Editor’s note: For Hawaii’s Aug. 13 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 Jill Tokuda, Democratic candidate for the 2nd Congressional District, which covers rural Oahu and the neighbor islands. The other Democratic candidates are Patrick Branco, Nicole Gi, Brendan Schultz, Steven Sparks and Kyle Yoshida.

Go to Civil Beat’s Election Guide for general information, and check out other candidates on the Primary Election Ballot.

Candidate for 2nd Congressional District

Jill Tokuda
Party Democratic
Age 46
Occupation Consultant
Residence Kaneohe

Website

Community organizations/prior offices held

State senator, 2006-2018.

1. What is the biggest issue facing Hawaii, and what would you do about it?  

There are so many pressing needs — the one that always rises to the top in every community I have visited from Hilo to Hanalei, including the islands of Molokai and Lanai, is affordability. People are concerned about inflation and the dramatic increase in the cost of living, from rising gas prices to the cost of a gallon of milk. In some areas of the state such as Hawaii island, people have to make very long commutes to get to work, and may have to make the choice of filling their gas tank or feeding their children. We need to find ways to provide immediate relief to working families.

I am a proponent of taking immediate action to suspend the federal gas tax, continue the monthly enhanced child tax credits and expand the earned income tax credit so we can keep more money in families’ and workers’ pockets so they can provide for their families. We need to also restart and expand the Emergency Rent and Utility Relief program to help keep people sheltered and the lights on, and support federal food subsidy programs that help everyone from children to seniors.

2. What can the U.S. Congress do about mass shootings in America? Would you support banning military-style assault weapons and establishing universal background checks? What other measures would you propose to reduce gun violence?  

I strongly support banning assault weapons and large-capacity magazines. These deadly weapons have been behind terrible mass shootings at Sandy Hook, Las Vegas, Parkland and others, and most recently, Uvalde. Between 1994 and 2004 when a federal assault weapons ban was in place, mass shootings were down compared to the decades before and after.

We must also mandate universal criminal background checks and close loopholes that allow guns to get into the wrong hands without proper vetting. Congress must act now to pass common-sense gun laws to put an end to mass shootings in our country.

The bipartisan framework in the Senate that would encourage states to establish red-flag laws and programs is a good start, but we must also have a national red-flag law to prevent guns from entering the hands of individuals who pose a threat to themselves or their communities, and raise the minimum age to purchase any gun to 21. Congress should also create a federal database to track all gun sales and crack down on the growing threat of “ghost guns,” which cannot be tracked and pose a serious threat to public safety.

3. The Jan. 6 attack on the U.S. Capitol and the questions of whether the 2020 election was stolen have shown how seriously divided the nation is. Some say democracy itself is in trouble. How would you work to end the political polarization that divides both the Congress and the country?  

Sen. Daniel Akaka often reminded us to “Live aloha and pass it on. It means nothing unless you share it.” In the face of intense political polarization that is dividing Congress and our country, we need to go back to the way he approached people and situations, regardless of political affiliation: with compassion, treating all people with respect and leading by example in acting with aloha.

If we are to bridge the divides that exist, we’ve got to first and foremost remember that it is about doing what is right and what is best for the people. Beyond partisan lines, we need to develop relationships and communicate across party lines to get things done for our constituents and the country. It is about the work we can do together in areas of mutual need and interest, like keeping our schools and communities safe from violence. And then it is the hard but necessary work of identifying the areas in which we can agree — focused on building trust, restoring civility and developing common understanding across the aisle.

Restoring democracy comes down to remembering that we are there for the people. And the awesome responsibility we have to share and act with aloha.

4. Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid, while currently financially sound, risk future funding concerns because of changing demographics. What would you propose to shore up the country’s major safety net programs? 

These programs and their solvency are essential to ensure that every American can retire with security and have a safety net, and that the most needy are supported.

I support adopting a Medicare for All system to ensure that all Americans have health coverage, and would support legislation such as the Social Security Expansion Act, which would extend the solvency of Social Security by 75 years by requiring the wealthiest American households pay their fair share of taxes, lifting the cap on payroll taxes, and subjecting all income above $250,000 to the Social Security payroll tax. This legislation would more accurately measure the spending patterns of seniors so that cost of living adjustments can be made accurately, thereby helping to ensure that our kupuna can retire with dignity.

I would also support changes to tax policy to shore up Medicare and Medicaid, but will not support solvency by reducing benefits. I would support legislation such as H.R. 3, which will allow Medicare to negotiate the price of prescription drugs and thereby lower the cost of prescription drugs for our seniors.

We must also address tax loopholes that currently allow some high-income earners to avoid paying Medicare taxes.

5. What is your position on the Senate filibuster?

As a candidate for the House, I am cautious about opining on the rules of the Senate. But in an effort to answer the question, the filibuster has been in place for over a hundred years to ensure that the minority will have a voice and would not be ramrodded by an overzealous majority.

And while in recent years, the filibuster has been used as a sword to block debate and action, rather than the shield as it was intended, we must nonetheless move cautiously and negotiate the appropriate times to set the filibuster rule aside rather than to advocate for its blanket removal.

6. Is the U.S. on the right path when it comes to mitigating climate change and growing renewable energy production? What specific things should Congress be considering?

