MyDD Conversation with HI Sen. Daniel Akaka
by Jonathan Singer, Tue Sep 19, 2006 at 11:18:45 PM EDT
Last night I had the opportunity to speak with Senator Daniel Akaka, a Democrat running for reelection in Hawaii. On Saturday, Akaka will face Congressman Ed Case in the Democratic Party primary. A call to invite Rep. Case to be interviewed for this site was not returned.
Although the race between Akaka and Case has been overlooked by both the national media and, to an extent, the political blogosphere, it represents an interesting situation: Case is basically challenging Akaka from the right (though he focuses on the need to pass on power to a new generation of Hawaiians). While Senator Akaka opposed the Bush administration on policies such as Iraq and the bankruptcy reform bill, Rep. Case has supported the White House on these measures.
I am generally loath to advocate supporting one candidate over another before I am able to hear from both. Yet due to the time constraints and clear differences in ideology between the two candidates, I believe it is important for the Netroots to show support for Sen. Akaka, the candidate who will more clearly demand accountabilty on Iraq and a range of issues.
The latest polling shows Sen. Akaka up by more than 10 points, but given the possibility that this race will continue to tighten as election day nears (remember, the Honolulu Advertiser polling from 2004 was at least a bit suspect), Sen. Akaka needs our help today. If you agree now (or after having read this interview), go to Sen. Akaka's website and make a financial contribution on his behalf and help put him over the top before Saturday's primary.
Jonathan Singer: Let's get started. Hawaii has had five Senators in its history and just three in the last 30 years. Your primary opponent, Rep. Ed Case, says it's time for you to pass the baton on to the next generation. Why do you disagree?
Daniel Akaka: I think that Hawaii can still gain with the seniority that I have and that he won't have, that it will take him years to get to the seniority and also the kind of ranking positions that I'm now in and can help Hawaii and the whole country much more than he can in this point in time.
Singer: One of the issues upon which you and Rep. Case disagree most profoundly is Iraq, with your opponent more generally supporting the current administration's policies than you. What do you believe America should do in regard to Iraq?
Akaka: I think America needs to put pressure on the Iraq government for them to try to structure themselves to govern themselves. We know that they would rather have us out as soon as we can and part of that, however, would depend on what kind of government they set up and the security forces that's needed to support the government. We have been supporting and training a security force for Iraq. I understand that has been working out and so I feel it's about time we begin to set limits, such as July 2007, when we will be considering withdrawing our troops, and hopefully that would put pressure on them to try to work out their government sooner than later.
The other suggestion that I have been making was that instead of having the Defense Department there that we should also have the Commerce people as well so that we can help to develop that country commercially. And while I was there, the leaders were asking us to help programs to employ the young people so that they can get to work instead of being mischievous and would help them get a livelihood that they really need at this time. So my other suggestion is that we try to involve other departments to help the Iraqi government structure itself better.
Singer: I don't know if you saw that Time magazine is reporting this week that America might be heading towards war with Iran. On CNN today, retired Air Force Col. Sam Gardiner said, "We are conducting military operations inside Iran right now. The evidence is overwhelming." What do you feel we should be doing towards Iran with the nuclear issue, etc.?
Akaka: I think we should, as much as we can, diplomatically work with them and the concerns that we have with them and not be defensive to the point of, in a way, challenging the Iran government. And I think we have to take a different attitude towards the government and try to work things out more diplomatically.
Singer: The Bush administration appears intent on reinterpreting the Geneva Convention as it applies to people captured during the course of the conflicts in Afghanistan, Iraq and elsewhere. As someone who has served in the military, if I am not mistaken, what is your opinion of this move?
Akaka: Apparently we are having differences in the definitions and interpreting the Geneva Convention. And I think there needs to be a clarification for us.
Singer: So do you support the legislation that is being drafted by your fellow Armed Services Committee members like Senator Warner, Senator McCain and Senator Graham, as well as supported by Democrats, or do you agree with the Bush administration's view.
Akaka: Senator Levin is also part of the coalition.
Akaka: I would certainly be with Senator Levin. And I know the last time he mentioned that he was concerned about some parts of it.
Singer: Another area upon which you and Rep. Case have disagreed was the bankruptcy reform legislation taken up by Congress last year. Can you talk a little bit about your position as opposed to his?
