Editor’s note: For Hawaii’s Aug. 9 primary, Civil Beat asked candidates to answer some questions.
The following came from Stanley Chang, one of seven Democratic candidates for U.S. representative for Hawaii’s 1st Congressional District.
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.
Name: Stanley Chang
Office: U.S. House of Representatives, Congress District 1
Profession: City Council member
Education: Iolani School, Harvard University (BA and JD)
Community organizations: Board member, National Association of Counties, Hawaii State Association of Counties, Waikiki Business Improvement District Association, Center for Alternative Dispute Resolution, Kapiolani Park Trust, Government and Public Utility Task Force
1. Why are you running for the U.S. House of Representatives?
I am running to bring change and fresh ideas to Congress and Hawaii. When my dad arrived in Hawaii in the 1960s as a immigrant from China, he started out as a beach boy at Waikiki. He was able to buy a home, put my brother and me through school, and give us opportunities we could never have had anywhere else in the world. It was no coincidence that was the era that Hawaii led the nation — and the world — in legalizing a woman’s right to choose, ratifying the Equal Rights Amendment, granting near universal health care, and recognizing marriage equality. Today, that American dream is slipping away. I want to restore that same energy that we had, to again lead the nation in civil rights and progressive change and fight for better opportunities for each generation of young people.
2. Do you believe climate changes is real? If so, what can the Unite States do to control carbon emissions?
Climate change is not only real, but it is one of the most serious threats to the security and sustainability of Hawaii and the world. Already, at high tide, sea water is visibly exiting Honolulu storm drains in coastal areas like Waikiki — signs of sea level rise, one of climate change’s most potentially devastating consequences. It is sobering to see island nations such as Kiribati making plans to evacuate a home they have had for generations. To combat these effects, we need a comprehensive plan for the reduction of carbon dioxide emissions. I strongly support President Obama’s 2013 plan and introduced Resolution 13-140 on the City Council, which called for its swift implementation. I am committed to working with fellow legislators and governments at all levels to reduce American carbon dioxide emissions, center into and uphold international agreements for multilateral carbon reductions, increasing funding for renewable energy research and development, commit resources to protect American cities from climate-related natural disasters, expanding tax credits for citizens and companies who embrace green technologies, and increase the amount of protected public land. I am also in favor of expanding carbon-offset programs and educating the public about how they can have a large impact with even a small effort. Hawaii should be a leader on this issue both for the United States and for the entire world.
3. Where do you draw the line between the government’s national security needs and the privacy of its citizens?
We live in dangerous times in which threats to the U.S. cross borders and easily evade detection. This is why I support robust intelligence gathering that focuses on terrorist organizations and other critical dangers to our national security. However, I believe that the National Security Agency and other intelligence agencies have gone too far in collecting the personal information of ordinary Americans. Even collection of metadata alone can yield a great deal of private information and should be limited rather than collected in mass quantities.
The Fourth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution guarantees the right of Americans “to be secure in their persons, houses, papers, and effects, against unreasonable searches and seizures.” As our lives are increasingly reliant on electronic media and online communications, we need to ensure that these important privacy rights are protected. Intelligence gathering is not solely the responsibility of the President. I support proactive congressional oversight of these operations and believe that the intelligence community must uphold its responsibility to brief the so-called “Gang of Eight,” which includes leadership of both major parties and of intelligence committees from both houses of Congress. I was encouraged by the recent Supreme Court decision in Riley v. California, which held that police officers must obtain a warrant to search a suspect’s cell phone. This opinion recognizes that cell phones today include clues to all aspects of our lives and should be protected accordingly. This is a rare cause for optimism amidst a series of verdicts supported by the court’s conservative wing that limit voting rights, further weaken campaign contribution limits, and grant broad religious exemptions to corporations.
4. Under what circumstances should America go to war?
The U.S. should take military action only in cases where U.S. national security is directly threatened or the U.S. participates in a military campaign as part of a legitimate international coalition. Each case is different and requires careful examination of factors such as the threat to human life and the types of weapons employed by adversaries. I am troubled by certain developments since the 9/11 attacks, including the invasion of Iraq in 2003 (which I would have voted against) and presidential authorization of targeted killings by drones. I believe that the use of drones should be carefully circumscribed. These killings risk creating more terrorists by alienating those we seek to protect.
