- Special Projects
Editor’s note: For Hawaii’s Nov. 6 General Election, 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 Mazie Hirono, the Democratic candidate for U.S. Senate. There is one other candidate, Republican Ron Curtis.
1. What would be your first priority if elected?
My first priority, if re-elected, would be to continue to fight for the things that are important to the people of Hawaii – such as health care that’s affordable and accessible; protecting Medicare, Social Security, and Medicaid; tax reform that helps all middle class and working people – not the richest 1 percent of people and corporations in our country; and ensuring that unions can continue to fight for good wages and working conditions.
Health care access in particular impacts every single American and my recent health experience has help me better understand the plight of others who have also dealing with serious health issues. There are people in our state and across the country who still do not have access to affordable, quality health care. In the year 2018, that is unacceptable.
I was fortunate to have health insurance and access to health care when I was diagnosed with kidney cancer last year. We are all living just one diagnosis away from a major illness, and no one should need to worry about whether they can afford the care that might end up saving their life.
2. Under what circumstances should America go to war?
Defense Secretary Mattis, who has decades of experience with war and conflict, has said diplomacy backed by “strong and prepared armed forces” is the best way to prevent war. I agree with him. As a member of the Senate Armed Services Committee, I understand the importance of maintaining and supporting our military. I also understand the importance of strong relationships with our allies and diplomacy as a way to resolve conflicts before resorting to war – which only Congress can declare, not as a rubber stamp to a reckless president.
My interest in politics began when I took part in protests over the Vietnam War as a student at the University of Hawaii Manoa. Since that time, I have consistently maintained that the best path for the international challenges we face is to exhaust diplomatic solutions before considering the option of war. That does not negate the need to ensure we maintain our military’s deterrent capability and strong relationships with allies, but it does make certain that we not senselessly engage in war. Congress must also reassert its power as a separate branch of government to serve as a check on a president’s reckless decision to use military force.
3. Should Facebook be regulated by the federal government? How?
In April, after it was disclosed that Facebook had compromised the data of nearly 90 million Americans, Mark Zuckerberg testified before the Senate. I had the opportunity both to question him directly, and listen to the questioning from my colleagues.
One thing that became clear during Zuckerberg’s hearing is that we are in a new world in protecting people’s privacy from data breaches that can compromise information affecting millions of people. Whether there should be regulation, what kind, and how much are matters of ongoing discussion. I will keep working with my colleagues to continue our oversight of companies like Facebook, pushing federal agencies to exercise their existing authority vigorously, and developing and updating federal laws and policy to better protect consumers.
4. What should the United States do to control carbon emissions and slow climate change?
The administration should acknowledge the existence of global warming and climate change and rejoin the Paris Climate Accords, to start. Since that is not likely to happen, I will continue to work with my colleagues to restore the cuts made to climate research and clean energy programs, continue to support the military’s efforts for energy resilience and reliance on alternative and renewable fuel, and support Hawaii’s goal of 100 percentreliance on alternative and renewables for electricity by 2045 by pushing for federal programs that support Hawaii’s efforts.
With the most ambitious renewable energy goal in the country, Hawaii has demonstrated how important it is to act decisively in the fight against climate change. I support similarly ambitious action at the federal level, like a national renewable energy standard, as I have proposed before, and think we need to have a broad national debate about legislation that puts a firm price on carbon pollution.
I have been successful in working with my Senate colleagues to beat back the huge cuts to clean energy research President Trump proposed. I’ve also worked with members of both parties to encourage renewable energy innovation in the Department of Defense – our country’s largest energy consumer.
5. Is it time to reform Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid? How?
If reform means strengthening Social Security, Medicare, and Medicaid – programs that millions of people in our country depend on – then I support reform. To Donald Trump and the Republican Party, “reform” of these critical social safety net programs is just another way of saying they need to be cut or privatized, harming our kupuna and others who rely on them.
I introduced the Protecting and Preserving Social Security Act which would “scrap the cap,” making sure the wealthiest Americans pay their fair share for these programs. The bill would also switch from our current formula for calculating Social Security’s annual cost-of-living increases to a way that specifically accounts for the needs of households with people aged 62 and up.
One way to improve the financial position of Medicare and Social Security is to increase the number of people paying into these programs. Passing comprehensive, bipartisan immigration reform, enabling over 11 million immigrants in our country to come out of the shadows, work and pay taxes, would help. Until common sense updates like these can be made to ensure the solvency of these important programs, I will continue to fight back against attempts to privatize, voucherize, or cut funding.
6. 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?
That disagreement is why we end up with stopgap spending bills, sequestration, and other legislative measures in place of actually doing the work necessary to complete the budget and appropriations process in regular order. As a member of the new bipartisan, bicameral Joint Select Committee on Budget and Appropriations Process Reform, I hope we can jointly recommend a process that will enable Congress, if there is the will, to follow a budget and appropriations process that is transparent and productive.
