Elephant in the Room
with Steve Jackson
MILILANI—Republican candidate Beth Fukumoto is running for State House District 37, which includes Mililani and Waipio Gentry. Fukumoto is one of many new young faces under Hawaii’s Republican banner reaching out to voters this year. The Hawaii Independent’s Steve Jackson talked in length with Fukumoto about her background, the economy, and other key issues in Hawaii.
Could you tell me a little about yourself? Where you’ve been, what you’ve studied, and why you are in politics?
I was born and raised in Hawaii. I even stayed here through college. I studied American Studies and Sociology at the University of Hawaii. My honors thesis at UH was a comparison between religious political rhetoric during the Civil War and the rhetoric of the Bush era.
From UH, I attended Georgetown University’s Graduate School of Arts and Sciences where I studied English. My master’s thesis at Georgetown was a study of present-day American war ideology and frontier mentality as seen through the online game, World of Warcraft.
I think if there’s one theme that runs through all my academic work and really my life in general, it’s that I like pulling seemingly disparate ideas together to find where they intersect or connect. I enjoy negotiating “the grays” or finding the middle ground between polar opposites. That’s what got me interested in politics. We do not have enough people who are willing to really seek out the middle ground and then hold that ground when they’re being pulled strongly in different directions. But, I really think we need those people in office.
Why would you like to represent the Mililani-Waipio area?
As I’ve been going door-to-door, I’ve been really blessed and encouraged by all the people who seem to think exactly like I do. They believe very strongly in finding middle ground and not swaying too far in any direction. But the representatives we currently have in the Legislature don’t seem to think that same way. They are party line voters that can’t see or understand the other sides of the issues. I think I can do that, and I think that’s what the people in Mililani-Waipio Gentry want from their representative.
They don’t want someone who will always vote with their party or follow what other representatives tell them to do. They want someone who will think through every issue and vote according to what’s best for the people regardless of what their party says to do.
What issues would you like to tackle or challenge if you are elected?
I would like to find innovative and creative solutions to diversify our economy, give our children 21st century educations and create an open and honest Legislature. I would also like to establish term limits.
I’m going to talk about education and the economy a little later so let me just say a few things about the Legislature. This year I saw votes miscounted and rules changed so special interest agendas could be pushed through the Legislature. Regardless of where anyone stands on any issue, this is something we should all be concerned about.
If the rules don’t apply, then our form of government loses its integrity and the people lose their voice. No one should be so powerful that they can ignore the rules just to accomplish their own agendas.
I think term limits would definitely help break up the power as well. Personally, I think career politicians are a large part of our state’s problems, and I have no intention of becoming one myself.
How would you help to boost the economy in Hawaii?
Lower taxes. My stance on taxes is simple: no more money until we see better results.
There’s nothing new about wanting to lower taxes, but that’s because high taxes are a persistent and pervasive problem. Hawaii taxes the poor more heavily than most other states. The idea that we only tax the very rich simply isn’t true. Hawaii is also one of the top five highest-taxed states in the nation.
Some might argue that we have a lot to show for it. After all, we have great tourist attractions, the number one airline in the nation and Mililani is the recipient of the All-America City award.
But these are all private successes that the government is not responsible for. The government is responsible for things like solving traffic problems and educating our kids in public schools. But most of us can agree that our government is failing at what it’s supposed to be doing.
Your tax dollars shouldn’t be treated like the government’s money, to be spent with reckless abandon. You should be able to expect responsible spending and positive results, rather than raised taxes when you get the opposite.
Also better jobs. The fact that Hawaii’s unemployment rate remains below the national rate is sometimes difficult to get excited about when the best and the brightest of our young people are leaving Hawaii for better jobs on the mainland. Yes, we still need to increase the quantity of jobs in Hawaii, but we also need to increase the quality.
Growing our economy and improving our job market starts with understanding what we’re good at and knowing what Hawaii has to offer.
