Congressional candidates’ invitations draw fire

Candidates for the 2nd Congressional District, state Sen. Colleen Hanabusa and former state Sen. Matt Matsunaga ,told Kauaians they don’t want a war with Iraq and that federal recognition will provide Hawaiians with continued federally-funded services.

At a forum on Kaua’i last Friday, Hanabusa and Matsunaga also stressed Hawai’i’s agricultural future will probably rest with diversified agriculture and bio-tech crops, now that sugar and pineapple production statewide has dropped.

But the development of the bio-tech industry will have to be done with caution, as its impact is unknown, Hanabusa and Matsunaga said.

The forum wasn’t so much a debate as it was a session in which Hanabusa and Matsunaga put on display their knowledge of the topics. They spoke separately to the audience.

The forum was the first known congressional debate held on Kaua’i since former state legislator Ed Case won a recent special election to fill the congressional seat left vacant by the death of House Rep. Patsy Mink this year.

Because of the win, Case was able to finish Mink’s term this year.

In all, 44 candidates are running for Mink’s seat in a second special election set for Jan. 4. The winner will hold office for two years.

About 40 residents attended the nighttime forum sponsored by the Anahola Homesteaders Council at the Kauai Veterans Center by the Lihu’e Airport.

The council just invited Case, Hanabusa and Matsunaga to the forum, saying it wanted to hear only their perspectives on issues.

Case couldn’t attend the forum because he had an obligation on Maui and wasn’t able to book a flight to Kaua’i.

Candidates were asked:

– What is the most critical Hawaiian community issue?

– What is the most critical agricultural issue in Hawai’i?

– What is the most critical foreign policy issue?

In all cases, candidates were asked to provide solutions.

On the Hawaiian issue, Hanabusa noted that the Akaka bill, which proposes federal recognition for native Hawaiians, has “not pleased everyone.”

But federal recognition would set up a political relationship between native Hawaiians and the federal government that is similar to what native Americans and native Alaskans have with the federal government, she said.

Reconciliation with native Hawaiians was set in motion through the 1993 “Apology Bill” signed by former President Clinton for the illegal overthrow of the Hawaiian monarchy.

The apology shows America can admit it is wrong and try to do right by Hawaiians, Hanabusa said.

Federal recognition would lead to a political status that would be granted to Hawaiians, “not a racial one,” she said. Ultimately, self-determination can be achieved, she said.

Those who seeking independence from the United States can turn to the United Nations, she said.

As a former chairperson of the Senate Water, Land and Hawaiian Affairs Committee, Hanabusa said the Senate, for the first time in her memory, brought public hearings on the Akaka bill to the neighbor islands.

What was clear from the meetings, including the first one held on Kaua’i, drawing more than 120 residents, was the message that entitlements should be protected, Hanabusa said.

Without federal recognition, “entitlements are at risks, OHA (Office of Hawaiian Affairs) is at risk, and more importantly, then the ceded lands are at risks,” she said.

She said the entitlements have helped enrich the lives of Hawaiians.

Federal funds, for instance, helped set up the Waianae Coast Comprehensive Health Center, which will provide service to people without medical insurance, Hanabusa said.

The center is a model for other health centers throughout the Pacific, she added.

She also said it was important to get an accurate inventory of the ceded lands as a way to determine the amount that can be made available to Hawaiian beneficiaries.

Hanabusa also said she intimately knows the issues facing Hawaiian communities, representing a state district on O’ahu that boasts the largest concentration of native Hawaiians on that island.

Matsunaga, meanwhile, said the top issue facing Hawaiians is stopping the attacks on their entitlements in the courts.

The attacks, he said, are based on the premise that the “relationship between the government and native Hawaiians is a racial one.”

Federal recognition will mean the relationship “is no longer racial” and will mark the emergence of a ‘nation-to-nation” relationship permissible under the U.S. Constitution, Matsunaga said.

This situation will help ensure entitlements are protected, including housing and educational benefits which he and others have worked hard to protect over the years, Matsunaga said.

Politicians in the mainland may not understand federal recognition for native Hawaiians “is very similar” to federal recognition given to native Indians and Alaskan natives,” and “so we are just seeking parity with our host culture,” Matsunaga said.

Matsunaga said Hawaiians are the host culture and that they have embraced all ethnicities and other cultures.

