Editor’s note: For Hawaii’s Nov. 3 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 Ed Case, Democratic candidate for Congressional District 1, which includes urban Oahu. The other candidate is Republican Ron Curtis.
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?
In times of national crisis, the responsibility of national leaders including members of Congress individually and collectively is to develop the best possible national response and then to lead the country through that response utilizing every resource available to national government.
COVID-19 is first and foremost an international pandemic precipitating a national public health crisis. Our national response must prioritize the medical and scientific requirements of addressing, mitigating and eliminating the public health threat. Specifics are short-term prevention including widespread testing and contract tracing capacity, adequate treatment capability, including medical facilities and personnel including personal protective equipment and long-term prevention in particular a vaccine.
The public health consequences of COVID-19 are severe economic and social crises. Our national response must support the economic and social safety net foundations of our country while our public health response is accomplished.
My role is first and foremost to contribute my own advocacy, for both our country and the often unique needs of Hawaii, to developing and implementing our national response. My role is amplified by my service on the U.S. House Committee on Appropriations, which is responsible for funding our response.
Thus far I have contributed to passage in the U.S. House of several major national response measures referred to as the CARES and HEROES Acts. CARES has funded trillions into our public health, economic and social response, and HEROES would fund trillions more of critical assistance. I have been focused on assuring that Hawaii’s own needs are addressed, and have closely tracked some 75 federal programs with around $7.5 billion of emergency assistance to Hawaii to date.
2. What would be your first priority if elected? How would that change if your party is in the majority? The minority?
If I am re-elected to Congress, my next two-year term will commence on January 3, 2021. It is impossible to know what crises will face our country then that will demand our focus. However, the reality is that COVID-19 will in all likelihood remain a public health, economic and social crisis demanding a continued dedicated response both nationally and for Hawaii. This will not change regardless of which party is in the majority in the U.S. Senate and House.
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?
No single initiative can solve our nation’s long and troubling history of systemic racism and discrimination as manifested tragically by the continued deaths of our fellow citizens at the hands of police officers. However, these further tragedies only further expose the reality that these are not isolated instances but themselves systemic in a nationwide law enforcement system that is mostly responsible but too often unacceptably not.
There can be no more room anymore for regional or other excuses for differences in police training, enforcement and accountability, and Congress’ role is first and foremost to set and oversee high uniform national standards and to assist in the funding required to achieve them. To this end, I joined a majority of my U.S. House colleagues in cosponsoring and passing H.R. 7120, the George Floyd Justice in Policing Act, to adopt such national standards for transparency and accountability for police practices, eliminate procedures such as racial profiling and modernize police forces.
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?
I will continue to follow the same approach as during my current and prior service in Congress, an approach I first learned as a young legislative assistant to U.S. Representative/Senator Spark Matsunaga and then absorbed again from my Hawai’i delegation colleagues, Senators Inouye and Akaka and Congressman Abercrombie, all of whom served successfully over decades in Democratic and Republican administrations and Congresses. That is that there is a place for partisan differences including strong advocacy, a place for developing relationships, finding common ground and forging consensus solutions across party lines, and a place for both helping the administration and colleagues and being helped by the administration and colleagues on issues of importance to one’s home state.
I have drawn on these lessons all over again since returning to Congress last year. There have been many issues which have been inherently partisan where I have advocated and voted with my party. However, I have always looked for the opportunities to develop relationships and pursue common goals across party lines. These have included my Appropriations Committee works and my caucuses, bills and amendments, much of which is non-partisan.
One good example is my co-founding last year of the first-ever Congressional Pacific Islands Caucus focused on enhancing our country’s engagement in the broad Pacific. In doing so I sought out my colleagues in both parties who shared my passion for advocacy in Congress of our country’s interests in the Indo-Pacific. My fellow co-chairs and members of our caucus are bipartisan.
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?
Our military’s role in Hawaii is no different in principle than our country overall or any other part of our country: to provide for the common defense of our country and state and to contribute to the advancement of our interests in the rest of our world. But in this Pacific Century, where the importance of the Indo-Pacific has become preeminent in our world and both opportunities and threats throughout our own backyard have increased, our military’s role in Hawaii has been magnified.
