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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 Tulsi Gabbard, a Democratic candidate for the 2nd Congressional District, which covers rural Oahu and the neighbor islands. There is one other candidate, Republican Brian K. Evans.
1. What would be your first priority if elected? How would that change if your party is in the majority? The minority?
I will continue to serve the people of Hawaii and this nation to the best of my ability — no matter which party holds the majority. There are many important issues facing the people of Hawaii — affordable housing, infrastructure, health care, education, quality jobs, protecting our planet, protecting Medicare and Social Security, caring for our veterans, our kupuna, our keiki, and so much more. But there is one issue that is central to all the rest — the issue of peace.
The people of Hawaii have directly felt the cost of U.S. interventionist wars — costs borne by our nation’s sons and daughters who have served, the threat of nuclear attack from North Korea, and because we have spent over $8 trillion on interventionist wars since 9/11 instead of using those limited resources on investing in our people and rebuilding our communities right here at home. Every dollar spent on interventionist regime-change wars is a dollar not spent on education, health care, infrastructure, and a myriad of other needs so desperately needed right here at home.
2. Who would you support for Speaker of the House?
This question is premature as I don’t know yet who the candidates will be. What I do know is that we need leadership that will put country before party, and build consensus around how best to serve the people of this country and protect our planet. There are many diverse ideas within the Democratic Caucus, and within Congress, that are reflective of the diversity within our country. We need leaders who will bring people together, even those with whom we may disagree, to deliver results that best serve our people.
3. Under what circumstances should America go to war?
We should only go to war if it is necessary for the safety and security of the American people. All diplomatic options must be exhausted before considering the use of military force. Unfortunately, war is sometimes necessary to keep our country safe. But it must be the last option, not the first.
However, our nation continues to fight interventionist wars of choice, toppling dictators we don’t like, putting the lives of our nation’s sons and daughters at risk, and squandering the limited resources that our country has.
For example, right now the U.S. is waging war in Yemen on behalf of Saudi Arabia, which has led to more than 16,000 civilian deaths, displaced over 2 million Yemenis, and created the worst humanitarian crisis in decades. Our regime-change war in Iraq has claimed the lives of nearly 5,000 U.S. personnel and more than 200,000 Iraqi civilians. Our regime-change war in Syria has strengthened terrorist groups like al-Qaeda, cost us billions of dollars, claimed the lives of hundreds of thousands of Syrians, and created millions of refugees.
We must end our destructive and costly regime-change wars, and stop trying to be the policeman of the world.
4. Should Facebook be regulated by the federal government? How?
Yes. There’s no question that regulations are necessary, but we need to make sure that the regulations put in place protect civil liberties and privacy, while still protecting the First Amendment and not censoring content, political or otherwise, that they don’t agree with.
• Political advertising: We currently require rigorous record keeping of political advertisements via TV, print, and radio — the same should apply to online and social media platforms.
• Personal privacy: Each Facebook user should decide how much of their personal information is available to the company and collected by others for marketing or other purposes. Failure to comply should be considered a violation of one’s personal privacy.
5. What should the United States do to control carbon emissions and slow climate change?
Across our islands, we’ve seen the devastating impact of climate change firsthand, from record-breaking flooding on Kauai, to rising sea levels deteriorating Honoapiilani Highway on Maui, to mass coral die-offs in our oceans, and much more. Taking care of our aina, water and air is our kuleana. We continue to see that stewardship for our Mother Earth in the leadership of our state as we became first in the nation to set a 100 percent clean energy goal, to ban harmful chemicals in our sunscreen that are killing our coral reef, and more.
Congress must act to help end our country’s addiction to fossil fuels to reduce carbon emissions, slow climate change, and do all we can to protect our people and our planet. Building on Hawaii’s landmark progress, I introduced the Off Fossil Fuels for a Better Future Act, laying down the pathway to 100 percent clean energy production by 2035. The bill ends billions of dollars of fossil fuel subsidies and invests in green energy policies, including a transition to near-zero greenhouse gas emissions, 100 percent clean renewable energy, infrastructure modernization, green jobs and more.
6. Is it time to reform Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid? How?
Yes. We must preserve and protect these programs that serve the most needy and vulnerable among us. The Social Security and Medicare boards of trustees recently reported that the trust fund will be depleted by 2034. This cannot wait to be addressed. We can begin by making sure the Social Security trust fund is not raided, and by passing the Social Security 2100 Act, which would cut taxes for Social Security recipients, provide an increase in benefits for recipients, and keep the system strong for generations without adding to the national debt.
Medicare and Medicaid provide access to health care for many who otherwise have none. Our country spends 31 percent more per person on health care than the next-closest country. There are many systemic reforms needed to our health care system. To name a few, Congress needs to enact Medicare-for-all. We must focus on preventive health to keep people from getting sick in the first place. We must allow Medicare to negotiate with prescription drug companies to bring down the cost of their medicine. We must implement creative ways to crack down on Medicare fraud and abuse.
