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  • Fast Track for TPP Was the Right Move

    · By The Civil Beat Editorial Board

    After a spate of high-volume bickering between U.S. Sen. Elizabeth Warren and President Barack Obama, the U.S. Senate has granted the president fast-track authority to complete the full draft of the Trans Pacific Partnership trade agreement. Last Thursday, the Senate mustered 62 votes to end fast-track debate, and the next day completed passage of the negotiating request.

    Civil Beat argued for this authority, and we see Friday’s vote as an important step forward. Though the conflict over fast track was hard fought and sometimes shrill, it promises to be nothing compared to the battle to come, when the complete trade deal is made public later this year.

    And that’s exactly, precisely as it should be.

    President Barack Obama talks about the importance of the Trans Pacific Partnership trade talks. The Senate granted fast-track authority for the talks to proceed in Congress.

    White House photo

     

    The Obama administration argued forcefully for fast track, noting the extraordinary difficulties in getting 12 nations to individually ratify a trade deal. Fast-track authority means Congress, like legislative bodies in the other nations, will only be able to vote the deal up or down, not amend it. Allowing amendments in Washington’s hyper partisan environment would have only meant ensnaring TPP in the same endless loop of bickering that holds too many other worthy pieces of legislation hostage and essentially writing off any chance of a deal that would eliminate trade barriers among nations accounting for about 40 percent of the world’s economy.

    But in exchange for

  • Schatz and Hirono Call for Stronger Monitoring of Birth-Control Mandate

    · By Rui Kaneya

    U.S. Sens. Brian Schatz and Mazie Hirono joined 37 fellow Democratic senators Tuesday in prodding the Obama administration to take a stronger stance to ensure the Affordable Care Act’s birth-control mandate is being followed.

    In a letter to Sylvia Burwell, the secretary of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, the senators voiced their concerns over findings in a pair of studies that insurers are providing women inaccurate information about the required birth-control coverage.

    Senators Brian Schatz and Mazie Hirono.

    Courtesy of Sen. Mazie Hirono

    The standards issued in 2011 require health insurers to cover all government-approved contraceptives for women, without co-payments or other charges. Insurers are also mandated to provide the coverage for sterilization procedures and “patient education and counseling for all women with reproductive capacity.”

    “In the 21st century, women should have access to affordable, comprehensive healthcare services, like birth control, that empower them to make their own healthcare decisions and provide economic security for their families,” the Senators wrote. “Unfortunately, we write with serious concerns that some insurers are failing to uphold the standards set in the Affordable Care Act and as a result leaving women without the health care services they are entitled to under the law.”

    The senators are asking Burwell to issue a new written guidance to make sure that insurers comply with the contraceptive mandate. They are also calling for consumer education efforts and a push for the states to develop their “plan of action” for proper enforcement.

  • Roll Call: Hawaii’s DC Delegation Packs the Least Punch

    · By Rui Kaneya

    Hawaii’s congressional delegation ranked dead last in the country for its political influence, according to the latest Clout Index released by Roll Call last week.

    Roll Call’s ranking, based on the delegation’s “total size, longevity, majority party representation and formal positions of power,” shows that Hawaii’s clout has plummeted since 2013, when the state claimed 19th spot.

    Hawaii’s congressional delegation ranked dead last in the national ranking of political influence.

    Roll Call

    The plunge, no doubt, reflects the consequence of a generational turnover. In 2012, the delegation lost the considerable political influence of the late Sen. Daniel Inouye, a 40-year congressional veteran who chaired the powerful Senate Appropriations Committee.

    Three of the four current members of delegation — Sens. Brian Schatz and Mazie Horono, and Rep. Tulsi Gabbard — settled into their posts in January 2013, while Rep. Mark Takai assumed his post only this January.

    The ranking typically benefits the most populated states, because they “generally amass the most seniority, have strength in numbers from the party in power (whichever one it is), claim the biggest shares of the powerful panel assignments and promote their own for leadership posts.”

    California topped the ranking, followed by Texas, New York and Florida.

    But Hawaii was outperformed by Alaska, whose population — at about 740,000 — is almost half that of Hawaii. Alaska was 47th in population but 32nd in the ranking.

