Editor’s note: For Hawaii’s Aug. 9 primary, Civil Beat asked candidates to answer some questions.
The following came from Mark Takai, a Democratic candidate for U.S. House of Representatives District 1. Six other Democrats are also running, along with two Republicans and two nonpartisan candidates.
The district is essentially urban Honolulu, but it stretches from Hawaii Kai in East Honolulu to Waipahu in west Oahu and Mililani in central Oahu. The district includes Pearl City, Waimalu, Aiea and the downtown area.Go to Civil Beat’s Elections Guide for general information, and check out other candidates on the Primary Election Ballot.
Name: Mark Takai
Office: U.S. House District 1
Profession: Hawaii state representative; Pacific First Enterprises owner; Hawaii Army National Guard lieutenant colonel
Education: Pearl City High School; University of Hawaii at Manoa (bachelor’s and master’s)
Community organizations: Board member, Joint Venture Education Forum; state coordinator, USA for Military Families; chairman, Pearl Harbor Historic Sites Task Force; member, Pearl City Lions Club; president, Waiau Gardens Community Association
1. Why are you running for the U.S. House of Representatives?
I want to work for you.
As the grandchild of immigrants and the proud parents of two public school students, my wife Sami and I strongly believe that Hawaii is a land of opportunity. But achieving the American dream is becoming harder and harder for so many of our residents.
In Congress, I will work hard to protect social security and medicare. Fight to create better paying jobs, by closing the gap between the 1% and everyone else by raising the minimum wage, by making college more affordable, and by strengthening the middle class.
I will continue to be on the side of working people and working families.
One of the many things I learned from my family is the importance of working together. Together, we need to fight to ensure that the people of Hawaii people have a fair shot at the American dream. That mission has been driving me as a state legislator for the past 20 years.
2. Do you believe climate change is real? If so, what can the United States do to control carbon emissions?
Yes. The most effective way to reduce carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions is to reduce fossil fuel consumption. Many strategies for reducing CO2 emissions from energy are cross-cutting and apply to homes, businesses, industry, and transportation.
When I returned from the Middle East, I decided to lead on this issue by example by converting my house to solar energy, and I was one of the first in Hawaii to buy an electric car, which I currently drive.
In the Hawaii State House, I’ve sponsored legislation to incentivize families and businesses to invest in alternative energy. In Congress, I will push hard from day one to turn America’s alternative energy sector to a mass producer of steady, high paying jobs — especially here in Hawaii.
My first priority when discussing energy policy is to put a higher priority on reducing energy use. Conservation efforts can make a difference faster than alternative fuels or expanded drilling programs, and they should be a prominent part of any legislation. We can create American energy independence by rewarding and promoting businesses that seek innovations in renewable energy.
I strongly support clean energy innovations that begin with conservation, energy independence, and the ingenuity of American business before we irreparably harm the environment for our children and grandchildren.
3. Where do you draw the line between the government’s national security needs and the privacy of its citizens?
It is important to protect our national security with surveillance programs but also important to protect the privacy of American citizens. We need to restore the checks and balances in government and protecting people’s expectation of privacy. We should limit the surveillance to foreign threats, unless they are supporting terrorist threats. I also oppose the collection of bulk data. I support efforts to improve transparency of the NSA through legislation such as the Expansion of National Security Agency Oversight Act.
4. Under what circumstances should America go to war?
I have been a member of the Hawaii Army National Guard for 15 years, and am currently a lieutenant colonel. I joined the Guard because I wanted an opportunity to serve both my state and country during times of need. I deployed during Operation Iraqi Freedom in 2009, and that first-hand experience only strengthened my resolve to continue fighting for our veterans.
War should never be a decision that is reached without careful evaluation and collaboration. War should never begin without the buy-in from the American people, who will be the ones to bear the burden of our troops, and the effect that war has upon the economy and military families.
I am against sending U.S. troops back into Iraq. This is not our war.
5. Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid — how should the government continue to support these entitlements? Are reforms necessary?
I will not support any plan that ends Social Security or Medicare. Turning Medicare into a voucher system will force people to fight with insurance companies over what treatments may or may not be covered. This will only result in higher costs for prescription medication and will cost the average senior thousands of dollars more per year, forcing them to make terrible trade-offs over life-saving treatment.
Medicare should be allowed to negotiate for cheaper drug prices. As a military veteran, I know the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs is able to negotiate for cheaper drug prices and the cost savings are significant. It is illogical that a consumer can buy medicines over the counter more cheaply than Medicare, despite its bulk purchasing power. We also need to end the practice of pay-for-delay, which will save taxpayers billions of dollars by prohibiting drug companies from paying competitors to not bring generic pharmaceuticals to market. We also must continue to improve the Medicare system by eliminating waste and fraud while bolstering its value and efficiency.
Social Security benefits are a promise the U.S. government made to every American who pays into the system, and needs to be safeguarded for future generations. Right now, if you earn less than $117,000, you are paying the same amount into Social Security as someone who earns over $1 million a year. By fixing that unfairness, we can shore up the Social Security Trust Fund for many more generations.