I would support U.S. government participation in lawful international efforts to respond to situations where states either fail to protect or deliberately inflict serious harm on their own civilians. Our common humanity demands that we look beyond our own borders to help populations that are in urgent need. It is critical that we protect our own national security and promote goodwill toward the U.S. by conducting such interventions within the parameters of international law and through the U.N. system.
5. Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid — how should the government continue to support these entitlements? Are reforms necessary?
I categorically oppose all cuts to Social Security, Medicare, and Medicaid. I am the only candidate to have pledged to support the Grayson-Takano Letter, which reads in part: “We will vote against any and every cut to Medicare, Medicaid, or Social Security benefits — including raising the retirement age or cutting the cost of living adjustments that our constituents earned and need.”
Social Security is the bedrock of the safety net our seniors have earned. At a time when the middle class continues to struggle, we need to be protecting and expanding Social Security, not cutting it. This program is crucial to the retirement security of our kupuna. I am opposed to using so-called “chained CPI” to calculate cost-of-living adjustments. This is merely another way to enact deep, harsh cuts to Social Security, which keeps 22 million seniors out of poverty. The common-sense progressive solution that will ensure Social Security’s solvency for decades to come would be to “scrap the cap.” Currently, only the first $113,700 of income is taxed for Social Security, but if we eliminate this loophole, we will have the necessary funds to ensure that our seniors remain healthy and financially secure.
Medicare is an extremely efficient program, and proposals that cut benefits would only cause funds to be spent less effectively. In particular, raising the Medicare eligibility age has the potential to increase rather than decrease Medicare expenditures in the long run as seniors could delay important preventative care. Medicare is our current best means of managing health-care costs in this country. Studies have shown that it is vastly more efficient than private insurance companies in providing health care and limiting administrative costs. To ensure the long-term financial health of Medicare, I would require drug manufacturers to provide rebates on prescription drugs used by low-income beneficiaries. This would save an estimated $141 billion over 10 years. The government should not be in the business of giving subsidies to pharmaceutical companies. I support Medicare for all, which would extend the current Medicare model to our entire population and create a single-payer healthcare system, in line with other major democracies around the world.
I support the expansion of Medicaid under Obamacare as a means to ensure maximum health-care coverage for those who need it most. I regret that many states controlled by Republican governors or legislatures declined to accept federal funds to expand Medicaid, causing their residents unnecessary harm. Hawaii has been a leader in health care since we implemented near-universal coverage in 1974, nearly 40 years before Obamacare. I believe that we must continue to lead the way for the nation on this issue.
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?
Responsible spending of public funds should be one of the highest priorities of government. Federal, state, and local governments collect taxes from the people and use that hard-earned money to provide public services. I have been committed to maximum accountability and transparency in government spending since day one on the City Council. I was elected in 2010 on a platform of responsible and responsive city government and I have repaid that trust by fighting to fund solutions for homelessness and road repairs, two issues that my constituents consistently identify as priorities. If elected to Congress, I pledge to continue this record of responsibility and to closely monitor federal spending to ensure that it reflects national priorities and the needs of our district.
The issue of deficit reduction and balanced budgets has been raised frequently since the 2008 financial crisis, after which the federal government increased its borrowing in an effort to stimulate the economy. There is no question that deficit spending at the levels seen in 2009-10 is not sustainable in the long run, but the stimulus was intended as a short-term measure. Since then, the Obama administration has been willing to make significant spending cuts despite the reluctance of congressional Republicans to agree to a deal. If we look at recent history, Democratic presidents have been more fiscally responsible than Republicans. President Clinton left office with a budget surplus, while Presidents Reagan and George W. Bush contributed significantly to our national debt.
I continue to support fiscally responsible policies at the federal level:
I oppose future foreign wars like the Iraq and Afghanistan conflicts, which studies estimate have cost taxpayers $4 trillion and almost 4,500 American lives.
Just by requiring the top 6 percent of taxpayers to pay the same Social Security tax rate as the bottom 94 percent, we can ensure the solvency of Social Security for at least another 30 years.
The Congressional Progressive Caucus’s Better Off Budget will reduce the deficit by $4 trillion while creating 8 million jobs.
A sensible approach to balancing the budget requires looking at both sides of the equation: revenue and spending. Revenue does not necessarily mean raising taxes; it means that our policies must promote growth so that our tax base is sufficient to support the many services that the federal government must provide. I have proposed job creation through government investment in infrastructure, innovative technologies, and alternative energy, each of which will create a stronger tax base.
