Esther Kiaaina brings a long history of policy and legislative work on which she can call, if she’s elected as the next U.S. representative for Hawaii’s 2nd Congressional district.
That experience colors many of her comments on the issues facing Hawaii’s residents going into the Aug. 11 primary election, in which Kiaaina is seeking the Democratic nomination.
She’s supportive, she said, of opening up the process to bring more Chinese visitors to Hawaii, possibly via a visa waiver program.
“It’s a difficult process,” Kiaaina said. “It should be done in cooperation with stakeholders in China and officers here.”
It’s not enough to simply advocate for a visa waiver, she added. Factors that play into the ease or difficulty with which foreigners can get visas to visit the United States include the country’s return rate and concerns U.S. national interests, she said.
Social Security and Medicare should be off the table when it comes to cutting the federal budget, she said. She would consider raising the income cap for Social Security, which determines how much of a person’s income is taxed. Kiaaina said she’s uncertain whether she would support increasing the retirement age for Social Security.
One way to possibly increase the state’s Medicare and Medicaid funding would be to hold the federal government more accountable for the $100 million it is spending for education and health for Micronesian immigrants.
Kiaaina is open to considering cuts to the Department of Defense and the Farm Bill. As the country withdraws troops from Iraq and Afghanistan, it has the opportunity to streamline operations, she said. The Farm Bill, she said, has for too long been used to support big crops in the Midwest.
She would rather see Farm Bill spending be directed toward diversified agriculture, such as the type of agricultural crops being grown in Hawaii.
Kiaaina said she would be open to voting across party lines, and described herself as a progressive Democrat.
The top issue for the state this year is the same as that which faces the whole country — the economy, she said.
In West Hawaii, the economy also ties into the quality of life issues voters have mentioned to her. Worries about Social Security and Medicare, as well as the desire to create a sustainable economy also come up frequently, she said.
“That’s one area the Big Island can shine for the nation, in environment, food and energy sustainability,” Kiaaina said.
She’d like to strengthen the connections between the federal government and Hawaii, and encourage federal departments to hire more local job applicants. A residency requirement for hiring would be unconstitutional, but Kiaaina said if the University of Hawaii system did more to create internship opportunities and programs catering to the types of federal jobs available in the state, more Hawaii residents could be appropriately trained for those positions.
During her service with retiring Sen. Daniel Akaka, Kiaaina became known for her work on Hawaiian issues, including the process to get Hawaiians and other Pacific Islanders their own classification on federal forms. That was an important move that allowed the federal government to better collect data on the country’s Native Hawaiian population, she said. She worked on the 1993 Apology Resolution, which President Bill Clinton signed.
She also worked on the 1995 Hawaiian Home Lands Recovery Act, which resolved issues of land the U.S. Navy illegally seized, by giving Hawaii Home Lands the right of first refusal for federal lands in Hawaii, she said.