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 Kyle Yoshida, 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 Jill Tokuda.
1. What is the biggest issue facing Hawaii, and what would you do about it?
Climate change is the biggest threat facing Hawaii. Climate change contributes to economic uncertainty, food-sourcing problems, health risks, water shortages, natural disasters, housing shortages and even political polarization, among many other issues.
In the fight against climate change, I will leverage congressional support that not only addresses emissions, but also supports Hawaii. Instead of simply restricting fossil fuels, I believe that we can jump-start our economy, education, health care and sustainability initiatives by tackling climate change with a systems-level approach. While we pursue sustainability, we can reclaim our ahupua’a systems, pursue clean energy, cut down on imports, promote healthier diets, create new technologies, support local farming, and enable ecotourism.
As a proud Kamehameha graduate, Stanford PhD candidate, and community organizer, I’ve witnessed the drive and innovation from many community leaders and citizens. Many have aspirations for sustainable farming, creating local businesses and growing a green economy. In Congress, I will help empower our community to tackle climate change while also improving the lives of Hawaii’s citizens.
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?
Congress needs to do more to address mass shootings and gun violence. My heart goes out to all those impacted by gun misuse, and I will work hard to ensure that we prevent these situations in the future. I support a multifaceted approach that not only aims to remove guns from our streets, but also to educate and train citizens on firearms.
I fully support universal background checks and a ban on military-style assault weapons. I would also support “smart gun” technology, gun violence research, community health and support services, gun safety training, active-shooter preparedness, waiting periods, screening interviews, de-escalation training, and increased age requirements.
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?
As a mechanical engineer who designs soft robots, sometimes I find myself extremely driven to make a certain design work. However, after designing robots for years, I’ve found that my original designs never work; I’ve always had to prototype, experiment, evaluate, and iterate. Similarly, I and other members of Congress must be open to testing new ideas rather than backing into our own comfort zones.
America is composed of many individuals, spanning many communities, beliefs, and cultures. Everyone, especially members of Congress, must learn to participate in healthy debate, identify common ground and clearly express our reasoning. Most importantly, we must be open to new information that may go against our own opinions or prior beliefs.
Our democracy is still new and fragile. Unnecessary political polarization has driven families apart, resulted in unnecessary Covid-19 deaths, and caused rampant misinformation. As someone coming from a tech background, I believe that we can help end political polarization through ensuring that information on social media is fact-checked when necessary and by ensuring that our future generations are well educated in healthy debate and identifying reputable information sources. Furthermore, I look forward to sharing Hawaiian values in Congress and working with representatives of all backgrounds.
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?
Many people rely on our Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid programs, which ensure proper support for our kupuna and those in need. Because of this, I am against cutting benefits or raising the age requirements.
To ensure that adequate funds continue for these programs, I support increasing the taxable minimum for Social Security (increasing contributions for those earning more than $147,000 in 2022) in addition to offloading some costs to drug manufacturers (requiring a minimum drug rebate). Furthermore, I support Medicare for All, preventive health services, new medical technologies, and medical research which can help to reduce costs while keeping people healthy.
5. What is your position on the Senate filibuster?
The Senate filibuster cannot exist in its current state. I recognize the need for all voices to be heard and integrated, but I do not think that a small group should have the power to end legislation that may be favored by a large majority.
In the past decade, both Democrats and Republicans have voted to limit the filibuster for Supreme Court nominees, but on most legislation, a super-majority is still needed. Some estimate that by 2040, 70% of Americans will be represented by just 30 senators. Already, our Senate disproportionately represents the population by providing equal power to both small and large states, but the filibuster has the power to amplify the inequality, causing increasingly more roadblocks in the future.
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?
During the Covid-19 pandemic, I was amazed by speedy vaccine development, making masking a norm, and adaptation to zoom. While working on my doctoral studies at Stanford, I saw researchers shift from researching batteries and cars, to designing Covid-19 models and new masks. This showed me that America can have large paradigm shifts to solve problems and adapt to a rapidly changing world.