“So we owe an obligation, a very special obligation to our host culture, to support their quest for self-determination and for sovereignty,” Matsunaga said.

During a recent breakfast with an OHA trustee, Matsunaga said, they talked about the Akaka bill and how Republicans have fought it and how the U.S. Department of Interior may not be receptive of the bill in its current form.

The new bill will have to be revised so that “people fully understand the plight that we have here,” Matsunaga said.

What can be posed to Congress is a bill that resembles legislation that has provided reparations for Americans of Japanese ancestry interned during World War II, Matsunaga said.

He said that type of legislation was passed when his father, U.S. Sen. Spark M. Matsunaga, was in office before his death.

The gravest foreign policy issue facing America, both Hanabusa and Matsunaga said, is the prospect of the United States going to war with Iraq for failing to disclose and dispose of weapons of mass destruction.

Hanabusa said there is a distinction between supporting efforts against fighting terrorism and “waging war.”

“I am for the defense, and I am for the preservation of our homeland,” she said. “However, I do not support the president’s action.”

Matsunaga said he fully supports homeland security “because it is government’s first job to take care of its citizens and to keep them free from harm.”

Matsunaga said he doesn’t support the idea of “an invasion of another country, a pre-emptive strike without ample evidence that there is imminent danger.”

The world should look to the work of the United Nations inspectors to determine whether there are “weapons of mass destruction in Iraq.”

Some of the work has shown Iraq may be ready to use weapons on civilians or the military, Matsunaga said.

From looking at letters of credit from Iraq’s central bank, inspectors determined spray drying equipment sold to Iraq by a western manufacturer was reconfigured so that “the particle would be milled so fined that they would be suspended in mid-air,” Matsunaga said.

“Now, there is no civilian application for that,” Matsunaga said.

Hanabusa said going to war would dramatically damage the economy of Hawai’i, and if war is inevitable, Hawai’i should look at ways to mitigate the impact, Matsunaga said.

At the same time, Hawai’i should do what is necessary to ensure veterans have “quality, affordable and accessible health care, because they deserve it,” Matsunaga said.

On the subject of critical agricultural issues facing Hawai’i, Hanabusa and Matsunaga said with the downturn in the sugar and pineapple industry, the state has to turn to diversified agriculture to keep agriculture strong.

Diversified agriculture is one of Hawai’i’s “fastest growing segments in our economy,” Matsunaga said, and that it could become a significant force in “our state’s economy, perhaps as high as 5 percent of our gross state product, and that is not an insignificant amount.”

Should he win the congressional race, Matsunaga said he would support efforts to “talk with the Department of Agriculture” and make sure that “we have appropriate exemptions and adjustments.”

Matsunaga said his father considered farmers like Ed Kawamura, a Kaua’i businessman as well, as men who were “outstanding” in the field. “It is a bad pun,” Matsunaga said, but “it drives home the point that farmers can be a tremendous asset to our economy.”

Hanabusa said “agriculture in Hawaii is an issue of preservation, and as the sugar industry shrinks further, new questions about how to protect agriculture has to come forward.

Those questions, she said, will deal with what new crops should be explored, how to export products and how to make Hawai’i a “self-sustaining agricultural state.”

The next step, which would fall under federal review, would be bio-tech crops, Hanabusa said.

But both Hanabusa and Matsunaga said expansion of this industry has to be done with care.

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency recently reached a $9,900 settlement with the parent company of Pioneer Hi-Bred International over Pioneer’s alleged mishandling of genetically modified seed corn grown under test conditions in West Kaua’i.

EPA also required Pioneer to conduct tests to determine whether any genetic material from the experiment reached unmodified corn crops.

Pioneer didn’t admit or deny any wrongdoing, but agreed to pay the penalties.

Pioneer representatives have said genetically modified crops pose no danger to animals or other plants and that the EPA citation was based on questions over whether a federal permit applied to one or numerous plots.

Matsunaga said the incident gave the industry a “black eye, because until the residents of the state are assured this type of genetically-engineered farming is safe and sound, then I am not sure if the community is going to be ready for it yet.”

Hanabusa said bio-tech crops appear to be the future of Hawai’i’s agriculture, but its impact will have to be addressed.

During the second half of the forum, Hanabusa and Matsunaga were to field questions from audience members.

TGI Staff writer Lester Chang can be reached at 245-3681, Ext. 225 or mailto:lchang@pulitzer.net.

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