The Civil Beat Editorial Board Interview: US Rep. Ed Case - Honolulu Civil Beat

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About the Author

Civil Beat Editorial Board

The members of The Civil Beat Editorial Board are Chad Blair, Patti Epler, Nathan Eagle, Lee Cataluna, Kim Gamel and John Hill. Opinions expressed by the editorial board reflect the group’s consensus view. Not all members may participate in every interview or essay. Chad Blair, the Politics and Opinion Editor, can be reached at cblair@civilbeat.org.


Editor’s note: The Civil Beat Editorial Board and reporters spoke with U.S. Rep. Ed Case on Thursday. The topics ranged from Red Hill and the Pacific, China and Ukraine, infrastructure and partisanship. Case began with a summary of his current priorities.

Rep. Case: The second year of any Congress has different rhythms than the first year. And so I’m dealing with those rhythms. There is, of course, an election year coming up, an election year that affects Congress. It compresses the timetable in which you can actually get anything done. It certainly exacerbates the general anxiety and dysfunction of Congress. The second session is partly about trying to realize on things that you initiated in the first session or didn’t get done in prior years for that matter, but also just navigating a little bit of a different political and congressional environment.

I’ve been to the rodeo before, so I know what’s coming, but still you’ve got to kind of be careful as you go along. I guess I always look at things in terms of, well, what do I actually know that I have to deal with and am I already dealing with it? And then I have to acknowledge that there are things I have no idea today that I’m going to have to deal with sometime this year. Can I get as far ahead in the first two buckets and deal with the third as it comes along?

Hawaii Congressman Ed Case walking to the Capitol ahead of his vote with Democrats to impeach President Donald Trump in 2019. Since March 2020 his work has been heavily impacted by Covid. Nick Grube/Civil Beat/2019

Good examples of that would be (that) I have to deal with appropriations this year. I know I have to deal with some other bills that come along every single year. I know I have to deal with Red Hill. I know that I’m going to have to do something on Ukraine, but I don’t exactly know what yet.

I’ve got my national obligations and responsibilities to vote on and act on, on national issues. And I’m particularly involved in some national issues. For example, China, Pacific islands, the oceans. Those would be national issues that I focus on that obviously have a relationship to Hawaii, but I’m acting in my national capacity. And then I have a whole range of issues that are specific to Hawaii. A lot of the appropriations fall into that category. And then I have to take care of my individual constituents. And I always like to say that because that’s an important part of my job that never really gets noted very well. But nonetheless, we spent a lot of time just helping out constituents with their issues which are exacerbated in many areas from Covid-19.

For example, in the veterans benefits space, you’ve got to prove a military record in order to get or change benefits. And yet we have a tremendous backlog of military record review right now. So that’s a whole category. Immigration is another area.

The president’s agenda on both the bipartisan infrastructure package, which we have passed — that is a very, very large part of my agenda right now, $1 trillion dollars out there with $3 billion-plus coming to Hawaii. It’s once in a generation, we’re not going to get this opportunity again. So I’m very, very focused on getting it to the right places, working with my state and county government partners on making sure that gets to things like roads and bridges and sewers.

Medical technicians prepare COVID-19 tests, for sending to labs, at the Blaisdell drive-through testing site in Honolulu, Monday, December 27, 2021. (Ronen Zilberman photo Civil Beat)
The federal government has spent around $21 billion in Covid relief for the islands. Medical technicians are pictured preparing tests in December. Ronen Zilberman/Civil Beat/2021

I’m particularly focused on broadband, where I think that we have a generational opportunity. Most of that money is programmatic funding, meaning it’s going to come to us fairly automatically based on ridership on the highways or miles of highway or number of ports, those kinds of things.

But a lot of it is competitive grants, and that’s an area where we can and do compete very successfully when we know how to do it. I was at the Hawaii Emergency Management Authority yesterday at Diamond Head, and we just got a $47 million FEMA grant for traveling nurses, which was a competitive grant. We obviously have the Build Back Better social infrastructure side, which is over on the Senate side right now and stuck, although I think something will spring loose over there.

I’m obviously dealing with Covid in all ways, shapes and forms. We’ve seen somewhere in the range of $20 billion, $21 billion, in Covid relief. We don’t have a large federal package, another large federal package after $6 trillion of spending over the last two years. But we certainly have pockets where we still need to focus.

