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Editor’s note: For Hawaii’s Nov. 8 general election, Civil Beat asked candidates to answer some questions.
The following came from Tulsi Gabbard, one of two candidates for the 2nd Congressional District, which covers rural Oahu and the neighbor islands. The other candidate is Angela Kaaihue, who is running as a Republican.
Name: Tulsi Gabbard
Office seeking: 2nd Congressional Distrsict
Occupation: Public servant
Community organizations/prior offices held: Hawaii Legislature, Honolulu City Council, U.S. House of Representatives
Age as of Aug. 13, 2016: 35
Place of residence: Oahu
Campaign website: www.votetulsi.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?
This year’s presidential campaign has made clear just how fed up the American people are with partisan politics, career politicians devoted to self-enrichment rather than public service, and a Congress that seems incapable of getting anything done.
Functioning more like a parliamentary system than a democracy, Congress today is dominated by party politics, leaving individual members weakened and expected to toe the party line.
What is needed in Congress is less partisan fervor and more bipartisan cooperation to get legislation passed without caring which party takes credit; less concern about being re-elected, and more concern about doing what is best for the people, and rededication to a government of, by, and for the people.
The culture of self-enrichment that has developed in Washington — including the revolving door between government and multi-million-dollar lobbying or other corporate positions after leaving public office — must be closed.
If such changes are not made soon, the American people will become even more fed up with our government. Leaders of both parties need to realize that putting party and selfish interests before the public interest is destroying people’s faith in our government and therefore undermining the very foundation of our democracy.
2. Hawaii is the only Western state without a statewide citizen’s initiative process. Do you support such a process?
I support the people of Hawaii having the right to choose whether they want to have the initiative process. There are both strong pros and strong cons to the initiative process and it’s therefore important that the people decide whether they want this option.
I support the concept of initiative because it is one way for citizens to raise issues and pass legislation when their elected representatives refuse to do so and are not responsive to the people’s will.
The downside of the initiative process, however, is that well-funded special interest groups, especially giant corporations, can use their unlimited financial might to introduce and pass legislation that benefits them.
Ideally, elected officials would be more responsive to the will of the voters so the initiative process would not be necessary.
3. Hawaii has long been dominated by the Democratic Party establishment. Should this change, and if so, how?
Although the Democratic Party dominates Hawaii’s politics, there are a number of strains or factions within the Democratic Party that provide a great deal of choice for voters. We saw this recently in the caucus competition between Bernie Sanders and Hillary Clinton.
The important thing is that voters have choices — it doesn’t matter if those choices are different strains within a party or differences between parties themselves.
Our goal should be to encourage more people to vote. We can do this by making elections as simple and convenient as possible, open to all eligible voters.
We need to welcome criticism and consider, for instance, the complaints lodged by voters in the last election. People want more convenient polling hours, perhaps two consecutive days of voting rather than just one, easier absentee balloting, and whatever other changes would encourage more people to participate in our democracy.
4. Voters complain their elected officials don’t listen to them. What would you do to improve communication?
When first elected, I committed to remaining in close communication with the people of Hawaii.
Elected representatives like myself need to remember who we serve, listen carefully to the people, and represent their interests rather than those of the wealthy and powerful.
I’ve always stressed to my staff the paramount importance of good communications with constituents. We receive an enormous volume of communications, due in part to our proactive outreach on all islands. We receive around 1,500-3,500 pieces of correspondence every week. We assist hundreds of people every year with issues they have with federal agencies, the majority of whom are veterans. We communicate daily with constituents via social media, conduct outreach via my representatives located on each island, host telephone town hall meetings where I can communicate with thousands of constituents at one time, and send regular email newsletter updates.
Even though our communication system works quite well, I deeply regret that sometimes things still fall through the cracks. When that happens, we immediately identify the cause and improve our system to make sure it doesn’t happen again. I’m constantly working to improve communications to ensure we’re listening and responding to the people we work for.
5. What do you see as the most pressing issue facing your district? What will you do about it?
Putting aside the fact that Hawaii’s people could be obliterated by nuclear attacks coming from North Korea, China, or Russia, the most important issue facing our state is the cost of living. Families who’ve lived here for generations are leaving Hawaii because they can’t afford housing and food.
The people of Hawaii need more truly affordable housing. I’ve long advocated building up — rather than out — on Oahu to make the most of our limited space, preserving as much open space and agricultural land as possible.
The people of Hawaii are being priced out of the housing market. We’ve become a playground for the wealthy — condos/homes sell for millions yet sit empty 90 percent of the time, and other homes are used as vacation rentals, increasing the price for all of Hawaii’s housing.
I’ll continue to advocate for more affordable housing units through public and private projects, discouraging housing and land speculation, ensuring “affordable” housing units are actually affordable, and stay that way – not flipped and sold for profit (like the scandal in Kakaako).
We must streamline regulations that contribute to the affordable housing shortage and involve every level of government and the private sector in solving Hawaii’s housing crisis.
6. What should America’s role in the world be? What would you do to move us in that direction?
America needs to stop attempting to be the policeman of the world, and end our decades-long policy of using American military power to overthrow governments we don’t like.
There’s an old saying that the road to hell is paved with good intentions. Hoping to garner the support of the American people, proponents of regime-change wars routinely cite humanitarian concerns to justify military intervention in foreign countries.
However, as a direct result of our intervention in Iraq, overthrowing Saddam Hussein, human suffering increased and terrorist organizations like ISIS and al-Qaeda were strengthened, terrorizing and killing thousands of innocent people.
As a result of overthrowing Gaddafi, Libya is a failed state experiencing tremendous chaos and loss of life, and is now a haven for ISIS and other terrorist organizations.
The interventionist wars in Iraq and Libya that were propagated as necessary to relieve human suffering actually increased human suffering in those countries.
Now we are seeing the very same thing occurring in Syria. We must end the illegal, counterproductive war to overthrow the Syrian government of Assad, and instead focus our resources on defeating ISIS, al-Qaeda, and others who pose a threat to the safety and security of the American people.
7. The country is torn apart. What would you do to rebuild bridges?
We need more aloha. Aloha — respect and love for others — has the power to bind us together despite our differences.
When I was in Iraq, I was shocked by the disrespect and hatred that existed between followers of the different Muslim sects. It was heartbreaking.
The people of Hawaii are not perfect, but by and large most of us live aloha. We don’t judge or treat each other based on our external differences.
Unfortunately, however, across our country, and even in Hawaii, rather than respecting and loving one another as children of God, and recognizing that we’re all Americans, we increasingly see others as members of opposing groups or “gangs.”
Every day, I remember Sen. Daniel Akaka, for whom I had the wonderful opportunity to work and know. I was inspired by how he treated everyone — regardless of their political party, religion, race or social status, with respect and love. I always try to cultivate and live by such aloha within my own heart.
It is this spirit of aloha that is the key to building bridges between us.