Ed Case / You’ve done this before. What is the job of a legislator on a day-to-day basis?
Ultimately, the job of a congressman is to make decisions on behalf of his or her constituents and of course on behalf of the country generally.
Another part of the job is a communication job, which I consider to be crucial, especially for Hawaii. Washington, D.C. is 5,000 miles away, and not only is it a distance of miles, it’s a distance of understanding, and of culture. I understand the culture of Washington and I understand the culture of Hawaii. My job is to explain what is happening and why it is important.
I believe there is too deep a division between government and the people, that overcoming that gap is crucial to good governance, and that it is my job to bridge that gap.
Is that particularly true in Hawaii, thanks to our specific history?
Yes, I think that’s true, although I would say that in general, when you don’t have good communication, distrusts sets in. There’s a great deal of distrust in country right now. That’s no more true whether you live in Virginia or Alaska.
That seems like a not-too-thinly veiled critique of the current Congress.
I don’t pin it to any one administration or party. The link of trust between government and the people has been eroding for a long time now. One reason is the influence of special interests. Another is the constant emphasis on fundraising and campaigning. Another is the lack of civility in the public discourse.
There is obviously some concern about the state of your relationships with the rest of the delegation.
The people who bring up the concern are the people who oppose me to begin with. I think it’s a red herring, first of all.
But there is a lot of money that comes through Sen. Inouye.
I worked very closely with senators Akaka and Inouye for four years. And people should know that never once was my performance as a member of that team questioned, even after I announced [the primary campaign] against Sen. Akaka. For one whole year of my four years I was a political opponent of Sen. Akaka, but we got the job done.
What’s your take on health care reform, and would you support an end to Hawaii’s exemption?
The situation in Hawaii is mixed. On the one hand, we really did do a better job with it than anybody else, and it was a revolutionary law. On the down side, we have a high centralization of insurance and delivery here. I don’t like monopolies and duopolies. I sat in the legislature for eight years and I saw how HMSA bullied everyone around. I don’t have a problem with HMSA per se, but I do have a problem with bullying people to suit your own monopolistic ends.
If it turned out that the way we run health care here was not getting the job done, if it lagged behind the national health care reform law, then obviously you’d want to change it.
Defense spending is a key industry here. It’s also true that defense spending consumes an enormous share of GDP. Will we have to rethink priorities and implement a major cut in defense spending?
Yes, but it’s also time to rethink the entire budget. I don’t think we’re going to cut defense in order to preserve social programs. The practical reality is that we’re going to have rein in spending across the board. I can’t responsibly assess where the budget is going without concluding that spending in all categories is going up too fast.
And yet the American taxpayer is, relative to her peers in other industrialized countries, lightly taxed on a personal basis.
I think there’s something to that. On the other hand, I think one could also argue that those nations could have too high a tax load. Other countries have chosen a different mix of taxes and you take a look at some of them and ask, “Where are they going to be in 25 or 30 years?” I could just as easily ask you to look at countries on the other end, like Singapore. I don’t have a problem with the general level of taxation, I have a problem with the distribution of taxes. I support a graduated income tax, I’m not in favor of a flat tax or things of that nature.
Immigration is a different issue here than it is elsewhere in the U.S. What kind of reform would you like to see there?
First of all, I don’t think it is different here. People here are just as concerned about illegal immigration as anywhere else. I completely support legal immigration, it’s been good for Hawaii and for the country. But our country has a right to control immigration, and illegal immigration subverts that.
Here’s a good example and this is an actual case–an elderly father and mother, Filipino-American, immigrated legally, are U.S. citizens. They have an adult son who wants to immigrate. That’s a 10-year wait. The parents are getting older, they need care. So the son waits for 10 years. But somebody else comes in illegally, without waiting like everyone else, works here illegally, and now wants to stay here on some sort of amnesty program. What kind of a message does that send? I think it’s the wrong message.
Amnesty sends the wrong message?
Yes. I don’t think there’s any question that we have to do what we can to secure our borders. I don’t accept that it’s a hopeless task. Employers who employ illegal immigrants are a huge part of the problem, so we definitely have to clamp down on employers.
Let’s take the toughest question of all, which is the 10 or 11 million people already here illegally. I don’t support a blanket amnesty. I also don’t agree with those on the other end of the spectrum who say let’s round ’em all up. But I think that in the end there will be some sort of compromise that probably won’t make anyone truly happy.
Some think there was an opportunity for President Obama to lead us toward a fundamental liberal shift. Do you think there was more on the table when he took office than he took advantage of?
President Obama was elected by the mainstream of the country, not by either extreme. And from that perspective, almost by definition, a lot of people will be disappointed with aspects of his leadership. As an environmentalist, just to pick an example, I’m disappointed by the decision to drill offshore.
Every electorate has a mainstream. You’re always going to be pulled toward the mainstream over time. [The 1st Congressional] district is generally a moderate district, neither conservative nor liberal. If you’re out of touch with that mainstream, you’re not going to succeed.