Editor’s note: For Hawaii’s Aug. 13 primary election, Civil Beat asked candidates to answer some questions.
The following came from Shay Chan Hodges, one of five candidates for the 2nd Congressional District, which covers rural Oahu and the neighbor islands. The other candidates include Democrat Tulsi Gabbard, Republicans Eric Hafner and Angela Kaaihue, and nonpartisan candidate Richard Turner.
Name: Shay Chan Hodges
Office seeking: 2nd Congressional District
Occupation: Author, grant writer
Community organizations/prior offices held: Maui County Water Board; ROOTS School Board member; Maui County Electric Vehicle Alliance; Maui County Democratic Party, Precinct 13-2 chair; Hawaii Democratic Party Central Committee; Maui County Committee on the Status of Women; Haiku School SCBM; Coordinator, Maalaea Community Garden
Age as of Aug. 13, 2016: 53
Place of residence: Haiku, Maui
Campaign website: www.shayforhawaii.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 is run?
Currently, the primary mechanism for holding politicians accountable is to vote them out of office. Yet in 2014, Congress’ re-election rate was 95 percent, despite an approval rating of 14 percent. Thus, ordinary citizens who are not career politicians often do not consider running for office. Even seasoned politicians avoid races against an incumbent.
My contest is a perfect example. The current office-holder ran uncontested in the last primary election. Without opposition in this year’s primary, she would have been up against one of two unknown Republicans and a nonpartisan candidate in the general in a district that has always elected Democrats. Thus, had I not filed as a candidate, she would already be our de facto congresswoman-elect.
If she didn’t have a real election, the incumbent would have little incentive to respond to concerns from residents of the 2nd Congressional District about economic and social issues, nor about her foreign policy stances. Even with competition, she refuses to debate.
If we want to see big changes in government, we need to support election laws and media standards that do not favor those with pre-existing name recognition and significant financial resources. Otherwise, it is very difficult to hold our elected representatives accountable.
2. Hawaii is the only Western state without a statewide citizen’s initiative process. Do you support such a process?
I think it would be worth considering a citizen’s initiative process, but like most good ideas, how the process is implemented will determine whether it’s an effective democratic tool.
The initiative process allows for “direct democracy,” providing citizens with the opportunity to make decisions about public policy that legislatures refuse to address or are unable to resolve. It can provide an important “check and balance” to legislative powers, particularly since, as I stated in a previous question, voting legislators out of office may seem impossible. Initiatives can stimulate citizen interest in public policy and are therefore a way of encouraging civic engagement.
On the other hand, how an initiative is presented can be misleading and how it is written can have unintended legal ramifications. Furthermore, initiatives can let legislators off the hook and give them an excuse to avoid addressing difficult issues. There are also no limits on contributions for ballot measure campaigns, allowing wealthy individuals and institutional donors to have enormous influence.
So while I believe that an initiative process could be very beneficial in our state, we need to ensure that we address these potential downsides so that we are successful in achieving the public purpose we desire.
3. Hawaii has long been dominated by the Democratic Party establishment. Should this change, and if so, how?
Two leaders who helped build the Hawaii Democratic Party and our state were Congresswoman Patsy Mink and International Longshore and Warehouse Union social worker Ah Quon McElrath.
Mink was our district’s first U.S. representative and the first woman of color to serve in the U.S. Congress. She was a trailblazer who used her position to fight for women, workers and those who lack a voice. As a principal author of Title IX, she helped end admissions and financial aid gender discrimination in higher education — ultimately tripling women’s college enrollment in 40 years.
McElrath helped organize the International Longshore and Warehouse Union in Hawaii in the 1930s, dedicating her life to working families and the poor. When she died, a Honolulu Advertiser story quoted Bill Puette: “She was a lifelong champion of the underdog and an eloquent, irrepressible and forceful spokesperson for labor, human rights and progressive causes. … She never hesitated to challenge the male-dominated leadership of the unions and force them to look beyond salary issues and to go after standard-of-living improvements.
These steadfast Democrats were anything but “establishment.” A healthy change for the party would be to better reflect the values for which these two leaders fought.
