Civil Beat: Candidate Q&A: State Senate District 7 — Lynn DeCoite


1. What is the biggest issue facing your district, and what would you do about it?

The greatest issue/need for my district and my main priority remains the same; to ensure outreach and inclusion of all islands and residents when it comes to state services, resources, programs and jobs.  Representing the only true canoe district is not easy. I have Hana, East and Upcountry Maui, Molokai and Lanai along with Kahoolawe and Molokini.

SD 7 has so many unique and beautiful communities, and we also have similar needs and concerns that need to be addressed, along with natural resources that need to be protected, yet we struggle for the services that people in urban districts don’t need to worry about.

During my time in office (House and Senate) I have continued to focus on protecting those natural resources including creating legislation to protect East Maui Water and securing funding to repair damage done by diversions. This is an issue that I am constantly monitoring.

And while the district and the workload has doubled, I am all in and ready to do what I can to ensure our communities have the needed services and resources to thrive. And I am willing to work with everyone to continue to serve.

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?

We’ve all seen in the past two years what happens when the focus is on one industry – tourism. I’ve long been a supporter and participant in agriculture. During this pandemic, people wanted food, and fresh local produce is what was being given out and there were plenty cars lined up for it.

We need to look at how to truly support agriculture in a way that encourages the growth of food. Since 2015, I have worked on legislation to assist farmers with the Food Safety Modernization Act (FSMA) certification and the costs associated with it. I have worked with HDOA, CTAHR, the Farm Bureau and the Farmers Union to see what resources would truly help farmers (and ranchers) be productive producers.

We also need to encourage individuals to grow food in their own gardens and have food hubs available to help neighbors collaborate and to truly be sustainable.

As for tourism, we need to be innovative and inclusive to help guide the industry and the visitors. We have many visitor education programs and reservation systems that have just been launched, we need to closely monitor these programs and be ready to be flexible to the changing trends.

 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?

Many times, Hawaii residents get stuck into categories or on assistance programs and then the policies in place make it hard to get out without sacrificing services or even income.

I feel we need to look into what tax incentives/breaks we can utilize to help our middle class. We need a way to make it easier to pay bills and the opportunity to save some money so our families can actually afford to live here and to buy a home.

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?

I feel that we do have open and diverse opinions at the Capitol. If you look strictly at party lines it may not appear that way, but if you actually watch hearings and listen to the comments being made by committee members there are many varying opinions. The biggest hurdle is getting the public to engage in the process. Many are intimidated by it because it sounds scary and overwhelming.

One thing that I do to help with that perception is connect constituents and community groups with the Public Access Room at the State Capitol. They are nonpartisan and help walk members of the public though the process. They will help you navigate the Capitol website, learn to submit testimony and show you how to watch a hearing, either in person or livestream.

For me, I do my best to be accountable to my constituents. When I read through testimony I flag the ones that are from my district to see how my constituents feel about these issues or bills and that does help me when I’m weighing my decisions on how to vote on certain measures.

5. Hawaii is the only Western state without a statewide citizens initiative process. Do you support such a process? 

I support it with concerns that making sure that the proper wording passes legal checks and balances and that there are no competing resolutions that can cancel each other out.

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 feel there can be a balance with term limits. Give elected leaders enough time in office to be effectual but not too much time that they feel their seat is their birthright. Also want to make the number of terms uniform so then you’re not able to seat-jump when the next spot opens up for an office with a more favorable term.

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?

In the words of Sen. Dan Inouye, “Your actions speak louder than your words.” I plan to continue to be open and transparent with the public. I will continue to not hold fundraisers during the legislative session and report any and all gifts and contributions.

I will also continue to introduce legislation like SB 2630, which authorizes a court to order the forfeiture of all of the Employees’ Retirement System (ERS) benefits of an ERS member, former member or retiree upon conviction of the individual for a felony related to the state or county employment of the individual.

People have to be able to have trust in their leaders. Trust is earned and I understand that. I plan to do what I can to lead by example and to earn the trust of my constituents. I hope if anyone has a question about something I have done that they feel comfortable enough to call and ask me. I’m always willing to talk things through and explain the actions I take on behalf of my constituents.

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?

I feel the Legislature is open, but the public doesn’t feel that it is. This again is where we need to do a better job about letting the public know how they can participate and how, where and when to watch hearings.

One thing the pandemic did was force the Legislature to be virtually accessible. So now all hearings are streamed live on YouTube and can be rewatched very easily. Members of the public could also testify virtually, which gave more opportunities to testify to my constituents who would have had to take a day or two to fly into Honolulu in order to have their voices heard.

With the easing of Covid-19 restrictions at the Capitol, it took people a while to feel comfortable coming back in the building. We are seeing more people in the building, which is encouraging.

If someone has a specific rule or policy that they feel stands in the way of transparency and accountability at the Capitol building, I’d welcome that conversation and see what I could to as my role as majority floor leader to address it.

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 feel the growing division and there isn’t a simple fix. Something that I do if I don’t see eye to eye with someone on a certain issue is find something that we do agree on and work together on that. We don’t need to agree on every single thing. But we can agree when we can and agree to respectfully disagree when we can’t.

And if there isn’t an “issue” we agree on, then let’s talk about food. We know we have some of the best food here in Hawaii and surely, we can have a friendly talk story about ono grindz to help ease some tension and gently get past the 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.

I would put agriculture first and build a base foundation with agri-tourism. We need to have a sustainable number of people coming into the state and prioritize our resources. We then promote agri-tourism like the Azores in Portugal – if you build it they will come. We can just have better control as to how it is all done. We also need to be better about protecting our water supply.

Another plan is to look to the type of jobs we want here, jobs that our residents can fill. We should work with businesses, like Hawaiian Airlines, to bring their call centers to Hawaii. We have the capacity and we have skilled people who need quality, decent-paying jobs.

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