Editor’s note: For Hawaii’s Aug. 11 primary, Civil Beat asked candidates to answer some questions about where they stand on various issues and what their priorities will be if elected.
The following came from Donna Mercado Kim, a Democratic candidate for the 1st Congressional District, which covers urban Oahu. There are six other Democratic candidates, including Doug Chin, Beth Fukumoto, Kaniela Ing, Ed Case, Ernie Martin and Sam Puletasi.
1) What would be your first priority if elected? How would that change if your party is in the majority? The minority?
My first priority would be to have a smooth transition with Congresswoman Hanabusa’s staff to ensure that pending and ongoing constituent issues are handled.
My first legislative priority would be to keep our citizens free from violence. That involves not only limiting the availability of weapons, but creating stiffer penalties for domestic violence and abuse, particularly acts directed at vulnerable women. Our society is moving away from tolerance and acceptance to one that disrespects opinions and beliefs that differ from ours. This must change. Denying immigration to those fleeing violence is also an essential part of my priority, as is the elimination of any support for regimes around the world that allow violence to achieve political power and control.
My priorities are not based on who is in the majority. Safeguarding our citizens should not be a partisan issue.
2) Who would you support for Speaker of the House?
I would need to know which members are vying for the speakership. I want to support a person who believes in tolerance, freedom and respect for others. A good speaker is one who can unite the House and treat the members fairly.
3) Under what circumstances should America go to war?
First, it is the Congress that should make the decision on whether we go to war and not decided unilaterally by the president. Going to war should be the last alternative. I believe strongly in diplomacy, however, a good defense is a strong offense so I also believe in a strong, well-armed and trained military. Our national interests, not private interests, must justify the use of that military. It should not be driven by the need for a natural resource such as oil or personal revenge. War and the rumors of war in this era of instability can only create fear and stress, which inevitably stoke the propensity for war. Deliberate discipline in diplomacy is critical. In the end, war should not be an inevitability, nor should it be unavoidable.
Finally, I do believe our war against terrorism is necessary to protect our homeland, our people, and our national interests. We must continue with our allies to fight that war.
4) Should Facebook be regulated by the federal government? How?
Yes. It should be regulated through the Federal Trade Commission to protect the privacy of user information. A person’s information belongs to that person, not to the platform. In this vein I believe companies should be absolutely prohibited from selling the accumulated personal data to others for any use.
5) What should the United States do to control carbon emissions and slow climate change?
We must as a country end our reliance on and utilization of fossil fuels. To this end we must demand a shift to renewable energy sources, such as wind, solar and wave, as well as where possible geothermal and ocean thermal. Crucial to this is consumer discipline in reducing energy usage, such as changing lightbulbs to LEDs, utilizing solar power in homes, conserving water, and switching to electric vehicles.
In this Hawaii has much to teach the rest of the nation. But we can do much, much more. In the end it will be individuals making the commitment to lower their energy demands that will make the shift to renewables not only possible but inevitable. I have personally made that commitment by driving an electric vehicle, installing PV panels on my roof, using LED light bulbs and using water very sparingly.
6) Is it time to reform Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid? How?
I believe that the social contract for these programs must be kept intact; and that any reform must not negatively affect current recipients and their beneficiaries.
The original assumptions about Social Security were made decades ago and we need to revisit those assumptions, but again not affect those who are close to retirement or have retired.
As for Medicare and Medicaid, I believe that Hawaii’s pre-paid health system is the best model in the nation despite its problems. I do believe that the focus should be on keeping people healthy, not treating them after decades of undisciplined life style. In this I believe both federal programs must begin to focus more and more on results and not on capitated payments to physicians.
One major component for healthcare which can be affected by federal action is controlling the prices for pharmaceuticals. Most of the cost increases and increases in medical costs arise from drug prices.
Medicare is prevented from negotiating for prescription drugs. Therefore, we must control the pricing of these drugs to the consumers. Finally, the creation of a Federal insurance program for physicians to cover the cost of coverage for malpractice and errors and omissions coverage will also reduce medical costs.
7) Congress has struggled in recent years to reach agreement on budget deficits, the national debt and spending in general. What would be your approach to fiscal matters?