With that have come enhanced responsibilities for both our military and ourselves. For our military, they include utilizing our resources they require in a responsible manner, to compensate fairly for impacts, and to partner with us in the future for Hawaii. On our side, they include to accommodate the military’s legitimate needs for our resources and to partner with them in the defense of our state and country. While the military’s role will always depend on the specific needs of our country, I believe that role is at the proper level currently or foreseeably.
Although not the critical reason for us to accommodate and support our military, we must also recognize the reality of the military’s critical importance to our economy. Those, the second largest segment of our economy after tourism, include direct and indirect annual contributions of some $14.7 billion and more than 100,000 jobs for residents. We must recognize that, in times of economic disruption such as COVID-19, these contributions are relatively unaffected and the military is in fact the key economic pillar seeing us through.
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?
I share widespread alarm at the rapid deterioration in our federal finances, again accelerating because of required massive federal emergency assistance to address COVID-19. In my prior service in Congress (2002-2007), I focused on fiscal reform as a member of the House Committee on the Budget and otherwise. When I left Congress our national debt (total amount owed by our federal government on borrowings to finance the shortfall of revenues to expenditures) was $9 trillion and our debt-to-gross domestic product (measuring our debt against our total economy) was 62%. Today debt is $26 trillion and debt-to-GDP is over 100%.
This is unsustainable over time and attributable to our collective failure to face the reality that we can’t have our cake of low revenues and high expenses. Bare starting points are to enforce existing-but-often-ignored PAYGO rules (pay-as-you-go, meaning every fiscal action, whether tax cuts or spending increases, must be budget neutral as offset by spending cuts or tax increases or clearly demonstrated revenue enhancers), expire unfair and unnecessary tax cuts especially to upper-income brackets, level out cost escalations, and focus on government inefficiency.
These and further remedies will require a broader and more sustained approach. As one initiative, this Congress I introduced the Sustainable Budget Act with my colleague Steve Womack of Arkansas, the Ranking Member of the Budget Committee. Our bill, similar to prior models, would create a bipartisan National Commission on Fiscal Responsibility that would be tasked with proposing recommendations designed to achieve a balanced annual federal budget within 10 years and improve our long-term federal fiscal outlook.
7. Under what circumstances should America go to war?
It is impossible to develop some checklist answer to these most critical questions of when to go to war and if so what kind of war. Each circumstance in an increasingly complex and interrelated world is different, with its own set of options and possible consequences, and those that would do us harm should not be provided the certainty of knowing when we might not respond and how.
In general, I believe President Obama accurately stated the overall parameters to the use of force as “when our people are threatened; when our livelihoods are at stake; when the security of our allies is in danger …” I would add, when international law is being clearly violated, such as genocide, and we do so as part of a clear international community commitment through the United Nations. In all such circumstances, I agree further with President Obama that “we still need to ask tough questions about whether our actions are proportional and effective and just.”
8. What should the United States do to control carbon emissions and slow climate change?
First, adopt, enhance and project the scientific reality of climate change and of its man-made causes in excessive carbon emissions and other unsustainable practices such as international deforestation in every facet of our domestic and foreign policymaking, reversing a wholesale effort to deny this reality and to isolate it away from critical related domestic and international initiatives.
Second, mobilize national policy and resources to accelerate research and development into alternative fuels, offer tax incentives for energy efficiency and promote energy conservation and source diversification.
Third, immediately rejoin the responsible international community’s joint efforts as embodied in the United Nations Framework on Climate Change, including the Paris Agreement and other international initiatives to address climate change as a whole world crisis requiring an all-world solution. To this end, in this Congress I co-sponsored and voted for successful House passage of H.R. 9, the Climate Action Now Act, which would recommit our country to participation and to achieving our goals under the Paris Climate Agreement.
9. Is it time to reform Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid? How?
The basics of these critical safety net programs remain sound and critical to not only the quality of life but the very lives of most all Americans. But they are endangered by demographic change, fiscal unsustainability and antiquated and inefficient operations, and the time is long past for overall readjustment to reset them on a path to sustainable and efficient service for another set of generations.
One major initiative to this end which, while specific to Social Security, is also a model for Medicare and Medicaid, is the Social Security 2100 Act, which would protect benefits for all current and future Social Security recipients, reduce taxes for over 10 million seniors and ensure the system remains solvent for the rest of the century.
Other necessary reforms include:
• Lockboxing Social Security trust funds to be applied solely to Social Security payments.