Akaka: I've always thought that we should do everything to try to lessen bankruptcies throughout the country. Whatever is being done towards that I will certainly consider it heavily, depending on how the language is finally. But I would be one that would really try to lessen bankruptcy in our country.
[In a subsequent release of a previously published statement, Senator Akaka added: "We will need to take additional steps to prevent exploitation of consumers by unscrupulous lenders and improve relevant and useful information about credit to consumers so that they are better capable to make informed debt management decisions and avoid bankruptcy. I have also fought to make credit counseling a viable option to bankruptcy. To do this we must make credit card companies provide concessions to individuals in debt management plans.]
Singer: An issue that's really important to the blogosphere and to internet subscribers is so-called "net neutrality," the idea that internet providers and cable companies should not be able to tier the internet and charge more for certain content. Do you agree with that view on net neutrality?
Akaka: I would support net neutrality and would prefer that they don't set tiers and content separations for the possibility of raising rates in the future and also limiting the way in which people can use the net. But I would certainly support net neutrality.
Singer: Last June, The Hill newspaper wrote an article saying, in effect, that you are not as well known as other Senators and that you would be trying to bulk up your recognition with a number of bills. Do you feel that that fairly represents your record?
Akaka: Let me tell you that since I was in the Senate I've offered 440 stand-alone bills and amendments. My record at this present time is 40 percent of that was passed by the Senate and 20 percent of the 440 was enacted into law. And so that, to me, shows accomplishments I've had in the Senate in many areas.
Singer: One of the big issues for you, if I'm not mistaken, relates to recognition of Native Hawaiians. What will you do over the next six years, if you are reelected, to see that that legislation is in fact enacted into law?
Akaka: I would certainly try to continue to educate my colleagues to what the bill is all about. We came very close with the cloture vote and lost by four votes. I also am looking forward to some gains on our side in the election that would certainly help my cause.
But this cause is really to bring parity to indigenous peoples, in our case Native Hawaiians from the state of Hawaii, but to bring parity with other indigenous groups like the American Indians and the Alaska Natives, and to give the Native Hawaiians recognition that they should have politically and legally. So that's my attempt and I expect to continue working on this and hopefully pass it in the next year or so.
Singer: Can you just talk about, if there's anything you'd like to add about your differing record from Rep. Case and why people should be supporting you and not your challenger?
Akaka: There's no question that my record shows much more accomplishments that he has. And of course he hasn't been in Congress that long. But when you look at the kind of bills as well as amendments that I have been working on it has been for the benefit of the people of Hawaii, as well as the rest of the country.
And these are in areas where I am ranking on Veterans and I am working to increase the services of veterans. I have done this in my state and have made some tremendous gains here with home care as well as PTSD treatments.
I've worked on the environment here with the Hawaii Power Street National Act [sp?] and also tried to expand out national parks in Hawaii and have done that and passed bills to do that. I've been trying to reduce the use of petroleum or oil on Hawaii and bring more alternative energy to Hawaii. The latest thing I've done this year was to pass bills to convert sugar cane to ethanol and put $36 million in there for demonstration projects as well as $50 million for as a loan for people who want to move into those projects. I've passed bills on hydrogen energy. I've passed on hydrogen future so Hawaii can be one of the producers of that. I also passed another bill on methane hydrates, which is natural gas, that we find on the ocean bottom around Hawaii. And also I've joined Jim Jeffords on global warming, to try to cut back on the carbon content that is being produced at this time.
I'm also on Homeland Security. And I've been working on government management and federal workforce, and that really needs a lot of work.
But these are areas that I've been working on that my opponent has not really helped with because he hasn't been there long enough. In other words, he doesn't have the seniority to work with these issues.
Singer: One final question. If there is one message you would like to send out to the progressive blogosphere, to the Netroots, what would that message be?
Akaka: That I would like to help the Veterans and also the Armed Services to have a program of recruitment, retention and retirement. This is needed to be sure that we are able to recruit the numbers that we need for our armed services. Also to work with Homeland Security in helping to keep our country as safe as we can and also to work on education programs.
The other thing I didn't mention was that I've launched financial literacy programs nationally that are really growing for young people as well and also trying to have programs that would help in the education of young people to try to bring back some of the grants that help young people to complete college.
Singer: Terrific. Well, thank you so much for your time and good luck on Saturday.
Akaka. Thank you very Jonathan.
[THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.]