Our tax system should also be designed fairly so that, for example, a billionaire like Warren Buffett does not pay a lower tax rate than his secretary does. Indiscriminate or across-the-board spending cuts are not a solution to budget deficits because they are poorly designed and will lead to contraction of our economy. Budget sequestration in particular has been a disaster for our state.
I do not support a balanced budget amendment to the Constitution, which would constrain our federal government in emergencies. During a financial crisis, investors seek safer securities, the safest of which are U.S. treasury bonds. This means that the federal government can borrow money at extraordinarily low interest rates. We need to use this power responsibly, but spending cuts alone are ineffective. The Better Off Budget proposed by the Congressional Progressive Caucus demonstrates that we cannot cut our way to prosperity.
7. It has been difficult to bridge the partisan divide in Washington lately. How would you make a difference?
I have a strong record of working together with legislators across the aisle. City Council offices are nonpartisan and I have successfully built consensus with my colleagues on a variety of issues. I helped found and am actively involved with the Hawaii Future Caucus, a group of young state and local legislators who are committed to working across party lines to improve life in our state. Young people are generally not as invested in institutional power structures and more open to considering ideas that differ from their own. I believe in engaging our youth in politics and encouraging their participation in elections. The Hawaii Future Caucus is focusing on areas of common ground between Democrats and Republicans, including civic engagement and government transparency.
8. What is your policy on immigration?
As the son of Chinese immigrants who sought the American dream, I have a personal connection to this issue. My parents came to Hawaii from China to seek opportunities for my brother and me – opportunities that were not available anywhere else in the world. Our future depends on our ability to continue attracting hardworking individuals to contribute their talents and strengths to our economy.
According to a recent estimate by the Department of Homeland Security, there are over 11 million undocumented immigrants living in the U.S. The fact that the Philippines, India, South Korea, and China are ranked respectively fifth through eighth in numbers of undocumented immigrants residing in the U.S. shows that the immigration issue is one of worldwide concern that touches diverse populations at home and abroad.
I am a strong advocate for common sense, compassionate, comprehensive immigration reform. Immigration reform is the single greatest untapped opportunity to grow the American economy and enhance our competitiveness. We need serious and immediate reform that is fair to all taxpayers and to legal immigrants. There should be a path to citizenship for undocumented immigrants, but one that would require them to pay a fee and go to the back of the line.
Our current immigration system is broken. Employers are circumventing the system by hiring undocumented workers, and more and more undocumented immigrants are being deported. Recent improvements in border security are necessary but do not address the fundamental issue. We need to streamline the process in a way that is rational and avoids breaking up families. Deportation will not solve our problems; it is cruel, wasteful, and damaging to our economy. We need to include law-abiding, tax-paying undocumented immigrants in our society. I also support the DREAM Act, which would provide permanent residency to children of undocumented immigrants who graduated from U.S. high schools, attained higher education, or served honorably in the Armed Forces for at least two years. These children would be given an expedited opportunity to gain legal citizenship.
I was encouraged by the Obama administration’s executive action implementing Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) in 2012. This policy allowed youth who would have been eligible for the DREAM Act to come out of the shadows and work legally in the U.S. However, the fact that the first applicants for DACA status are now coming up for renewal after two years shows the necessity for congressional action to replace this temporary measure.
I support increasing the number of H-1B visas so that foreign nationals with critical skills can contribute their talents to our economy. I also support ending the 7 percent per-country cap that limits family-sponsored and employment-based visas regardless of each country’s population. My own uncle had to wait in China for almost 20 years to immigrate to the U.S. because of this unfair restriction.
9. What is your view of the role of the U.S. military in the islands?
Military bases and activities in Hawaii represent a major asset for our national security and for our economy. While I support reducing defense spending on noncritical programs, the U.S. military in our islands plays a key role in protecting our nation. Particularly now as the Obama administration expands its focus on East Asia in our foreign policy, Hawaii has never been more important. Our strategic location in the middle of the Pacific means that relocating personnel and equipment to other areas would be detrimental to our national security. Still, governments at all levels should work with the military to ensure that its footprint does not harm the environment of our islands. We must also ensure that the military respects sites of cultural significance and engages with our host culture to ensure proper communication and respect to important places.
10. What other important issue would you like to discuss here?
With strong progressive representation in Washington, Hawaii can once again lead the nation and the world by building a vibrant economy while guaranteeing civil rights for all. For more information about my Agenda for Change, please refer to our campaign website: http://stanleychangforcongress.com/issues/.