2022 Civil Beat Candidate Survey**
**This version of the survey depicts Representative LoPresti's answers to all the questions without the word count restriction.
1.What is the biggest issue facing your district, and what would you do about it?
Overcrowded schools and overcrowded roads have long been equally the two greatest issues facing my district; yet our community keeps growing and more work needs to be done each year to meet the demands of this growing population. Even prior to being elected, my neighbors and constituents have voiced the same concern each year. Massive housing developments our state needs have largely been focused in the ‘Ewa and Kapolei region, but they constantly build the houses first while failing to require the new roads and schools needed to accommodate the growth. I discuss both education and traffic in this response and the legislative actions I have taken to address them and in the final question of the survey, I address the growing need for more first responders in our area as well.
Since being elected I have made short, medium, and long-term promises for addressing the conditions in our overcrowded ‘Ewa schools. I started by making them habitable for learning, then received CIP funding to get new buildings and facilities, and lastly to have additional new schools built for every grade level. In just three terms in office, I have kept every one of these promises and been able to bring home a whopping half a billion dollars to ‘Ewa Beach to pay for this massive influx of educational infrastructure to our area. Everyone knows that government normally moves at a glacial pace, but I have put all of my effort in ensuring that our state government moved swiftly to address these many issues in our ‘Ewa schools and it has paid off in a big way.
My first term I helped secure the $100M to cool the schools in ‘Ewa and statewide. My second term I worked to get new buildings, elementary and middle schools, and better athletics facilities (especially Title IX facilities), and was able to bring the money home for a 21st century science building, new portables, and the beginning of an athletics master plan for the Campbell HS Complex. In my most recent term, I fulfilled the promise to get the funding for a brand new mega high school ($355M) for ‘Ewa Beach to alleviate the overcrowding at Campbell. Additionally, we have secured the funding for a new Athletics Stadium and girls locker room for Campbell HS, as we are near the end of completing the Athletics Master plan I advocated for and started to help fund during my second term in office.
We need elected officials with real but bold plans like the ones I have fulfilled for our community, as well as with the gumption to fight for our district and follow through with real results. There is still more to do, like getting $25M for a new 6th grade building for ‘Ilima Intermediate and the $30M necessary to expand Fort Weaver Road, south of Foodland, where it bottlenecks every day. If re-elected, I look forward to completing that work for ‘Ewa Beach during my next term.
Traffic mitigation is also paramount. I have led the way in securing new stop lights, raised crosswalks, and traffic calming measures throughout the ‘Ewa Beach neighborhoods. As a member of the Transportation Committee, I have also advocated for better maintenance of our roads and highways and expanding the H-1 for our daily commuters. This past term included funding of $135M to expand Farrington Highway to parallel the H-1 with a new wide arterial roadway in to ‘Ewa Beach to accommodate the ever-growing development in the area. If re-elected, I hope to focus on expanding the zipper lane to Kapolei, installing a PM zipper lane, exploring contraflow lanes on Fort Weaver Road, smart lights (that don’t make you wait unnecessarily when there is no traffic), encouraging staggered work times and telecommuting, completing the rail project, and moving state and county office jobs to the long designated, but never yet built, state office building in Kapolei.
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?
In the last two years, we have come to see what happens when we “put all our eggs in one basket” and COVID was a major stress test on our reliance on tourism. Even though we are slowly recovering from the impacts of COVID and as the state is taking the necessary steps to return to normalcy, we must take this opportunity to reevaluate and make reasonable and innovative changes in strengthening our economy by supporting and reinforcing other industries that would be successful.
I have been a strong advocate for pursuing major infrastructure projects by leveraging state lands along the rail route for genuinely affordable housing projects. Within three growing seasons, I believe we should also focus on producing local food for local consumption. Additionally, Hawaii should be a leader in the research and development of clean renewable energy technology that should move beyond solar, wind and geothermal to include supporting the development of harnessing wave energy. Our state has a genuine potential for growth in the development and implementation of emerging aerospace industries as well. With these last two, our children can have the choice of high-paying professional careers right here at home.
