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Editor’s note: Civil Beat asked the Democratic and Republican candidates in the 1st Congressional District race to write an article in response to this question: “If you could change three federal laws, which would you choose and why?” The following is the response by State Senate President Colleen Hanabusa. Read the response from Republican Congressman Charles Djou.
We in Hawaii define ourselves in part through our values. At our core, we hold dear such shared beliefs as the importance of education in offering our keiki a foundation upon which to build their best futures; a respect for diversity and recognition of the richness our differences bring to our community; and a commitment to serving our neighbors, state and nation so that all have access to and respect from our government.
Looking at current federal laws, there are changes we can make to the governance of our nation to better reflect the values that make Hawaii a special place. We can help make what is good about Hawaii, good about America.
First, in the critical area of education, we need to repeal the current version of No Child Left Behind (NCLB) in order to offer our nation’s children a better chance at success. The law suffers from three principal weaknesses: a lack of funding to ensure that states can effectively implement the law’s policies, over-emphasis on standardized testing, and a lack of respect for students’ individual capabilities.
As an unfunded mandate, No Child Left Behind turns a policy based on good intentions into a burden on states, which are forced to adjust their spending to meet NCLB targets, regardless of the impact on other state programs. I believe that every state and local government in our nation wants to achieve educational success and offer their students an opportunity for excellence. However, without proper funding, the possibility of meeting reasonable federal educational standards fades.
Practical educational goals cannot focus on standardized testing alone. They must recognize children as individuals, with unique abilities and challenges, and reflect the character of the areas they serve. Hawaii schools, for example, educate a relatively large percentage of students who speak English as a second language, a reflection of our immigrant population. Consideration also must be given to our Hawaiian language immersion schools, which preserve our host culture through distinctive educational programs.
We have seen the impact of innovation in improving our educational system with President Obama’s Race to the Top initiative, which has inspired administrators and teachers to reform for excellence. Through their leadership, Hawai‘i was one of ten states awarded a grant in the second phase of the competition, receiving $75 million.
Repeal of the current No Child Left Behind and the enactment of balanced, effective and fully funded educational standards will help us meet our commitment to the next generation of Americans.
Similarly, a repeal of the current Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell policy, which blocks openly gay Americans from serving in our nation’s military, will bring to our nation the kind of mutual respect and tolerance of diversity that we value in Hawaii.
Hawaii has a history of acceptance. Our lifestyle today celebrates the meshing of cultures that has arisen from our immigrant history. By contrast, the U.S. military remains one of the last corners of American society that institutionalizes discrimination against individuals based on their sexual preference.
We all understand and respect that our military needs to preserve discipline while maintaining our national security. Still, the claim that openly gay service personnel will disrupt discipline seems all too familiar, and, in the end, unfounded.
In the past, we have heard the same discipline-based arguments to prevent racial integration of the military, and to keep women out of combat positions. In both cases, the military made the necessary changes without disruption.
We must demonstrate that our nation will not accept systematic discrimination against Americans who are willing and able to serve in our armed forces. Despite their desire to stand up for freedom and protect the security of our interests around the world, they are forced to choose between serving our country and speaking the truth about themselves. This is not a choice that any of our citizens should have to make.
Hawaii has proven that diversity can be the hallmark of an enlightened and caring community. We know that acceptance is not always easy, but it is always for the better. Repealing Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell will help our nation learn that lesson as well.
Finally, we need to reform our campaign spending laws to ensure that Americans maintain their access to their government.
The current campaign has proven how pernicious outside money can be when voters face choices about who will represent them in government. Outside interests have poured hundreds of thousands of dollars into our state to buy ads and attempt to affect our elections. Once the election is over, they will leave, but not before engraving their mark on our state’s future by drowning out the voices of our own voters.
The power and availability of outside money comes as the result of the case of Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission, decided by the U.S. Supreme Court in 2010, which removed limits on corporate and union campaign spending. Under that decision, independent expenditures by these groups are virtually unregulated, allowing corporate and foreign money to play a decisive role in elections.
Our campaigns should foster a discussion of real issues and encourage comparisons of candidates’ records. Voters benefit most when the electoral conversation casts light on the issues that concern them most.
Instead, experience has now shown us that outside money focuses on misleading attack ads and single-issue arguments that leave voters wondering what really matters.
The focus of campaign spending reform should be on reducing the influence of outside money and ensuring that Americans have access to their government and the information they need to make reasonable choices about their own and their country’s future.
Hawaii has much that it can teach our nation about the values that lead to a stronger community. By applying these principals to the three existing laws —and to legislation yet to be created — we can lay the foundation to strengthen our communities and our country.