Editor’s note: For Hawaii’s Aug. 9 primary, Civil Beat asked candidates to answer some questions.
The following came from Brian Schatz, a Democratic candidate for the U.S. Senate. Two other Democrats are also running, along with four Republicans, one Libertarian and two nonpartisan candidates.
Name: Brian Schatz
Office: U.S. Senate
Profession: U.S. senator
Education: Pomona College, B.
Community organizations: Helpi
1. Why are you running for the U.S. Senate?
I’ve been effective in getting things done as your U.S. senator, and I’ve been able to build the relationships that have put me in a unique position to help Hawaii.
I’m the chair of the Tourism subcommittee and the chair of the Water and Power subcommittee, and I can help with clean energy and local tourism jobs. We’ve done well increasing federal investments to our state in when it comes to the East-West center, clean energy, transportation, and native Hawaiian health and education funding.
And I’ve also tried to work to express your values through my votes and through my work on legislation. As we all know, Hawaii is the best place in the world to live, but it’s not the easiest place to make it. It can be tough for families to stay in the middle class or to enter the middle class.
We have three generations living together in my own home: my wife Linda and me, our kids Tyler and Mia, and Linda’s parents George and Ping Kwok.
George Kwok lived the American Dream, he ran a chop suey house in Honolulu, and worked hard all his life to give opportunities to his family, until his eyes gave out. Like 200,000 seniors across Hawaii, he now relies on Social Security.
I tell you about my family not at all because we’re unique, but because we’re like so many families here.
People need help with protecting social security, reducing the cost of college, they need relief from the high cost of electricity, and they need a senator that will fight for them.
When I introduced legislation to increase Social Security benefits, or worked with President Obama to decrease the cost of college and fought for equal pay for equal work, it’s because these issues affect all of us. And these are our values that I’m taking to Washington.
Through all this, my North Star everyday, my focus, remains thinking about how families across the state of Hawaii are trying to pursue their dreams and how I can help. I love being your senator because I love fighting for you.
2. Do you believe climate change is real? If so, what can the United States do to control carbon emissions?
Climate change is real, it is caused by humans and it is solvable. Advancing to a clean energy economy will protect our environment while creating quality, highpaying jobs and lowering energy costs.
I’ve partnered with Senator Sheldon Whitehouse and representatives Earl Blumenauer and Henry Waxman on draft legislation to create a framework for putting a price on carbon pollution. This would require large polluters to pay for the pollution they emit, helping to combat climate change and clear the way for a clean energy future.
3. Where do you draw the line between the government’s national security needs and the privacy of its citizens?
Americans have a constitutional right to privacy under the Fourth Amendment. Privacy should be the rule, not the exception. Our Hawaii State Constitution has a unique right to privacy and it it is important to make sure that U.S. surveillance programs are only done within the context of our state’s Constitution and the United States Constitution. I did not support an extension of the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA). My opponent voted to extend the law. That’s a difference between us when it comes to privacy. FISA is a relic of the Bush years and it protects a warrantless wiretapping program that has gone to far. It was originally conceived to monitor conversations overseas, but it has morphed into something that most American citizens — left, right and center — just don’t recognize and don’t approve of.
4. Under what circumstances should America go to war?
I believe the most solemn responsibility is to authorize or not authorize military force, and it should come only as a last resort, when every other avenue has been exhausted, including our economic and diplomatic tools. The bar for military action should be extraordinarily high. Our military has no peer. But just because we have an awesome hammer does not mean we should treat every problem as a nail.
5. Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid — how should the government continue to support these entitlements? Are reforms necessary?
Since their creation, Social Security and Medicare have been the foundation on which millions of middle-class Americans have built a secure retirement after a lifetime of work and paying taxes.
Today, these programs are under increasing threat. Social Security is the most successful anti-poverty program in United States history and it should be strengthened, not undermined.
That’s why I’ve introduced legislation that would both increase Social Security benefits and strengthen the financial stability of the program for years. This legislation would increase benefits by about $65 per month, make cost-of-living adjustments more accurate, and remove the wage cap so that wealthy Americans pay into the program the same way the rest of us do, extending the long-term solvency of the Social Security program.
