- Special Projects
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 Beth Fukumoto, a Democratic candidate for the 1st Congressional District, which covers urban Oahu. There are six other Democratic candidates, including Donna Mercado Kim, Doug Chin, 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?
Serving as an elected official in a legislative body provides the experience needed to serve Hawaii in Congress. Our small delegation means that our members need to work harder and smarter than their colleagues from bigger states to produce results. We need someone who can build coalitions and form strong relationships regardless of the partisan circumstances. In my experience, you get more done if you seek commonalities with colleagues and focus on shared needs instead of talking points and platforms.
My first priority would be to build productive relationships with other members and staff that can work for Hawaii over time. Sen. Inouye’s relationships within the Democratic caucus and across the aisle, most notably with Sen. Stevens, proved valuable assets for Hawaii regardless of which party held power. In the Legislature, I’ve shown the ability to build those relationships and produce for my district across partisan divides.
This election is our opportunity to rebuild the influence Hawaii used to have in Congress. Two of the most successful members of our delegation, Patsy Mink and Daniel Inouye, were elected at 37 and 35. They gained influence over time to make monumental changes and bring home necessary funding for housing and infrastructure.
2. Who would you support for Speaker of the House?
Our nation is going through a time of tremendous change, and I would look for a leader who can thrive in that challenging atmosphere while ensuring that we continue to move in the right direction. I would also look for a leader who would not feel constrained by the status quo or entrenched special interests.
We won’t know who our choices are until after the election. This election cycle has proven unpredictable, which makes it especially important to go in with an open mind. I would prefer a leader that can provide a bold, actionable vision without the constraints of entrenched special interests.
3. Under what circumstances should America go to war?
If the United States is attacked, Congress has a responsibility to defend the American people with military force if necessary. We also need to fulfill our mutual defense treaties with our allies. However, we should always look for alternatives to force and invest in diplomacy as a priority. The president has forgotten or ignored the capabilities of talented diplomats, whose hard work aligned much of the world with us rather than our adversaries, and made it possible to do things like impose crippling sanctions on Russia in response to their aggression.
Beyond that, we must exercise great care and show restraint in the use of force around the world. One issue we continue to face is the ongoing use of the Authorization for Use of Military Force issued by Congress in the aftermath of the 9/11 attacks, which is still being used to justify military action today. Congress should repeal that blanket authorization and reassert its role in assuring thorough review and extreme care in America’s projection of force worldwide.
4. Should Facebook be regulated by the federal government? How?
That Facebook has been around since I was in high school, yet Congress has still failed to impose appropriate regulations on the collection and protection of our data, suggests that we need to elect more representatives that understand the inherent privacy and consumer protection issues of this technology.
Companies, including Facebook, need to be held accountable for their failures to secure the private information they collect and profit from. The Federal Trade Commission is already empowered to go after companies that deceive consumers when telling them that their data will be kept private, and enter into consent decrees that are meant to compel companies to take certain corrective steps. But this clearly isn’t enough.
There need to be restrictions on the information companies are allowed to collect, even with user consent, so that the damage done to an individual is limited when there is a data breach, and so that users are in less danger of thoughtlessly opting in to sharing more information than they actually want to when clicking through lengthy user agreements. Companies should also be required to comply with user requests to have their collected personal data erased.
5. What should the United States do to control carbon emissions and slow climate change?
The United States is the second-largest carbon polluter in the world, exceeded only by China, a county with more than four times our population. Carbon pollution is the main contributor to accelerating global climate change and creating environmental health hazards like smog. The problem of carbon pollution is vast. There is not just one “fix-all” solution, but there are several realistically achievable steps we could take as a nation to address this problem, before it irreversibly alters the world we live in.
We need to significantly accelerate the deployment of clean renewable energy like solar and wind and invest in our energy infrastructure to create a sustainable and resilient national electric system. We should be leading the world in developing and deploying clean energy alternatives and to continue driving down the cost of generating and storing it. We must also recognize that there is a social cost to carbon and price it accordingly in the form of carbon taxes, national cap and trade markets, and incentives to de-carbonize. Finally, we need to reassert our commitment to the Paris Agreement.
Hawaii is already showing that there is a strong economic value in taking action to reduce carbon emissions and invest in renewable energy. The rest of the country needs to follow our lead.
6. Is it time to reform Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid? How?
We need to keep our promises and protect Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid for the people that rely on them. We should make sure Social Security payments are high enough to cover basic needs for our seniors in Hawaii and stabilize the fund by making sure the highest income earners in the country are no longer exempted from paying their full share.
As a legislator, I moved bills to increase rental subsidies and reduce taxes on our low-income earners so that people reliant on programs like these can make their income stretch further. To fund those tax reductions, I introduced legislation to increase the tax on the highest income earners and tax out of state real estate investors who are drastically increasing the cost of housing in Hawaii. Throughout my career, I’ve proven my commitment to those who rely on these programs.
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?
Democrats are the party of fiscal responsibility. If we want to be serious about dealing with budget deficits and spending in general, we need to be less ideological and more practical when dealing with our limited public funds. That’s why I support implementing a single-payer, universal health care system, which would give us better public health outcomes while costing the country less money.
