Editor’s note: For Hawaii’s Aug. 8 Primary 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 Ron Burrus, nonpartisan candidate for U.S. House District 2, which includes rural Oahu and the neighbor islands. The other nonpartisan candidate is Byron McCorriston.
1. The entire country, including Hawaii, has been deeply affected by the coronavirus pandemic. What should national leaders be prioritizing to help keep the outbreak under control and repair economic damage done by measures taken to respond to the outbreak? What role can you play as just one of 435 members of the U.S. House to help Hawaii?
Take cues from countries who have been more successful containing COVID-19. Japan and South Korea track clusters and test, test, test. New Zealand did a hard lockdown early and now has eliminated the virus to date (June 15). These methods have proven to be effective at containment.
Vaccine development needs to be a priority, with global cooperation and information sharing. The tourism sector will not recover until 2022, Hawaii must diversify its economy, perhaps in solar energy research and development.
We will need to reconstruct the infrastructure systems that were in place as preparation for a pandemic event, they were shut down by the Trump administration. Stockpiles of medical supplies need to be replenished. As a member of Congress, I would push for grants and funding for research and development of alternative energy sources. Hawaii needs to attract high-tech innovators and companies and we also need funds to cultivate our own homegrown innovators.
We need to be very forward-looking when it comes to climate change because 15% of our shorelines could be underwater by 2060. I would also request more funding for the hardest-hit businesses and their employees affected by the drop in tourism.
2. What would be your first priority if elected? How would that change if your party is in the majority? The minority?
On the national level, breaking up three big industries: media, financial services and agriculture. Massive deregulation of these industries has brought us the mess we live in today. In 1980, there were about 9,000 companies listed on the New York Stock Exchange, today there are about 2,900.
These priorities would not change, no matter the party in majority. Deregulation on the scale we have seen, is the father of fascism. On the local level, exploring ways to best diversify Hawaii’s economy. I will work with our business communities, state and local officials to get pools of ideas, build a consensus, get funding and implement best practices of the programs we agree to enact.
We are faced with very serious problems that require a great sense of urgency and we must act efficiently, effectively and very quickly, all of our lives and livelihoods are at stake.
3. Recent deaths of citizens at the hands of police are igniting protests and calls for reform across the country, primarily aimed at preventing discrimination against people of color. What should Congress do, if anything, to improve policing and police accountability?
First, we have to understand how we got here. The primary factor in my opinion, was the continued defunding for behavioral health. We have to get more serious about the mental state and health of our citizens.
For the last 20 to 30 years, we have taken the path of, let the police handle the mentally unstable. They are simply not equipped or trained to do so, nor is it their job. I also recognize that the way the pendulum has swung so far over to the horrific, i.e., shooting joggers, or kids on swing sets, people sleeping in their homes, etc., is beyond the pale and has to be stopped right now.
All police forces need better and longer-term training. Many California agencies’ training programs are twice to three times longer than their counterparts in other states. What I really want to enforce on police forces is that, if an event is captured on your body cams and/or someone else filming it, you can not tell blatant lies about the event and try to change everyone’s reality — not an acceptable response at all. Investigate it, then explain it, take proper disciplinary actions if needed, do it right!
4. Whatever happens in the general election, Congress and the country will likely remain deeply divided. What specifically would you do to help bridge the partisan divide in Washington?
Our government has governed with fear above any other management tactic for decades. Fear-based management is also prolific in corporate America. A scared population is easier to manipulate, we have been divided and conquered with expert precision over the last several decades.
As I mentioned before, deregulation of the media is a primary cause; tabloid journalism and social media have exacerbated our divisions. The U.S. Civil War was likely the war that never ended. Racism is taught, we are not born hating others for the color of their skin. Education is the best way to eradicate this hatred that starts being taught at an early age.
I would ask my brethren in Congress what they are afraid of and why would they want to continue to propagate division? I would ask, what is it that you want? And my guess is that, they may not even know as a result of following bad leadership blindly. First things first, seek to understand before you seek to be understood, then go from there.
5. 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 think Hawaii has untold amounts of military strategic value to the U.S. With the pandemic taking such a big bite out of Hawaii’s GDP, expansion of services for military personnel could help bridge economic hardship until we can diversify the economy.
I think some expansion of the military here would be wise in today’s geo-political climate. We are obviously a target and needing a beefed-up missile defense system that has highly accurate missiles is paramount. Swift counter-strike ability could be a big deterrent for potential missile attacks on Hawaii.
Meaning, should we consider having some ICBM silos in Hawaii? Hated saying that! Will it stop a mad man from launching a nuclear missile attack on Hawaii? I do not know, but mutually assured destruction has worked so far. My preference would be a highly accurate missile defense system, but if it is not accurate and has too many moving parts in the tracking system that could potentially fail, then we would need swift counter-strike measures.
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?
Does anybody really believe we can pay off the $26 trillion and growing national debt? Clearly government revenue has been mismanaged since 2001. Irresponsible tax breaks are the other big contributor to our debt.