     

  • US Senate Endorses Same-Sex Marriage Benefits

    · By Chad Blair

    Roll Call has this item regarding same-sex rights and the U.S. Senate. Excerpt:

    The Senate endorsed Social Security and veterans benefits for married gay couples Thursday night in a 57-43 vote, with 11 Republicans joining every Democrat.

    The amendment slowed down the vote-a-rama, with a group of Republicans huddled in the well and at times talking to sponsor Brian Schatz, D-Hawaii.

    The nonbinding amendment to the budget resolution still falls short of the 60 votes needed to beat back filibusters in the chamber. …

    After the vote, Schatz released the following statement about the legislation, which also credits Democratic Sens. Patty Murray of Washington state and Jeanne Shaheen of New Hampshire:

    “Gay couples legally married in any state should be entitled to veterans and Social Security benefits identical to any other married couples. Tonight, eleven Republicans joined Democrats in recognizing that gay couples deserve equal treatment, regardless of where they live. We still have work to do to, but this is progress and a win for equal rights. I thank Senator Murray and Senator Shaheen for their leadership on this important issue.”  

    Democrat Mazie Hirono of Hawaii was among those voting in the majority.

    The Senate Thursday night was enduring a lengthy round of votes on multiple bills.

    Visitors on the top floor of the Newseum enjoy views of the west side of the Capitol building.

    Cory Lum/Civil Beat

  • President, GOP Spar Over Budget as ACA Hits 5 Years

    · By Chad Blair

    The office of Mark Takai passed along a photo (below) of the U.S. representative with fellow Democrats Tuesday celebrating the 5th anniversary of the Affordable Care Act, also known as the ACA and as Obamacare.

    “Republicans continue to call for the complete repeal of the Affordable Care Act. Instead, we should all be working together to make changes that will successfully implement the law,” Takai said in a press release. “Millions of Americans have gained new access to quality, affordable health care coverage and also have such critical protections as no discrimination for having a pre-existing condition.”

    U.S. Sen. Brian Schatz, meanwhile, tweeted out his thoughts on ACA: 

    Thanks to the #ACA, in the last 5 years, seniors have saved over $15 billion on prescription drugs. #ACAworks pic.twitter.com/PqZUkT6udL

    — Brian Schatz (@brianschatz) March 23, 2015

    The praise for Obamacare comes as the White House is going on the offensive as Republicans in the House and Senate are moving forward on budget proposals that call for big cuts in spending — although perhaps not on defense.

    Speaking about two competing proposals in the U.S. House, GOP Rep. Bill Flores (Texas) said, “I think that all of them are good budgets, and I think that they all address the defense issues. They all address the fiscal challenges that we have.”

    The administration, which says the Republicans are still trying to kill the ACA, has issued talking points for the states regarding the GOP budget. Here are the ones for Hawaii:

    120 fewer children in Hawaii would have access to Head Start services.
    Hawaii would receive $4.2 million less funding for

  • Hirono Among Latest Senators to Visit Guantanamo

    · By Chad Blair

    On Friday, U.S. Sen. Mazie Hirono, the Democrat of Hawaii, traveled with Sens. Jack Reed (D-RI) and Tom Udall (D-NM) to U.S. Naval Station Guantanamo Bay in Cuba

    The senators, according to Hirono’s office, toured detention facilities, got an intelligence briefing and met with GITMO commanders and other personnel.

    The senators “also talked with legal experts on the ground about the process by which detainees are tried through the military court system.”

    The Guantanamo prison.

    Flickr: The National Guard

    Hirono, who serves on the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence, said in a press release, “We cannot continue to operate Guantanamo Bay as an indefinite detention facility off U.S. shores. The continued operation of Guantanamo harms our national security interests, costs taxpayers far too much, undermines our role in the world as a human rights leader, and is used as a propaganda tool to recruit extremists. I will continue to work with the President and my colleagues to move forward on a path to close the detention facility at Guantanamo.”

    Said Udall, a member of the Appropriations Subcommittee on Defense, “I have long called for the prison to be closed, and I’m extremely disappointed that rather than shutting it outright years ago, we are still holding more than 100 detainees awaiting trial or transfer. We must end this sad chapter of American history, and I’ll use my position on the U.S. Senate Appropriations Subcommittee on Defense to push to close Guantánamo for good.”

    Earlier this week, President Barack Obama — who had promised in 2008

  • Who Doesn’t Love a Good Tsunami Warning System?