More aggressive action needs to be taken to address climate change impacts and increase renewable energy production. Hawaii is facing a crisis now, whether it is our roads and homes falling into the ocean in rural communities, or extreme drought, torrential rains and flooding. I support the Bipartisan Infrastructure Deal, which would boost clean energy jobs, strengthen resilience and advance environmental justice. Part of this initiative includes investing in physical infrastructure such as roads that can be washed away, and expanding access to clean drinking water.

Hawaii is a leader in renewable energy with our commitment to be off of fossil fuels by 2045. One of the most difficult sectors is transportation. The federal government can do more to incentivize the electrification of transportation, with additional support for charging stations, batteries and biofuel research for aviation, to name a few. The Biden administration has called on the Department of Defense to lead in the areas of renewable energy and a reduced carbon footprint, as well as in climate resiliency. This is an opportunity to partner at home.

There is no silver bullet. We need to take a multi-pronged approach to solving these issues. That said, we must be vigilant.

7. The Jones Act requires that domestic freight transport on U.S. waterways be conducted by crews that are at least three-fourths American, and on vessels built in U.S. shipyards, and that are American-owned.What is your position on this law and its effects on Hawaii? Does it need to be amended or repealed?

I support the Jones Act and would not support its amendment or repeal. I believe it is a vital lifeline for Hawaii and the United States, ensuring Hawaii receives reliable shipping service, providing family wage jobs for thousands of Hawaii workers and providing an essential national security asset for our state.

At least 91 nations have similar cabotage laws, meaning that almost every country with a maritime presence has such a law to protect the stability of its shipping industry and for national security. For the United States, the Jones Act is vital to national security as it ensures ample U.S. sealift capacity to move supplies and our armed forces in times of conflict. It also ensures our nation maintains its shipbuilding expertise to have a ready fleet to answer the call.

Hawaii’s scarcity of land means that we do not have large warehouses to store goods. Instead, Hawaii relies on cargo ships to serve as floating warehouses for goods that will be delivered directly to store shelves and consumers. The Jones Act ensures that Hawaii receives consistent and reliable ocean cargo service, which was especially critical during the pandemic when we needed life-saving goods and supplies.

8. The Biden administration says China is the greatest long-term threat to the U.S. and has been trying to expand its influence, especially in the Pacific. What can the U.S. do to build better relations with the Asia-Pacific region?

In order to build better relationships with the Indo-Pacific region and to compete effectively with China, we must expand our diplomatic and development presence in the region by upping our investment in our Department of State and the U.S. Agency for International Development, thereby staffing up our embassies in the region, opening new ones, and expanding our development work on the ground.

The best way to avoid escalating conflict is to be prepared for conflict. This can require a demonstration of force, together with our allies, such that China will think twice before exerting undue force as it has been doing in the South China Sea. China continues to make economic and military investments in the region. The United States must continue to do the same.

We need to tap into the power of U.S. businesses, academic institutions and cultural exchanges to advance our ties with the Indo-Pacific. The U.S. market remains among the most desirable in the world, and we should be doing more to promote integrated trade with the region. I also support greater academic and cultural exchanges with the region, which help deepen people-to-people ties and promote greater understanding and appreciation of our democratic system.

9. The Red Hill fuel crisis illustrated not only how critical the military’s role is in Hawaii but also the serious problems it sometimes causes. It is also a central component of the local economy. What would you do to ensure the military behaves responsibly in the islands? 

It comes down to open community engagement, open communication and accountability. And this can only happen if you are able to develop and maintain trusted relationships. During my tenure in the state Senate, Kaneohe Marine Corps Base Hawaii was in my district and I served on the Joint Venture Education Forum, a cooperative partnership between Hawaii’s military community, our schools and local businesses. My approach was always to build and maintain relationships and trust by keeping lines of communication open, creating opportunities for engagement among stakeholders and working collaboratively.

In my experience, this has been the most effective way to maintain accountability and get things done.  Establishing productive relationships whereby trust is engendered by all parties typically lends itself to more openness and transparency, prevention of problems from occurring and mitigating issues quickly when they do occur.

With Red Hill, I support the Defense Secretary’s decision to permanently shut down and defuel the facility. I look forward to joining the Hawaii congressional delegation to hold the Navy accountable to defuel in a methodical and safe manner and ensure that sufficient funds be provided for that purpose.

10. 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.

During the pandemic, I tracked the billions of dollars Hawaii received from the federal government in Covid-19 relief funds. The state also typically receives billions in annual funding for things like health, education and transportation. While receiving money is generally a good thing, it is only meaningful if it can be spent and directed to benefit those who need it the most. This does not always happen — for example, there was a recent report of $200 million intended to support school nutrition programs that Hawaii did not leverage. We need to take advantage of every opportunity available and make sure it is spent.

My big idea would be to establish a federal liaison office specifically to oversee and coordinate the receipt and maximization of federal funds allocated to Hawaii, including communicating with the state and counties, nonprofits and businesses, to ensure funds are being spent, available monies are being applied for and drawn down, and providing application support. This office would be a watchdog to ensure that funds are getting to where they need to be, and also to help shepherd government agencies in ensuring that the funds are getting to where they are needed and do not lapse.

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