Colleen Hanabusa / You seem to have an executive personality. Why Congress?
I enjoy being Senate president. But when I looked at what I thought I was best qualified to do, I thought about skill sets, and what do I have the best skill set to do. As good of an administrator as I think I am, what I am really good at is the legislative process. I believe that that’s how I can best serve Hawaii. I understand process very well, and you know what, no matter where you go, you have to understand how to get things done.
You have a lot of influence in Hawaii right now. If you win, you’ll be starting over as the junior representative from Hawaii, possibly even in the minority.
The state Legislature has been a fascinating journey for me. But I’m hoping that I can become an effective voice in Congress. And you’re right, it’s starting from ground zero again. But it comes down to who you are and what you are. I started from ground zero in 1999. And of my 12 years, the last 10 have been in leadership positions. I think my record shows that you just gotta have that level of confidence that you’re going be able to make a difference.
How would you assess health care reform?
I would have supported it all along. I think I’m the only one who has said that. When you look at health care, you have to look at risk-sharing, because that’s the only way you can control the costs. There are certain things that are essential. One was the emphasis on primary care physicians. Then I’m always concerned about the elderly. And for me, whether you had a public option or an exchange, the point was that it had to be made available to all. Hawaii is way ahead of the game. People are shocked when I tell them this, but we have the lowest premiums in the nation.
Can we afford to continue with defense spending at its current levels?
I think the problem with our defense spending has started with the war in Iraq, which I did not support at all. It sent us down the wrong path not only with the war itself, but also with things like the Patriot Act, which I have serious problems with. Yes, I would like to see our defense spending in terms of the war effort to get under control. It was supposed to be June that we would be out of Iraq. There comes a time when these deadlines have got to be adhered to.
It will require a reordering of defense priorities. Having said that, I am first and foremost concerned about Hawaii. Hawaii is strategic, not only in terms of geography, but in terms of the defense industry. We must reprioritize, but Hawaii’s strategic location and the service Hawaii provides should be protected.
Did Congress and the White House move too slowly on financial reform?
I would have thought they would have moved a lot quicker on it because it’s no-brainer. And I would not have expected them to have held to the bailout fund that the Republicans oppose. But one of the things that the Republicans have short memories about–I remember when the presidential candidates had to go back to vote on the bailout, and yet now it’s Obama’s bailout. I remind people that Clinton had a surplus!
Are progressives right to feel that the president squandered an opportunity for real reform across the board?
I think that’s unfortunate. That was one of my concerns with the Obama movement, so to speak. Expectations were so high that how can a human being fulfill them? I think it’s true that many people may feel that they didn’t get what they thought they were getting, but maybe our expectations were not realistic. And that’s no different than Gov. Lingle. The governor came in with a lot of people feeling that this was the change, this was the new beginning they’d been waiting for.
Including a lot of Democrats.
Right. She would not have won with them. And as much as she bashes the unions, she couldn’t have done it without the union guys, because they wanted to see change too. But in the end, it was not possible to do all of it. And it’s our fault too as politicians. We say we’re going to do all these great things. But for President Obama, I think he was mapping out a plan for eight years. For all of us to expect him to do everything in the first year, that’s not fair.
You might be seated in time to vote on some sort of immigration reform measure.
When I think about immigration reform, what comes to mind is family reunification. That’s the major component for people in Hawaii. How can we not fulfill our promises, for example, to the Filipino veterans of World War II, some of whom are still today waiting to bring their families over? The other part of it that I know is unpopular–I feel there’s got to be a way to get to documented status.
Some form of amnesty?
Some form of amnesty. And the other thing is that many of our immigrants are legal. People call in and say, these illegals are taking our services. But I try to explain that most of these people they’re seeing are here because of the unfunded mandate of the Compact of Free Association.
Do we need to amend the COFA?
I don’t think we need to amend the COFA. We need federal funding for what we deserve. Our state’s burden is about $95 million, and we get $12 million from the federal government. We get less than Guam. And if you’re from Micronesia, why wouldn’t you come to Hawaii? You would. They’re entitled to free medical, free education, housing. But that’s because of something that we did. So we have to make it right.
Hawaii is such a wonderful place. We try to do things right and make things right. We would never shirk from an obligation. But the federal government’s got to pay its share.
Do you support the Akaka Bill in present form?
Yes, I support it. Why wouldn’t we want to get Native Hawaiians the same protections as other native people in the United States?