clean air and clean water, and 92% the right to a quality education. The poll also found that 89% of respondents support affordable health care, 72% agree with women’s right to choose, and 88% support universal background checks for gun purchases. .
In Hawaii, 86% of respondents said traffic is an urgent issue and 85% of people are concerned about our lack of affordable housing. As legislators, we need to acknowledge the concerns raised by our community and work together to provide comprehensive solutions that benefit our communities and our entire island.
10. The coronavirus pandemic has exposed many flaws in Hawaii’s structure and systems, ranging 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 a great idea you have for Hawaii. Be innovative, but be specific.
There are plenty of high-paying, high-demand jobs that don’t require a four-year college degree. Unfortunately, our schools are not designed to help students interested in obtaining these jobs. Instead, our school system has a “college or bust” mentality. I will advocate for Hawaii to follow the Massachusetts career education model by allowing high school students to take up to 50 percent of their Career and Technical Education (CTE) credits.
To enable this transition, we will need approximately 500 new CTE teachers. I propose that we achieve this by offering sabbaticals to current teachers who want to qualify to teach CTE courses, give them a year’s salary as they become qualified to teach CTE, and then hire them as CTE specialists a once they have completed their programs. We should also enable schools to create an inclusive model for CTE programs, in which a CTE specialist and an education specialist co-teach vocational courses to maximize their industrial and academic benefits.
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