With regard to tourism, we should look to find a balance between numbers of tourists and the money that is brought in by targeting higher-paying tourists and finding ways to make the tourism industry work for the working people. We can do this by keeping more of the industry’s enormous profits generated by our state in our state. Part of this should include Hawaii having more locally owned and operated hotels where workers and community members have an ownership stake in the industry to ensure it thrives while also being respectful to the community.
Lastly, if we are ever to seriously help create thousands of higher-paying jobs, we need to invest in our local universities to attract and keep the best and brightest researchers and professors to help build a local workforce that can take advantage of the diversification of our state’s economy. Without maintaining strong local universities and reinvesting in higher education, any discussion about economic diversification is just talk.
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?
Making affordable housing available should be the number one priority for the State. As you know, the cost-of-living is directly related to what we can afford to pay for rent or for a mortgage. The middle class is disappearing because they can no longer afford to live in Hawaii due to the rising cost of rents and homes that have exponentially increased in the last decade. Our local people have been competing with out-of-state homebuyers, and in the end, are being forced to move to the mainland for better opportunities where they are able to afford their own homes and be able to provide for their families.
This past legislative session we took serious steps to help address various aspects of this problem, ranging from putting $300M towards affordable housing projects, $600M for the Department of Hawaiian Homelands to help do away with the backlog of homes for Native Hawaiians, raising the minimum wage (which will have an upward impact on other wages), and even giving money directly back to taxpayers. There is much more to do and as a member of the Housing Committee, I look forward to continuing to make progress on this issue.
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 as the consequences of one-party control, and how would you address that?
My father was a republican and my mother was a democrat, and I understand both sides can have the same goal of an open and free society with liberty and justice for all. Both groups are full of good people striving for the same goals just with different methods. I understand this and always do my best to represent common sense approaches that both sides can agree with. In the end, we need lawmakers who listen and work to represent all the people and not just a select few. We need leaders who provide thoughtful responses and not just vote the way their donors expect them to. We need leaders who at the end of the day we know will do what is needed to bring the services and infrastructure for roads, schools and affordable housing and good paying jobs for our community as well as caring for our keiki and kūpuna. These are not inherently red or blue issues, they are kitchen table issues that everyone needs action on, and that is what I focus on in my service to the community.
Our democracy provides for everyone to have an equal and fair opportunity to run for any elected office and for the communities to choose who is best to represent them at any level of government. Many conservatives in my district have told me time and again that I am the only democrat that they have ever voted for because I tell it like it is, because I genuinely listen to their concerns, and because I can articulate the various ways we can respond to problems facing our state and the concerns that they have, and they know when making decisions, I put thought and care into them, always weighing in their concerns.
5. Hawaii is the only Western state without a statewide citizens initiative process. Do you support such a process?
While I am a strong supporter of “people-driven” political action, I am of two minds on this issue. On the one hand, I support the idea in principle but, ultimately such a process is a sword that cuts both ways and the dangers of dark money hijacking this process are real and well-documented. There may be no easier way to enable mainland influences to inject their culture wars into our state than to allow for unaccountable dark money to begin fake grassroots initiatives that could radically alter the character of our state. It is for this reasons that I would err on the side of not supporting a statewide initiative process at this time.
The amount of dark money that flows in from other places to influence local issues via referendum process in other states deeply troubles me. This otherwise seemingly wholesome process of citizen engagement could easily become co-opted by dark money forces outside of our state with their own private agendas. Once we can more adequately shine light on money in politics, we could then more reasonably consider a referendum process. There is a lot of work to be done before we get there. This concern about money in politics is also why I go out of my way to run publicly financed campaigns. To demonstrate that I am not beholden to dark money and special interest groups, but only to the citizens who elect me. We need a stronger public financing option for candidates first that could then be a model for a possible citizen initiative process, and I hope to work on strengthening our public financing system if re-elected.
