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 Kaniela Ing, a Democratic candidate for the 1st Congressional District, which covers urban Oahu. There are six other Democratic candidates, including Doug Chin, Beth Fukumoto, Sam Puletasi, Ernie Martin, Donna Mercado Kim and Ed Case.
1. What would be your first priority if elected? How would that change if your party is in the majority? The minority?
In Congress, my first legislative priority would be to secure funding for Hawaii infrastructure and champion a bold progressive vision to ease costs for Hawaii residents. In the state House, I fought for a minimum wage increase, equal pay for women, pro-renter policies, and more school infrastructure funding than any other district in the state. I will continue this work in Washington.
While Democrats are not the majority in Congress, we should be leading with a bold progressive vision, to garner public support for our policies. That way, once we are back in power, we will have a mandate from the American people.
This means being a champion for Medicare-for-all, tuition-free college, ending reckless wars abroad, a Green New Deal for a 100 percent renewable energy future, and a $1 trillion investment in infrastructure. I have demonstrated bipartisanship and am willing to work with anyone who seeks to help Hawaii’s working families. However, I will not compromise with the uncompromising. Democrats can no longer afford to start our negotiations from the middle, when far-right politicians like Ted Cruz and Donald Trump are gaining ground and will only pull our nation closer to authoritarianism.
2. Who would you support for Speaker of the House?
If Democrats take back the House, which I believe we will, there is no guarantee that Nancy Pelosi will seek the Speakership again. If she does, I would like to see who else runs. Pelosi’s strength has been helping Democrats raise corporate money. As the only candidate not accepting a dollar from corporations and their lobbyists, that has no value to me. I want to support a fair, inclusive leader who believes in a bold, progressive vision for our future. The speaker must understand that resisting Trump is not enough and that Democrats should not behave as the Republicans did under Obama and be obstructionists. We are not the party of “no.” We need to fight for something: We need to fight for aloha.
Whether it’s immigration, education, health care, housing, or the environment, Congress needs to act, and act with aloha. When my dad died unexpectedly just before my 12th birthday, my mom raised four kids and looked after my grandmother on a Liberty House shoe clerk’s income. We relied on government assistance, food stamps, free school lunch, other subsidies, and on support from our church and community. Families struggling today need Congress and leadership to fight for aloha.
3. Under what circumstances should America go to war?
Congress and the White House keep repeating the same mistakes when it comes to war. The Vietnam War, the Iraq War and the ongoing Syrian occupation are just a few examples of America’s bad habit of engaging in reckless, often illegal, regime change wars of choice. We need leaders who will help revitalize the Peace Movement of the 1960s, and lead with a new foreign policy rooted in interdependence, not imperialism.
We must take into account the ramifications of supporting a side when America is not directly threatened. When despots engage in egregious human rights violations, such as in Syria, swift violence may seem moral and absolutely warranted; but history shows that such interventions can create power vacuums that can result in even more turmoil and violence like the rise of ISIS.
Congress also must stand up to the military industrial complex. Weapon manufacturers remain among the biggest donors in Washington. In turn, they get awarded no-bid contracts to carpet bomb communities, and no bid-contracts to clean it up. It’s a moral hazard that must end. I am the only candidate who pledged to reject their money, so voters know that I will lead with aloha and sensible, diplomacy-first foreign policy.
4. Should Facebook be regulated by the federal government? How?
When news broke about Facebook’s role in Cambridge Analytica’s theft of information and manipulation of the 2016 election, Buzzfeed published my op-ed outlining possible regulatory strategies for Facebook. Existing laws fail to address concerns brought by emerging technology and the government must keep up with innovation.
The lack of oversight and competition of monopolies like Facebook encourages reckless behavior, stifles innovation, and leaves the rest of us bearing the personal and financial risks. Facebook strives to be a public utility that informs and connects the public, but it acts more like a surveillance machine that sells our data to enrich billionaires and puts our democracy at risk.