• Opposing further efforts to privatize Social Security, which will only put our kupuna at risk.
• Reforming outdated Medicare/Medicaid payment systems to eliminate billions in improper payments.
Ultimately, the survival and sustainability of these critical bedrock programs must be evaluated and ensured through big-picture, long-term consideration coordinated with and a part of our overall evaluation of our broader fiscal crisis. They are a major part of that picture and no lasting solution to one can be reached without the other. To this end, I support similar measures that create independent non-partisan review processes where comprehensive solutions can be forged outside of the ineffective piecemeal approach of the day-to-day political process.
10. What should be done to reform U. S. immigration policies, if anything?
As various recent heart-breaking real-life consequences both nationally and here at home attest, our immigration policy, while sound in principle, is broken in practice. Our last real reform is now 30 years old and the inability of national leadership to deliver for the last decade-plus on critically needed further reform is its own tragedy. This is why I co-sponsored H.R. 1283, which would establish a nonpartisan commission on immigration reform and border security charged with reviewing all aspects of our immigration system and recommending long-overdue changes.
That reform should encompass at least the following: increased and accelerated legal immigration; increased deterrence of illegal immigration to include border security; humane detention and due process for immigrants and families claimed to have entered illegally; increased and accelerated asylum processing; and the reinstitution of DACA, which I voted for. As to current illegal immigrants, neither universal amnesty nor universal deportation will work; different rules should apply to different categories, ranging from possible earned residence/naturalization for some to return for others.
11. What specific reforms, if any, would you seek in gun control policies?
Among our failures of national leadership, none has been more tragic with heartbreaking real-life consequences of not enacting meaningful gun control legislation. Among serious reforms we could at least start with are a broad assault weapons ban, strengthened buyer background checks and required smart gun technology to address unauthorized firearm use.
To help advance these goals, I have co-sponsored and voted for multiple bills, such as the Bipartisan Background Checks Act and Assault Weapons Ban Act, that would take these first reasonable and widely supported steps.
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.
We have known but virtually ignored for decades the reality that our continually increasing economic reliance not just on travel and tourism but on high-volume, low-cost travel and tourism leaves us increasingly exposed to external disruptions.
This accelerating economic and social exposure is just one consequence of our headlong rush for more and more of any kind of tourist. Our natural resources are maxed out, tourism has encroached too far into our everyday lives, our opportunities and jobs from tourism are not what they can or should be, and the foundation of our travel and tourism industry’s success — our welcoming embrace and public support — is withering.
Yes, we must (still again) pursue the elusive goal of true diversification. Technology, agriculture, international services, education and related research and development niches like ocean and astronomy are all underdeveloped.
But we should also revisit and diversify travel and tourism itself. The number of visitor arrivals must be capped if not reduced, while maintaining the industry’s overall contributions to our economy and employment opportunities. This can be done by constraining room and visitor supply. Specific methods of doing so include: strict enforcement of illegal transient vacation rentals and no further legal vacation rentals; strict application of land use planning and zoning laws to reject any new hotel and resort areas and to limit rebuilding in current areas to current room numbers; and improvements to existing airports but no new gate capacity. Unless we completely blow our international brand, demand will continue to increase, resulting in fewer visitors willing and able to pay a higher value premium for visiting.
13. What other important issue would you like to discuss here?
In 2018 I asked Hawaii voters to return me to Congress for two main reasons. The first was to contribute my seniority and experience to effective representation for Hawaii on Capitol Hill. The second was to find a better way forward for our country through a worsening divide not just between the parties but between our government and the vast majority of its citizens.
In the latter goal I was inspired by my participation in the ReFormers Caucus, a bipartisan group of more than 200 former Members of Congress, governors, ambassadors and cabinet members dedicated to advocating for solutions to fix our broken political system. These solutions fell into various categories including campaign finance and ethics reform and increased transparency and accountability, but at the root of all was to return government to the people from the grips of a small insider minority and to restore the direct link between the people and our government.
Many of our ReFormers Caucus solutions were incorporated into H.R. 1, the For the People Act and the very first proposal introduced into the current Congress. I proudly co-introduced H.R. 1 and voted for its successful passage in the U.S. House. Although it has not advanced in the U.S. Senate, these and similar widely supported changes to the current operations of our government remain crucial to restoring public confidence and trust and remain at the heart of the solutions to our many other challenges.