We’ve still got major needs across the board, but really in our restaurants and our shuttered venues, which were not sufficiently addressed in the main Covid relief packages. They still are hurting quite a bit. So we’re hoping to do a little bit of that. Cost of living top of mind across the country. That’s not going to get any better, at least in the near-term.

The one I think the most about is the cost of housing, where many, many of the remedies that I would see are not federal remedies, they’re not congressional remedies.

You mentioned infrastructure. It was a solid accomplishment for the president, it had bipartisan support, including Mitch McConnell and the Senate. One trillion dollars, and that’s $3 billion for Hawaii. Do you feel that that bill has gotten enough attention — that we fully appreciate just how big of a deal it is?

Absolutely not. A tragedy on a number of fronts. That was a true accomplishment for Congress and for a president. I mean, a number of Congresses and a number of presidents had tried to pass a major reinvestment — a generational, I would say, reinvestment in our crumbling infrastructure, which I think is not an exaggeration on many fronts — starting with the roads that we all drive on every day. And you know, it was widely supported by the American people. You just don’t get 80% nowadays with any major issue because we have policy and political differences on many of the issues and because the partisanship starts to creep in. That’s pretty darn good. And that’s how my constituents are responding to it.

Daniel K. Inouye International Airport interisland TSA checkpoint.
Hawaii’s airports are among the many facilities in the state scheduled to benefit from federal infrastructure investment. Cory Lum/Civil Beat/2021

You all know I shed blood over this last year in terms of disagreeing very directly with my own leadership and a fair number of my Democratic colleagues that we should somehow hold up this bill and link it to a bill that was tenuous from the beginning for the sake of leverage. That was never going to happen. And it hasn’t happened and it won’t happen. And so what happened was that the accomplishment of a bipartisan bill was obscured by its entanglement with President Biden’s social infrastructure investment.

And so now you see, of course, the president and my Democratic colleagues with great unanimity going out there and recognizing the accomplishment. And that’s good because I think we all deserve some collective credit for putting it over the finish line. Right here in Hawaii we’ve already seen $400 million, I think it is, slated and that’s just the first few announcements for the airports and for some of our bridges and culverts. So I think it’s a very, very good accomplishment. And yes, it has been obscured. You’ll probably hear more about it now that it’s an election year, but it’s tragic.

I understand the bill is so popular that Republicans that did not vote for it have actually talked about it in their districts.

They’re out there in their districts right now. They’re trumpeting it, and Democrats are calling them on it. Now, there were a number of Republicans, both in the House and the Senate, that did vote for it, and credit to them. But it was too bad that at the end of the day in the House, it was not passed on a greater bipartisan basis.

Local residents have been calling for the shutdown of Red Hill for years, but Hawaii’s congressional delegation has not really been on board with that. I know that last June, you said it wasn’t really practical to move the facility, but now the delegation is supporting the health department’s order to drain the tanks, at least temporarily. So can you briefly explain how your thinking has evolved on this issue?

The reality is that the safety concerns as they actually manifested themselves turned out to be far more severe than I understood, than others understood, and than we understood from the Navy. And I think we were taking the lead of the administrative order of consent, an agreement between the Navy, between the state Department of Health and the Environmental Protection Agency, that laid out a series of events that really created a number of options for the future of Red Hill, ranging from continuing operations to actually closing it down. And so from my perspective, I was taking a look at it and functioning under the understanding that the (Administrative Order on Consent) and that process in place was the proper way to go.

Lt. Commander Travis Myers walks in tunnel leading to the Red Hill well. The pipe at right will pump up to 5 million gallons of contaminated water to 8 tanks that contain granulated carbon to filter the contaminants and then be discharged into the Halawa Stream.
The Red Hill water contamination crisis continues. Cory Lum/Civil Beat/2022

I always believed that the safety of our drinking water was paramount. I was very conscious of the national security implications of Red Hill, and I felt the process was sufficient to protect the safety of our drinking water and to identify any significant risks to it. And I think the other thing that happened was that we focused too much on the tanks themselves because that’s where the leak was some years ago. And so we were focused collectively on tank safety. And I think we were going down the right road on that, which was secondary containment. And if you cannot pull off secondary containment, then you cannot have tanks there.