I would follow the approach with which I have conducted my career here in Hawaii. We need to rein in unnecessary government spending, which is running rampant in Washington and this administration. No more first-class travel for anyone.
Spending for the military should not be compared as a trade-off with spending for the poor and homeless. Both are crucial for our society. We must not allow that kind of superficial argument to color the critical investigation of what and where the funds are being expended. Buying gold-plated toilets for any government agency while services are being lowered is reprehensible. Take the Veterans Administration. We have veterans waiting on service. That cannot continue.
But we can’t suggest that this is a trade-off with funds for new military equipment. Available funds come from eliminating bureaucracy and exercising more oversight. I believe there is government waste and this will be one of my areas of focus, as it has been throughout my career.
8) Whatever happens in the midterm elections, Congress will remain deeply divided. What specifically would you do to help bridge the partisan divide in Washington?
George Washington spoke of this divide: “However (political parties) may now and then answer popular ends, they are likely in the course of time and things, to become potent engines, by which cunning, ambitious, and unprincipled men will be enabled to subvert the power of the people and to usurp for themselves the reins of government, destroying afterwards the very engines which have lifted them to unjust dominion.”
If our government is to succeed and our nation to benefit, we must restore decorum and civility. We are a product of the diversity, which has made our nation what it is today. However, there are those who feel disenfranchised because they no longer wield the power they once did, and others who felt disenfranchised in the past now have the leadership role for the nation. This is politics. Hawaii went through such a change in 1954. We survived as a state because of mutual respect, decorum and civility. While not everyone believes as we do, that does not justify violent tantrums or unfounded speeches aimed to create, rather than to resolve conflict.
I will work with colleagues of all parties to bridge that divide. We must seek that which joins us, not what separates us.
9) What should be done to reform U.S. immigration policies, if anything?
America is a country of immigrants. It is the diversity that immigrants brought to this country that has made America the nation it is. Our industries depend on these immigrants, just as they have in the past. Immigration has always been a sensitive topic because there are those who view newcomers as competitors for jobs or homes or benefits. And while that may be true in some cases, many immigrants work at jobs Americans do not want to perform, such as farm workers and many service positions.
Some have attributed the loss of jobs to immigrants, but the reality is automation and technology have led to the bulk of the job loss. Coal miners are not losing their jobs because of immigrants but due to the end of coal as a fuel.
I believe America should continue to be the beacon of opportunity for the world.
I am reminded daily of the sacrifice of local boys who had to go to war to prove they were worthy of being Americans; they did, they fought, and they proved that being an American is not an incidence of birth but a matter of heart and mind.
10) What is your view of the role of the U.S. military in the islands, and would you like to see that role increased or decreased?
I believe that the presence of the U.S. military is important for national security. We need to continue that presence not only for our national security but our own here in Hawaii. The legacy of World War II and the Cold War ensured we would have bases in the Western Pacific and East Asia, but times are changing and those bases may not be available in the future, so the need for forward deployment in Hawaii will grow.
Hawaii is a natural choice, and one which greatly boosts our economy. Military spending is one of our great economic pillars.
11) What specific reforms, if any, would you seek in gun control policies?
I fully support gun control measures that address more effective screening of gun applicants, and the elimination of devices which convert weapons into automatic mode. No guns should be sold to anyone under 21. I believe we should ban the use of automatic weapons nationwide, exempt hunting rifles, and require periodic training and mental health screening every five years.
12) What other important issue would you like to discuss here?
As the first college graduate of my family, I have always supported education.
I believe that we must reduce the current barriers to education like rising tuition costs and student debt. We must increase graduate student stipends, maintain open access to community colleges, and lower interest rates on federal student loans. Educational grants to states must not be taxed.
I will support the Employment Non-discrimination Act to prevent gay, lesbian and transgender individuals from being fired because of their sexual orientation. This legislation expanded existing protections against discrimination in the workplace that include sexual orientation and gender identity.
I will continue to support a woman’s constitutionally-protected right to make her own decisions about her body. As a member of the Hawaii Legislature, I have supported initiatives to increase access to safe emergency contraceptives, provide better care for low-income women and children and for families living in rural or remote areas and will do so in Congress.
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