Candidate Q&A: State House District 3 – Chris Todd
Editor’s note: For the August 13 Hawaii primary, 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 Chris Todd, Democratic nominee for District 3 of the House of Representatives, which includes Hilo, Keaukaha, Orchidlands Estate, Ainaloa, Hawaiian Acres, Fern Acres, Kurtistown and Keaau. The other Democratic candidate is Shannon Matson.
For general information, see the Civil Beat Election Guide and see other candidates on the primary ballot.
1. What is the biggest problem in your district and what would you do about it?
Like much of the state, eastern Hawaii faces an affordability crisis. For the past six years, I have done everything in my power to address this issue at the State Capitol. When I entered the legislature, Hawaii ranked 49th out of 50 states for the tax burden imposed on working-class families. While there is still work to be done, our state now has the fourth most progressive income tax law in the nation.
Going forward, I will continue to support local families in every way I can, including working to expand early childhood education, shifting the tax burden away from our poorest residents, investing in our public schools, and working to reduce the impact of the GET on essential goods and services.
2. Many people have been talking about diversifying the local economy for many years, and yet Hawaii still relies heavily on tourism. What, if anything, should be done differently in tourism and business?
In the wake of the Covid-19 pandemic, the conversation about tourism has shifted away from growth and towards management/mitigation. I believe our focus for the tourism industry should be to maximize value for local residents while minimizing the impact on daily life and our natural resources.
We must do more to keep tourism funds here in our state and reduce the percentage of revenue that ends up being exported to large corporate interests and shareholders.
Furthermore, there is no silver bullet for the diversification of our economy. Rather than trying to find a specific industry to crowd out tourism, the state should take a comprehensive approach to support emerging industries, reduce our dependence on overseas goods, and do more to ensure we meet the ” reverse brain drain. This all starts with our education system, which is underutilized as a means to build our future economy.
3. An estimated 60% of Hawaii residents are struggling to make ends meet, a problem that extends well beyond low income to the disappearing middle class. What ideas do you have to help the middle class and working class families who are struggling to survive here?
Since I entered the Legislature, we in the Capitol have made strides in shifting the tax burden away from the working class and toward tourists and our wealthiest residents. We must sustain this movement by reducing our government’s reliance on the GET and fuel tax, which disproportionately hit low- and middle-income families.
In addition, we must continue the recent commitment by legislators to affordable housing and do more to discourage foreign investment and speculation in our real estate market.
4. Hawaii has the most lopsided legislature in the country, with only one Republican in the Senate and only four in the House of Representatives. How would you ensure there is an open exchange of ideas, transparency and accountability for decisions? In your opinion, what are the consequences of one-party control and how would you deal with them?
There is much more we can do within government to create an environment of trust, openness and accountability. This year I supported the establishment of an independent working group to make future recommendations to the legislature to address these issues.
As well as this short-term process, we should go further and ensure that there is a comparable body that makes suggestions on a regular basis. In the state legislature in particular, too much happens behind closed doors and we would be better off with a more public decision-making process. The exchange of ideas is there, but it is seldom in full view.
5. Hawaii is the only western state without a statewide citizen initiative process. Do you support such a process?
I support a citizens’ initiative process. There are many issues that the legislature has balked at because of political concerns that would be best decided through a more direct democratic approach.
The voting public deserves the opportunity to make decisions on critical issues like cannabis and gambling regulations, or red-hot issues that legislators have a proven track record of being unwilling or unable to address.
6. Thanks to their campaign treasury and name familiarity, incumbents are almost always re-elected in Hawaii general elections. Should there be term limits for state legislators like there are for the governor’s office and county councils? Why or why not?
I’m open to the idea of term limits and support limiting “war chests” to reduce the incumbent’s advantage. Term limits are not a panacea, and I don’t think there is a direct correlation between tenure limits and government effectiveness. Still, we should do everything we can to restore public confidence in government, and term limits could be one way to do that.
In addition, I believe that we should fully introduce ranking voting in all local and state elections to encourage even more people to run for public office.
7. Hawaii has recently experienced a string of high-profile 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 to the legislature? Are you open to ideas like requiring the Sunshine Act and open record laws to apply to the legislature or banning campaign donations during the session?
I will support any constructive recommendations from the Commission and I believe there is much more we can do to ensure accountability and transparency within government. I believe that many principles of the Sunshine Act should be applied to the legislature and there are some simple changes that would go a long way in restoring confidence.
I have no problem banning campaign contributions during the legislature, but I don’t think that would do much good. Instead, there should be more transparency in campaign finance and less power for individual lawmakers to decide whether or not to pass a law.
8. How would you make the legislature more transparent and accessible to the public? Open conference committees to the public? Stricter disclosure requirements for lobbying and lobbyists? How might lawmakers change their own internal rules to make them more open?
A major obstacle to transparency and access is the short legislative calendar, coupled with the introduction of too many bills and resolutions. With a packed schedule, there is not enough time for public contributions and processes. An extension of the legislature by a month or a stricter cap on the introduction of often duplicate legislation would help clean up and potentially allow for more public participation and attention.
Recently I saw the suggestion that any legislation introduced with the signature of a majority of a body should get at least one public hearing with a vote – this seems like a sensible change that could do some good.
9. Hawaii has seen growing divisions when it comes to politics, development, health mandates and other issues. What would you do to bridge these gaps and bring people together despite their differences?
While these divisions are real, social media amplifies them. When people speak face-to-face, it’s usually done with respect and aloha. It is not possible to get everyone to agree on the multitude of issues facing our community, but having these discussions in person is more meaningful and productive than doing it online.
During six sessions of the State House, I don’t recall ever having a hostile conversation with a constituent. It’s a lot harder to slander someone once you’ve met them and shared your thoughts and concerns one on one.
10. The coronavirus pandemic has exposed numerous flaws in Hawaii’s structure and systems, from outdated technology to economic disparities. If you could take this moment to reinvent Hawaii, 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 specific.
Much of what is wrong with our state stems from the original sin of the fall of the Hawaiian kingdom and subsequent sugar plantation dominance. While these many mistakes cannot be undone, restoring self-determination to the Hawaiian people is a necessary healing and empowering step.
In addition, the Hawaii tax code has been fundamentally broken since its inception. Our state has the lowest property tax rates in the country while having the highest state taxes, which has created a paradigm of real estate speculation, land banking, and the GET overtaxing working-class families. We need complex legislation to shift the tax burden off of our low- and middle-income residents and ensure that there are no incentives for large corporations and foreign investors to compete with locals for housing and agriculture.
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