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 Patrick Branco, Democratic candidate for the 2nd Congressional District, which covers rural Oahu and the neighbor islands. The other Democratic candidates are Nicole Gi, Brendan Schultz, Steven Sparks, Jill Tokuda 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

Patrick Branco
Party Democratic
Age 35
Occupation State legislator, former U.S. diplomat
Residence Kailua, Oahu


Community organizations/prior offices held

Board, Conference on Asian Pacific American Leadership; vice-president, Asian American Foreign Affairs Association; communications chair, Pickering & Rangel Fellows Association; Kailua Hawaiian Civic Club; Koʻolaupoko Hawaiian Civic Club; Royal Order of Kamehameha; Hale ʻO Nā Aliʻi; Chamber of Commerce Hawaii Young Professionals Program.

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

The biggest issue facing Hawaii is the overall rise in cost of living. Too many of our local people are being priced out and forced to move to the continent, while wealthy out-of-state investors buy more investment properties that continuously drive up property prices. In Congress, I will work to secure increased funding from HUD to build sustainable affordable housing, and work closely with the Department of Interior to develop our Hawaiian Homelands to clear the backlog of Native Hawaiians waiting for a home.

Diversification of the economy is an issue of social and economic security, and I’m committed to securing the federal support needed to make this a reality. I’ll work to bolster Hawaii’s agricultural industry, and secure the investments needed to secure our state’s biosecurity and food supply. As the only state in the country that can produce all forms of renewable energy, Hawaii can serve as a model for the nation in transitioning to a clean energy economy. I’ll work to create green jobs through federal investments in geothermal energy exploration and production. These industries will help retain more of our local talent and ultimately ensure our families have the opportunities here at home to thrive.

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?

We cannot accept daily mass shootings as a tragic but unavoidable reality in the United States. Our elected leaders must have the political courage to end the NRA’s stranglehold on Congress, and pass common sense gun safety legislation that will save the lives of our keiki and ohana. I do not believe that weapons of war belong on our streets, and would support a federal assault weapons ban, as well as a ban on high-capacity magazines.

I support enacting a nationwide “red flag law” which would deny the sale of guns to — and allow for the temporary removal of guns from — people who pose a risk to themselves or others. I believe that we need enhanced universal background checks that will close the dangerous “Charleston Loophole” in background checks — which allows gun purchases to move forward by default after three business days, even if the background check has not been completed. 90% of federal background checks are completed in minutes, but those that take longer than three business days are four times as likely to be denied.

I also believe that gun violence is a public health emergency, and would support funding to allow the CDC to be able to study the gun violence epidemic.

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?

I witnessed a democracy crumble before my eyes as a U.S. diplomat stationed in Venezuela, and I’m troubled by the signs of a fracturing democracy that I see here in the United States. The polarization of our Congress and political leadership is benefiting adversaries like China or Russia, and emboldening anti-democratic forces around the world.

We need leaders who are willing to work together not as Democrats or Republicans, but as Americans. I will not compromise my values, and while I do not believe I will be able to get election deniers like Jim Jordan or Paul Gosar to see the light, I will work with Republicans who are interested in working across the aisle to bring back resources and federal support for Hawaii.

On a practical note, I currently represent Kailua and Kaneohe Bay, a seat which was represented by a Republican for 30 years. I’m accustomed to working with and earning the support of people who look for strong leadership, regardless of party label.

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?

It’s harder than ever to save for retirement in the United States, and too many working families have had to sacrifice the money they put aside for retirement to make ends meet.

Social Security is an earned benefit, and the main source of retirement income for most of our kupuna, yet the average Social Security beneficiary only receives $18,457 a year. I will support increasing Social Security benefits by $200 per month/$2,400 per year. This increase will help cut the rate of national poverty among kupuna by almost two-thirds.

I support expanding Medicare coverage to all Americans, and will work to pass Medicare For All to ensure every resident of Hawaii has high-quality health care coverage. This will particularly help those in our rural communities who suffer from a lack of health care coverage and access.

