Most of the state is wondering, fretfully, how the advent of the Donald Trump presidency will affect Hawaii, which if anything became even more solidly Democratic in the age of Republican control in Washington, D.C.
It’s a complicated question, given all the current uncertainties. However, it’s got a lot of people, especially those who benefited from the administration of President Barack Obama — through policies on health care, immigration and other social programs — in a defensive crouch.
Stephen Nii, owner of Nii Superette in Waipahu, has no illusions about how it could affect his employees in at least one respect: There may be fewer of them working full time, given the anticipated repeal of the Affordable Care Act.
The state’s own health insurance law requires employers to cover health insurance for anyone working at least 20 hours a week, said Nii, whose store now employs 15.
“Premiums would rise to former levels, and they might raise it higher,” he said. “If they raise it higher, that means that I am really going to take no full-time employees. I would drop their hours — I couldn’t afford to pay that.”
Compounding that, he said, are worries about the unified Republican majority in Congress, emboldened by the Trump election, following through on a bid to raise the Medicare eligibility age from 65 to 67.
“If you’re 60 to 64 years old, you’re going to pay $800 to $900 a month,” Nii added. “It would put off retirement for many people, because they wouldn’t have counted on that extra cost.”
Those are pocketbook issues that are going to worry a lot of people in Hawaii, even if it’s unknown what the health insurance landscape will look like after Trump takes office on Jan. 20.
Repealing Obamacare has been a centerpiece of the GOP platform for years and was endorsed by the president-elect on the campaign trail. Many of its budget-related elements could be repealed through a simple majority, through a process known as reconciliation. But it remains to be seen whether the party wants to unilaterally rescind health coverage for people who gained it some years ago through the ACA.
The principal worry for Clare Hanusz, immigration attorney, is for clients who are depending on the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program to protect them from deportation. It was created in 2012 via an Obama executive action, among those his successor can cancel with the stroke of a pen.
Those approved for DACA protection are also known as “Dreamers,” a moniker taken from the proposed Dream Act that failed to pass Congress, most recenly in 2011, and precipitated the executive action. They were brought into the country illegally as children by parents who also lacked immigration documents.
In Hawaii, Hanusz said, 315 were approved for DACA, out of 405 initial applications; nationally the number is around 800,000.
Rhetoric damning to so-called “illegals” has been a consistent feature of Trump’s stump speech from the start of campaign season, which is why a cautious approach is being urged for any new applications, she said.
However, those already on the rolls now have their name and address on the federal record.
“We always warned that what one administration gives, another can take away,” Hanusz said. “Now these people are very exposed. The government has all the information. If Trump wanted to create rapid deportation forces, he knows where people live, where they are working.
“There would be massive pushback, but people are really scared,” she added, in an interview hours after the election. “They woke up this morning and their family’s world had really changed.”
Other changes could be in the offing, Hanusz said, including changes in visa rules which could be handled through administrative procedures.
“Families often wait years to be reunited,” she said. “That could push things out much longer.
“We’ll have to see who (Trump) appoints as AG (attorney general), who he appoints to the Department of Homeland Security, before we have an idea.”
Colin Moore, a political science professor at the University of Hawaii at Manoa, sees deep cuts in federal research grants as a distinct possibility, among other discretionary spending, when the budgets get drawn up.
That is likely to have some effect on the full range of public education, but at the K-12 level, the state Department of Education is feeling somewhat insulated, from a policy standpoint at least. The reauthorization last year of the federal education statute now known as Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA) has provided greater autonomy at the state level, said Stephen Schatz, deputy superintendent.
Now the state DOE is in the midst of finalizing its own strategic plan under ESSA, which will provide the primary roadmap, Schatz said.
“ESSA definitely made an attempt to give the states more authority,” he said. “And for us, because we’re a state as well as a school district, it’s probably even more impactful on us.”
Beyond that, he added,
“I think we will need some time to look at the landscape to figure out what’s going to happen — who is selected as secretary of education, that will signal the direction they intend to go.”
Among the few bright spots from a fiscal standpoint, Moore said: Infrastructure spending, a Trump priority, seems to have bipartisan support.
Another, even more consequential exception is an anticipated boost in military spending, he said, as part of the “Make America Great Again” pledge.
Policy papers by Trump advisers point to the rising militarism in China as a signal that the U.S. has to match its muscle.
Hawaii is positioned geographically to garner a piece of that, Moore said, and in general it’s uncertain how far the less-than-ideological Trump is willing to carry fiscal conservativism.
“Trump isn’t really a Republican,” he said. “Republicans that expect him to fall in line and work for the party may be missing something, too.”
But Hawaii’s rank in the budgetary pecking order is certainly now toward the bottom.
“Politically,” Moore concluded, “probably one of the most Democratic states in the nation is not going to be at the top of the spending list.”