Candidate Q&A: State House District 39 – Jamaica Cullen

By on July 19, 2022 0

Editor’s note: For the August 13 primary elections in Hawaii, Civil Beat asked candidates to answer a few questions about where they stand on various issues and what their priorities would be if elected.

Next came from Jamaica Cullen, Democratic candidate for State House District 39, which includes Royal Kunia, Waipahu, Honouliuli and Lower Village. The other Democratic candidates are Corey Rosenlee and Kevin Wilson.

Access Civil Beat’s election guide for general information and learn about the other candidates on the ballot for the primary elections..

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

Having grown up in the neighborhood, I am aware that the rising cost of living has imposed many problems on our families, forcing many of them to leave our neighborhood. Many community members continue to express growing concerns that their children will not be able to afford to live in Hawaii.

I want to provide families with more options and opportunities so they can continue to live and work within our community if they wish. However, I recognize that this is a complex question. To solve this problem, I would offer tax breaks to working families, increase local and livable wage employment, develop more affordable housing and adequate surrounding infrastructure.

2. Many people have been talking about diversifying the local economy for many years now, and yet Hawaii still relies heavily on tourism. What, if anything, should be done differently when it comes to tourism and the economy?

Hawaii’s biggest economic driver continues to be tourism, and many people in our district rely on tourism as their primary source of income. However, we also know that tourism has significant negative environmental and social impacts and we must be as dedicated to safeguarding the environment and our cultural heritage as we are to supporting the tourism industry.

It is more important than ever to ensure that we can manage tourism properly and sustainably by limiting tourism to the capacity of each island, ensuring that our most precious resources like water are prioritized for local residents relative to tourists, and by establishing revenue-generating policies like green fees that can help ensure that our visitors also contribute to the sustenance of our environment.

Additionally, it is incumbent upon us to continue to build support and investment in other economic sectors, such as agriculture and locally grown products, technology, entertainment and government.

3. An estimated 60% of Hawaii residents are struggling, a problem that goes far beyond low income and into the disappearing middle class. What ideas do you have for helping middle class and working class families struggling to continue living here?

Hawaii’s population continues to decline, equaling the third fastest per capita population decline in the entire country. Every year we continue to witness a mass exodus of local residents due to the high cost of living and poor career opportunities. As someone who wants to live in the community I grew up in, it’s important to me to support policies that provide options and opportunities for local residents to stay here if they choose.

I would focus on measures that would provide tax relief to low- and middle-income earners to ensure they take home more money. As mentioned earlier, I would also prioritize increasing local, livable wage employment and developing more affordable housing and adequate surrounding infrastructure.

Additionally, recognizing that we have an aging population that can add a financial burden to many families, I will also support increased funding for kupuna and family care services.

4. Hawaii has the most lopsided 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 of decisions? What do you see as the consequences of single-party control, and how would you address them?

There is as much diversity within parties as there is between parties and while an open exchange between colleagues is important, if I become an elected official, it would be my priority to listen to the concerns of my constituents and members of the community, placing their needs and concerns on that of my party. I will implement an open door policy allowing voters to voice their concerns and suggestions.

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

The internal workings of our government are based on a democratic process in which public participation is an integral part of the smooth running. I am in favor of transparency in government and the protection of processes that allow public participation.

If elected, I would be willing to consider policies that would allow the public to have a greater voice in the legislative process.

6. Thanks to their campaign war chests and name familiarity, incumbents are almost always re-elected in legislative races in Hawaii. Should there be term limits for state legislators, like there are for the governor’s office and county councils? Why or why not?

Part of the electoral process is to give voters the opportunity to elect the candidate of their choice every two to four years. Voters have the power to change their elected representative if they are not satisfied and this right and this possibility offered to voters must be protected.

Moreover, policy and legislation is a specialized area that benefits from institutional knowledge that takes time to build. If elected, I pledge to dedicate the time and effort necessary to meet the needs of my community.

7. Hawaii has recently experienced a number of significant corruption scandals, prompting the state’s 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 Legislative Assembly? Are you open to ideas such as requiring enforcement of the Sunshine Law and open documents laws in the Legislative Assembly or banning campaign contributions during the session?

Our government was founded on a system of checks and balances. Accountability is an integral part of ensuring a democratic process.

I believe it is important to implement internal accountability measures within the Legislative Assembly that promote transparency and prevent corruption, such as the requirement to apply the Sunshine Act to the legislature, enforcement laws on open records, bans on in-session campaign contributions, and enforcement of disclosure requirements.

8. How would you make the legislature more transparent and accessible to the public? Opening of 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?

Opportunities for the public to engage with the Legislative Assembly are essential to maintaining our democracy. The Covid-19 pandemic has demonstrated some of the inequitable access to the legislative process that some members of the public have faced. I would like the virtual options for testifying at hearings and recordings to remain in place as this allows for greater accessibility, especially for those from neighboring islands, to engage in the political process. I also think it is important to provide more opportunities for the public to engage with legislators, such as at conferences and special sessions.

If elected, I also understand that I must act in accordance with the law that promotes public trust. It would be my personal practice to refrain from accepting financial contributions during the legislative session and to fully comply with all disclosure laws. I am also open to answering questions voters may have about the funding I accepted and the decision-making behind my votes.

9. Hawaii has seen growing division on politics, development, health mandates and other issues. What would you do to bridge these gaps and bring people together despite their differences?

While we may have different ideas about how to get there, it’s important to remember that we all want to do what’s best for our communities. I am committed to promoting collaboration and a respectful discourse in which we can address ideas rather than individuals.

Hawaii is unique in that we have the law of the aloha spirit, which outlines how to respectfully interact with one another, which I would support and uphold. Respect, civility, and friendship are very important if we are to implement and enforce good policy that allows all residents of Hawaii to prosper.

10. The coronavirus pandemic has exposed many flaws in Hawaii’s structure and systems, ranging 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 a great idea you have for Hawaii. Be innovative, but be specific.

The Covid-19 pandemic has upended archaic business models. With the increase in remote work options and flexible working days/hours, we have found that this has removed many barriers.

I would continue to promote flexible work options as it addressed many issues that affect Hawaii residents. It eases traffic and reduces infrastructure costs and individual out-of-pocket costs such as gasoline and car maintenance costs. There are now more commercial properties available due to less use by private companies that we as a state could invest in and reallocate affordable housing.

With more flexible and remote options for employees, companies reduce their operational costs and I would encourage companies to use the cost savings to increase employee salaries.