Name: Colleen Wakako Hanabusa
Age: 67
Current occupation: U.S. Representative
Political experience: State Senator, 21st District (Chair Water Land and Hawaiian Affairs, Vice President, Vice Chair Ways and Means, Judiciary and Hawaiian Affairs)

President of the Hawaii State Senate (first woman to serve as leader of either chamber of the Hawaii Legislature and also the first Asian-American woman to lead either chamber of a state legislature in the United States)

U.S. Representative, First Congressional District of Hawaii (member of House Armed Services Committee, Natural Resources Committee, Committee on Science, Space and Technology); Ranking Member Natural Resources Subcommittee on Indian and Alaska Native Affairs (second term); Ranking Member Natural Resources Subcommittee on Federal Lands (third term); Member of House Minority Leadership and Steering and Policy Committee

Recent reports by the state auditor have raised concern about how public money is spent, and some suggest there should be more oversight where state funds are concerned. What, if anything, would you change about the process?

Especially given the state’s finite resources, all fraud, waste, abuse and mismanagement of taxpayer funds must be eliminated. It is our responsibility to the taxpayers. As governor, I will:

  • Modernize Our Priorities, Practices and Processes: Under my leadership, the state will start by examining areas that are subject to fraud, waste, abuse and mismanagement and then implement, by executive directive, protocols to avoid and prevent the improper diversion of funds across all departments. Second, the state will prioritize ways to improve the efficiency and effectiveness of programs and tax expenditures, avoiding overlap and unnecessary duplication of programs and efforts. The focus must be on the delivery of results to the taxpayers. 
  • Increase Accountability and Oversight: In my administration, use of taxpayer funds will always be subject to strict accountability with government workers trained in the proper oversight of taxpayer funds. I would implement a training program to make sure government workers understand best practices and fiscal policies.
  • Regular Audits: Public entities and programs that use or receive taxpayer funds will be subject to regular audits, which empower them to assess their performance and take remedial measures, as necessary, to improve their efficiency and effectiveness.
  • Transparency: I will advocate for a government accountability act that requires all state departments and agencies to publish their accomplishments, results and/or progress toward results on an annual basis, and in a citizen-facing, user-friendly format, for the benefit of the taxpayers and the media.    
  • Performance Metrics: The adoption of performance metrics is key to the government accurately assessing the value and benefit of its programs and initiatives to the taxpayers. All departments and agencies must be measuring their results and/or progress towards results against meaningful standards of measurements (metrics). This is essential to ensure transparency and accountability.

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Hawaii continues to struggle with chronic homelessness, many of whom are veterans, mentally ill, and/or addicted to drugs. What are your plans to tackle this problem?

Homelessness is an extremely complex issue and requires leadership from the state, beyond its current coordinator role, to make true progress. One size does not fit all; the causes and factors that lead to homelessness are many and varied and the approaches to preventing and ending homelessness must be equally multifaceted.    

Optimally, the state, counties, non-governmental organizations (NGOs)/non-profits and the federal government must work together to offer a continuum of care, resources and services designed to cut off the causes and factors that lead to homelessness while assisting the homeless in finding stability and alternative housing through a full continuum of resources, from ‘ohana zones, to shelters, to transitional facilities, and to permanent housing.    

The state must also be willing to seek out new approaches to preventing homelessness by drawing on successes achieved in other countries, states and cities and, where appropriate, adopt new best practices and tools so we are not just chasing the homeless from park to park or sidewalk to sidewalk while failing to tackle the root causes of homelessness. Taking people off the street does nothing to solve the issue if the pipeline to homelessness is not reduced and, eventually, eliminated.  

This issue requires focus and engaged leadership and the ability to work collaboratively and effectively with all branches of government (federal, state and county) as well as the private sector.  

The Legislature recently committed $30 million toward ‘ohana zones, where the homeless can live and receive the support services they need. As governor, I will move quickly to implement ‘ohana zones state-wide using accepted best practices. My administration will also partner with the counties to remove barriers to the construction of shelters, transitional facilities and new housing units. To do this effectively, the state must adopt meaningful metrics that empower the state and counties to evaluate the success of their policies and programs. Transparency and accountability are key.