Eliminating massive waste would be a priority. I would like to decrease some of the military spending and put more into education. To date, the government has collected $3.2 trillion in tax revenue. The 50 collective states have taken in $2 trillion in revenue so far this year and local governments have taken in $1.3 trillion in revenue.
Makes me wonder how we could be so in debt and constantly being told how broke we are at the local, state and federal level. I think we need stricter audits and controls on expenditures and strong oversight committees. I don’t want so much control as to hamstring and clog up the system, perhaps artificial intelligence should be employed to streamline budgeting processes and track spending, if it isn’t already.
7. Under what circumstances should America go to war?
Primarily, when our security is threatened or when we are attacked. In 2001, lawmakers and the president worked together to create a resolution permitting actions to answer terrorist threats. It is called the Authorization for Use of Military Force, or AUMF.
The AUMF is unusual because it permits actions against groups or people, as opposed to nations or areas. I think this should be repealed or modified to say that Congress has to approve the action by simple majority. I do not think it is appropriate to give the president this much unilateral power over the military. Better and more intelligence operations will help bringing down terrorists and/or extreme militant groups that operate outside of governments or nations.
8. What should the United States do to control carbon emissions and slow climate change?
Eliminate all coal-fired power plants. Make it a requirement that all new housing in the U.S. have solar panels. Where there is not enough sun for that to be viable, then other type of alternative power should be employed, i.e., wind, geothermal, etc.
Many innovations have been made that reduce power consumption, particularly for commercial building. Sensors that turn off lights when the sunlight is enough to light the office. Very efficient HVAC systems that have no ball bearings and operate quietly. The electric car needs to go much more mainstream but it never will until fast charge stations are available throughout the country and this would be a huge infrastructure project, but one that has to happen sooner or later.
The other way is quick battery swap stations, I think Tesla has this as a part of their current and future plan.
9. Is it time to reform Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid? How?
I think we have to put tax revenue collected for these programs in a lock box, much like Al Gore suggested in 2000. If the taxes collected for these programs are not raided to pay down national debt, they would be fully funded.
Use the money collected for the programs to fund the programs, don’t spend it somewhere else.
10. What should be done to reform U. S. immigration policies, if anything?
I do not think it is right to deport all undocumented immigrants; the criminal ones, yes, should be deported. A strong majority of Americans, 90%, approve of a pathway to citizenship so long as immigrants fulfill requirements like having been here for a number of years, holding a job and speaking English.
However, I think immigration has to be addressed at the heart of why many people come here. Most cross our southern borders to flee the drug cartels’ drug wars and the corruption. They also come here because we keep offering them jobs at low wages, so we give them an incentive.
So, you’ll be safe from the drug wars but you will work in hard conditions and be paid $5 per hour. Some pay more I realize. To seriously address the problem, I think we have to legalize drugs, a bold step I realize, but it would an instant impact on the criminal drug trade.
11. What specific reforms, if any, would you seek in gun control policies?
First, I would like to change the label from “gun control” to “firearms regulation.” I think the word “control” incites anger in this context.
Again, as with other issues above, we have to put a lot more funding into behavioral health. Time and time again, when we have these mass shootings, the warning signs were there and noticed by parents, friends and others on several occasions. But no one did or said anything. We have be more aware of what is going on around us.
Policies that make sense, like background checks, no guns for folks with felony records or history of mental illness, common sense rules. I do not want to take anyone’s guns away. It does not make sense to give your guns away to the people (i.e., the government, police, etc.) who have all the guns. The right to bear arms is the right to protect ourselves from our government and that should remain so in my humble opinion.
In Switzerland, most men are required to learn how to shoot firearms; 2 million private citizens own guns in a country of 8.3 million. They had one mass shooting from 2000 to 2014, resulting in 14 dead.
12. The coronavirus pandemic has exposed numerous flaws in Hawaii’s structure and systems, from outdated technology to economic disparity. If you could take this moment to reinvent Hawaii, to build on what we’ve learned and create a better state, a better way of doing things, what would you do? Please share One Big Idea you have for Hawaii. Be innovative, but be specific.
Completely overhaul and upgrade computer systems of every government agency that provides built-in ways to upgrade cheaply, software and hardware, downstream.
As mentioned earlier, I think developing the state as an incubator for solar technology solutions to our power and pollution issues would be a great way to help diversify the state’s economy. I know we do some of this already, but would like to see it on a much grander scale to bring in jobs. The other major issue to address is how climate change will impact our public infrastructure. Where and how to build roads for the future as sea levels rise.
13. What other important issue would you like to discuss here?
We must do everything we can to stop and reverse the ever-creeping fascism in our country. As a simple definition, fascism is the government first, corporations second and the people are third. We have to stop this, the people should be first.
We elect officials to serve the public and operate in the best public interest. As an example, we can not have an EPA that OKs deadly chemicals to use on crops that they say they know will kill several thousand people a year, that is tantamount to voluntary manslaughter under the color of authority.
We have to break up chain monopolies, like media, finance and agriculture. We can not allow corporations to be called “people,” they are not. Privacy issues are of great concern to me as well. We should have a digital Bill of Rights, some way to protect ourselves from invading data mining, collectors, etc.