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Editor’s note: For Hawaii’s Aug. 13 primary election, Civil Beat asked candidates to answer some questions.
The following came from Lei Ahu Isa, one of 10 candidates for the 1st Congressional District, which covers urban Oahu. The other candidates include Colleen Hanabusa, Javier Ocasio, Howard Kim, Sam Puletasi, Lei Sharsh-Davis and Steve Tataii, Republican Shirlene Ostrov, Libertarian Alan Yim and nonpartisan candidate Calvin Griffen..
Name: Lei Ahu Isa
Office seeking: 1st Congressional District
Occupation: Principal broker/professor
Community organizations/prior offices held: Ahahui Ka’ahumanu Benevolent Royal Society; Chinese Chamber of Commerce; Hui Maka’ala Okinawan Club; Association of Chinese University Women; Organization of Women Leaders, past director; Office of Hawaiian Affairs – Native Hawaiian Revolving Fund for Entrepreneurs; Palama Settlement, former member of Board of Trustees; Kamehameha Lions Club; U.S. China Friendship Association; Guandong Lin Yee Hui Benevolent Society, past president; United Chinese Society, trustee; University of Hawaii Distinguished Alumni Committee
Prior elected offices held: State House of Representatives, 1995-2002; state Board of Education, 2004-2012; Office of Hawaiian Affairs, at-large trustee, 2014-2018
Place of residence: Honolulu
Campaign Facebook site: website: facebook Community page: Lei Ahu Isa, Ph.D.
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 is run?
Washington, D.C., is so dysfunctional and has been for the last four years. Nothing has changed. “Politics of Personal Profit” is their theme for the day. The gap between productivity and pay has been especially pronounced in recent years: Although productivity has grown at a historically rapid pace with technology, the wages and compensation of our typical worker have not improved. If we keep letting big money control Congress, nothing changes!
2. Hawaii is the only Western state without a statewide citizen’s initiative process. Do you support such a process?
Definitely! Also support referendum and recall.
3. Hawaii has long been dominated by the Democratic Party establishment. Should this change, and if so, how?
I am progressive as you can get. I am a product of the ’60s, Vietnam, Woodstock, etc. My campaign theme song when I first ran 20 years ago: “He Ain’t Heavy, He’s My Brother.” A party that once grew together is now growing apart.
The Democrats once were deeply rooted in the social and economic values that are the basis of Hawaii’s inclusive multicultural society. Where is FDR’s progressive, regulated capitalism that did so much to elevate the middle class to prosperity? We need to work on supporting campaign finance reform, protecting our environment much more than we have, protect social security/Medicare. And it’s getting worse.
4. Voters complain their elected officials don’t listen to them. What would you do to improve communication?
Listen! I’ve always been open about listening to my constituents. Listening from D.C. shouldn’t be that difficult since every elected congressperson has an office in the Federal Building. But yes, I understand and know what it’s like to get a Voicemail, no returned call from my Congress person. Ugh!
5. What do you see as the most pressing issue facing your district? What will you do about it?
The decline in the fortunes of Hawaii’s families stand in stark contrast to America’s experience during the quarter century after World War II, a period when the federal government balanced the interests of working Americans and corporate America, and the labor movement was larger and stronger than it is today. As the workforce became more productive and more efficient, living standards rose evenly across the board and in line with workers’ economic performance.
But starting in the mid-1970s, the connection between the compensation of workers and their productivity began to fall apart. The only exception, in this regard, were the years in the late-1990s when persistently low unemployment and fast productivity growth yielded widely shared income and pay growth. We are now faced with challenges in areas of affordable housing, or more like, affordable rentals.
6. What should America’s role in the world be? What would you do to move us in that direction?
We need a strong individual with ethical, moral values that has leadership skills, a personality component and a vision for opportunities globally, while taking as much “controlled” risk as possible when dealing with foreign leaders by having that “Je ne sais quoi”
7. The country is torn apart. What would you do to rebuild bridges?
This growth in the gap between pay and productivity is the result of economic and employment policies that shift bargaining power away from the vast majority of us and toward employers and the most well off. The U.S. economy has grown at an annual average rate of slightly over 3 percent a year, but the benefits of this growth have gone overwhelmingly to the richest 10 percent and, among these, to the upper 1 percent.
Inequality has risen to heights not seen since before the Great Depression. An America that once grew together is now growing apart. As incomes become more volatile and access to jobs with good benefits erode, Americans are becoming more economically insecure.
As Aristotle said, “To avoid criticism, say Nothing, do Nothing, be Nothing.”