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Editor’s Note: In June 2012, Civil Beat sent 10 questions to each of the candidates registered to run in the Aug. 11 primary for U.S. Representative Congressional District 2. Seven of the eight responded, including Tulsi Gabbard. The questions and answers are reproduced below in full. Read responses by Mufi Hannemann, Ester Kiaaina and Bob Marx to see how Gabbard’s positions compares to those of her main competitors. Click on each topic listed below to read Civil Beat’s question and Gabbard’s response.
1. President Obama has significantly increased the use of drones to assassinate terrorist targets. The policy has been criticized for denying due process rights for at least one American target, and for the collateral killing of civilians. Do you support this policy — why or why not?
We’ve learned from the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq that the best way to defeat the terrorists is through strategically placed, small quick-strike special forces and drones — the strategy that took out Osama Bin Laden. We also know that civilian casualties are much lower with this strategy than with conventional strategy. However, we must improve safeguards to avoid civilian causalities. ↩ back to top
2. Transportation and infrastructure are critical to an island state — especially the neighbor islands. How would you work to increase federal support for Hawaii’s roads, airports and harbors?
Hawaiʻi’s infrastructure is in desperate need of upgrading, including its antiquated water delivery and waste removal systems, roads, airports, and harbors. All levels of government should put taxpayer dollars to good use by repairing, replacing, and maintaining proper water and sewer lines. This course of action will have a multiple effect: it will allow for an increased number of housing units available, improve the quality of life for residents, and energize the local construction industry. Development depends on adequate infrastructure to support and maintain it.
We should end the war in Afghanistan, bring our troops home, and take the $191 billion that will be spent in Afghanistan in Fiscal Years 2012-2013 and use it specifically to invest in rebuilding our own nation through long-term infrastructure projects, such as roads, airports, and harbors, which are critically important to our tourism industry and for supplying our basic necessities. ↩ back to top
3. A divided U.S. Congress has not been able to come to agreement on how to lower the federal debt, in spite of bipartisan recommendations from the Simpson-Bowles deficit commission and others. What is your evaluation of those recommendations, which include hard decisions regarding entitlement programs, defense spending and taxes?
I think Simpson-Bowles is a good place to start for discussion, but I would not accept any cuts to Medicare or Social Security. Revitalization of our economy is the best prescription to solve our national debt problem. We can begin this immediately by ending oil speculation to eliminate the tremendous drag that high oil and gas prices have on the growth of our economy. With oil prices near $100 a barrel, reducing the hundreds of billions of dollars that we spend every year as a government and as individuals on imported oil should be one of our top priorities. Dependence on imported oil represents a continuing national security threat and a tremendous drag on our struggling economy.
We must balance intelligent spending cuts and serious tax reform. There’s too much waste, fraud, and abuse in government spending, and those responsible not only need to be fired, they need to be criminally prosecuted. Government workers using taxpayer money to pay for extravagant junkets and conventions is symptomatic of the lack of respect for our people and their hard-earned money. We must work to ensure that transparency and, most importantly, accountability exist at every level of the appropriations and spending process. One clear example of the high cost to taxpayers of lack of transparency and accountability occurred right here at home with Mufi Hannemann’s mishandling of the Rail Project on Oʻahu when he was mayor. Because he was in such a rush to launch his campaign for governor, Mufi prematurely executed contracts (almost 2 years before construction even began) costing taxpayers tens of millions in delay costs, failed to carefully consider environmental concerns and alternative technologies, doled out about $700 million worth of contracts to campaign contributors, and in the end, recklessly obligated Hawaiʻi taxpayers to hundreds of millions of dollars, even if the project never goes forward. This blatant disregard for the people and their hard-earned money is exactly what’s wrong with politics today, and what must be changed.
Nationally, we need to stop subsidizing giant corporations with taxpayer dollars. It’s time to end subsidies to giant agribusiness, oil, nuclear power, and other giant corporations, and close tax loopholes that allow some corporations to pay zero taxes. In Congress, I will stand up for the interests of the middle class and fight for a fair system of taxation that does not place undue burden on America’s working families.