Today, as the world focuses in on Asia and Asian markets, we stand to benefit from our unique culture and strategic location. Hawaii is the ideal place for companies interested in exporting goods and services to Asia. However, we need to be more forward-thinking in the ways we attract these companies.
Just in the last year, the Legislature voted numerous times to suspend tax credits for high-tech business investments after they were already promised. This kind of dishonorable and unreliable behavior, which would do considerable damage to the State’s credit rating, discourages rather than attracts the businesses that will keep our kids in Hawaii.
We need people in government that understand that and will reach out to businesses and reach into the international markets to build stable and sustainable jobs for Hawaii.
Also sustainability and green job creation. Hawaii should be a leader in clean energy use and development. We have the ideal environment for developing clean energy technologies that would simultaneously decrease the cost of energy, reduce pollution, draw international business, and bring better jobs to Hawaii. But we consistently fail to make any substantial progress in this area.
This year I participated in a series of meetings with government and business leaders from Hawaii and Indonesia where we discussed the various ways Hawaii could benefit from establishing trade relations with Southeast Asia. The possibility of exporting clean energy technology was a consistent topic of discussion. But Hawaii isn’t making enough progress with things like wave energy, which would be incredibly useful to a country like Indonesia. Again, we need more leaders who can think past what we’ve always done in order to be able to realize our full potential.
What do you have to offer that the incumbent does not?
Again, I think I’m more willing or better able to sort through the various opinions and sides of issues to find what’s really best for my constituents. I think I will be better able to bring innovative and creative solutions to the problems that just keep coming up. I think I can look at things with new eyes. My opponent represents the status quo. He votes with the rest of the pack, and I don’t think that’s true representation.
How would you help to improve the quality of education in Hawaii?
Hawaii has great teachers who don’t get paid enough and capable students who don’t get the tools they need to really excel. There’s too much wasted potential in our education system. And while there are a lot of areas to improve on, there are two things I would focus on immediately.
First, we need to audit the Department of Education and make sure we’re not wasting valuable funds that should be getting to the classroom. Second, I think that that more money should go to a “race to the top” program that would help fund innovative educational programs that prove successful.
One of my favorite classes at Georgetown was on the different learning styles of this upcoming generation of students and the various ways we could tailor educational programs to meet those changing needs. While there are a lot of good things in our schools, we also need to be open to innovative and creative learning strategies if our kids are going to be competitive nationally and internationally.
What is your stance on rail?
I want a rail system that will work. That said, I’m still trying to feel out the community to see whether or not this is the rail system they want, if they want one at all.
What is your stance on HB444 and why?
I think HB 444 was basically same-sex marriage, and as such, I would have voted “no.” We already set the precedent of putting that issue to voters, and I think we should do that again. The Legislature proved unrepresentative of the people on a lot of issues, and I’m not sure this one was much different. It’s too important and too divisive of an issue to determine in the bubble that is our State Legislature. With all that said, I do think there are rights and benefits that are being withheld, and I think we need to look at ways to remedy that.
If you write one thing about HB 444, this is what you really should know about how I feel about the bill. I was at the Legislature every time that bill came up for decision. It was painful and emotional every single time regardless of which side came out on top. Because of who I am (I guess this circles back to my being able to see the middle), I could see both sides and feel for both sides. No matter which way the vote went someone felt invalidated or disenfranchised or disillusioned. It hurt to watch. I know that’s not an answer on how I would vote, but I think it is important to mention nonetheless. It probably doesn’t get mentioned enough.
Are there any events or opportunities you’d like the readers of The Hawaii Independent to know about?
Well, I’m always looking for volunteers. I have a lot of different people working on my campaign. They don’t always agree with everything, but one of the great things about my team is that we all have enough respect for each other that we are able to hear each other out and value each other’s opinions, even when we do disagree. So, I think there are probably a lot of people who could fit in with us.
For more information, visit http://www.bethfukumoto.com.