Former U.S. Rep. Ed Case said he's not afraid to tell people things he feels they need to hear, even if he and his campaign for U.S. Senate draw fire for it.
A case in point is Social Security. In news reports this week, federal officials predicted trust funds that support Social Security will run dry in 2033.
Unlike other politicians, including Democratic primary opponent Mazie Hirono, Case said he does not "pretend a problem doesn't exist." He disagrees with politicians who say that Social Security is safe and on a path to recovery.
Former Congressman Ed Case discusses his campaign for the U.S. Senate on Tuesday at The Maui News. Case served in the U.S. House from 2002 to 2007.
The Maui News / BRIAN PERRY photo
Social Security is already out of money because all trust funds have been borrowed, Case said in an interview Tuesday with The Maui News. But he added that Social Security can get back on track by changing the program's revenue income by lifting the payroll tax cap and Social Security's expenses by eventually raising the retirement age, especially as more and more Americans are living longer.
He added that he would not want to increase the retirement age (which ranges from 65 to 67 years old for full retirement) for those at that age or close to it, but he would advocate the change for people who still have time to plan for it.
Case added that he will probably get criticized for wanting to increase the retirement age.
"To me, I don't think there is another solution to it," he said.
In a written response, Hirono said that Hawaii residents expect to "continue receiving the Social Security benefits they've rightfully earned."
"The people of Hawaii disagree with those in Washington, and even a few here at home, who propose reducing Social Security benefits for everyday seniors and families, rather than using common sense measures like reforming the tax code to make sure that everyone pays their fair share," she said. "Social Security recipients and middle-class families didn't create the deficit, and they shouldn't be first in line when reducing it."
Case sat down for an interview with The Maui News while he was on the Valley Isle holding talk-story sessions with voters and meeting with community groups, businesses and doing other campaigning.
Case and Hirono are vying for the U.S. Senate seat being vacated by the retiring Daniel Akaka.
Case served in the U.S. House representing Hawaii's 2nd Congressional District, which includes the Neighbor Islands and rural Oahu, from 2002 to 2007. During the 2006 elections, Case challenged Akaka's re-election bid and lost the Democratic primary. Akaka went on to keep his seat.
Case's move caused a stir in the Hawaii Democratic Party, possibly alienating Case from some Democratic voters.
Looking back at his Senate bid in 2006, Case said that if the "almighty" had told him he was going to lose, he wouldn't have run, adding it was a "difficult choice" for him to vacate his House seat.
But he said he believed that a succession needed to be started in the U.S. Senate so there wouldn't be a time when Hawaii had two senators lacking seniority. (Akaka and U.S. Sen. Daniel Inouye are both 87 years old.)
Case said he gave voters a choice.
"I believe voters understood (my reasons for running) but didn't want to do it that way," he said of his loss.
Case said he believes most voters have moved past his failed bid to unseat Akaka, although he believes Hirono's campaign wants to make it an issue.
Instead, he said, he'd prefer people compare his record in Congress with Hirono's.
When asked about debates with Hirono, Case said she has only agreed to face him before limited audiences of voters.
Case has said Hirono is "cherry-picking" her debates with the least possible exposure and that large statewide debates have been turned down. Hirono's campaign has responded that she will participate in five debates and other forums before the primary election, including at least one on Maui on June 12 hosted by the Maui AARP.
When asked about his priorities, if elected, Case said his top issues for the state include "growing our economy" and making sure the state's economic "pillars" are sustained and strengthened.
One of those pillars is tourism, he said, adding that he foresees growth coming from the Asia-Pacific area, especially China.
He said he hopes to help make it easier for Chinese travelers to visit Hawaii with a visa-waiver program and with more access to flights to the islands.
Case said he also sees more promise in the growth of high-technology businesses and would look for more ways to drive more money into places such as the Maui Research & Technology Park in Kihei.
He also sees possibilities in getting more off-island and out-of-state students at University of Hawaii Maui College, who will bring their money to the island and contribute to the economy.
In addition, he would like to protect the environment, especially the marine environment, which he said is at risk. "We are losing our oceans. We are losing our ecosystems," he said.
Case said he'd also like to see more done to help military veterans gain more access to health care services.
* Melissa Tanji can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.