- Special Projects
Editor’s note: For Hawaii’s Nov. 8 election, Civil Beat asked candidates to answer some questions.
The following came from Brian Schatz, a Democratic candidate for the U.S. Senate. There is one other candidate, Republican John Carroll.
Name: Brian Schatz
Office: U.S. Senate
Occupation: U.S. senator
Community organizations/prior offices held: Lieutenant governor; Democratic Party of Hawaii chair; CEO, Helping Hands of Hawaii; state House representative (Makiki, McCully and Tantalus); Board of Directors, Makiki Community Library; Board of Directors, Center for a Sustainable Future; executive director, Youth for Environmental Services; Save Sandy Beach Coalition
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?
The Supreme Court’s Citizens United decision has done enormous damage to our electoral system and the way that Congress operates. By allowing corporations and the super-wealthy to secretly spend unlimited amounts on their candidates, we have made senators and House members unnecessarily beholden to special interests.
To fix this broken system, I have advocated for the passage of the “We The People” Act, which is a major effort to overhaul our campaign finance system. Here’s the plan:
Pass a constitutional amendment to overturn Citizens United.
Institute mandatory disclosure of all special interest contributions.
Require all contributions to federal candidates over $1,000 to be reported within 48 hours.
Permanently ban lobbying by former members of Congress.
Replace the broken Federal Election Commission with an effective watchdog agency to ensure campaigns and special interests follow the law.
Rein in super PACs by shutting down individual candidate super PACs and enforcing contribution laws.
Stop Wall Street from giving bonuses to employees for leaving to become federal regulators.
2. Hawaii is the only Western state without a statewide citizen’s initiative process. Do you support such a process?
3. Hawaii has long been dominated by the Democratic Party establishment. Should this change, and if so, how?
Since 1954, the values and platform of the Hawaii Democratic Party have successfully represented the views of a vast majority of Hawaii’s residents. Hawaii Democrats led by Gov. Burns, Sen. Inouye, Rep. Mink and many others successfully advocated for policies that include protecting collective bargaining, creating access to health care, safeguarding our environment, and defending a women’s right to choose.
Today, Hawaii Democrats have built on this legacy by continuing to lead on issues of importance to Hawaii residents including climate change, clean energy, immigration reform, college affordability, marriage equality, Social Security and gun control. Now led by Donald Trump, Republicans seek to take us backwards by dividing the country based on ethnicity, religion, gender and sexual preference and seeking to isolate the United States from the rest of the world.
Hawaii should continue to serve as a model for the rest of the country by embracing the progressive agenda of the Democratic Party and by resoundingly rejecting the offensive rhetoric and policies espoused by Donald Trump and the Republican Party.
4. Voters complain their elected officials don’t listen to them. What would you do to improve communication?
Our Senate office has made constituent communications a top priority, and I rely upon these communications to shape my thinking and views on policy. We start by having an effective constituent casework team in our Honolulu office, which is supplemented by having neighbor island representatives on Maui, Kauai and Hawaii Island. Since coming to the Senate, our office has provided casework assistance to over 3,000 individual constituents.
We then encourage dialogue and actively solicit inquiries from constituents via email and regular mail. Since 2015, our office has personally responded to over 200,000 inquiries from constituents on issues ranging from trade policy to Social Security to gun control.
We have also created an e-newsletter that goes out regularly to over 130,000 Hawaii residents. The e-newsletter provides frequent updates on our work as well as information on how to communicate with our office. We have also mailed newsletters to constituents and conducted numerous tele-town halls to provide additional opportunities for feedback. Moreover, our office has a significant presence on social media with an active Facebook page and Twitter account to further gather input from constituents.
5. What do you see as the most pressing issue facing your state? What will you do about it?
I believe that Hawaii’s transportation, housing, communications, and coastal infrastructure require additional funding and resources to address the current and future needs of our growing population. As a member of the Appropriations and Commerce Committees, here are some of my infrastructure priorities that will help address these issues:
Roads: Fund the Safe Street Act and the Transportation Infrastructure Finance and Innovation Program, which will provide more resources to better plan for transit oriented development and for roads that are safer for senior citizens, bikers, and pedestrians.
Airports: Fund the construction of a Customs and Border Protection facility at the Kona Airport to encourage international flights from Japan and Asia.
Harbors: Support legislation that will streamline the process for small harbor projects and provide dedicated funding for Hawaii.
Housing/Homelessness: Continue funding the Native Hawaiian Housing block grant program as well as the National Housing Trust Fund for the development and preservation of affordable rental housing.
Communications: Support legislation that will improve the quality of rural broadband service as well as telehealth legislation that will make access to health care more available for the rural and isolated parts of our state.
6. What should America’s role in the world be? What would you do to move us in that direction?
In June 2015, I co-authored an article with Sens. Chris Murphy and Martin Heinrich that set forth principles for establishing a progressive foreign policy and described our views on America’s proper role in world affairs. Here are some of its ideas to move American foreign policy forward:
A new robustly funded Marshall Plan for at-risk regions including Middle Eastern and African nations as well as vulnerable nations near Russia and China.
The United States is strongest when it works with partners and allies. Put simply, working bilaterally and through international organizations such as NATO and the UN is more effective and costs the United States less than going it alone.
When we send U.S. service members to fight, the United States must always have clear goals and exit strategies, act only with congressional authorization, and uphold its commitment to care for every serviceman and woman when they return.
When military action is deemed necessary for reasons other than self-defense, it should serve as a shaping mechanism for local political solutions. If there is no achievable political solution on the ground, it should cause Congress to question the wisdom of the proposed military action.
7. The country is torn apart. What would you do to rebuild bridges?
Congress and our country work best when principled progressives and conservatives come together to find common ground on matters of importance to the nation. I have focused on identifying issues where I can work with Republicans in the Senate, especially through my work on the Appropriations and Commerce Committees, and I hope to build on these relationships moving forward.
In the past two years, I have worked across the aisle with Sens. Thad Cochran and Roger Wicker on telehealth legislation, with Sen. Rand Paul on expanding the use of body cameras by police officers, with Sen. John Thune on improving annual and seasonal weather forecasting, with Sens. Lisa Murkowski and Dan Sullivan on combating pirate fishing, and with Sen. Lamar Alexander on increasing funding for alternative energy research. This work demonstrates that bipartisanship is not only possible but also desirable.
I believe that the country wants Washington to function properly and to actually come up with solutions to our nation’s problems. Moving forward, Democrats and Republicans need to work together and to begin addressing issues like climate change, immigration reform, college affordability, gun control and campaign finance reform.