What was insufficiently focused on, obviously, was the pipelines themselves, which created their own risk factors. And that’s what happened here. I think that’s been my evolution along with many, many others. I had succeeded in getting an amendment into the National Defense Authorization Act this year, which was to provide a far greater level of inspection, standards and requirements for the infrastructure — not for the tanks, but for the infrastructure.

I’m glad that you mentioned that item you inserted into the National Defense Authorization Act about the pipelines. And I was interested in learning more about what prompted you to focus on those when, as you rightly say, the conversation has so much been about the tanks. What had you focused on the pipelines?

This is one of those areas where you always look for information in whatever way, shape or form you can get, and what happened was that I had been into Red Hill a number of times. That gives you a pretty good sense of the tanks themselves. But I had not been in the lower tunnel where you see all of the pipelines. So you’re under the tanks, where it goes in and comes out of those tanks and goes down that shaft. And my chief of staff had actually taken a tour of the lower side shortly after the May leak, which was, everybody recognized, a pipeline leak, not a tank leak. And he came back and said, hey, we ought to be just as worried about the pipes as we are about the tanks.

So that was, I guess, a wake up call for me and I started to focus a lot more on what’s actually happening with the pipes. What actually did happen in the May leak? We still don’t exactly know, but we think we understand it now. And then, of course, the November leak was a pipeline leak. And so that’s exactly how it went down for me.

So the state order leaves open the possibility that Red Hill could be refueled after they drain and repair everything. Do you agree with the Navy that it should be able to operate this facility into the future? Or do you agree more with residents who want a permanent shut down of Red Hill?

It’s very hard for me to envision an option under which you would continue Red Hill on a permanent basis. My focus is very much on the next few stages here. My first and most immediate goal here is to restore the safety — and not just the safety — but the public confidence in the safety of the drinking water. So that’s everything that’s happening right now, and it’s immediate and to get the families back in their homes and to get harm compensated for.

Stage two is to implement fully the state’s order, which, as you know, requires a plan to defuel and then actual defueling.

It’s very hard for me to envision an option under which you would continue Red Hill on a permanent basis.

I guess technically, you could say thus far at least that the Navy could come back and try to forge some future for Red Hill under some conditions. I don’t think that’s going to happen at the end of the day, and it’s very, very hard for me to envision a set of conditions under which that would happen — at least that would satisfy the public and me that the water was safe.

 

Ed Case editorial board Jan 27, 2022
Rep. Case spoke with the Civil Beat Editorial Board on Thursday. Screenshot/2022

Are there any other sort of Pacific issues? I know you were part of the BLUE Pacific Act.

Yes, absolutely. And it’s highly topical because next week it looks like we will take up what’s referred to as the COMPETES Act. And this is in part (dealing with) China.

Now, the BLUE Pacific — just to back up to the beginning a little bit — formed the Pacific Islands Caucus two years ago now, with Republican and Democratic colleagues interested in the islands themselves. So not so much Australia, New Zealand, Japan, although they’re important. But the 25 or so jurisdictions in the Pacific, ranging from the Freely Associated States, our compact countries, to similar compact countries with New Zealand to territories of other countries such as New Caledonia for France, Tahiti, etc., to independent countries like Fiji and Samoa and others where we had not given sufficient attention, and where, as a practical reality, the geopolitical competition with China is certainly playing out; there was, from my perspective, great concern that these countries were under incredible pressure when they didn’t want to go in that direction and basically because they just weren’t getting enough common attention from us.

And so that led us to the BLUE Pacific Act, which was a bill that we introduced last Congress in conjunction with the administration and these countries aimed more at soft power. Not the military per se. There was a whole other effort going on that I was very much a part of on the military side, which is referred to as the Pacific Deterrence Initiative, which is a focused plan for our military throughout the Pacific and actually in the National Defense Authorization Act, we increased the amount for the PDI, as we call it, from $5 billion a year to $7 billion, as I recall. A significant investment.

But back to the BLUE Pacific Act. We advanced it but ran out of time in the last Congress, reintroduced it, got most of it included in the House version of a broader bill aimed at the broader competition with China. The Senate had its own bill. Senator Schatz also has a bill that resembles the BLUE Pacific Act, so we’re both going down the same road on it. And I hope we pull that out because I think we need that bill.

Can you talk to us a little bit more about the soft power efforts in the Pacific that the U.S. is doing?