As a matter of national security, we need a better strategy that gives the military fewer problems to solve so that we can responsibly cut its budget and invest that money into other things the country needs to remain strong, like renewable energy and other technologies, education, and job retraining.
We need to maintain and improve our infrastructure, which has been neglected by establishment politicians for decades in favor of tax breaks for the ultra-wealthy that have proven to be ineffective at creating jobs. The more we neglect it, the more expensive the problem becomes.
We also have to be smarter about how we ensure that the federal government is adequately funded to invest in our future. Right now, too much of that burden is on the people who can least afford it.
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?
First and foremost, Hawaii’s next member of Congress shouldn’t be adding to the polarization. As a legislator, I’ve seen how members who seek support from special interests will elevate their language to get media attention or grow their network. Finding common ground is hard work, and I’ve shown the ability to do that work and get things done for my district and our state regardless of disagreements.
We have to look past the present situation and ensure our next member of Congress is someone who can work over time and through different administrations and leaders. I will fight against the injustices of the Trump administration with my colleagues. But, this election can’t only be about fighting President Trump. We need to focus on Hawaii’s future and the stability of our congressional delegation so we can continue to rebuild the influence we once had.
Our next member should ensure our unique perspectives are understood by other members of Congress. And, they should take the time to learn the needs and priorities of their colleagues and the people they represent, in order to find points of commonality and build relationships that can deliver tangible results for Hawaii.
9. What should be done to reform U.S. immigration policies, if anything?
My dad was 2 years old when his own father was taken away for just one night because he was a Japanese-American during World War II. He still remembers that 77 years later. This administration put asylum seekers through the same experience for the same reasons. Any policy around who enters the country and where they live should be devoid of racism and unfounded fear.
We need a comprehensive immigration policy that involves making DACA permanent, makes it easier rather than harder for people to immigrate to the United States, and helps asylum seekers escape abuse and conscription into the violent groups. Additionally, any changes to the asylum-seeking process should require at least a six-month lead time so that asylum-seekers know what to expect before they make their journey to our borders.
Immigration is part of who we are as Americans. We cannot encourage diversity and human rights around the world if we don’t exhibit those values here at home. Diversity builds a stronger culture and produces real economic benefits. A way forward would be to change the conversation about immigration to a discussion about economics instead of race. Liberal immigration policies can help build a strong economy.
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?
As a lifelong resident of Central and Leeward Oahu, I know the significant impact a sudden base closure would have on our communities. The district I represent — Mililani, Mililani Mauka and Waipio Acres — is located next to Wheeler and Schofield, and when the military talked about a reduction-in-force and base closures, I testified against the closures. The sudden drop in housing value after a base closure would have had a dangerous impact on Central and Leeward Oahu homeowners and left many local families paying more for their mortgages than their homes were worth.
However, I think Hawaii’s strategic value means we will have a continued U.S. military presence. As a member of Congress, I would work to ensure the U.S. military is a responsible community partner. Pushing for increases in on-base housing would help ease the burden the U.S. military places on our housing market, lowering prices gradually and allowing the market to adjust. I would increase renewable energy mandates and encourage a faster transition from fossil fuels. The U.S. military is investing in renewable energy facilities and research, and I would push for investment in research and technology at existing bases in Hawaii.
11. What specific reforms, if any, would you seek in gun control policies?
I was in high school when the Columbine shooting occurred, and my parents talked to me about escape plans and where to hide in the event something happened at my school. Today, we have that same conversation with my niece. Failure to prevent gun violence is the single greatest failure of this Congress. Children shouldn’t need to wonder if their desk can stop a bullet.
Extreme-risk protection orders, to temporarily restrict a person’s access to guns, have proven effective at reducing gun deaths related to domestic violence, suicide, and other preventable situations that involve noticeable warning signs. These orders could also reduce mass shootings.
State and county registration systems have too many gaps to be reliable. We need a national registry, background checks and mandatory waiting periods. Each of these measures could immediately move us forward and reduce gun deaths in America.
12. What other important issue would you like to discuss here?
Half of my graduating class doesn’t know if we can afford to continue calling Hawaii home. The other half already moved away. I don’t want to wait, and I don’t think the people of Hawaii want to wait, for us to lose an entire generation to the mainland before establishment politicians start taking this situation seriously.
During a debate, there was a moment when a candidate said she was the only mother on the stage, then turned around to look at me. It was a reminder that many politicians are out of touch with the fact that many of us need to decide between staying in Hawaii and having a child, because we can’t afford to do both. My sister and I were raised on a postal workers’ salary until my mom started her career. It was hard, but our parents made it work. It would be impossible to do that today.
Our nation is facing tremendous difficulties, and I’m ready to address them on a national level. But I can do that without losing sight of the difficulties facing our residents in their everyday lives. That’s the balance we need.
While asking for your support is something we don’t like to do, the simple fact is that our reporters, our journalism, and our impact rely on it. Since lifting our paywall and becoming a nonprofit in mid-2016, our local newsroom has benefitted from a stream of charitable support from people who want our type of journalism to survive. People like you who understand that our work is essential to a better-informed community. If you value the work of our journalists, show us with your tax-deductible support.