LIHUE — U.S. Rep. Colleen Hanabusa voiced her support for Rim of the Pacific during a recent visit to Kauai.
“I think the RIMPAC exercises have done an amazing thing in terms of bridging a lot of the differences between the countries,” she said.
Hanabusa, who sits on the House Armed Services Committee, sat down with The Garden Island just two months before her upcoming bid to unseat U.S. Sen. Brian Schatz in the 2014 Democratic primary in August. She discussed a number of different issues, including recent controversies within the Department of Veterans Affairs, genetically modified organisms and homelessness.
She said she is a strong supporter of President Barack Obama’s position on the country’s strategic pivot toward the Asia-Pacific region. She said the biennial international military war games, which returns to Hawaiian waters later this month, are necessary.
“This is going to be definitive, not only for us, but for the nation and the world,” she said.
“RIMPAC has served as a mechanism by which we are able to bring all the parties together, in a situation where they can look at each other, they can see each other, and they can also, I think, get a sense that things might just be able work in a cohesive manner if we’re able to do it together,” she added.
As for community concerns about how the exercises may impact marine life and the environment, Hanabusa said there are processes already in place and it is best to let the science move forward.
“I know there are people who do not believe in the military’s presence, but I happen not to be one of them,” she said. “I do believe that there’s an appropriate role, and it is our responsibility to ensure that there is a sense of stability in the Pacific.”
On the recent reports of the delays in veterans receiving medical care from the VA, she said the country must do better.
In her conversations with veterans, Hanabusa said she has come to realize that a lot of them like the fact that the VA is tailored to their needs and want that continued level of service. And while the scandal at the VA hospital in Phoenix earlier this year was “totally inexcusable,” she said it has raised awareness and made members of Congress realize the issue must be addressed and fixed.
“The bottom line is we sent them off to war, we asked them to serve and they did, and one of the benefits that they anticipate receiving is medical care. And we have a responsibility,” she said. “To me, more than moral, it is almost like a contractual responsibility to provide those services for them.”
In terms of addressing homelessness in Hawaii, Hanabusa said the first step is to understand that the homeless are not a “broad-brush” category of people.
The only way to beat homelessness, she said, is to take away the stigmas surrounding it, and assess who is homeless and why. The first category of homeless that should be taken care of are those with families, she said.
“I think the only way we’re going to succeed with homeless is we’ve got to have some kind of a rehabilitation program in place, but we’ve got to have job opportunities that also go hand-in-hand with it,” she said.
Hanabusa also shared her thoughts on the issue of genetically modified organisms — an issue several islands, including Kauai, have addressed via local legislation. She said the best way to deal with the issue is to get the right information and understand the science behind the technology.
“We conveniently, sometimes, flip back and forth between science, whether it’s relevant, or it’s valid or it’s not valid,” she said.
Hanabusa said she would like to see people leave emotions out of the discussion.
“The bottom line is that there needs to be a way to address food security, and there’s a need for us to realize that in situations, for example, with global warming … food production is going to be a major issue for all of us in the future,” she said.
• Chris D’Angelo, environment writer, can be reached at 245-0441 or firstname.lastname@example.org.