There are a significant number of members of Congress who have an overarching goal to cut the government programs – except for defense – that supports our families and communities. It is very difficult to work in a responsible, bipartisan way to fund these programs if there are a significant number of members of Congress who only want to cut, cut, cut.
7. Whatever happens in the midterm elections, Congress will remain deeply divided. What specifically would you do to help bridge the partisan divide in Washington?
Even in the midst of our current climate, I have been able to find ways to work with colleagues across the aisle to address problems that impact the people of Hawaii. I worked with Sen. Deb Fischer, R-Neb., to enact legislation to ensure an equal amount of paid leave for veterans working at the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) and Transportation Security Administration (TSA) with that of other federal agencies, to allow them to get treatment for service-related injuries. Earlier this year, Sen. Joni Ernst, R-Iowa, and I passed legislation expanding access to telehealth services for veterans.
More recently, I worked with Sen. Lisa Murkowski, R-Alaska, to pass legislation that strengthens volcano monitoring and early warning systems, an especially relevant bill considering the current situation on Hawaii Island. I was also able to get my legislation to close reporting loopholes for domestic violence in the military – the loophole that allowed the Sutherland Springs, Texas, murderer to purchase a firearm – included and passed on a bipartisan basis as part of the Senate’s National Defense Authorization Act this year.
Right now, I have other legislation co-sponsored by Republican colleagues. I will continue to work across the aisle to get things done.
8. What should be done to reform U.S. immigration policies, if anything?
We should pass comprehensive immigration reform that keeps family unity as a guiding principle – something we managed to do in 2013. In terms of reform, we need a path to citizenship for Dreamers and a stable, long-term solution for their parents aimed at keeping families together.
We should fight against attempts to demonize family reunification as “chain migration.” In the Senate, I sponsored legislation to end our current practice of expecting children to represent themselves in immigration court by giving them access to counsel. I have spoken out against this administration’s travel ban and believe that we should ban immigration restrictions based on religion.
The approach the current administration has taken to immigration and our nation’s immigrant communities is unconscionable, and has solidified my resolve to speak up. It’s possible for our nation to have a fair, compassionate immigration system where others can have the same opportunity my mother had when she came to the U.S. in search of a better life for herself and her family.
9. 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 member of the Senate Armed Services Committee, I understand the importance of the Indo-Asia-Pacific region to our national security. There is no question that Hawaii will continue to play an important role in our national security. I believe that we should be focused on pursuing diplomatic solutions that de-escalate potential conflicts before they reach a critical mass – but know that it is also key that we maintain a military force that is robust enough to act as a deterrent.
In Hawaii, the military and military-based funding provides an opening for our state to pursue our policy priorities and increase employment opportunities. Clean energy and energy resiliency research and development projects, the Pearl Harbor Naval Shipyard, Barking Sands, and other military projects and outposts create tens of thousands of jobs for our islands.
At the same time, the military should be good neighbors and good stewards. This is why I encourage and support dialogue and consultation between the the military and our communities.
10. What specific reforms, if any, would you seek in gun control policies?
Hawaii already has some of the strictest gun laws in the nation and I support sensible changes to our national gun laws. I support closing the loopholes in our current background check system and eliminating bump stocks. I have supported bills to ban the sale, transfer, manufacture, and importation of military-style assault weapons and large capacity ammunition feeding devices. Removing military-style weapons from our streets is a concrete step that we can take to reducing the amount of gun violence we see on a daily basis.
This year, I worked to close a loophole in the Uniform Code of Military Justice that had previously enabled convicted abusers to purchase firearms, legislation that has been included in the Senate’s recently passed National Defense Authorization Act.
We have witnessed tragedy after tragedy, and “thoughts and prayers” have done nothing to curb the number of mass shootings and other gun-related deaths in or country. Victims and their loved ones deserve action.
11. What other important issue would you like to discuss here?
These are not normal times. We are dealing with an administration that regularly lies to the American people. We have members of this administration who purposely work against the mission of the departments and agencies they lead, treat federal employees like their personal servants, and use their positions to enrich themselves and their corporate cronies. This is wrong, but it flows from the top.
We need to fight back through continued engagement and with our votes – drawing attention to things like the Trump administration’s court-stacking. For decades, right-wing organizations have worked to set the stage for installing ideologically extreme judges, and we’re seeing the result in even the latest Supreme Court decisions that diminished women’s rights, minorities’ rights, and workers’ rights.
Should we take back the majority in the Senate, I would want to pursue tax reform that benefits all Americans – not just the wealthiest 1 percent – get back to comprehensive immigration reform, starting with a solution for Dreamers, and tackle our infrastructure problems in a way that creates jobs and does not place the burden of repair on the states.