Well, if you go out into the Pacific and you ask the (people in the) Pacific, what do they think is going on and what are their observations, especially on our country and especially on the other geopolitical competition with China. And what do they need and what are they thinking? The vast majority will say something like this: We far prefer to deal with the U.S. and its allies and friends, and we far prefer to partner with the United States on a shared set of values and a shared history as well. We’re not the only country that is very active in the Pacific. New Zealand is particularly active — talk about Tonga, for example, I was very involved in that over the last couple of weeks to try to get some aid, and we got them about $2.5 million to add to a lot of other aid.

But you know, there are 100,000 Tongans in Tonga and 200,000 Tongans outside of Tonga, including 70,000 in the United States, and I think the figure is close to 100,000 in New Zealand. And Australia, similarly, which tends to have a closer relationship with, I guess, what we refer to as Melanesia. And then obviously we have our historical ties to Micronesia from the old Trust Territory, the Pacific islands and Japan, which doesn’t get any credit here, has major involvement throughout the Pacific. In fact, Japan, as I recall, is the third largest source of foreign aid to the Pacific after the United States and Australia, despite the Second World War and that legacy.

But you’ve got to show up, and they have directly said that to me. If you’re not showing up and if we have existential threats to our countries from climate change, from crumbling infrastructure, literally disappearing infrastructure, to crashing economies because of over-dependence on tourism in the day of Covid-19 and inability put in broadband, and China is just — they’re here. Here it is. That’s a terrible choice to be put in and we don’t want to be put in that choice. And so we need to have a not only closer connection but also a more comprehensive and sustained foreign assistance package.

The Trump administration wasn’t very good at this area because they didn’t particularly believe in soft power. I don’t think they knew a whole bunch about the Pacific, to be honest. They dealt with China, but they didn’t deal with the implications in the Pacific, for the most part. To President Trump’s credit he did meet — the first president — to meet with the presidents of the Compact (of Free Association) countries. But he closed embassies. He closed consulates, discontinued the Peace Corps — probably the best soft power ever in our history. He slashed USAID. He tried to place significant restrictions from a social division perspective. It wasn’t a good couple of years, and so we needed to recover across the lines.

In the meantime, they were facing challenges much more exacerbated than previously. One area gets no attention — what’s the Coast Guard doing in the Pacific? Because the Coast Guard is the only institution in our military for sure, and it may well be in our government, that actually deals with all of these countries from a maritime security perspective because they’re small in landmass.

As Russia goes into Ukraine, what do other countries who are not our friends, how do they evaluate that and what does that cause them to do?

But their EEZs (Exclusive Economic Zones) are collectively larger than the landmass of Russia and China put together. So we’re talking about a big area. And so when we think about the kind of non-direct military components — I mean actual investments in those countries, actual sitings, actual military exchanges, which is going on in many of those countries, other than that — we’re talking consular presence, embassy presence, where possible and it should be widely possible. We are talking about USAID. We are talking about illegal, unreported and unregulated fishing and maritime security. We are talking about telecommunications assistance. We’re talking about economic development assistance. We’re talking about governance programs.

How concerned are you about Russian involvement in the Pacific? You know, there have been concerns recently.

It’s a great question because a lot of people forget that Russia is a Pacific power and Russia thus far has not particularly focused in the Pacific islands proper other than in their part of the Pacific.

They’re very interested, for example, in the Sakhalin Islands and the disputed territory off Japan. They’re very interested in North Korea. Russia is active. They have a Pacific navy and they are trying to build up that navy. But they come down here and circle our islands, right? That’s a matter of public record. So the fact that they really haven’t chosen to play in the Pacific the way China is trying to play in the Pacific doesn’t mean they don’t have a role in the Pacific and doesn’t mean that they can’t eventually complicate things in the Pacific if they choose to. Now they’ve got their hands full on the other side of their country right now. But yeah, I watch Russia all the time in a Pacific context.

Speaking of Russia, I know that you have a tremendous interest in foreign affairs. What can you tell us about the situation with Russia and Ukraine and the U.S. and NATO’s response? It’s very complicated, but a lot of people are talking about war right now.

It’s very, very complicated and it’s very, very critical. And I’ll tell you why it’s critical. It’s not just whether Russia is in Ukraine, which is a huge issue because Ukraine is an independent, sovereign country and any country that invades any other country is completely violating the rules that we all have tried to live by for a while, at least in a quote unquote international rules based order. But it’s beyond that. As Russia goes into Ukraine, what do other countries who are not our friends, how do they evaluate that and what does that cause them to do?