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?
In my relatively short time in office, I have witnessed real disfunction that has resulted from having life-long elected officials who believe that they are unbeatable in positions of power. If we recruit steadfast and viable candidates to run for office and provide a real public financing opportunity to level the monetary playing field, then this might change. However, the deck is stacked against any who even try to run publicly financed campaigns and the system seems designed to discourage its use. I know this because in order to demonstrate my commitment to campaign finance reform I use the public finance option. In fact, I used this option to unseat a ten-year incumbent who was in a leadership position in the legislature in a primary. This is one of the hardest things to do in Hawaii politics, but it is possible. The laws of the state, however, seem designed to make it more difficult than it ought to be and anyone who manages to do it is treated like an outsider because they came into office without being beholden to any special interests. If we change the way campaigns are financed, we can change the culture of politics in Hawaii to one that celebrates grass-roots candidates instead of shunning them.
In the meantime, I believe it is so difficult to unseat entrenched incumbents that it has convinced me that we need some sort of term limits set in place. However, genuine concerns come with this change. In states where too short of limits have been set, aspects of state policy seem now to be run by unelected lobbyists, which would be even worse than the problem we are trying to solve. To complicate things further, I have come to realize that the skill set required to be able to fully understand and competently manage something as massive and deeply important as our state budget requires the development of years of expertise and wisdom that can only be gained on the job. Our people deserve intelligent capable elected officials who are capable and willing to do the right things that voters need and want, and not just succumb to special interests who would otherwise run the government with too short of a term limit. There must be some middle ground we can find, but ultimately I think the real solution is to fight to get money out of politics as much as possible, encourage publicly financed fair elections and then we will see many of the problems begin to fix themselves. In the meantime, yes, I think we need to seriously consider term limits. The founding fathers created this form of government with citizen legislators in mind, not a professional class of politicians who could count on positions of power for life.
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 have been introducing and co-sponsoring stronger ethics laws with some colleagues since I was first elected in 2014, long before these scandals occurred, but the legislature repeatedly refused to pass or even consider some of these bills. Now that there is much greater public scrutiny, I very much look forward to passing stronger ethics laws for elected officials in this state including limiting campaign contributions, the times they can be given, and increasing reporting requirements for lobbyists. Those taking bribes, which are already illegal, clearly were not stopped by the laws that we have, but we must nevertheless strive to restore confidence in government and alter the culture of “legal” corruption whereby donations are provided in reward or anticipation of favorable legislation for special interests. I believe we should require lobbyists with legislation before the body to report any office visits or outside the building interactions with policy makers in a timely fashion and that the committee structure should re-orient power back into the hands of committee members rather than just the chair. This will further discourage attempts and possibilities of corruption by democratizing political power more into the hands of individual legislators rather than as few as three or four people in power positions who solely determine what does and what does not become law.
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?
As mentioned above, we need to give more power back to the committees as a whole and not just the chair of the committees. We also need to maintain remote testimony for all citizens. Conducting business during the pandemic proved we can do this, and we should continue to do this for all, not just neighbor island residents. It takes massive amounts of time to follow a bill and wait around sometimes for hours just to testify for one committee hearing and many bills must pass through upwards of six committees at times. We need to make government and the hearing of legislation more open to the public so citizens can remain at work and still testify without having to take many days off just to do their duty as an active citizen. Empowering citizens in this way automatically reduces the influence of special interests because it makes it possible for average citizens to be just as engaged as paid lobbyists in the legislative process. Also as mentioned above, there should be disclosure requirements for when and how often lobbyists meet with decision makers either inside or outside government buildings. Lastly, we must revisit both the rules of the bodies and the culture of power to see that political power is shared more equally amongst elected officials and not just concentrated into the hands of three or four individuals in each body. This is good for their sake as well as the sake of our democracy.
