Candidate Q&A: State Senate District 16 — Brandon Elephante
Editor’s Note: For Hawaii’s November 8 general election, Civil Beat asked candidates to answer some questions about where they stand on various issues and what their priorities would be if elected.
The Democratic nominee for the following State Senate District 16 came from Brandon Elephant, which includes Halva Heights, Aia, Waimalu, Kalauo, Waiau, Pacific Palisades and Pearl City. His opponent is Republican Patricia Beekman.
Visit the Civil Beats Election Guide for general information, and to check out other candidates on the general election ballot.
1. What is the biggest problem facing your district and what will you do about it?
The most pressing issues facing my district are levels of public safety and crime, homelessness and the lack of affordable housing, and building a strong, sustainable economy for the future of our community.
To solve these issues we need to recruit, train and encourage more people to join the police department. We need to improve public safety by creating communities where people feel welcome and safe. We need to build more housing with more housing tax credits and funding. And we need to secure the future of our state and ensure that our cakes can afford to live here by creating opportunities in the workforce for local families.
2. Many have talked about diversifying the local economy for many years, and yet Hawaii is still heavily dependent on tourism. What, if anything, should be done differently about tourism and the economy?
We have to remember that we diversified the economy once, when Hawaii moved away from a plantation economy. This is how we got to where we are today with our core sectors of the economy including tourism, military spending and construction.
We need to support other sectors such as start-up businesses, renewable energy, health, agri-business, education and creative media through incentives such as tax credits, new infrastructure, to grow and develop our next workforce in these areas. To make Hawaii is to provide educational opportunities. A great place to do business.
3. An estimated 60% of Hawaii’s residents are struggling to cope with a problem that reaches far beyond the low income and middle class, which is disappearing. What are your ideas for helping middle class and working families who are finding it difficult to live here?
With many businesses allowing people to work virtually, it creates a living wage opportunity for our residents so they can continue to raise their families here. We may encourage these businesses to recruit Hawaiian professionals. Similarly, we need to create well-paying jobs in the public sector, and encourage new technologies and industries to invest here and provide residents with options to work here.
We need to create more housing opportunities for middle class and low income families. One way we can do this is to look at the low-income housing tax credit structure, and explore ways to increase such tax credits to encourage more development of affordable housing. The state can also provide land to developers in return for building these affordable units.
One way we can build housing is to look at transit-oriented development around rail stations. The state has most of the land around the railway stations.
In the end, nothing happens without education and training. We not only need to invest in our University of Hawaii system, but we also need to think of ways to provide more training opportunities. We can invest in education and training by helping students care for children, connecting them to transportation, and encouraging paid internships.
4. Hawaii has the most unicameral legislature in the country, with only one Republican in the Senate and only four in the House. How will you ensure that there is an open exchange of ideas, transparency and accountability for decisions? What do you see as the consequences of unilateral control, and how will you address it?
I have always worked with all my colleagues, irrespective of their party affiliation. I’ve done it nationally as well, leading my colleagues as president of the National League of Cities Large Cities Council.
It is important to discuss ideas in a respectful manner to move Hawaii forward. To come up with solutions to the problems we all face, we need to choose people who are committed to service, and I truly believe that the specialty is not tied to any political party affiliation.
5. Hawaii is the only western state that does not have a statewide citizen initiative process. Do you support such a process?
I do not support that type of initiative, because I believe that is what we currently have. We have a neighborhood board system, and citizens are encouraged to reach out to their elected officials through multiple channels.
One of my favorite parts of my job as a legislator is meeting people around us, listening to their concerns and helping them. It really gives me great pleasure when I get a thank you note or email, because that’s how I know I’m doing the right thing.
6. Thanks to their campaign battle chests and name familiarity, Hawaii is almost always re-elected in legislative races. Should there be a term limit for state legislators, as is the case for the governor’s office and county councils? why or why not?
Yes, I am ready for the idea of tenure limit for the MLAs of the state. I currently serve in a seat that has a term limit. One useful thing about term limits is that it allows different people to serve their districts, leading to new ideas and solutions.
7. Hawaii has recently experienced several major corruption scandals, prompting the state 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 legislature? Are you open to ideas such as enforcing the Sunshine Law and Open Record Laws on the Legislature or banning campaign contributions during the session?
We need to assess our ethical laws and legislative processes and increase reporting requirements. Yes, I am ready for the idea of Sunshine Law to apply to the Legislature, as I have had to abide by this law for the last eight years. As elected officials, we are held to a high standard by the public and should have zero tolerance for corruption.
We can do this by strengthening our ethics and disclosure laws; fixing our sunshine laws so that we can balance our ability to do our job for our legislators and other board members while keeping the government transparent; and providing the public with more information about each of our government agencies.
We have campaign contribution laws on the books, and I see the issue as accepting legal contributions versus disclosing contributions. In addition, conflict of interest laws relating to voting may be reviewed. The bottom line is that the public wants to know if your votes follow your campaign contributions. If you check my record, I disclose contributions and relationships before voting. I also don’t always vote in favor of those who have supported me.
8. How will you make the legislature more transparent and accessible to the public? Inauguration of convention committees to the public? Strict disclosure requirements on lobbying and lobbyists? How can the legislature change its internal rules to be more open?
I believe that the public should have the opportunity to participate and weigh in during the legislative process, including on convention committees. We can also livestream or televise all our meetings as is currently done at Honolulu City Council, giving greater access to everyone.
The state legislature has a wonderful legislative reference bureau and public entrance hall. I think we should shed light on what they do and show the public that getting involved in the legislative process is not as difficult as they think.
9. Hawaii has seen a growing divide when it comes to politics, development, health mandates and other issues. What will you do to bridge those gaps and bring people together despite their differences?
I believe that my past eight years of experience in important positions as an MLA and as Speaker on several challenging committees have taught me how to bridge the gap and bring people together, despite political divisions. . I serve as chairman of the Planning and Regional Committee, and previously as chairman of the Committee on Transportation, Public Health and Public Safety. I also chaired the Oahu Metropolitan Planning Organization Policy Committee, which allocates all federal transportation and planning dollars to Oahu. It has given me extensive experience working with all levels of government by actively collaborating with my fellow legislators in city, state and federal government.
I support good dialogue and respect different perspectives. I believe that with every piece of legislation, you have to involve stakeholders in the community, business and government, because good law is not written in a vacuum. Ultimately, the relationships I have established throughout government will serve as an important asset as I continue to advocate for the best interests of the community I serve.
10. The coronavirus pandemic has exposed many flaws in Hawaii’s infrastructure and systems, from outdated technology to economic inequality. If you could take this moment to rediscover Hawaii with what we’ve learned and a better way to do things, to make a better state, what would you do? Please share a great idea you have for Hawaii. Be innovative, but be specific.
I will modernize and diversify our economy. We have been dependent on tourism for many years, and we will always need and welcome tourists from outside our shores; However, we need to find new and creative ways to sustain ourselves. Hawaii and its people have a lot to offer. I think we need to take advantage of the advantages of our location and population to become leaders in innovative industries such as sustainable agriculture, renewable energy, creative media and community resilience.
One big idea is to bring the Olympics here in our state.