Like Monsanto and other large corporations, Facebook’s solution is self-regulation. However, America cannot afford to rely on a corporation’s word when our political institutions and the fate of our nation hang in the balance.
If we’re serious about fixing our democracy and creating an economy that works for all, we need bold new antitrust policies that challenge corporate power Congress should require Facebook to split off Instagram and WhatsApp, which would break its advertising monopoly. Congress must also pass data rules and treat Facebook as the “social utility” Zuckerberg once said it was.
5. What should the United States do to control carbon emissions and slow climate change?
Climate change is more than a future threat in Hawaii. Unless we take drastic action within the next 15 years, Hawaii will see a 3-foot sea-level rise by the year 2100. In perspective, that means most of Waikiki will be underwater within my 2-year-old son’s lifetime.
Recommitting to the Paris Accord would be a start, but we need to do much more than restore the pre-Trump status quo if we want to save island Earth and keep Hawaii from becoming the climate refugee capital of the Pacific.
In the Legislature, I supported our successful measure to achieve 100 percent renewable energy by 2045, opposed fracked natural gas, and the mainland takeover of our utility. But, climate change is a global crisis that requires American action and leadership.
I would support legislation making America 100 percent renewable energy by 2035. I will also champion a $1 trillion investment in clean energy jobs and infrastructure through a modern FDR-style Green New Deal that would allow us to have clean energy jobs and build a future economy that leaves no one behind.
6. Is it time to reform Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid? How?
We must protect and expand Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid. Health care is a human right and the United States is spending far more money than any other developed nation to provide inadequate health care for just a portion of our population. It’s shameful.
The Affordable Care Act was an intermediate step to move toward universal health care. Trump’s attempts to gut the ACA will be felt by the most vulnerable among us, but we can’t just fight to get back to the status quo. America needs to join the rest of the world and provide health care for all.
Social Security needs to be able to fulfill its mandate of providing basic income for America’s seniors. People are living longer than they did before and the Silver Tsunami is beginning as Baby Boomers have become eligible for Social Security. Cost of living also continues to rise, so seniors will need more benefits to survive.
With more money going out to beneficiaries, we need to ensure that sufficient money is going into the Social Security Trust. We must eliminate the $128,700 cap for taxable income that goes into Social Security. Everyone needs to pay their fair share.
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?
Congress struggles with budget deficits, the national debt, and spending in general because we cut taxes on corporations and the wealthy, despite record profits.
For decades after the New Deal and WWII, extremely wealthy individuals paid more than 90 percent of their income in taxes. The one piece of significant legislation Congress passed this year was lowering the top rate to 37 percent. An AFL-CIO study showed executives of S&P 500 companies made 347 times more than their average employees in 2016, compared to 41 times as much in 1983. Corporations paid a third of the federal budget in 1950 and that percentage dropped to 9 percent even before the Trump handouts to corporations and the extremely wealthy.
Trump requested $886 billion in total military spending for the upcoming fiscal year. Our national defense budget dwarfs those of the rest of the world, yet we fail to make similar investments in health care, housing, education, or infrastructure. We need to significantly curtail defense spending.
Federal spending in general will remain difficult as long as we allow our government to give historically low tax rates to the wealthy and corporations as they make unprecedented incomes and dump hundreds of billions a year on defense.
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?
Our two-party system is driven by corporate dollars to divide the American people, and it’s working. Many of the same players are financing Democrats and Republicans and the power of the dollar is drowning out the will of the people. We need to get money out of politics and reboot American democracy.
Despite being a lifelong Democrat and consistent progressive, I’ve been able to find common ground, compromise without sacrificing my principles, and not let perfect be the enemy of good. I’m a fierce proponent of making the minimum wage a living wage and support the Fight for 15, yet I was still willing to accept $10.10 to salvage the bill and give relief to the backbone of our workforce.
If elected to Congress, I would have the same approach in working with other legislators, regardless of ideology or partisan divide. No matter our differences, most of us want similar things. We want to create a better life for the people we love. Even in today’s polarized political climate, we’ve seen bipartisan support for keeping immigrant families together, common-sense gun control, and protecting health care. Progress can be made if we stick to the issue and fight for aloha.