Too many American corporations are taking profits earned in the U.S. and creating jobs overseas to take advantage of cheap labor and more favorable tax rates. We should create incentives for businesses to encourage them to keep their money and jobs in the U.S. and at the same time offer amnesty provisions to those corporations that want to bring money back into the country. ↩ back to top
4. The major issue for most candidates is jobs and the economy. Can you identify a concrete example of how you as representative would go about stimulating growth both nationally and in Hawaii?
5. Regardless of how the U.S. Supreme Court rules on President Obama’s Affordable Care Act, what would your goals be in terms of health care policy as a representative? Would you support universal health care?
I support universal health care. The challenge is how will we be able to provide universal health care without bankrupting our country. While I generally support the Affordable Care Act, it doesn’t do enough to control the ever-spiraling health care costs. The big pharmaceutical and insurance companies had too big a hand in drafting the legislation. These industries spend millions on lobbyists and political contributions, buying influence on Congressional policies. An example of the power of the pharmaceutical companies occurred during the Bush administration. The Medicare Prescription Drug, Improvement, and Modernization Act (2003) gave the big pharmaceutical companies a blank check. The Bush administration gave in to the pharmaceutical companies’ demand that government not be allowed to negotiate group rates for drug prices. This is unacceptable. The Veterans Administration has had the power to negotiate for lower drug prices for years. It only makes sense to have that ability in Medicare as well.
We also need to focus on and incentivize preventive medicine as a way to improve people’s health and longevity, and to eliminate or reduce the cost of treating disease. ↩ back to top
6. Global warming is real, and rising sea levels will certainly impact Hawaii. What steps would you take as a U.S. Representative to mitigate the effects of global warming?
First, we need to increase federal support for development of alternative energy resources such as wind, solar, geothermal, ocean thermal, wave, biofuels and other technologies and look for more ways to utilize these resources to reduce our dependence on fossil fuels.
Second, we need to end subsidies for oil companies, agri-business, and the nuclear power industry.
Third, I support continuing to support technology that creates fuel-efficient vehicles, while also increasing fuel-efficiency standards.
I will also work to promote federal policies that encourage and incentivize the creation of sustainable communities where people live and work, thus reducing commuter driving time and air pollution. ↩ back to top
7. Longtime D.C. observers say the inability of the two major parties to work with each other has never been worse, especially in the U.S. House. Many experienced leaders are leaving office rather than continue in such a hostile climate. Is compromise necessary to governance — and if so, how would you reach out to your colleagues to craft and pass legislation?
What we need most in Washington to break through the gridlock are servant-leaders who have the experience of having put the interests of our people, our environment, state, and country ahead of their own personal interests or political ambitions. Throughout my life, I have been guided by this principle of servant-leadership, and would carry this with me to Congress.
Getting good legislation passed and being an effective leader in a legislative body requires compromise. In Congress, I will respectfully listen to my colleagues and their concerns, understanding that every person in our country is just as important as anyone else, regardless of how much money they have, how rich or powerful they are, or what their race, gender, age, ethnicity, sexual orientation, or religion might be. I will bring the spirit of servant-leadership back to Congress and move things forward for America and Hawaiʻi without concern for who gets the credit.
Listening, finding common ground, and working together are absolute necessities if one is to be an effective legislator. Mufi Hannemann is known for his “my way or the highway” attitude. This will make him ineffective as one of 435 members of Congress. His experience as an executive, CEO, or mayor is not the type of experience that enables one to be successful in Congress.
My experience as a Hawai‘i State Legislator, Honolulu Councilmember, and Legislative Aide to Senator Akaka in Washington has given me a unique skillset which would enable me to be effective in Congress and “hit the ground running.”
Congress is the body responsible for declaring war and funding our military. As a war veteran, I know the cost of war, both in human lives and resources. I will be able to communicate with members of Congress on both sides of the isle on the critical issues of foreign affairs and national defense, not from a partisan perspective, but from one of firsthand experience. ↩ back to top
8. How is the 2nd Congressional District different from the 1st Congressional District? Or are their issues largely the same?
