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 Dan Johnson, Republican candidate for state House District 12, which includes Keahua, Haliimaile, Pukalani, Makawao, Pulehu, Waiakoa, Keokea and Ulupalakua.
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 for our district and the state as a whole is the increasing cost of living.
We need to encourage homeownership, reduce taxation (as our state leadership gives us residents one of the highest tax burdens in the nation), encourage locally owned small business growth, and we need to eliminate GET charges on food sales to reduce the cost of living .
For District 12 specifically, we also have a severe infrastructure problem when it comes to water. This issue is twofold with water distribution rights, and water supply. Upcountry Maui is one of the largest agricultural producers in the state, and for years it has been primarily supplied by surface collection water from stream diversions. We have also experienced a ridiculously lengthy waiting list (which is no longer taking applications) to acquire a new water meter for properties of all categories.
While the water distribution is primarily the responsibility of the county, I would like to encourage intergovernmental coordination to get the state to step in and aid a failing system of critical infrastructure. We should encourage any new development to run the appropriate infrastructure to irrigate lawns, fields, and crops with reclaimed water only so that we aren’t wasting our potable water on these sorts of things.
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?
The lockdowns in 2020 showed us two key areas in which our state leadership has failed us and is not prepared. We are too reliant on tourism, and at one point last year, Maui County had the highest unemployment rate in the nation due to the state being closed. This is a consequence of “putting all of our eggs in one basket.” We also need to make sure that the executive branches of government do not have the power to make decisions to force its citizens to close their businesses.
Instead, we need to encourage agriculture, and locally owned small farming. When Hawaii entered statehood, we were primarily an agricultural state. I would support the appropriation of state funds toward low interest loans for locally owned agriculture and food production to invest in their businesses and acquire any needed equipment or land otherwise needed to grow.
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?
Our state ranks dead last in adjusted cost of living.
To assist with housing prices, I’d propose a tax credit or capital gains forgiveness to property owners who sell to a Hawaii resident intending to be an owner occupant. This would create a buffer between wealthy outsiders who are willing to pay over a property’s asking price, and local families who are scraping together an enormous down payment. I would like to take this a step further by imposing a tax on real property sales to foreign entities.
Shipping costs and import reliance are a contributing factor to our increasing cost of living and therein the inflated cost of doing business in Hawaii. This has unfortunately priced us out of the export market.
One of the largest exports of our state is scrap metal, so that shows how much we really produce. Combine this with the fact that more than 90% of what we consume is shipped in, and you can do some simple math to see that we are paying the cargo ships to send back empty containers and they are likely burying that cost in anything shipped to Hawaii.
So, if we can export more goods, we could reduce shipping costs for other goods across the board.
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 the consequences of one-party control, and how would you address that?
Every public servant should be focused on what they believe is the best for their constituents and their community. We often disagree on understand how to get things done, but should be open to other ideas and not be closed minded and simply discount another opinion or view based on their party alone without taking the time to listen and the reasons why.
Hawaii has voted Democrat for decades, and there has been not much of a conservative or Republican voice. If one party rules without the necessary checks and balances, it can lead to a lot of the issues that we are facing today where only the priorities of one side are being addressed.
I will look to advance the interest of our state’s residents over multinational corporations and party politics. Some of the views that I have will need to be debated with the “other side of the aisle,” but I will look to explore open with that core focus of what is best for Hawaii’s residents and make my case the best I can for discussion my community’s concerns.
5. Hawaii is the only Western state without a statewide citizens initiative process. Do you support such a process?
This question is a bit misleading, as there are 24 states in the nation that do not have a citizens initiative process, according to BallotPedia.org. However, I believe that our constitutional system was set up to be more of a republic than a democracy and we should not encourage usurping the legislative process. So, I do not support the citizens initiative.
Additionally, if you feel that your legislators are not accurately representing you, it would be wise to elect someone else who does. This also relates back to the lopsided representation that we have in Hawaii, and points to the fact that we need change.
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 would strongly support term limits. This will encourage public servants to turn over more frequently and gain more representation from the populous. This will also make it more difficult for the ones with ill will who are seeking personal gain to retain positions of authority and influence.
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 would support legislation to enforce accountability with all levels of public servants and believe it should extend to unelected public servants with authority and influence as well. I would support requiring open records of all elected officials, and be eligible to audits if concerns arise.
To quote scripture, “for where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.” — Matthew 6:21.
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?
There should be more opportunities for public testimony, and we should use the technology that we have to allow residents who don’t live on Oahu to be able to provide more frequent testimony via Zoom or programs that allow for teleconferencing.
We seem to have no issues with allowing lobbyists to make their cases, but we should provide more public information on how to access the procedures and publish more public notices of hearings and opportunities for open forum on issues.
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 strongly oppose the current executive privileges in place. We need to enact legislation that requires the state’s court system to review any emergency order and enforce strict consequences of overreach including removal from office if deemed necessary.
It should not be the burden of a citizen to have to sue for their freedoms being infringed upon, but rather the obligation of another branch of government to review and provide the necessary checks and balances while still allowing the execute branch to act swiftly in real emergencies .
I believe we should respect everyone’s personal decision to make their own health choices, and the state’s role should be to inform, educate and guide, not mandate and lock down based on one ruling opinion. Each person should be allowed to act on what they are convinced of in their own conscience.
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.
As mentioned earlier, we are too reliant on one industry (being tourism). We need to look to diversify our own economy and encourage local agriculture and food production so that we aren’t so reliant on imports as well. We can do this through reduced taxation on food, small business profits, and by encouraging investment in our local industry.
If we ever encounter another situation where we have restricted industry, or if the cargo ships stop coming, we will be in big trouble if our residents have to rely on the current in-state food production.