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 Brian Schatz, Democratic candidate for U.S. Senate. His opponents are Republican Bob McDermott, Libertarian Feena Bonoan, Emma Jane Pohlman of the Green Party and Dan Decker of the Aloha Aina Party.

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

Candidate for U.S. Senate

Brian Schatz
Party Democratic
Age 50
Occupation U.S. senator
Residence Pauoa, Oahu


Community organizations/prior offices held

U.S. senator, 2012-present; lieutenant governor, 2010 - 2012; chairman, Democratic Party of Hawaii, 2008-2010; CEO, Helping Hands Hawaii, 2002 - 2010; state representative, District 25, 1998 - 2006.

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

The rising cost of living is the most challenging issue we face in Hawaii. Whether it’s health care, energy, college or housing – we need to make it more affordable for local people to build a life here. That’s why I continue to work to deliver federal funds and enact federal policies to reduce the cost of utilities, make commutes more efficient and safe, make health care and prescription drugs more affordable, and support homegrown industries.

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?

Americans are demanding we take action on gun violence, and I’ve supported and pushed for reforms since joining the Senate. I support banning military-style assault weapons and establishing universal background checks.

I also fought to demilitarize police forces by reforming the program that allows for the transfer of military equipment from the Department of Defense to state and local police, and introduced legislation to prevent youth suicide, which includes measures to keep guns out of the hands of our kids.

We need to make sure we have common sense protections in place that will stop dangerous, violent people from getting their hands on deadly firearms.

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?

On Jan. 6, 2021, there was a violent insurrection to overturn American democracy. It was led by Donald Trump and right-wing extremists who worked together to spread lies about the 2020 election results.

In order to protect our democracy, everyone – including Republican leaders who remain loyal to the former president – must acknowledge this truth and hold those responsible accountable.

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?

We’ve got to strengthen and protect Social Security, Medicare, and Medicaid, and I will continue to fight to protect these programs.

By 2040, the number of Hawaii seniors is expected to grow and make up more than 20% of the population. Our seniors deserve to retire with the benefits they have earned. Expanding and enhancing Social Security benefits has been a priority for me since arriving in the Senate. Last year, I reintroduced the SAFE Social Security Act, which would increase benefits and make sure everyone pays into the system equally.

I’ve also led on legislation to create a Medicaid-based public health insurance option by allowing states to create a Medicaid buy-in program for all their residents.

I’ve pushed to protect and support Medicare. I’ve supported passing legislation to let Medicare negotiate drug prices directly and led on expanding tele-health access for those on Medicare. Expanding tele-health increases access and quality of care while reducing costs.

5. What is your position on the Senate filibuster?

I support ending or reforming the filibuster. The filibuster is not part of our Constitution, originated mostly by accident, and has historically been used to block civil rights.

Democrats and Republicans working together to reach a compromise is important, but that isn’t possible when the filibuster is abused as it’s been by Republicans.

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?

With Democrats in the majority, we’ve taken important steps to tackle the climate crisis, including delivering the largest investment in clean energy, phasing down hydrofluorocarbons — a potent greenhouse gas, and rejoining the Paris Climate Agreement.

While we’ve made progress, we still have more work to do. That means enacting policies that will cut carbon pollution, invest in clean energy and protect vulnerable communities.

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’ve been a longtime supporter of the Jones Act and have joined efforts to strengthen enforcement. The Jones Act is necessary for our national security because we need the industrial capacity to build ships and to have U.S. owned and flagged vessels available in times of crisis.

It is also necessary to maintain a guaranteed flow of goods to Hawaii.

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?

The first step is to show up and the next step is to listen. China’s increased aggressiveness in the South China Sea and Spratly Islands and everything that they are doing related to Taiwan and Hong Kong has to do with our absence in the region.

We have to view our relationships with potential partners and adversaries in the Asia-Pacific as not merely incidental to the question of China, but important in their own right. We can distinguish ourselves by respecting other sovereigns — and not treating them as a colony or a client state — and that will accrue to our benefit. But that only works if we are present, if our Coast Guard, State Department, military and other agencies are present in the region.

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 changed Hawaii’s relationship with the military. It shook the foundation of trust the military had built with our state. And that was my message to DoD and top leaders in the Biden administration: They needed to get it right or their continued presence was going to be a problem. After weeks of discussions and actions I took in the Senate, including voting against DoD nominees to call attention to this issue, we were able to secure millions in funding and an order from Secretary of Defense James Austin to finally defuel and shut down Red Hill.

While Hawaii’s location is important strategically and the military protects our state from threats abroad and supports our local economy, the U.S. military is only viable in our state if it has community support. That means it has to respect the people of our state, our environment and our culture.

Their failings at Red Hill make it clear they have a lot of work to do to regain our trust. I will continue to work on the Appropriations Committee to secure federal funding so that DoD’s budget reflects its commitment to regaining that trust and rectifying their wrongs at Red Hill.

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.

We have to build the future that we want in order to protect what we have. We have to build clean energy, we have to build housing, we need to build up our university system, we need to build government systems that function properly.

Federal funds are not just for sustaining us, they should be used as a strategic lever to build the just and sustainable society that we want.

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