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Interview with Ed Case by Monique Kemper

After pulling into a parking space at the McDonalds on Kuhio Highway, I sprinted out of my car and ran for the entrance to the fast food restaurant. Originally, Ed Case had wanted to meet at the Tip Top Cafe, just down the street from a back road that leads to McDonalds, but it turned out that they are closed on Monday mornings (oddly enough), so Case chose to meet here instead. Immediately the former congressman, who is now running for Senate, expressed friendly Aloha-spirit as he offered to buy me breakfast. I thanked him, but refused, feeling grateful enough to be able to fit into a time slot to meet with him in his busy schedule.

While Case was waiting for his breakfast he talked to another man in line, who lived in Lihue and was looking to be a construction worker. The man was busy, but he was enthusiastic to have a casual conversation with Case. Case made sure to shake the man’s hand before he left, as well as the hands of everyone else present in the restaurant, before he even began his breakfast. I was impressed and respected his friendly attitude.

As I was setting up my voice recording equipment, the former congressman asked me about my educational background and what I did for a living. Ed Case and I both graduated from the same high school, which is Hawaii Preparatory Academy (HPA) in Kamuela, on the Big Island. I told him I was excited to be able to speak with him, especially after meeting him in Washington, D.C. while he was in the House of Representatives. Only this time, I was able to talk to him one-on-one, strictly politics!

Case was fast to switch from casual small talk to “business-mode,” and within seconds our conversation was definitely steeped in politics and a “full-throttle” political agenda. I asked Case as many questions as I could during the interview, which lasted 27 minutes and 43 seconds.

M.K.: What would you say is your primary focus and/or message for your political
campaign, if you could sum it up?

E.C.: Fix Washington. We cannot get those[political and social]challenges solved until we arrive at a different way to govern our country, where we’re not simply fighting with each other all the time, and we are all focused on solving our problems; building the bridges to solve our problems. And that’s not Washington today.

Washington today is about partisan divisions that don’t talk to each other. Washington today is
also about “inside Washington,” which isn’t about the rest of the country. And those divisions are crippling our ability to move forward, and that’s why 90% of the American people, including 90% of people on Kauai, are very disenchanted with how America is working; and this is our opportunity as one state in the country to contribute to a different way of governing Washington.

M.K.: When you say “partisan divisions,” are you referencing “Republicans” and “Democrats” in a way which means that they are focused on their own agendas and extreme ideologies to solve problems? While researching your campaign agenda, I noticed you mentioned the focus of parties on extreme ideologies. It seems that most are not willing to compromise to come up with a solution.

E.C.: I think that’s true; it’s too simplistic to talk about the entire problem of our country
being just Democrats versus Republicans. It’s actually a little bit more complicated than that. It is the extremes of the Democratic Party against the extremes of the Republicans. The only debate in Washington right now is between the far left 10% and the far right 10%, but whatever happened to the other 80% out there? There are a lot of Democrats and a lot of Republicans, and frankly a 
lot of Independents right now who don’t affiliate with either party, all who want to solve a lot of our problems. Washington is only about, right now, the extremes and fighting over who is 
going to win, as opposed to working it out in the middle. And that’s where our problems are going to be solved.

Another part of the problem is what’s going on doesn’t have much to do with party, and has a lot to do with inside Washington, as opposed to what’s going on “outside Washington.” Inside Washington, the political action committees, the large special interests and large status quo organizations, they don’t think about it from a party perspective, they are thinking about maintaining their positions and promoting their positions.

M.K.: In your ten principles to rebalance the country’s budget, you say, “Ending the Iraq and Afghanistan wars won’t itself balance our budget.” Can you tell us a little bit more about this topic?

 E.C.: Well our budget was balanced in 2000, so in 2000 we had a surplus actually, an annual surplus where we had more revenue coming in than expenses going out. International debt, which is how much we owe overall, was about 6 trillion dollars. It’s a lot of money, but we can manage that with our economy today. We have an annual budget that’s in the negative, in the red, of 1.3 trillion dollars. We have a debt of 16 trillion dollars. So inside of ten years we went from 6 trillion to 16 trillion, and we’re running an annual deficit of over 1.3 trillion.

M.K.: That’s a scary number!

E.C.: Absolutely scary. The most scary thing about it is that the debt, as a percentage of how much we produce, ten years ago was about 50 percent, it was manageable, still high, but it was manageable. Now it’s over 100 percent. So, what caused that? What caused that was the reduction of revenue and the increase in expenses. Now, Iraq and Afghanistan were very tragic of course, and were very expensive. But that was only about 10 percent of our budget. Now people have this misconception that our economy is going to automatically balance if we stop spending in Iraq and Afghanistan. And that’s wrong, that’s not what caused our budget to unbalance. What caused our budget to unbalance, what caused our budget to unbalance was that we continued to rack up our expenses at the same time that we collected taxes and went into a recession. So that’s what drove the revenues down and the expenses up – to the tune of trillion dollars a year. So even if we leave Iraq and Afghanistan, we will still run an annual deficit of close to a trillion dollars.

Hey, if you want to be simplistic about it and pander to the American public and say this is the answer to our problems, you either don’t understand the budget or you’re afraid to face the tough questions and tough challenges and just want to give people a simple answer. Kinda like Newt Gingrich saying “We’ll do one or two things, we’ll save $2.15 a gallon on gas.” That’s pandering.

M.C.: Okay, and so the next question is about education. I think it is important to have well-informed citizens; good workers who help contribute to the economy. I think that it looks better and gives our country a better reputation when our scores our higher. As compared to other countries such as Russia, Japan, and Germany, our scores are a lot lower. How do you think that education can be improved?