I think the one country (that) is going to be watching what goes on in the Ukraine and how we collectively respond to that is China, because China wants, and of course, has its own goals. And if you don’t think that China is going to be influenced one way or the other by what Russia does or doesn’t do or how we do or don’t respond, that’s not a view of the world that I share. And so there’s a much broader implication here, unfortunately, because it does cause us to have to evaluate this not only in terms of one crisis, not only in terms of the shorter midterm relationship that we have with one country, but a broader world. I think that it’s a very, very serious situation now.

I think I’m like most Americans. I do not want to send troops into the Ukraine to engage in an outright war against Russia in the Ukraine. I mean, that is absolutely the last preferred option on the table. Russia doesn’t play by the rules. Russia regards the Ukraine as part of (its) historic lands, and so in that sense, it’s different from other parts of the former USSR. It’s much more close in. Obviously, Ukraine is the last country before you get to Russia proper (geographically), and so they would try to dominate the Ukraine any way they could. And so can we dissuade them with such a coordinated set of consequences if they actually do invade that they simply calculate the short- and long-term consequences are far worse if they do that than if they don’t? That’s a calculation that Putin is obviously making right now. And that’s the calculation that our president and our military and other leaders are making and that we’re facing as a Congress, because the level of sanctions that we would have to impose on Russia to really provide that level of consequence to Russia, those sanctions have consequences beyond Russia. So, for example, can we leverage the whole Nord Stream pipeline to Germany and into Europe by the functional equivalent of a Berlin airlift? That’s a consequence right there. And so it’s very serious, a very serious situation. I think that NATO and the European countries and us and the rest of the world have to hang together on this.

Technically, Russia is actually in Ukraine, correct? In the eastern part of the country.

They’re in Donbas already, and they’re in Crimea. They have already invaded Ukraine.

Right, exactly.

Well, they’re somewhat in Donbas. They’ve fostered the rebellion in Donbas, and they obviously have observers at Donbas, but they’re physically in the Crimea, which is Ukraine.

Which segues to my next question — China, at least as I understand it, is not in Taiwan yet, but they are flying planes and ships in the area. So are we. You must be very concerned about that theater. As you say, China is looking very carefully at what Putin is doing and measuring what we might do because China does think Taiwan is theirs. What is your concern and your advice for the U.S. in terms of its policy with China regarding Taiwan?

Well, it’s a little similar to Russia and Ukraine. First of all, we have to support Taiwan and we are supporting Taiwan. We support them with major military aid as I believe we should and we support them with major nonmilitary aid. And of course, Taiwan is a major trading partner of ours, especially in the semiconductor area, where they manufacture a great majority of the world’s (computer) chips, and we rely on Taiwan for that.

And so they are critical to us. We for many different reasons need to support Taiwan, and China is doing to Taiwan what Russia is doing in the Ukraine right now — they’re asking themselves the question — if we invade Taiwan, can we prevail in taking Taiwan over? Can we hold Taiwan? Because as we saw in Afghanistan and Russia saw in Afghanistan, just because you invade a country doesn’t mean you change that country. That’s a clear lesson of history for China on Taiwan.

And of course, our military strategy in the Pacific, and as to China specifically, is to prevent war by the projection to China that they would not prevail in any such war. And can the consequences of China doing that in terms of international condemnation, in terms of isolation, in terms of sanctions, in terms of absolute dislocation of economic relationships, say, is that worth it? (But) they sense a moment of weakness for the United States. They have very directly said that they don’t respect our form of government and think they have a better form of government. And they question whether we have the will to contribute to world leadership any more. And so it’s a very difficult time for the world.

Shifting back domestically — you had mentioned that you think something might, if I have your language correct, spring loose regarding what we have been calling Build Back Better, which may have a different name. The president has talked about “chunks” passing. The speaker is not using the word chunks, but you seem to think that there might be something that can still be worked out regarding the social-environmental policy for the president?