4. Voters complain their elected officials don’t listen to them. What would you do to improve communication?
Campaigning and meeting new people daily, I’ve learned that most Hawaii residents want politicians to know their lives, loves and challenges. Fortunately, seemingly endless media choices and social media provide quick and effective communication — especially for an island district so far from Washington, D.C.
That said, our district includes people of all ages with varying access to modern communications. I am therefore committed to following the tradition of CD2 representatives who talked story regularly throughout our state, in person and through technology.
A challenge inherent to modern communication is that misinformation can travel as fast as accurate information, and our congressional representatives working far from Hawaii can talk the talk without walking the walk.
One way the media can support improved communication is to empower citizens with well-vetted information on the activities of elected officials based on community priorities. For example, reporting on bills politicians co-sponsor and bills they avoid would make them accountable and give voters a solid base of information from which to talk to their representatives. This kind of reporting is becoming more common among local and national media, and I believe it makes an enormous difference when it comes to supporting an informed electorate.
5. What do you see as the most pressing issue facing your district? What will you do about it?
Economic instability is the most pressing issue facing our state. Besides the obvious challenges to the individual, financial security (or lack thereof) is inextricably linked to stimulating innovation and building our state’s intellectual infrastructure, addressing social challenges, protecting the environment, and leaving a legacy to our children.
In spite of the evidence, most politicians ignore the most basic tenets of a thriving economy. When Forbes ranked the Best Countries for Business in 2015, the U.S. continued its six-year descent from 18th to 22nd place. Meanwhile, Scandinavian market economies — which have some of the strongest unions and best family-friendly policies in the world — continued with top rankings when evaluated for property rights, innovation, taxes, technology, corruption, freedom, red tape, investor protection and stock market performance.
For over 20 years, I’ve lived the day-to-day issues and practical realities that Hawaii’s working families face with regard to education, health care, housing, substance abuse, keeping our families safe and of course, the economy. I understand first-hand that lack of access to opportunities and threat of displacement are significant challenges in our state.
To address these challenges, politicians must recognize that a thriving economy is one that works for working families.
6. What should America’s role in the world be? What would you do to move us in that direction?
To improve our country’s role in the world, we must distinguish between U.S. corporate interests and those of the American people. Large corporations do not share our citizens’ ideals, nor are they invested in our collective future, holding $2.4 trillion in profits offshore to avoid paying up to $695 billion in U.S. taxes.
Yet for too long, they’ve had an outsized influence on foreign policy.
We need to reject this influence while taking responsibility as citizens of the sole “super power” in a global world. Only by addressing root causes of radicalization, supporting conditions of peace, and changing our image internationally, will we defeat terrorists in the long-term.
We also need to be skeptical of other international players. For example, calls to keep Assad in power benefit Putin, who as Bernie Sanders has stated, “prioritized hitting anti-Assad fighters rather than ISIS.”
Furthermore, our actions need to reflect our ideals. In response to Syria’s civil war — the worst humanitarian crisis of our time — we must provide humanitarian relief and economic assistance, promote the rule of law, and defend human rights. As Sanders has also stated, we must negotiate “a political settlement with Russia and Iran to get Assad out of power.”
7. The country is torn apart. What would you do to rebuild bridges?
We need to build bridges by building coalitions around common values and shared goals.
In most families – Democrat and Republican — more than one paycheck is required to make ends meet; either adult may have the educational capacity to participate in the workforce at a high level; and both men and women want to spend time with their loved ones and contribute to their communities.
Since Republicans are likely to retain control of the U.S. House in this election, Rep. Paul Ryan will continue as speaker and control the legislative agenda. To have any hope of advancing an economy that supports working families, Democrats will need to take control of the narrative. We must insist that federal policies are designed in response to the stories of real people in their day-to-day struggles, not in reaction to ideological abstractions pushed by lobbyists that mask a hidden (often corporate) agenda.
The Republican agenda is not just failing us in Hawaii; it is failing families in all districts across the nation. Adopting Republican talking points in the name of bipartisanship just because the GOP is in power is a failed strategy. Real bipartisanship builds bridges to better the lives of the majority of our citizens.