9. What should be done to reform U.S. immigration policies, if anything?
I have long been a champion of immigrant rights and human rights. In the Legislature, I championed investigations into allegations of human trafficking in the long line fishing industry, fought to pass driver’s licenses for undocumented immigrants, and introduced the nation’s first Sanctuary State Bill.
On the national level, we need to abolish ICE. It’s important to remember that ICE was only created in 2003. ICE was a George W. Bush scapegoating tactic to pit us against “others” and help justify the Iraq War. We didn’t need ICE then, and we don’t need it now. ICE is what our immigration policy looks like when it’s rooted in fear and scarcity. It has become the American Gestapo. Every day, we continue business as usual and allow ICE to take our neighbors away in the middle of the night; it’s our moral failure that inches us toward authoritarianism.
We need to move away from DACA, which was intended as a workaround, and towards the DREAM Act to provide a path to citizenship for young people who only know life in America. They are American and we need to stop spending our resources on racist, xenophobic “zero tolerance” crackdowns.
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 fully appreciate the strategic geographic importance of having a military presence in Hawaii; however, we need to ensure that the impact of the military on the people of Hawaii and our islands is kept in balance.
Makua Valley and Red Hill are just two of the biggest examples of how the U.S. military is not a good steward of our land.
The impact of military members and DoD civilians on our housing market is significant. Tax-free monthly housing stipends often exceed $3,000 per person, and that’s on top of regular, special pay and a cost of living allowance. Now there is talk of providing a real property tax break in addition to these existing subsidies. Local families simply cannot compete with this and we are being squeezed out of our home.
Hawaii’s economy relies on tourism and defense, and we need to diversify and develop the quality jobs needed to ensure that my generation and my son’s generation have career opportunities so we can stay in Hawaii. I was the only legislator to support the Pentagon’s modest reduction in Hawaii and still believe that we need less of a military presence in our state.
11. What specific reforms, if any, would you seek in gun control policies?
Politicians should be ashamed for failing to take action on gun control as we routinely see mass shootings across America. Children are afraid to go to school, people are slaughtered in their places of worship, and the NRA has more of a voice than the overwhelming majority of American people.
Hawaii is a prime example of how common-sense gun control works. We have no neighboring state with lax gun laws where someone can obtain a weapon and drive over the border to skew our statistics. Hawaii has a high gun ownership rate, yet we are fortunate to have little gun violence compared to the rest of the nation. It’s not easy to get a gun here, yet many people do and few people use guns to commit crimes.
America needs to learn from Hawaii and take the approach to gun control we have as a state to the national level. There’s also more that needs to be done. I am proud of my F grade from the NRA and strongly support a ban of assault style rifles and high capacity magazines, mandatory background checks, a gun buy-back program, and waiting periods for gun purchases.
12. What other important issue would you like to discuss here?
The biggest issue facing Hawaii is our critical affordable housing shortage. We have luxury condos for off-island buyers next to Native Hawaiians, veterans, and families sleeping on the sidewalk. 70 percent of my class from Kamehameha School left Hawaii because they couldn’t afford to stay.
The market does not build units affordable to low-income people. State and county affordable housing requirements don’t help people making below $50,000 a year, never mind $30,000. The best way to provide the units Hawaii needs for our low-income households is through additional government investment, including expanding the National Affordable Housing Trust Fund from $219 million to at least $1 billion a year.
We also need to ensure that affordable housing units built with federal subsidies remain affordable permanently, not the 10 or 20 years currently required. Hawaii has a finite amount of developable land and sewer infrastructure is limited. We don’t have the luxury of building out and losing affordable housing is unacceptable, especially when it’s publicly funded. The new HCDA period of affordability requirement of 10 years is shameful. Most local requirements are at least 30 years and the trend has been 60 years or permanent affordability. The federal government must lead.
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