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?
We need more opportunities for non-political civic engagement. We should encourage more involvement with clubs, community groups, cultural fairs and the like that are explicitly non-political and which frankly should avoid having any political figure at the head of the organizations to avoid even the perception of politics. We have lost the space of the commons in our society, both physically and digitally, and we need to restore opportunities for community members to engage one another in friendly group activities that have as little as possible to do with politicized issues. I try to lead by example in my community, serving as a block captain for our neighborhood watch, volunteering with the Boy Scouts of America as a Den Master for Cub Scouts, participating in beach clean ups, sitting on a school community council, and reading books and poetry to kids in school. We all have busy lives, but when we give back to our community in these sorts of ways we are all the better for it.
As a former college athlete, one of the things I would really like to see is a push to create adult-league sports, perhaps as part of the Summer Fun program, where adults can sign up for something like softball, or basketball and are randomly assigned to teams. No matter what your politics, your background, or any other differences, when you play team sports you support your teammates and form bonds stronger than the political divisions created on social media and the news bubbles in which we all occasionally find ourselves. Much of our society has lost a sense of teamwork, fair play, and being able to disagree without being disagreeable. I strongly believe in the good nature of people and think if we reinvigorate the sense of the commons and create meaningful opportunities for adults to engage in seemingly simple things like team sports that we can truly make a difference in bringing our society back from the brink of further division.
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.
While I appreciate the idea of painting pretty pictures of a completely reinvented Hawaii, as a lawmaker I prefer to look real problems straight in the face and find practical solutions inspired by shared values. The values themselves are best expressed by poets and philosophers at greater length and in other venues, to which I am always happily open. Here I address three remaining major issues for our state and the larger region in which my district is situated. Unfortunately, this survey didn’t even ask about the crucial issues of growing crime, sea level rise, and our desperate need for more affordable housing.
With the recent surge in crime and vandalism in both Kapolei and Ewa Beach, public safety has been a growing issue facing my district today. I have advocated in the past session that the City and County of Honolulu must make it a priority to create a new Police District, which we call District 9, in order to provide adequate services and law enforcement response just for Ewa Beach and Kapolei. It is unfeasible for the Honolulu Police Department to cover all of District 8 that begins from Ewa Beach to Kaena Point with the limited resources they currently have today. I am not only asking the City and County of Honolulu to create the new Police District, but we also need to make sure that they have funding to add more beat cops and provide the needed staffing and support for HPD to keep our communities safe on the Leeward side. To this end I authored and passed a bi-partisan resolution through the State House and the State Senate at the legislature just this year signaling the legislatures intent that the City and County take this growing problem more seriously. By spending the necessary funds to provide more patrol beat in our district and setting up a fully functional and stand-alone police station at the Waianae Police Station so that Leeward O’ahu can have two police districts will allow for better protection of both our citizens and our first responders.
As for sea-level rise, high-density housing is increasing in areas we know for a fact will be underwater in just a few decades. It would be madness to not begin having the necessary, but uncomfortable conversations about which areas, if any, we are going to try to save by hardening shorelines or building seawalls, and which areas we will allow to naturally erode. Climate change is already here, and we need to codify the foundations for managed retreat now.
Lastly, now is the perfect time to leverage public land along the rail corridor for genuinely affordable housing. Altering the patterns of development is largely what the rail system is supposed to bring about, so let’s stop talking about transit-oriented development and start doing it by investing in large workforce housing projects on state land. The state can provide infrastructure costs to help developers reach real affordable housing needs. Alternatively, we could ourselves finance projects directly – so long as they serve an immediate public good, like designated teacher housing. High and medium density housing projects for urban infill face enormous financial burdens because of increased upfront costs and risk, so the state itself should look to provide low-cost loans for low-priced housing. This is the time when large public works programs for affordable housing along the rail line can do the most good for our community. Let’s do it.