Immigration. Health care. Government shutdowns. Historic preservation.

 

U.S. Rep. Ed Case listened to voter concerns about these and a host of other issues as he led a talk story session at the Campbell High School cafeteria in Ewa Beach Sunday afternoon.

For Case, who was re-elected to the U.S. Congress last year after a 12-year absence, it’s his way of hearing what’s on the minds of the people who sent him to Washington, D.C. — an invaluable opportunity to get “the vibe” of folks back home, as he put it.

It’s also his chance to bypass emailed newsletters and social media to tell them what he’s been up to in the nearly 100 days since he’s been back in office.

It has been an eventful period and includes the longest shutdown in history of parts of the federal government and the release of the report from special counsel Robert Mueller.

What Case wants the people of the 1st Congressional District to understand is that work continues in D.C. in spite of the perpetual “noise inside the bubble” that hovers over the capital.

Congressman Ed Case Talk Story at Campbell High School.

Congressman Ed Case talking story at Campbell High School Sunday afternoon.

Cory Lum/Civil Beat

Case said he would talk for 30 minutes before taking questions, but he spent closer to an hour. There was a lot to talk about: the problem of dark money in politics, the crisis of climate change (Case “believes in the science”), his concern that an unnecessary border wall with Mexico will take federal dollars way from Hawaii (he estimates that close to 20% of the state budget is federal money), that “tens of millions” lack health care nationwide, that the national debt is $4 trillion larger than it was when he left Congress.

And then there is the matter of Donald Trump.

Congress 2.0

The president came up Sunday when Lindsay Desrochers of Kapolei raised the issue of national leadership. She said she agreed with Case that Congress is a co-equal branch of government that must serve as a check on the executive.

What, Desrochers asked Case, would he do if the Mueller report turns out to be much more damning than the brief summary issued by U.S. Attorney William Barr?

Case actually had a copy of the summary on hand, and he told Desrochers that he wanted to see the full report. At present, he is in Speaker Nancy Pelosi’s camp that there should not be a rush to impeachment.

But, should the report reveal unacceptable behavior on the part of the president, Case made clear that it was the responsibility of Congress to act responsibly.

“I am not shy about exercising that responsibility if I feel it’s warranted,” he said.

Congressman Ed Case Talk Story at Campbell High School.

Several dozen residents of the 1st Congressional District were on hand for the Ewa Beach talk story.

Cory Lum/Civil Beat

Soon after, another woman in the audience expressed essentially the opposite view on Trump, defending his presidency and criticizing his critics. I asked Case afterwards whether the Mueller report came up a lot at his other talk stories this weekend.

“Not as much as I thought,” he said, adding that he heard from both Trump defenders and detractors. “The common theme was clearly a concern about how our government is functioning.”

That concern is precisely what prompted Case to run last year to replace Colleen Hanabusa, who lost her bid for governor.

“I think my overall conclusion is that I feel I have been on the right track in general, and this is a gut check on that after almost a hundred days,” he said.

The talk story in Ewa Beach ended with applause from the several dozen in attendance — even from those who expressed different positions than their representative.

From Makapuu To Kahe Point

Case, a Democrat, began his most recent trip home on Friday going on three local television stations to talk about his talk stories. Just hours after he finished up in Ewa Beach on Sunday, around 3:30 p.m., he flew back to the nation’s capital.

Campbell High was the fifth of five stops on Case’s first talk story tour in a district that runs 40 miles long and 10 miles wide. They began Friday night and continued over the weekend at public school cafeterias downtown, in Aina Haina, in Kalihi and Waipahu.

CD1 stretches from Makapuu in the east to Mililani heading north, and through Ewa, Kapolei and Kahe Point in the west.

The common theme was clearly a concern about how our government is functioning.” — Ed Case

It is a district, as Case points out, that is diverse not only ethnically but also in terms of income and resident origin. It is home to veterans and universities, the seat of state government and the heart of the tourism industry. There are some 700,000 people that call CD1 home.

Case, who today spends the majority of his time 5,000 miles away in D.C., travelled home often from late 2002 to early 2007, when he last served in Congress. He then represented the 2nd Congressional District, which covers the other half of Oahu and the neighbor islands.

The cover of Honolulu Weekly, March 12, 2003.

Case is the only member of Hawaii’s delegation that has represented both seats. And, while he has lost several other bids for the House and the U.S. Senate, he got to Washington before Sens. Mazie Hirono and Brian Schatz and Rep. Tulsi Gabbard.

Talk stories are not unique to Case.

Schatz will kick off a series of town halls starting in Kauai later this month. Hirono hosts talk stories on Tuesdays in her D.C. office for visiting constituents, sometimes twice a week, depending on who’s in town. A spokesman said Hirono maintains a “robust public schedule” when she’s home “where she speaks with constituents on a regular basis.”

And a spokeswoman for Gabbard said the congresswoman has held “talk story town halls” over her time in office on the four largest Hawaii Islands as well as holding “telephone town halls” with Gabbard and “subject matter experts on various topics of interest.”

Then, And Now

But Case’s personal outreach stands out.

He held 175 talk stories during his last tour of Congress, or about 40 a year. He estimates that he spent on average about six months each year either in D.C. or somewhere besides Hawaii, five months back home and one month on airplanes.

That sounds about right.

Back in March 2003, when Case was a freshman lawmaker in D.C., I tagged along on his talk story circuit one Sunday as he covered Windward Oahu with stops in Laie, Kaneohe, Kailua and Waimanalo.

It’s instructive to compare how some topics on the minds of voters back then are still around today — North Korea, taxes, the deficit — and ones that have washed away with the wave of time — ice, Iraq, the Akaka bill.

As polarized as America now is under Trump, Case reminded people that things were pretty polarized under George W. Bush, too. And the nation was on the cusp of war.

Here’s what I wrote for the now defunct Honolulu Weekly at the time in describing the mood at Case’s talk stories:

The very notion of their country launching a preemptive strike was anathema to most residents, but few saw how it could be avoided at this late date. Every time Case brought the topic up, the room hushed. Standing with hands clasped, or raising his arms to make a point, Case said he believed Saddam Hussein was a “serious threat” but he also stressed that he did not know whether Saddam possessed the kinds of weapons Bush says he has, or whether he would ever attack the U.S.

“He’s not a clear and present danger,” he said.

Case also described the Washington of 2003 as different as well.

”The air is tense with security alerts and the potential for war,” he told listeners. “We’ve been warned to be vigilant, cautious, discreet. We’re told not to put bumper-stickers on our cars, to vary our routines. There are guards everywhere, plainclothes people talking into their sleeves. It’s a way of life now. We’re going about our business, but these are very tough times in Washington.”

A week after my story appeared, the United States invaded Iraq.

Flash-forward to today and Case says he and many of his colleagues continue going about their business. It includes working on the upcoming appropriations package and making sure lawmakers are helping with casework for constituents in their home states.

But what is also different is that Case, never one to hold back his point of view, is today even more comfortable in his skin.

“When I first started out in politics I felt that I needed to know everything — and, ironically, back then I didn’t know as much but I felt I needed to know,” he said. “Now I know just a ton more but I am less shy about saying when I don’t know it.”

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