    · By Patti Epler

    Congress is poised to approve a measure that would bolster tsunami warning efforts in Hawaii, including beefing up technology and expanding research into historic mega-quakes that caused giant tidal waves to leave their marks on coastal areas centuries ago.

    The Tsunami Warning Education and Research Act died in the U.S. House last year but has been resurrected and passed that chamber in January. It’s now in a key Senate committee and looks to be something that a polarized Congress can actually agree on this year, Hawaii U.S. Sen. Brian Schatz says.

    “It’s not going to make it on to anyone’s TV commercial but it’s what you expect the government to be doing all along,” Schatz said last week during a meeting with the Civil Beat Editorial Board.

    “Over the long run it will help us be better prepared,” he said, “and it may result in more resources coming to Hawaii.”

    A tsunami warning sign in Kona.

    Chad Blair/Civil Beat

    The measure would put in place programs needed to take tsunami warning efforts past simply identifying tsunami impact areas and drawing up of evacuation zones and response plans. That includes more education and training for coastal communities as well as research into tsunami threats posed by earthquakes in the Aleutian Islands and enhancing early-warning systems by upgrading tsunami buoys and even deploying sensors on trans-Pacific undersea cables deep on the ocean floor.

    But the $27 million envisioned to fuel the effort annually would still

  • Schatz: Protecting Federal Money for Rail a Top Priority

    · By Nick Grube

    U.S. Sen. Brian Schatz wants Honolulu’s 20-mile commuter rail line to get built, but he says it will be up to local officials to find a way to pay for it.

    The $6 billion project has a projected shortfall of up to $910 million, and Honolulu Mayor Kirk Caldwell has been asking state lawmakers to increase taxes to bridge the gap. There’s worry that construction could come to a stop by this summer if new money isn’t found.

    Schatz, who met with Civil Beat’s editorial board Tuesday, said he has talked with Caldwell and others at length about the project’s struggles.

    While Caldwell wants the state to make permanent the half-percent general excise tax surcharge that has been funding the project since 2007, Schatz says his role is to protect the $1.5 billion in grant money the Federal Transit Administration awarded the city to build the project.

    U.S. Sen. Brian Schatz wants rail to succeed, but he says it’s up to local leaders to make that happen.

    Cory Lum/Civil Beat

    “I don’t think there’s necessarily more money where that came from in terms of the FTA, but I’m trying to work very closely with the state and county officials to try to make sure that that portion of the revenue remains secure,” Schatz said. “It’s just important to be vigilant when you’re talking about that much money coming in that’s being relied upon. But all indications continue to be positive from the FTA and U.S. (Department of Transportation).”

    He added that sequestration

  • Hawaii U.S. Senate: Incumbent Brian Schatz Wins 2 More Years

    · By Nick Grube

    U.S. Sen. Brian Schatz handily defeated Republican challenger Cam Cavasso in Tuesday’s general election.

    Schatz was far ahead of Cavasso, 67 percent to 26 percent. Libertarian Michael Kokoski trailed with 2 percent.

    National media had declared Schatz the winner even before the early numbers came out. However, come January, Schatz will be a member of the minority party, as Republicans took control of the Senate on Tuesday.

    With his family standing on the stage with him at the Democratic Party campaign headquarters in Moiliili, Schatz told supporters, “It’s an honor to serve as your United States senator and to be part of your congressional team.”

    U.S. Sen Brian Schatz speaks at the Democratic celebration held at the Japanese Cultural Center on Tuesday night.

    Cory Lum/Civil Beat

    Now In the Minority

    Asked what a Republican takeover of Congress would mean for Hawaii, Schatz told Civil Beat that his focus over the next two years would be on appropriations.

    “That’s where Republicans and Democrats have been able to work together over the past four or five years, in spite of our differences,” he said. “That means funding for defense, transportation and even national parks.”

    Schatz said that even before it was clear the Senate would fall to the GOP, he was already reaching out to his counterparts. He said he works well with new majority leader Mitch McConnell, and he expressed optimism that the chamber would be able to act in the best interests of the country.

    “We have got to govern responsibly,”

  • Schatz Helps Fellow Dems as Republican Underdog Tries to Unseat Him

    · By Nathan Eagle

    In the past two months, U.S. Sen. Brian Schatz has given more campaign cash away to help fellow Democrats seeking office than former state Rep. Cam Cavasso — the Republican trying to unseat him Tuesday — has raised in the entire race.