Congress is a majority institution for the most part, and we’re under reconciliation (process), so it is a majority institution. You have to get 50 votes in the Senate and Build Back Better as we passed it out of the House, I voted for it, does not have 50 votes in the Senate. And so you can do a couple of different things and we collectively have done some of those already. You can sit there and yell and scream and talk about how unfair it is. And it is unfair. I think that the version that we passed out of the House was a good, solid version, and I wish the Senate would pass it. But OK, so you yelled and screamed about it and accused fellow Democrats of not being fully supportive. Is that going to change anything, really? I don’t think so.

I think the Democrats that have declined to support Build Back Better as introduced on the Senate side, they have their views, they have their principles, they have their own constituencies. They are full U.S. senators and they are exercising their responsibilities as they see fit. And I’m not going to get into their motivations or anything else, but that’s the reality. I kind of don’t like to spend a whole bunch of time in the yell-and-scream mode. I like to deal in practical reality. Are we now past the denial and anger stage? In terms of a BBB over in the Senate, can we now get to acceptance and resolution?

I didn’t know you were going to compare it to Elisabeth Kübler-Ross and five stages of acceptance of death! That’s an interesting analogy.

I think the answer is yes. Some people are going to be stuck in denial forever, and they’re never going to get past anger. And maybe we’re all going to still be angry about it. But I’m angry about lots of things a lot of the time. But I try not to let it dominate my agenda. Otherwise, I’d get paralyzed. I think that we are now at a little bit more of the acceptance and resolution stage. The Senate has a chance with things like voting rights. I have no knowledge myself, but I strongly suspect there are some discussions going on about it.

Not necessarily a $2.1 or $2.2 trillion package — smaller. Clearly, that seems to be the direction we’re going in.

Yes, but not significantly smaller, necessarily. I think that Senator (Joe) Manchin has supported bills up in that range of total spending in the past. He has concerns with some of the climate change provisions, with some of the other provisions, and I disagree with him on his concerns. I think climate change is actually one of the most critical parts of that bill. And, by the way, it was one of the most critical parts of the bipartisan infrastructure bill, which was unrecognized. That was actually the largest investment in climate change-related initiatives in our history. The bipartisan infrastructure package, it’s not known for that, but it was. But Build Back Better is larger. I disagree with him on his defense of the West Virginia coal industry. We’ve got to move past that. But he hasn’t, to my knowledge at least, been so far so much concerned about the the overall size of the bill as what’s in it and how it all works.

I’m just wondering if there’s anything at the federal level that you are working on that really helps bring down the cost of living. The Legislature here seems focused on minimum wage, on raising wages, but a lot of people seem to think that the smarter thing to do would be to make it more affordable, less expensive, to live here and then worry about wages or do both at the same time. I’m just wondering if you have any thoughts about what can be done to really help the middle class.

It’s a big question that I hope like all of my colleagues in Congress I have been trying to sort myself through — what’s actually causing the higher cost of inflation and what can Congress do about it and what can I not do anything about? And I think that we’ve got a little bit of a perfect storm going on in terms of inflation.

Number one, we’ve had historically low interest rates, which are usually an invitation to inflation. A couple of Nobel prizes were given out trying to answer that question because it was a little unusual — and we’re talking macro now. But what tipped it over the edge? This is not a not an appropriate thing to say as a Democrat, but the reality is that when you have low interest rates and you then flood the economy with $6 trillion in an emergency with a high level of money supply, and you combine that with lower interest rates, that’s going to cause some macro effects inflation.

flags on the National Mall lawn symbolizing the number of American lives lost to Covid-19
Flags on the National Mall lawn symbolizing the number of American lives lost to Covid-19. The current tally is approaching 900,000. Yash Mori/The White House/2021

Now I think we had to do it, but it got to be a partisan issue. You saw President Biden last year saying, well, inflation is just transitory. And that was a mistake on his part. We also have major supply chain issues that are going on. One thing I didn’t fully focus on until relatively recently trying to think through this puzzle was how stretched our supply chains were to start with even before Covid, where we didn’t carry inventory anymore, where our supply chains depended on immediate manipulation of demand to deliver at the moment of purchase, in an ideal world where you didn’t have to spend a bunch of money on warehouse space. Add to that disruption with China and tariffs and trade wars around the world and then add to that Covid, which disrupted key supply chains just with human participation. Trucking is a good example. Shipping, we’ve obviously seen and we’ve had a centralization of some businesses, a very disturbing centralization.