I’m also working with Democratic leadership to protect Medicare and provide seniors with access to quality, affordable care. Currently, drug manufacturers have a deal in place that allows them to charge the government higher prices for prescription drugs for certain seniors and people with disabilities. I support the Medicare Drug Savings Act, which would require pharmaceutical companies to charge more reasonable prices for drugs used by low-income seniors and people with disabilities, a common-sense change to level the playing field for Medicare Part D and save taxpayers money. Medicare Part D is currently prohibited from negotiations while Medicaid and private insurers are able to negotiate lower drug prices. That’s not fair. By correcting this provision, we would be preventing excessive payments to pharmaceutical companies, while saving the government money.
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?
We have a responsibility to spend taxpayer dollars wisely, but we need to keep in mind that debt and deficits are not the main economic problem. In recent years we have reduced the deficit by $2 trillion. We need to focus on jobs, investing in infrastructure and education instead of austerity measures that will hurt people and our economy.
Too often, politicians have put benefit cuts on the table and entertained Social Security cuts in the name of deficit reduction. That is something I will not do. I will never vote to cut Social Security. Social Security is not responsible for the deficit and I believe we should be working to strengthen the program rather than undermining it.
7. It has been difficult to bridge the partisan divide in Washington lately. How would you make a difference?
I’ve been able to work across the country and across the aisle to pass bills into law. I’ve found common ground with Republicans where I can in order to get things done and pass legislation that will help Hawaii. Johnny Isakson is a conservative senator from Georgia, but we were able to work together on a defense amendment that passed into law which will improve U.S. military bases and make them more sustainable to protect our environment .
What’s important is that I will never compromise on our Democratic principles or Hawaii values. I will always vote to protect Social Security, to protect Medicare benefits, to advance gun safety and clean energy.
8. What is your policy on immigration?
Immigration is the story of Hawaii, the story of America and it is the story of all our families. I voted for the Senate’s comprehensive immigration reform that will provide a path to citizenship, bring people out of the shadows and increase our border security.
Hawaii should be especially proud of Mazie Hirono’s work on the Senate’s compromise immigration bill and her work on family reunification.
What makes our state so special is the ability to welcome people from all over the world to make a thriving economy, culture, and community. The time is now for immigration reform and the House of Representatives has a responsibility to act.
9. What is your view of the role of the U.S. military in the islands?
As the Obama administration rebalances American foreign policy to the Asia Pacific, Hawaii will play a pivotal role in supporting U.S. interests in the region. The military here in Hawaii is a key part of that rebalance, especially with Hawaii as home to the U.S. Pacific Command.
I’ve been working to strengthen Hawaii’s strategic military position in the Asia Pacific region and through the appropriations process I’ve worked to increase federal funds to military construction here in Hawaii.
But it is important that Hawaii support the development of military training facilities and other military construction projects in balance with the community and the environment.
I have worked to secure additional funding that will allow the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers to continue its important work of disposing unexploded ordnance at former military sites across the state, and restoring the environment.
In last year’s appropriations I worked to get funding for a local company to do munitions cleanup on the west side of the Big Island and made sure the funding went to 50-60 local good-paying jobs. The contracting used to be done from a mainland company that would bring in outside labor. So I’ve worked in the appropriations process to not just bring the funding to Hawaii, but to make sure those dollars are consistent with our community values.
10. What other important issue would you like to discuss here?
College affordability is the middle-class issue of our time. No generation escapes this issue.
Student loan debt is now the highest form of personal debt in the nation, reaching over $1.1 trillion. I worked with President Obama to reduce new student loan interest rates, but we need to attack this problem from all angles. I’ve co-sponsored legislation with Elizabeth Warren to allow borrowers to refinance their loans at today’s lower interest rates, potentially saving hundreds of dollars each year.
Senator Chris Murphy and I have also written legislation that will hold colleges accountable when they increase prices for students without delivering a quality education. A higher education is the best way to for people to move up the economic ladder. The federal government should subsidize higher education, but if we’re giving $140 billion in financial aid to institutes of higher learning, we need to make college more affordable, not less.
Each college can have whatever mission it wants, but if these institutions want to receive federal dollars, our bill says that part of that mission must involve affordability and access. This is an issue I’m passionate about because the increasing cost of college affects all of our families and we need to make college more affordable.