E.C.: From a federal level, the best way to fix education in our country is to have a strong economy and a balanced budget, and the reason is because that will allow us to both sustain the federal funding we are dedicating to education over a long period of time, number one. And number two, we want jobs for people that graduate. Pretty simple. If there aren’t jobs at the end of the pipeline, if people come out of college or other schools with incredible debt, they are tempted to never go there to start with. And that’s a huge mistake. So we can’t increase jobs without improving education. If we grow our economy and balance our budget and we increase jobs, that’s the big picture and the best thing that we can do for our education.

M.K.: Moving on from education, let’s talk a little bit out Obama. In general, how do you feel about Obama as a president from Hawaii? Do you feel that having a president from Hawaii has been beneficial to Hawaii, do you feel that it draws more attention and recognition to Hawaii?

E.C.: It never hurts to have a president who is born and raised and knows his home very well and has a sensitivity to what Hawaii needs. And the best possible example of that is that President Obama brought APEC to Hawaii. That was his decision alone. He could have taken APEC to San Francisco or Chicago, Seattle, and he chose Honolulu. That’s a direct advantage to Hawaii. That kind of marketing you can’t pay for, so of course it’s beneficial to have a president from Hawaii.

Another thing that’s very important is that this is the Asia-Pacific century. The last century was kind of, you know, a United States and Europe century. Having a president that fully appreciates that, having a president, the first president ever, to have come out of an Asia-Pacific society at a time when the Asia-Pacific Century is upon us. That’s crucial, because it gives a different twist to it, because I think that will help us over the long term with our relationships with the countries of the Asia-Pacific such as China. Of course if we have a good relationship with them, not only is that good for world peace, but it is also good for our economy. A good solid global economy with good relationships between our country and countries of the Asia-Pacific is going to bring people to the stores of Hanalei and Princeville.

M.K.: It affects everybody, right?

E.C.: Yep.

M.K.: Specifically about some of what Obama has done while he has been in the White House – how do you feel about ObamaCare? I read that you feel that the way insurance is being handled is not ideal.

E.C.: Well, let’s look at the problem. What is the problem that we are trying to solve here? The problem is that 50 million Americans cannot get insurance. They fall into this incredible gap between being eligible for Medicare. [There are] people that are working and they cannot afford to pay rapidly increasing healthcare costs. And there’s a huge gap in between [those who can afford insurance and those who cannot]. Now, those people were not being served by the private sector. My first reaction is, “Can the private sector solve this problem?” Because I believe in the private sector. And I believe that, in general, they can go out there and solve problems. They can find a market and deliver a product to the market. But they weren’t doing it in this situation.

50 million Americans are either uninsured or under-insured. And that’s 1/6 of our country. And that’s not acceptable. Other countries of the world have said this is unacceptable and have done something about it. I say to people, “I’m not a person that says government should do everything; can do everything,” but there are times. There are times when if it’s not happening outside of government, and there’s a need, you have [to do something.] So I think that in this situation, if anybody doesn’t like ObamaCare, then what’s your alternative? Do you think that the status quo is okay? Some people don’t. Some people don’t particularly care about 50 million Americans. I do. There’s a difference. Then of course I just think that the cost of healthcare is going up too fast, and that’s because Medicare is increasingly centralizing and monopolizing the market, and that’s not good for consumers. In the case of the Health Care act, it was created to increase competition. I support those [in reference to supporting competition.]

M.K.: On your campaign website, you said that a focus on small businesses is important in order to make the economy grow. Do mind telling me a little bit about that?

E.C.: Now most of the businesses in our country are small businesses. In Hawaii, well over of 90 percent of our businesses are small businesses. We don’t have large corporations in Hawaii. We have folks that are operating jewelry stores and small construction companies and tax and accounting services. And that’s a vast majority of our country. But they don’t have enough of a voice in government, so two things happen to them. Too often government adopts tax policies and regulatory policies that are incredibly burdensome to small businesses. If you are a small business in Hanalei and you are spending 50 percent of your time worrying about whether you are complying with some federal regulation or not, having to pay lawyers to figure it out, you may[get charged] a fine because you [did something wrong]. That’s not going to be good for your business. I talked to a guy in Ching Young Village Center yesterday [whose business] is on the verge of going under because of the level of taxation, and regulation. He’s been in this small business community for the last 25 years. I just went into a store, we talked, [and] that’s what he told me. It’s too much. He’s going to go do [business] somewhere else. So, if those small businesses, if he employs himself and some other folks, then he is contributing to the economy of Kauai. But if the taxes are too high for him and the regulations are too high for him, that is going to kill [his business] off, eventually.

Now big businesses are able to adjust to that a little bit more. They are able to influence the system a little bit more. Frankly, too many people in government really don’t know anything [about having a business]. I have been in the business industry for the past 30 years and I have helped folks [with their businesses]. I have run my own businesses so I know what it’s like. I was on the small business committee in Congress. So for Hawaii it’s really crucial that when we talk about growing our economy, we talk about growing our small businesses. We’re not talking about helping the huge corporations of our country.

M.K.: Is that why you like to go into the stores and talk to people working there – because you support small businesses?

E.C.: Sure, I like to go out there to talk to people. So I can listen. See what their life is like. See how the government is affecting their life.

*Note to the reader: The quotes listed below as part of the Q&A section of this article are accurate; however, some of the material from the actual interview was not included so as to conserve space in the publication. Also, some of the questions have been altered for length and clarity.

Words included in brackets [ ] are words that are added for clarity.

(Monique Kemper’s pen name at The Kauai Voice is “Alohi Kani.”)

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