    Schatz spent $4 million during his grueling battle to defeat U.S. Rep. Colleen Hanabusa in the August primary, a contest decided by fewer than 1,800 votes. 

    But since then he’s taken advantage of his huge financial advantage and double-digit lead in the polls to support candidates facing tougher battles on the mainland and in Hawaii.

    Republican Cam Cavasso, left, is running against Democrat Brian Schatz for the U.S. Senate.

    Civil Beat composite

    He gave $200,000 to the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee on Sept. 12 and $30,000 to the Democratic Party of Hawaii on Oct. 2, according to filings this month with the Federal Election Commission. The committee serves as the official party group working to elect Democrats to the U.S. Senate, which could shift to a Republican majority this election.

    “We want to make sure the Senate stays in Democratic hands,” Schatz said Wednesday, adding that he recently wired another $25,000 to the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee as a way of doing his part.

    Schatz had $555,000 cash on hand as of Oct. 15 and donations have continued to pour into his campaign. He’s raised over $5.48 million this election, including almost $100,000 in the first two weeks of October.

    Plenty of Money From PACS, Individuals

    One

  • Hanabusa Won’t Challenge US Senate Election Results

    · By Chad Blair

    U.S. Rep. Colleen Hanabusa will not challenge her narrow loss to U.S. Sen. Brian Schatz in court.

    She conceded the election to Schatz late Tuesday.

    But the congresswoman said she is still concerned about the state’s decision to delay the primary election for one week in two storm-damaged precincts on the Big Island.

    Schatz defeated Hanabusa by just 1,769 votes in an election that saw more than 230,000 votes cast.

    Last week, a Circuit Court judge in Hilo rejected Hanabusa’s request that the second primary, held Aug. 15, be delayed until more power was restored and more roads were cleared in Puna.

    Rep. Colleen Hanabusa works the phone during a break at a food distribution center at the Makuu Farmers Market in the Puna District of Hawaii Island.

    PF Bentley/Civil Beat

    The rural area suffered significant damage from Tropical Storm Iselle the day before the Aug. 9 primary.

    Hanabusa also said many Puna voters were unaware that the primary had been rescheduled in Precincts 04-01 and 04-02.

    “Though I will not be challenging the results of this election, I remain very concerned about the public’s confidence and trust in our election process,” Hanabusa said in a statement Tuesday afternoon. “I ask former colleagues and friends in the Hawaii State Legislature to explore what is necessary to ensure the people that their vote truly counts.”

    Hanabusa continued: “I heard from many who feel strongly that they were disenfranchised from the voting process this election and I stand ready to support any collaborative effort to have those voices heard.”

    Schatz had this response to

  • Schatz: I’m Not Ready to Leave Puna Behind

    · By Nick Grube

    PUNA, HAWAII — Prior to Tropical Storm Iselle, the most time U.S. Sen. Brian Schatz had spent in the Big Island’s Puna district was while hiking in Volcano National Park.

    Even then he barely set foot in the rural communities surrounding Pahoa that today are still recovering from the devastation caused by 65 mile per hour winds, torrential rain and coastal flooding.

    But a tight race with U.S. Rep. Colleen Hanabusa made Schatz get acquainted with the area in ways he might not have had Iselle never made landfall.

    U.S. Sen. Brian Schatz says he doesn’t want to forget the people of Puna when he goes back to Washington D.C.

    PF Bentley/Civil Beat

    Now that the senator has secured his seat for at least another two years, he says he never wants to forget the lasting friendships he made while campaigning and providing humanitarian assistance to those in need.

    “It’s going to take awhile for the people of the community to recover,” Schatz said as he held up a shaka for passing cars on Friday, Puna’s Election Day. “We’ve made a commitment beyond this election and these election results.”

    The U.S. Senate race came down to voters in the Puna district, many of whom were unable to vote on Aug. 9 when election officials close polling places after Iselle knocked out power and blocked roadways.

    While Schatz left the Big Island on Friday night after learning he beat Hanabusa, he told Civil Beat he planned to come back next week to continue

  • Hawaii Primary: Schatz Hangs On To Win US Senate Race

    · By Nick Grube

    Incumbent Brian Schatz clinched the Democratic nomination for U.S. Senate as the Hawaii Elections Office released results of Friday’s late voting in storm-damaged Puna, plus 800 previously uncounted Maui ballots.