Finally, the state must lead the way in working with NGOs/non-profits. A great example is the Hawaii Community Foundation Housing ASAP program that has brought non-profits together to help move the homeless issue towards a “functional zero.” NGOs/non-profits are great resources and most often have skill-sets and capabilities the government simply does not offer.  The state must make smart use of these critical resources.

Do you support legislation to make recreational marijuana legal in Hawaii? Why or why not?

I am not opposed, in principle, to the legalization of marijuana once public safety considerations (e.g., at what level marijuana impairs the ability to drive and the foreseeable impact to teenagers and children, if any) have been resolved. In addition, with the federal government taking an aggressive position on marijuana use, both recreational and medical, the landscape does not favor efforts in Hawaii to expand use beyond medical marijuana. Our state’s focus should be on improving the Department of Health’s mediocre execution of the existing medical program. Better management and active leadership are what’s needed now.

That being said, I recently cosponsored federal legislation introduced by Rep. Tulsi Gabbard for a data-gathering study regarding the effects of state legalized marijuana programs on the economy, public health, criminal justice, and employment in those states. The study will look at the rates of arrests and citations on the federal and state levels related to teenage use of marijuana, the rates of arrests on the federal and state levels for unlawful driving under the influence of a substance, and the rates of marijuana-related prosecutions, court filings, and imprisonments with the total monetary amounts expended for marijuana-related enforcement, arrests, court filings and proceedings, and imprisonment before and after legalization.

I support informed decision-making using relevant fact-based data and scientific evidence (where available). I look forward to receiving more information regarding the pros and cons associated with the legalization of recreational marijuana.

Dozens of states operate a lottery that, some argue, could supplement funding for education, public spaces, tax reductions, etc. Would you support a lottery in Hawaii? Why or why not?

Historically, I have been opposed to gambling in Hawaii, which would include a lottery, and absent a piece of legislation legalizing a lottery in Hawaii, I see no reason to reconsider my position at this time. Having said that, I understand Hawaii is one of only six states that do not allow lotteries, and the public opinion in favor of lotteries has been changing over time. I also understand that the states who participate in lotteries generally take in between 25 and 35 percent of the revenue for potential use toward programs, with the remaining going to payout in prizes and administration.

As a general belief, in a state where the high cost of living means roughly half of Hawaii’s residents are challenged to cover their basic needs on a month-to-month basis, I would much prefer to see Hawaii residents spend their hard-earned dollars on goods, services and resources for them and their families versus a lottery. I would also prefer to see the state prioritize improving Hawaii’s economy first, working with industry to innovate new jobs in the high tech sector, supporting our local farmers with shared food security processing facilities that incentivize the farm-to-table industry, and building affordable housing at a much more accelerated rate that reduces the state-wide demand. This is where the state should be putting its money, versus investing in lottery start-up costs and operations. In essence, the government needs to get its priorities straight, and I do not see the lottery as a top priority right now given the many serious issues confronting us.

I will commit, however, that as governor, should a bill legalizing lotteries in Hawaii come across my desk, I will review all the data, studies, research and public comments to make an informed decision in the best interest of Hawaii’s taxpayers. But for now, my position is unchanged and I do not support a state-sanctioned lottery in Hawaii.

Is there a pressing issue in Hawaii that has gone overlooked and requires action?

Yes: Hawaii’s future. The current administration is so focused on day-to-day problems, issues and mistakes that they have lost sight of the state’s role in building a better future for our current residents, businesses and generations to come. There is talk about building affordable housing at numbers that never meet the growing state-wide demand, while the state sells senior housing that reduces our state inventory in the face of a growing senior population. It makes no sense. We are treading water.

Everything we do in state government must be with an eye to the future, otherwise we are missing the mark. That is why I will elevate seniors and millennials in my administration to two executive Cabinet-level roles — they are Hawaii’s future.

We have a senior population growing at a rate that will challenge our state’s basic core functions, yet we have taken no aggressive steps to take on those challenges, including housing, health care, adult day care, and accessibility. And we have a new generation looking for new opportunities – our millennials – who earnestly tell me we need to understand their vision, their values and their priorities. They have ideas about what Hawaii’s future should look like. We need to give them a place at the table.

In my administration, we can do both. We can provide for today while building for tomorrow. It takes vision, commitment and the right people. I look forward to the challenge.