And so there are a lot of events that are going on. The two that I can see to control on the macro level are to work on the supply chain side. And I’m doing that with other colleagues to try to have a much better understanding of supply chain and how to fix it. And also just to be careful about when we flood federal money out there because people want a fourth stimulus. And I guess I’m sympathetic to that. But is there a need and what is the effect?

Obviously, our federal government is deeply involved from a tax perspective and from a federal programs perspective, so all of those need to be much stronger and more equitable than they are. I would be completely up for a major revision of our tax code to reverse what I think is some of the damage of the Trump years, as well as to fix other aspects. And some of that is in Build Back Better.

To my comment earlier, a lot of it is here in Hawaii — let’s just take the cost of living. Vacation rentals, they’re killing the cost of housing for local residents and investments in real estate as opposed to real estate owned for personal use. We’re in an international market, not a local market, not even a national market. We’ve got people that buy in here and they’re part of the top 1% internationally. You can toughen up vacation rentals to return the supply to true permanent residence. You can do anti-speculative taxes. You can have a much higher gradation of differential on real property taxes between true residences and second homes or homes held for investment. Then of course we don’t really have an effective, affordable housing process.

There’s a lot of stuff that needs to be done at the national level. I cannot control low interest rates, although I think the Fed is doing the right thing by basically saying, well, we have to move back in the direction of higher rates.

You read things like your colleagues — not necessarily in your party — not wearing masks and getting fined thousands of dollars. And you read things like people not going through the metal detectors. Even post January the 6th, you see the work of the Jan. 6 committee that’s going on right now and people choosing to testify and cooperate and others not. You’re running for reelection. Speaker Pelosi is running for reelection. Are things as bad as it seems, at least the way the media portrays it back in D.C., or is it still a place where people can get things done?

How about yes to both questions? They are not mutually exclusive. First of all, I would answer you by saying, in many areas, it is bad — the level of personal, not just political and policy, disagreement and dislike is very disturbing. The inability of colleagues to find the right tone of debate as well as the right balance of partisanship and consensus-based problem-solving is disturbing. And the disservice I think done by many of my colleagues in terms of their public pronouncements and their advocacy for positions that harm people out there in the country, especially on Covid.

I look back to the comments that President Trump made at the beginning of Covid. And I went to the (National Mall in D.C.) with all of those flags flying and 800,000 deaths from Covid. And I asked myself the question, had we had a better first year of Covid, would there not be 800,000 dead on that mall? That’s deeply angering and tragic, and yes, all of that is an element of Washington today. The attack on the Capitol. The level of allocation of blame elsewhere, or defense of that, denial of the whole attack on the results of the election — that’s all deeply disturbing. Of course it bothers me. Of course, it should bother any American.

But what do you do about that? Just walk away? Pack up my toys and go home and live in my bubble? I mean, I don’t think that’s the answer. And so I think most of us feel that way, or enough of us at least feel that way, and so we do find ways to get things done. A bipartisan infrastructure bill passed. We do have a Problem Solvers Caucus and my BLUE Pacific Act does have a bipartisan mix. And so there are people out there that want to work jointly on China and on whatever other issue is out there. And so I think the answer is that I just try to navigate through all of that to getting things done for the country and for Hawaii as best I can.


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The members of The Civil Beat Editorial Board are Chad Blair, Patti Epler, Nathan Eagle, Lee Cataluna, Kim Gamel and John Hill. Opinions expressed by the editorial board reflect the group’s consensus view. Not all members may participate in every interview or essay. Chad Blair, the Politics and Opinion Editor, can be reached at cblair@civilbeat.org.


Latest Comments (0)

Thank you Civil Beat and Cong. Case for a very interesting and informative discussion. I hope our leaders in Washington will continue to work hard for consensus and get their necessary work done for us all. I strongly support Cong. Case's approach in this regard.

DEGardner · 6 months ago

Putting that in perspective to the multi-billion Rail megaproject: In March of 2021, HART management forecast the overall project costs of $12.4 billion, including $1 billion for debt service alone.Looking over the other needs of each island with our pothole ridden roads, bridges (ancient ones on the Big Island), projected sea rise infrastructure modifications needed, all of a sudden, Hawaii's share of BBB, $3 billion, could easily be spent.

Joseppi · 6 months ago

As Lee Cataluna characterized Ed Case, he is so "un-fun". Anything his say is carefully crafted. Lack of sincerity leaves much to say about his credibility.

CPete · 6 months ago

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