We must address climate change with similar urgency. Climate change is not only about cutting emissions and creating renewable energy, but it is also about educating the public, providing health care and ensuring sustainable food sourcing. I believe that each person will play a role in attacking climate change either through their career or through small lifestyle changes (I recently made the switch to vegetarianism in an effort to minimize my carbon footprint and to improve my health), and Congress should work to support this broader approach to tackling climate change. Congress should promote climate-scoring for bills, sustainable infrastructures, clean technology, educational programs and community-based research projects.
Hawaii is one of the states that are most at-risk to climate change, and in Congress, I will ensure that Hawaii becomes a role model for climate resilience and sustainability.
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?
The Jones Act ensures that America has a steady source of ship builders, operators and crews at all times by setting domestic shipping requirements. However, the Jones Act has been widely targeted and debated as the source of Hawaii’s shipping oligopoly and high cost of living. The Grassroots Institute of Hawaii found that the Jones Act costs each Hawaii resident over $645 annually, while TZ Economics and Reeve & Associates found that the Jones Act provides over 13,000 jobs and contributes $3.3 billion to Hawaii’s economy.
I would support amending the Jones Act to ensure the longevity of our maritime industry, support maritime workers, and reduce shipping costs. I believe that Congress can invest in our ship-building industry to lower manufacturing costs in addition to conducting research on new maritime shipping technologies. This step forward can help to reduce the cost of living in Hawaii while also ensuring an American maritime fleet for national security.
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?
America’s position as a global hub for business, technology, and education has the power to create strong relationships between countries throughout the world. I believe that we can build better relations with China and other countries in the Asia-Pacific region by promoting joint research partnerships, creating student exchange opportunities to spread ideas and to promote fair trade. Furthermore, we should ensure that China and other countries respect and work with the United Nations to prevent armed conflicts.
Throughout my time studying engineering at Harvard and Stanford, I’ve worked with researchers and students from all over the world — Estonia, Albania, China, Japan, Kazakhstan and more. In working with these innovative minds, I’ve found that we all seek to improve health care, reduce armed conflict, mitigate climate change and develop robust economies. In essence, each country wants to provide for its people, and the best way to do this is to integrate other countries into our vision and to create bridges for collaboration and meaningful relationships.
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?
Red Hill, Kahoolawe, Makua Valley, Puuloa. For decades, the military has caused irresponsible and unnecessary harm to Hawaii. From before the illegal overthrow, Hawaii was targeted for its location, resources and people. Now, we must come together and prevent further negative impacts to our community. The military must create a symbiotic relationship with Hawaii.
I support and want to continue Rep. Kahele’s work toward remediating land that has been abused by the military. I want to eliminate $1 leases and promote independent inspection and regulation of military sites, composed of scientists, students and the kanaka maoli who have inhabited those areas for generations. I support the Leandra Wai Act to reclaim Makua Valley, and I seek to invest in new technologies and programs for land remediation.
The continued abuse of our people deeply resonated with me during the Covid-19 pandemic. This motivated me to create Honua Scholars with the mission to highlight Native Hawaiian value-based STEM practices to inspire individuals from any background to facilitate a relationship between their career, their culture and their community. Similarly, in Congress, I will work to ensure that the foreign influences that work in Hawaii are aware of our voices and values.
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.
‘A’ohe hana nui ke alu ‘ia. I want to empower the people of Hawaii and give them the tools they need to pursue their dreams. Whether it be in the form of funding, education, community programs, housing or jobs, I believe that Hawaii will be at its best when everyone has the opportunity to contribute to our shared prosperity and innovation.
Hawaii is a contemporary, cosmopolitan society that serves as an epicenter of innovation. We have produced numerous influential leaders, notably Rep. Mink, Sen. Inouye, and Sen. Akaka, and we are home to thousands of people who are leaders in their own communities. I want to showcase our talented residents who bring enthusiasm and innovation to our community organizations, businesses and schools and support them in their goals to serve the community. I want to support each person I represent so they can be world-class citizens who will help establish Hawaii as a global powerhouse of innovation across many sectors.
My big idea is simple — just provide the opportunity for people to lead. If we give people the means to be change-makers, we can have exponential growth toward a better Hawaii.
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