Candidate Q&A: State Senate District 12 — Sharon Moriwaki

Editor’s Note: Before the November 8 general election in Hawaii, Civil Beat asked candidates to answer some questions about their stance on various issues and what their priorities will be if elected.

Next came from Sharon Moriwaki, Democratic candidate for Senate District 12, which includes Waikiki, Ala Moana and Kakaako. Her opponent is Republican Blake Boyd.

Visit the Civil Beat Election Guide for general information and see other candidates on the general election ballot.

1. What is the biggest problem your district faces and what would you do about it?

Homelessness and the associated lack of affordable housing. We need to resolve the lack of coordination between the various sectors and agencies dealing with homelessness and housing issues, as well as mental health and substance abuse services.

Last year, I convened 14 agencies — police, prosecutor, public defender, state and county homeless coordinators, ministries of health, human services and public safety, and homeless agencies — to identify gaps where closing them would help. end homelessness.

The legislature has passed bills or funding to help with five gaps:

— Housing assistance.

— Ohana zoning plan.

— Triage one-stop place for unsheltered homeless people to get mental health, substance abuse, medical services and shelter.

— Support for the return of prisoners on release.

— A permanent homeless office and housing solutions.

I will continue to work to implement these initiatives and advocate for adequate funding and permission to build the necessary housing and shelter.

2. Many people have been talking about diversifying the local economy for years, and yet Hawaii is still heavily dependent on tourism. What could possibly be done differently about tourism and the economy?

I support the Hawaii Tourism Authority’s pivot of “putting head to bed” to creating quality experiences across the state that highlight our culture and environment. Moreover, new green industries not only attract the global market, but also train and educate future leaders to make us competitive in renewable energy, agribusiness and value-added agriculture, environmental research and mitigation and adaptation of climate change/sea level rise.

We also need to build Hawaii’s high-tech future through well-funded broadband infrastructure and a strong UH research and education system that generates the high-paying jobs our youth need to stay here.

3. An estimated 60% of Hawaii’s residents struggle to make ends meet, a problem that extends far beyond low income and into the disappearing middle class. What ideas do you have for helping the middle class and working families who find it difficult to continue living here?

The government must intervene. The legislature raised the minimum wage, instituted a permanent refundable tax credit for earned income, and approved bills to help small businesses survive.

We also need to build homes that are affordable for families making less than $80,000 a year. The private housing market is failing such households, forcing families to leave the state. The government can help by providing land, infrastructure and financing.

We did pass a bill (HB1837) that brings together key sectors to reduce barriers to building affordable housing.

4. Hawaii has the most skewed 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 for decisions? What do you see as the consequences of one-party control and how would you approach it?

While the Democratic Party domination in Hawaii is real, it does not diminish the necessary open exchange of ideas and accountability among decision-makers. We have differences and tensions between the departments and members of the two legislative chambers.

To ensure transparency and accountability, we provide cable coverage of all hearings so that the public can participate and evaluate their representatives. More media coverage of candidates and issues like Civil Beat’s leads to more 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 war chest and name recognition, incumbent officials 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. So I would be in favor of giving voters 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 committee to improve government transparency through ethical and lobbying reforms. What will you do to guarantee accountability to the legislator? Are you open to ideas like demanding the Sunshine Law and open records laws apply to the legislature or banning campaign contributions during the session?

Stop ‘paying to play’. We should fine and publicize all violators of the campaign finance law. One start is the recently approved HB1475, which mandates ethics training for lawmakers, executive department heads and select boards. We also passed SB555 which prohibits fundraising events by a state or district official elected during the legislative session.

We should revisit the next session SB2930, which is said to have established an anti-corruption/white-collar crime investigation and prosecution unit in the Attorney General’s Department. We have provided AG with staff and funds so that they can be used to tackle this major problem.

I’m open to ideas like requiring the Sunshine Law and the Open Records Acts to apply to the legislature and banning campaign contributions during the session.

8. How would you make the legislator more transparent and accessible to the public? Open Congressional Committees to the Public? Stricter disclosure requirements for lobbying and lobbyists? How could the legislator 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 lobbyists on the law. The legislator’s internal rules could be changed to identify and eliminate conflicts of interest, and require open discussions during hearings and briefings.

9. Hawaii has seen growing divisions when it comes to politics, development, health mandates and other issues. What would you do to bridge that gap and bring people together despite their differences?

Communication between people with different values, opinions and interests is crucial. Informal discussions of major divisive issues should involve the public prior to and during the legislative session in order to arrive at better solutions.

10. The coronavirus pandemic has exposed numerous flaws in Hawaii’s structure and systems, from outdated technology to economic inequality. If you could use 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 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 requires government-wide sharing of data with citizens. It will refocus government on better serving the evolving needs of the public and Hawaii.

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