Candidate Q&A: State House District 49 – Scot Matayoshi

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 Scot Matayoshi, Democratic candidate for State House District 49, which includes Kaneohe, Puohala Village and Maunawili. The other Democratic candidates are Kana Naipo and Shawn Richey.

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?

I’m not sure there is a single “biggest” problem facing my district. We definitely need more funding for education, both for facilities and to increase teacher retention. I am working on a project to build below market rental housing for teachers during their first five years of teaching. As a former public school teacher, I can attest that the first few years in the classroom are very difficult.

My district is also home to many seniors who are aging in place, so it is important to provide them with services to enable them to continue aging in place. Retirement homes can bankrupt a family.

Our creeks and drainage channels are overgrown, but I worked with the city to remedy this and was able to clear a large portion of Kamooalii Creek that was prone to flooding. I also organized a Kawa Creek cleanup last year.

We have seen an increase in homelessness on the windward side, which I have attempted to address through the Kaneohe Joint Outreach Center, although the pandemic has other plans. I also worked to secure funds to renovate the Guensberg building at the state hospital so it could medically treat more non-forensic people, including the homeless, and to make the Bishop building a reception center.

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?

I don’t think we will ever be without tourism. Tourism is something in which Hawaii has a competitive advantage. But what we need is another pillar of our economy. I firmly believe that agriculture is that pillar. I want to see Hawaii grow crops and animals (mostly aquatic animals) that we can do better than anywhere else in the world. We need to focus on the agriculture that gives Hawaii a competitive edge, not Silicon Valley.

SPF shrimp is a great example of a high value product that we can do better than other places. There are many more, we just need to focus and encourage the industry, with funding if needed.

I passed a bill last year requiring the state to buy at least 50% of its produce locally by 2050 in a bid to inject more money into our agriculture industry, and I’ve worked with the departments to make sure they offer long-term agricultural contract products to allow farmers to amortize the cost of infrastructure on their farms (and obtain the necessary bank loans) to fulfill them. But my bill is just the start. We need to show workers that the agricultural industry is worth entering.

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?

Building more affordable housing is one of them, which I think can be achieved by using state land to build rental housing. Crackdowns on illegal vacation rentals can also put more homes on the market and bring peace to our neighborhoods.

Last year, I proposed a bill to increase the refundable amount of the food excise tax credit. I hope that a renewed agricultural industry can provide our residents with sustainable employment. There is no silver bullet to this problem, however. I think the one thing everyone can agree on is that we need a lot of irons in the fire.

My two sisters moved to the mainland and I know my story is not unique. I don’t want everyone’s family celebrations to diminish year by year.

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?

My constituents know they can approach me to discuss just about anything. Communication, especially with people with whom you may civilly disagree, is an essential part of a functioning democracy. This does not mean that we will agree on everything, but it does mean that ideas will be heard and approved.

A good idea shouldn’t have an R or D next to it.

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

No. Depending on how the initiatives are formulated, very bad laws can be passed through this process. I remember hearing about a citizens’ initiative in California to allow a specific police officer to continue using his ventriloquist doll during presentations.

We have a legislative process that solicits public input through public hearings. We have legislators who are happy to take good ideas and turn them into bills.

I don’t want to see our government confused by a thousand ideas that haven’t gone through the legislative process or been properly vetted. I am ready to listen to the arguments in favor of this idea, but at the moment I am against it.

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?

I don’t think term limits are a good idea. It takes a long time to learn the legislative process. We need experience at the Capitol. You don’t improve a place by removing all experienced workers.

By the time someone becomes a governor, they usually already have a lot of experience in government. This is generally not true for legislators. Although the incumbents have an advantage, it is certainly not insurmountable. If a community thinks their chosen one is doing a bad job, what they need is a strong candidate to challenge the incumbent.

But this takes away the choice of a community by denying them the possibility of voting for the candidate of their choice. I agree that this is a sensitive subject, but I like to think that voters are smart enough to be trusted.

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?

I support banning campaign contributions during the legislative session, and I voted to do so. However, this issue needs to be addressed at all levels of government.

I think ethics laws are in place right now, although I still had to return banana bread recently.

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?

Covid-19 aside, the Capitol is a pretty open place. People can walk into anyone’s office to meet with legislators. Hearings are public, televised and available online.

I love that technology has enabled virtual witnessing, which makes it easier for older people, workers, and those from nearby islands to witness.

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?

Listening is the key. I think civil discussion is the best way to bridge the gap, and also to recognize that the other side is made up of people trying to do what they think is best. We can fundamentally disagree with someone, but that doesn’t make them a monster.

I once spent an entire night arguing with a Republican friend about abortion. When the sun came up, we still weren’t in agreement, but it gave me a better understanding of its position and where it was coming from. It is important to have friends on the other side of the issues.

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.

We cannot depend so much on tourism. The pandemic has shown the weakness of our economy. We need to diversify, and as I said above, I believe agriculture is the industry we need to grow.

Tourism is good when it’s good, but we all have our eggs in this basket. I don’t think we should give up on tourism — I think we should support the industry — but it can’t be our only industry.

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