Both districts are completely unique and diverse in many ways. However, families all over the state share the same frustrations and concerns about how to make ends meet, and about what kind of future and opportunities lay ahead for our children. Our seniors, no matter where they live, are concerned about whether they will have to make a choice between buying a gallon of milk and paying for their medicine. They’re concerned about the economy, jobs, preserving our environment, and making sure our children have access to a great education. Unfortunately, most people are pessimistic about the future, because all they see are self-serving politicians who care more about their own interests and ambitions and the interests of the rich and powerful corporations who help them get elected, than they care about regular folks. This is unacceptable. I will fight to change this, and bring the ideal of servant-leadership back to Congress.
While some concerns are generally common, there are many specific issues that are unique: the poor condition of roads on Oʻahu; the doctor shortage on Hawaiʻi Island; the lagging construction industry on Maui; the smart meter controversy on Kauaʻi, and high electricity/fuel costs on Molokaʻi and Lanaʻi.
The rural communities within the 2nd Congressional District are fiercely proud of culture, aina, and our way of life. They are concerned about preserving our environment and promoting local agriculture. Overdevelopment is a constant worry, and something that is at the forefront of people’s minds.
Whether we are talking about the first or the second congressional district, we should remember one very important common element: many people in both districts have family members and friends in harm’s way in the Middle East. We need to end the Afghanistan war now and bring Hawaiʻi’s sons and daughters home. ↩ back to top
9. What is the best thing the 112th Congress did, and why? What’s the worst thing, and why?
While not much was accomplished in the 112th Congress because of partisan gridlock, a high mark occurred with President Obama’s July 6th signing of legislation to extend subsidized federal loans. Without this important bipartisan legislation, student loan interest rates would have doubled from their current 3.4% rate. This would have been devastating for millions of families around the country. Education is the single greatest investment we can make for our future, and a highly educated and skilled workforce is crucial to the revitalization of our economy. The federal government and state legislatures should work with universities and colleges and provide incentives to those who keep their tuition costs from rising.
The low point was the attempt to limit women’s access to birth control coverage. I support President Obama’s common sense approach to making contraceptive care more affordable and accessible for women while respecting the concerns of religious institutions. This is an issue that is as basic as women’s health care, because for many women, contraceptives have critical health benefits. The fact is, some members in Congress are making it harder and more expensive for women to have access to their most basic healthcare needs. That’s inexcusable. ↩ back to top
10. What is an issue you think is important to address as a U.S. House candidate — one that perhaps has not been given sufficient attention during the campaign?
There are two issues. First: The war in Afghanistan. The media behaves as if the war is over. Despite the fact that we still have roughly 87,000 troops in Afghanistan, with fighting continuing and casualties ongoing, the media is not covering the war. It has become “out of sight and out of mind” because of a supposed “withdrawal” two years from now. In the meantime, we’re spending about $8 billion a month there, and risking the lives of our men and women from Hawaiʻi and around the country—as well as the lives of Afghan civilians. We need to realize that there is no guarantee that our troops will really be home by the 2014 promised date. We need to bring our troops home now, in a safe and orderly fashion, and invest our precious resources here at home.
Second: GMO. Hawaiʻi is the world center for the production and testing of GMO crops with roughly 3,000 approved permits and notifications. This concerns me greatly. At this point, over 80% of the foods on grocery shelves contain GMO ingredients. Study after study shows that over 90% of Americans would like to see these foods labeled. Locally, a 2007 study by University of Hawaiʻi Hilo Agricultural Economics Professor Dr. Sabry Shehata found that 85% of Hawaiʻi residents think it’s important that GMO fruit be labeled. I support freedom of information and freedom of choice, so that people have the ability to choose what kind of food they want to eat and feed their families. We have the right to know what we’re eating and I’m committed to making sure legislation is passed in Congress to label GMO foods. ↩ back to top