I would also take steps to make sure that the Social Security Trust Fund is repaid in full for the funds it has loaned during decades of surpluses. One of the greatest strengths of Social Security is that it is financed by a dedicated revenue stream and is self-funding. Social Security has not contributed to this nation’s deficit and we can’t look to the program to solve our budget crisis.
6. Congress has struggled in recent years to reach agreement on budget deficits, the national debt and spending in general. What would be your approach to fiscal matters?
It is not right that Washington continues to dole out tax breaks to the wealthiest millionaires, billionaires and the most profitable companies on earth.
The success of our economy hinges on how we handle our nation’s increasing deficit. Good governing is about making tough, but responsible choices to put our country’s economy back on track. The budget deficit can only be reduced with a multi-faceted approach that includes cutting annual government spending, identifying additional savings opportunities and creating an equitable system that will balance the budget and forge a sustainable fiscal path for our economic future.
We cannot afford to do nothing – or keep squabbling while millions of families continue to live on the edge. Just like a family trying to balance its household budget, government has to be smart about what it can and cannot afford.
7. It has been difficult to bridge the partisan divide in Washington lately. How would you make a difference?
We need to bring an end to the extreme rhetoric and partisanship that is dominating Washington and prohibiting anything from getting accomplished. Party extremism has pushed our government to shutdowns and the brink of failure because Congress has been placing politics before sound policy. Based on my past successes, I know I can be effective in working across party lines on bipartisan legislation.
In Congress, first and foremost, I will be a voice calling for reason in search of practical solutions to our most pressing problems. One of my top priorities will be to bring reason and leadership back to Congress. The extreme partisanship found there is preventing us from addressing the key issues and challenges facing our nation. Too many members are placing partisan rhetoric ahead of the national interest. This is true of both Democrats and Republicans. I will always remember that my oath of office will be to serve the people of Hawaii and the United States, and not any political party or interest group.
8. What is your policy on immigration?
As the grandson of immigrants, I know the enormous contributions that immigrants have made to Hawaii. Immigrants shaped Hawaii into the diverse community it is today.
U.S. immigration law is based on family reunification. It is morally and ethically right and speaks to our values as a nation. However, the system needs improvement. Millions of undocumented aliens live and work in the U.S., while millions of law-abiding relatives of U.S. citizens wait for their turn to immigrate. We should support reform to improve or streamline an immigration system that demonstrates compassion for the undocumented, but does not give them an unfair advantage to those already in the U.S. over those who are overseas.
I support the Dream Act. Children who were brought to the United States as minors should be given the opportunity to complete their education and pursue their dreams. There should be a route for legal status while in school and subsequent immigration and citizenship if that is their dream. Students need legal protection while attending school and schools should not be in the position of policing immigration policies. Education of all young people strengthens our nation and contribute to the communities they live in.
In 2012, I introduced Hawaii’s version of the Dream Act, which would have granted in-state tuition to students of the University of Hawaii without lawful immigration status who met certain criteria. While the bill did not pass, in February 2013, the University of Hawaii Board of Regents approved a similar update to its bylaws.
If elected, I would support federal legislation, such as the In-State for Dreamers Act of 2014, which is co-sponsored by both of Hawaii’s senators. This legislation would provide $750 million in federal grants to universities like UH that offer in-state tuition and need-based financial assistance to qualified students regardless of immigration status.
If elected, I will follow in the footsteps of senators Inouye and Akaka working to pass meaningful immigration reform that will bring undocumented immigrants out of the shadows.
9. What is your view of the role of the U.S. military in the islands?
The U.S. military presence in Hawaii has always been an important part of our economy and security. As a lieutenant colonel in the Hawaii Army National Guard, I understand the importance of federal defense spending. Military spending has always been important for Hawaii and will continue to play a large role as our nation refocuses its efforts to Asia and the Pacific Region.
10. What other important issue would you like to discuss here?
I was extremely disappointed with the recent Supreme Court Hobby Lobby ruling that now allows certain for-profit companies to deny coverage of specific birth control methods if those methods conflict with the owners’ religious belief. The fact that Justice Breyer was the only male justice to dissent with all three female justices in the Court’s 5-4 ruling clearly shows that more needs to be done to protect the rights of American women.
I believe business owners shouldn’t be involved in the most personal decision a woman and doctor can make. The government must ensure that all women have access to important and sometimes lifesaving medical services.
In my 20 years as a state representative, I have always supported women’s rights. In 2013, I supported a bill, signed into law, requiring hospitals to provide victims of sexual assault with emergency contraception, without any religions’ exemptions. In addition, I have been the only male legislator to ever co-chair the Hawaii Women’s Legislative Caucus.
People are seeing that we are the campaign with forward momentum. We are grateful for the broad coalition of support, including teachers, university professors, Sierra Club, Equality Hawaii, veterans groups and labor unions.
They recognize that as your next congressman, I will make sure that Hawaii remains a place that all families will be proud to call home.
Together, we can ensure that the dream for a better life that drew my family and your families here, becomes a reality for all.