Editor’s note: For Hawaii’s Nov. 8 election, Civil Beat asked candidates to answer some questions.
The following came from Democrat Colleen Hanabusa, one of three candidates for the 1st Congressional District, which covers urban Oahu. The other candidates are Republican Shirlene Ostrov and Libertarian Alan Yim .
Name: Colleen Wakako Hanabusa
Office seeking: 1st Congressional District
Community organizations/prior offices held: Hawaii State Senate, District 21, 1998-2010; U.S. House of Representatives, 1st Congressional District, 2011-2015; Honolulu Authority for Rapid Transportation Board of Directors, 2015-present, chair 2016-present; St. Andrew’s Schools Trustee, 2015-present; GEM, Inc. Board member, 2015-present
Age as of Aug. 13, 2016: 65
Place of residence: Nu‘uanu, O‘ahu
Campaign website: www.hanabusaforhawaii.com
1. This year has seen an outsized influence from people who want big changes in how government is run. What would you do to change how the U.S. House or Senate is run?
As I have stressed in the past, compromise is a key component to efficient governance. Over the course of the last several years, we have seen the art of compromising and working across the aisle diminish to a point where our electorate is understandably displeased.
While it is natural to have disagreements over differing principles, that doesn’t mean that those from opposite sides of the aisle can’t find common ground to create needed and effective legislation. I have prided myself on my ability to work across the aisle — both in the Hawaii State Senate and in my two terms as a congresswoman — to find mutual ground in delivering results for Hawaii.
When politics become too partisan and politicians take to political posturing, we see gridlock and a degradation of the legislative process. This gives rise to demagoguery, which is a dangerous path to navigate and one which diminishes the important role that policymakers have in maintaining the integrity of our political process.
I still firmly believe that forging strong relationships with colleagues from across the spectrum is the best way to maintain the strength of our Constitution and is an attitude I would return with to the U.S. House.
2. Hawaii is the only Western state without a statewide citizen’s initiative process. Do you support such a process?
In a representative democracy such as ours, the strength of our system relies on the active participation of voters in electing leaders whom they trust. Along those lines, our constituency expects that we will take long, hard looks at the legislation we are proposing before we proceed.
When dealing with complicated legislative issues, it sometimes takes months of research, drafting, and amendments before getting it right. So much of the legislative process goes unnoticed, with only the finished piece of legislation gaining any attention. The importance of each individual legislator cannot be underestimated, just as each legislator cannot overlook the voices of the community.
The importance of ballot initiatives as a form of direct democracy plays an integral role in the democratic process but is not a replacement for the role of elected officials. We already have a process in place in order to allow voters to have a direct say over important issues via the ballot. One form is the constitutional amendment process.
I support our current system of governance, which blends the best of representative and direct democracy in empowering the citizens of Hawaii.
3. Hawaii has long been dominated by the Democratic Party establishment. Should this change, and if so, how?
I believe in the importance of having a wide array of voices, opinions and ideas at the table. The Democratic Party has played an important role in shaping modern Hawaii and the diversity of viewpoints within the party is a testament to the faith the voters have placed in the party and its candidates.
It is also important to recognize that the power of differing viewpoints allows legislators to craft stronger, more comprehensive legislation. Working across the aisle and forging strong relationships with those who you may disagree with makes for a more resilient legislator.
I believe in creating a system that encourages more people to become involved in the political process. While maintaining individual principles and ideas, we can foster an environment of mutual respect and collaboration which leads to a stronger democracy.
I believe in the Democratic Party and the role it continues to play in Hawaii, but I also firmly support the inclusion of ideas from people that come from all walks of life. Let us not forget, the dominance is also a statement of the voters. Change can take place but it is ultimately the decision of the voters as to how and when.
4. Voters complain their elected officials don’t listen to them. What would you do to improve communication?
When I first ran for the state Senate in 1998 — after practicing law for over two decades — I did so because I felt that the people of the Waianae Coast didn’t have a voice or an ear to listen to them. Growing up in Waianae, I felt a strong desire to be a voice for the community that had given me so much.
I have always prided myself on listening to the people and working to represent the many ideas and voices from the community. The most important job a legislator has is to listen to their constituents and do everything in their power to reflect their thoughts in the legislative process or to give them a voice when no one else will listen.
In my two terms in the U.S. House, I placed a high emphasis on constituent services, allowing me to listen to and work with constituents on legislative issues as well as dealing with federal agencies. As a representative of the people, it is important as one of 435 members of the House to listen and carry with you the thoughts and struggles of your constituents to Capitol Hill.
5. What do you see as the most pressing issue facing your state or district? What will you do about it?
The most pressing issue facing the state and district is the economy; jobs and supporting our ohana is a concern we all share. For the 1st Congressional District the major economic drivers have been tourism and federal spending. As a member of Congress, it is the federal spending which one can affect.
Defense spending accounts for the second-largest sector of our economy. As we continue our pivot to the Pacific, Hawaii will continue to play an integral role in the shaping of a peaceful and prosperous 21st century.
If elected to the U.S. House, I would move quickly to maintain the important work that I previously participated in and Congressman Mark Takai undertook in his first term.
Building upon relationships I have maintained from my first two terms in Congress, I would work to continue to represent the importance of supporting our military installations and our promise to our veterans. Maintaining a strong and supportive relationship with the military commands throughout Hawaii includes honoring the debt we owe our veterans.
6. What should America’s role in the world be? What would you do to move us in that direction?
The United States is seen as a pillar of stability and as such, the world looks upon us to act in the best interest of the global community. Often times, the role we play in order to maintain an open, prosperous, and free world involves the use of U.S. military assets.
While I am a firm supporter of our armed services, I have always advocated for the careful consideration of our nation’s involvement in foreign conflicts. As a member of Congress, I opposed military involvement in Libya and Syria and supported the immediate withdrawal from Afghanistan. One of the most important responsibilities Congress has is the authorization of the use of force by our military. This responsibility is one that I have always taken especially seriously.
While the U.S. needs to maintain a strong presence throughout the world to contribute to peace and prosperity, we must also as a country carefully consider the true costs of armed conflict. The decision to send our service members into harm’s way is not one that should be made without considering the toll it takes on American families and the long term consequences of armed conflict.
7. The country is torn apart. What would you do to rebuild bridges?
The extreme polarization of our politics has created strong opinions within society. The disagreements over which direction our country should move have often manifested themselves in ways that are contrary to the principles upon which our country was founded.
With that being said, the fact remains that the strength of our country is derived from the diversity of our people and geography. What makes us resilient as a country is our ability to come together in times of difficulty. I cannot stress enough how important forging strong relationships is when working to find common ground.
This past semester I taught a course at UH Manoa. This course punctuated that no matter how torn apart we are, those in elected office must remember that the civil liberties of our citizens cannot be sacrificed in times of national crisis.
Working together, moving past differences and compromising is the best way to build and maintain the bridges which allow us to function as a society. I will continue to work to represent Hawaii and to build on the relationships I have made in order to ensure that our entire delegation is working for the best interests of Hawaii.