    Schatz picked up 1,601 votes in results announced Friday, while U.S. Rep. Colleen Hanabusa got 1,467. That gave him 48.5 percent of the vote to Hanabusa’s 47.8 percent. The total vote count as of Friday evening was 115,401 for Schatz to 113,632 for Hanabusa — a difference of just 1,769 votes.

    “This has been an extraordinary week for all of us,” Schatz said as he greeted supporters after the results were announced. “This is an extraordinary night.”

    A victorious Sen. Brian Schatz walks into the Hawaii Government Employees Association building in Hilo after hearing he won his primary race against Rep. Colleen Hanabusa.

    PF Bentley/Civil Beat

    Schatz thanked his supporters and also was effusive in his praise of people from all over the state who pitched in to help the storm victims in Puna and “to help our community recover.”

    Hanabusa, speaking with her supporters after the results came in, said she had not yet considered her political future.

    “I’m still a member of Congress, I still have my term to fill out,” she said.

    Hanabusa lamented that many voters never got the chance to go to the polls due to the storm, including many in precincts where the election was held Aug. 9.

    And on Friday, only voters

  • Will Hanabusa’s Push in Puna Be Enough?

    · By Nick Grube

    U.S. Sen. Brian Schatz embraced U.S. Sen. Mazie Hirono on Saturday night and told her he was replaying the events of a colleague’s life.

    “I feel like Al Franken,” he said.

    Franken is Minnesota’s junior senator, who in 2008 was locked in a tight race with Republican Norm Coleman. They were separated by only a handful of votes, and it took nearly nine months and a lawsuit to settle who won.

    Schatz finds himself in a similarly close race.

    Colleen Hanabusa and Brian Schatz hug at the Democratic Party Unity Breakfast the morning after the primary.

    PF Bentley/Civil Beat

    He leads U.S. Rep. Colleen Hanabusa by 1,635 votes and there are two precincts on the Big Island where registered voters have yet to cast all their ballots. Tropical Storm Iselle caused state elections officials to shut down polling stations in those precincts.

    While Schatz has significantly more padding than Franken — who ultimately won by 312 votes — there’s some potential narrowing on the way.

    There are about 8,200 registered voters in the Puna district on the Big Island where voting has been extended.

    Voters who did not already cast absentee ballots or participate in early walk-in voting will be able to vote by mail possibly as soon as this week.

    Both Schatz and Hanabusa plan to be on the ground to capture as many of these votes as possible.

    That means lots of door knocking and maybe even some sign waving.

    “The one thing I learned about this race is that the neighbor islands always feel that we

  • Hawaii US Senate: Schatz Leads Hanabusa — Slightly

    · By Nick Grube

    U.S. Sen. Brian Schatz was leading U.S. Rep. Colleen Hanabusa early Sunday morning in the Democratic primary race to replace the late U.S. Sen. Daniel K. Inouye. Hanabusa started off the evening with a slight lead but the results flipped as the night wore on.

    The latest election results released Sunday morning had Schatz with 48.5 percent of the vote and Hanabusa with 47.8 percent, as of 3:25 a.m. Sunday.

    Just 1,635 votes separate the two.

    When news broke of the swing in Schatz’s favor his campaign headquarters erupted in cheers.

    But no one was declaring victory. Some votes were still not counted, including two districts in Puna where the election was postponed due to Tropical Storm Iselle.

    U.S. Sen. Brian Schatz talks to his supporters after learning he held a small lead over U.S. Rep. Colleen Hanabusa.

    Nick Grube/Civil Beat

    Hanabusa spoke to a crowd of about 200 people who were gathered at her election party at The Hall of Laborers’ Local 368 in Kalihi. Supporters were using their Hanabusa signs as fans to try to cool off from the muggy heat.

    “It’s been an amazing campaign,” Hanabusa said to cheers.

    She reminded supporters that she was out funded and had less money to spend on ads.

    “This election is not over,” she declared. “It’s far from over.”

    Asked if Hanabusa would be taking the campaign to the Big Island, Peter Boylan, her campaign manager said, “Yes. Definitely.”

    There are about 8,000 registered voters in the two districts who will be allowed to vote by absentee ballots if they haven’t done so already.

    Schatz climbed