These programs can be shored up by implementing a fairer federal tax code that ends loopholes that favor the wealthy and well connected, and ensures that a teacher or firefighter does not pay more in taxes than a hedge fund manager or real estate speculator.

5. What is your position on the Senate filibuster?

The Senate needs to abolish the filibuster. It’s an archaic rule of the Jim Crow era that prevents progress on issues with broad support such as gun safety and reproductive health.

If we want to be responsive to the needs of our constituents, we cannot keep the status quo.

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?

The United States is not meeting its climate change goals, and more must be done to stem the climate crisis. While the continent talks about the future effects of the climate crisis, Hawaii has been feeling its effects for years. As an island state, climate change threatens Hawaii’s vitality and way of life.

Federal action is needed to help stem the impending effects of the climate crisis. As the only state in the country that can produce all forms of renewable energy, Hawaii can serve as a model for the nation. In Congress, I will help facilitate the transition of our state and nation to a clean energy economy, by growing investment in geothermal energy exploration and production in Hawaii.

I will also advocate for a national climate action plan which prioritizes the smooth transition of our national economy to 100% clean energy, invests in creating good-paying green jobs and ends subsidies for fossil fuel companies posting record profits as they gouge consumers at the gas pump.

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 am a supporter of the Jones Act. Industries under the Jones Act in Hawaii support 13,000 jobs, deliver $787 million in annual workforce income, and have a $3.3 billion economic impact on the local economy.

The Jones Act also plays a critical role in supporting our national security. Eliminating the Jones Act would allow foreign-built ships to operate in our domestic trade, benefiting countries like China at the expense of our local industries and workers. The Covid-19 pandemic, which saw most major ports in Asia closed, highlighted how dangerous it would be for Hawaii’s economy and food supply to be dependent on foreign vessels.

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?

We should continue to strengthen relationships with our allies and other strategic partners in the Asia-Pacific. The current Quadrilateral Security Dialogue with Australia, India and Japan is an excellent example of our current efforts that should serve as a model for deepening relationships with our other allies in Asia.

We are expanding our relationship from one that relies mostly on military ties to one which includes cooperation in areas such as global health and climate change. Furthermore, we must continue to engage with other traditional allies, such as Thailand and South Korea, while also strengthening our presence in organizations like ASEAN and APEC.

The U.S. should also look at how it can effectively lower mutual barriers to trade and investment with our allies in the Asia-Pacific region. This would naturally encourage stronger relations, and continue to ensure that America remains the primary partner of choice.

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? 

The Red Hill fuel crisis highlighted the need for the military to be held accountable to our local people. Our local leaders knew about the fuel location on Red Hill, long before it was a crisis, and raised it with the military. Unfortunately, those pleas fell on deaf ears — and even after it became a full-blown emergency, the Defense Department did not respond immediately to calls for the fuel facility’s closure. Never should the health of our residents be sacrificed because of an unbending bureaucratic structure.

From my service in the Secretary of State’s Operations Center, I formed crucial relationships within the Department of Defense that will allow me to get to work on day one in providing close congressional oversight on the defueling and decommissioning on Red Hill. I will be vigilant in continued congressional oversight regarding the military’s plans and operations in Hawaii, and would use my position as a member of Congress to raise any issues of concern immediately, and always ensure that the voices of local people who are impacted by the military’s presence in our state are heard.

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.

The Covid-19 pandemic did not expose Hawaii’s flaws, it amplified them. Career politicians have been talking about doing something about the cost of living, the diversification of our economy and stemming the effects of overtourism since I was a kid. But it’s only gotten worse since then, and the same people who have been in office for decades are still saying they will do something about it. Career politicians who benefit from the status quo have failed the people of Hawaii.

In Congress, I will work to make Hawaii a model for the nation in the transition to a green economy. From geothermal to wind and solar, our state is the only one in the nation that can produce all forms of renewable energy. This gives us the opportunity to create tens of thousands of good-paying jobs as we transition to a future clean energy economy, and allows Hawaii the opportunity to become an exporter of energy to the continent and countries in the Pacific.

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