Editor’s note: For Hawaii’s Nov. 8 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 Joe Akana, Republican candidate for the 2nd Congressional District, which covers rural Oahu and the neighbor islands. The other candidates are Democrat Jill Tokuda and Libertarian Michelle Tippens.

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

Candidate for 2nd Congressional District

Joe Akana
Party Republican
Age 58
Occupation Retired
Residence Waianae, Oahu


Community organizations/prior offices held

Alihikaua, Royal Order of Kamehameha I, Moku O Kapuaiwa; crew member for Alapahoe Canoe Club; planned and coordinated 2012 restoration of the Ku Ilio Loa Heiau at Pokai Bay with community leaders and schools.

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

The biggest issue we are facing here in Hawaii is the high cost of living: groceries, gas and housing. Hawaii’s ohana are really feeling the pinch. They’re paying the price for the bad decisions made by government officials over the last three decades.

There is no reason as to why kamaaina cannot prosper. The way to do that is threefold: cut the red tape stifling Hawaii’s small business development, decrease cost of living via Jones Act modernization, and support thriving agricultural communities in Hawaii. We need to stop investing in everyone else, and start investing in ourselves.

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?

There are so many components which factor into mass shootings in America. We have over 300,000 gun laws in the United States. It’s not as easy as just saying “let’s ban xyz.” If it were, those 300,000 laws would have worked to stop mass shootings.

A highly important factor we see with mass shootings relates to access to mental health care. Many shooters have had a history of trauma and/or have suffered from some form of mental health issues. Warning signs were ignored. We need to have a sobering conversation as to why we, as a country, have not made it a priority to help those who truly need to seek treatment, especially our keiki.

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?

Short answer, focus on people and not politics. Many forget our government is of the people, by the people and for the people. Once government officials readjust their priorities to the people, the tribalism of “us and them” falls by the wayside.

We are all facing an uncertain future right now, especially with the food shortages, higher gas prices and skyrocketing inflation. So many people are frustrated and disenfranchised. Many feel like they have no voice and that their government officials are not listening to their concerns. Why are we not focusing on how, as a people and as a country, we can pull together to fix our country’s ills?

If you cannot afford to put gas in your car to go to work, or pay for groceries to feed your family, it doesn’t matter one lick whether a person is Democrat or Republican. We need to pull together as one ohana, work together and do right by the people of Hawaii.

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?

Social Security has become a pay-as-you-go system. Workers pay taxes into the system, which is then immediately paid out to beneficiaries. Over the last two decades there are more beneficiaries than workers. So that means the amount of money collected from current workers is inadequate to sustain the fund.

For quite some time Congress has literally kicked the can down the road stating they’ll deal with the Social Security shortfall later. We need to address the issue now. Studies show the fund will be exhausted by 2036.

There are many solutions which could mitigate this problem. A sovereign wealth fund (SWF) is a viable option to fund Social Security. SWFs are used by countries worldwide, like Norway and Japan. Due to diversification, an SWF brings increased reserves and improved protection of retirement pension funds. Plus, federal budget surpluses could be reallocated and deposited into the Social Security Trust Fund, instead of the General Fund, allowing surpluses to be used for the good of the people.

5. What is your position on the Senate filibuster?

While I will represent Hawaii in the House of Representatives, I am in favor of the Senate filibuster. It protects our democracy. To eliminate it would prevent civil political discourse.

All members of Congress will not always agree on a particular issue or bill. Having the negotiation tool of a filibuster allows for the majority and minority members of the Senate to reach a consensus. It compels opposing sides to work together to seek compromise.

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?

As an immediate action, we’ll plant 100 trees in the first 100 days, statewide. There’s an ‘Olelo No‘eau, Hahai no ka ua i ka ululā‘au, rains will always follow the forest. It’s all of our kuleana to be good stewards.

Nationally we need a holistic approach for each state, not a cookie-cutter plan. Each state has its own unique ecosystem. We must identify communities in Hawaii, and across the U.S., which are the most vulnerable. Then we build a grassroots movement to educate, advocate and empower people to implement long-term and short-term common sense solutions.

A growing, interesting piece of technology is removing humidity from the air and turning it into drinking water. It sounds wild, but scientists have been testing and using this technology. An MIT paper outlines how it was able to literally pull water out of the air using electrostatically driven fog collection.

Here in Hawaii we have a company which specializes in atmospheric water generators. It is not out of the realm of possibility that Hawaii can lead the way in developing unique, out of the box, technology. We just need to provide a space to nurture and develop new ideas.

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 was designed in 1920. So much has changed since then. The current fleet of qualified Jones Act vessels has dwindled down to 93 ships, worldwide.

As it stands, if Hawaii’s businesses want to ship internationally, we have to ship our goods from Hawaii to the West Coast first before the cargo can head to the intended foreign country, which costs an additional $6,000 per container. So out of the gate Hawaii’s business are financially restricted when trying to compete on a global stage.

We need to amend and modernize the Jones Act. This would include upgrading Hawaii’s ports to become federal ports of entry. Not only will this create more higher-paying jobs for kamaaina, this will also make Hawaii a business hub.

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 will build better relationships with other countries in the Asia-Pacific region by proposing favored trade status and economic partnerships. A piece of this would include allocations or exemptions within the Jones Act for a certain number of vessels shipping to and from these selected countries. An Asia-Pacific shipping squad so to speak.

What that looks like is Hawaii being able to directly ship goods internationally to and from these favored countries to reduce their, and our, dependence on China. In the 1870s King Kalakaua brokered something similar for the Kingdom of Hawaii’s export of sugar. Within the five years of the deal, the value of exported products increased by 100%, according to data in “The Hawaiian Kingdom” by Kuykendall.

Hawaii can become a major player and business hub. The question is why aren’t our government officials trying to implement programs for success?

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?

Due to Hawaii’s precarious and sensitive environment, there needs to be a permanent standing joint commission on environmental quality with appointees by the governor of Hawaii to identify areas and follow up. Having these shepherds and stewards from the community will aid in preventing further damage to Hawaii’s unique environment and also to remediate existing damage.

The Department of Defense or Congress should allocate a substantial sum of money to conduct remediation and prevention in the islands for decades to come. Hawaii is a small place and its ground water resources and environmental resources are very finite — and very sensitive to permanent damage.

In protecting our country we don’t have to accept sacrificing our people, our ohana or our island home.

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 one big idea is to actually show up and do my job to leverage the strength of, and amplify the voice of, the people of Hawaii. I’m currently doing this by listening to community concerns and having conversations to develop solutions.

The overall thing I am hearing points back to our state’s infrastructure. I mean infrastructure in terms of the underlying foundation or the basic framework of our state. Every system works hand in hand, and right now we are seeing system failures across our state and our country. It’s like a set of dominoes that are crashing down. Rampant corruption, four-decade-high inflation, rise in crime, deterioration of roads and schools, no reasonably priced housing, and a broken supply chain.

Our people cannot afford to live, let alone thrive, in Hawaii. Unshackle Hawaii’s small business. Invest, utilize and promote initiatives to maximize business growth. Create cooperative development hubs to pool resources and increase engagement between communities, and make the people of Hawaii the stakeholders.

Work together to strengthen Hawaii and help her people flourish. Laulima is in our shared DNA. Why have we stopped practicing the core value of many hands working together to succeed?

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