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?
There are three main issues that must be addressed: setting the spending priorities for our country, eliminating waste of taxpayer dollars, and hyper-partisanship that gets in the way of meaningful debate on how to accomplish these priorities. For example, we are spending trillions of dollars on unnecessary interventionist wars that do not serve the interests of the American people — money that should be spent on investing in infrastructure, affordable housing, education, health care and other priorities here at home.
For the last several years, Congress has come to a standstill because leaders are more interested in putting the well-being of their political party before that of the people of this country. As a result, there has been very little meaningful conversation to bring different sides together to figure out how to bridge the gap and find common ground. We can and should have policy debates, and we can disagree about how and where money should be appropriated, but until Congress is willing to put gamesmanship aside and work together for the good of the country, the status quo will continue to prevail.
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?
With heightened divisiveness in America and in Washington, where too many are “other-izing” those who may look different, worship different or hold different political views, it is more important than ever to live aloha, to love and treat all others with respect. The divisiveness that is tearing our nation apart — whether due to race, religion, political ideology, gender, sexual orientation, or other — must end.
If our goal is to deliver results to the American people, but we are only willing to talk with those who agree with us, we will fail. We must be willing to meet and talk with those who we disagree with, even though they may be political adversaries, in order to serve the people of Hawaii and this country.
Inspired by my former boss and mentor, Sen. Daniel Akaka, I made it a priority to share aloha and build relationships with Democrats and Republicans. This has enabled me to deliver results to the people of Hawaii.
9. What should be done to reform U.S. immigration policies, if anything?
Our immigration policies are archaic, broke, and counterproductive to our interests. We need comprehensive reform now. With the uncertainty around what is happening at the southern border with children being taken from their parents and being used as leverage in the immigration debate, we must stop playing politics and come together to enact real, comprehensive immigration reform. I cosponsored the Keep Families Together Act to provide a permanent, legislative fix to some of the family issues that are occurring at the border, erasing the uncertainty that allowed these atrocities to happen in the first place.
We must also seek a permanent solution for DREAMers, who were brought to the U.S. as children through no choice of their own. We need to invest in state-of-the-art border security infrastructure, determine how families are able to petition for their loved ones, implement a fully transparent E-Verify system designed to protect our workforce and uphold constitutional rights and civil liberties, reform our employment-based visa programs that strengthen our economy and create good American jobs, and more. Additionally, we have to work with other countries to address the problems that lead to so many people fleeing their homes for our borders.
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?
The U.S. military employs nearly 50,000 Hawaii residents and accounts for nearly 10 percent of our state’s GDP. It contributes greatly to our state’s safety, security, economy, renewable energy research, local disaster relief and our nation’s defense. It is important that we balance the security needs of our state, while protecting our environment and respecting our native people and culture.
Hawaii is the bridge between the continental U.S. and the Asia-Pacific. As the primary headquarters for the Indo-Pacific Command, ensuring readiness, training, and effectiveness of our military personnel and technology is essential. As increases or reductions in troop levels are considered, our affected communities must be consulted and have a seat at the table.
11. What specific reforms, if any, would you seek in gun control policies?
For years I have advocated for sensible gun safety reforms, such as requiring comprehensive pre-purchase background checks, closing the gun-show loophole, and reinstating a federal assault weapons ban. We must stop using this issue as a partisan political football, which both parties are guilty of, to drum up people’s worst fears and cause them to react as though they are under attack. Instead, we should be encouraging real dialogue around the common ground that exists in this country — upholding every citizen’s 2nd Amendment right, while also keeping our kids and communities safe by passing sensible legislation to make sure that firearms do not end up in the hands of those who seek to do harm to others.
We can build upon the passage of the bipartisan Stop School Violence Act, which focuses on investing in school security and evidence-based training of students, teachers, and school faculty to prevent the kinds of horrifying school shootings we’ve seen too often. This issue is too important, with lives at stake, for us to continue to point fingers and play the blame game. We must come together as a nation, with respect and aloha, and take meaningful action.
12. What other important issue would you like to discuss here?
One of the most important issues facing our state is the high cost of living and extreme affordable housing shortage. Many of our residents and their families are being forced to leave Hawaii because they cannot afford to stay. Meanwhile, we’ve become a playground for the wealthy with condos and homes selling for millions and many being used for vacation rentals, driving up the price of housing and making it harder for many families to find a safe place to live. Recent reports indicate that more Hawaii residents are living in poverty, given that it takes an hourly wage of $36.13 — or an annual salary of $75,150 — to afford a two-bedroom rental here.
On Oahu alone, there are just 40 affordable rentals available for every 100 extremely low-income renters. In our rural communities, homelessness has increased by over 46 percent in the last two years. We must treat this housing shortage like the crisis that it is and form a disaster-response team made up of county, state, and federal representatives working with the private sector to cut the red tape and expedite the building of affordable housing units that will stay affordable in perpetuity — not be flipped and sold for profit as we see happen too often.
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