Name on ballot:
Patrick Pihana Branco
U.S. House – District II
Previous job history:
Diplomat in the US Foreign Service
Previous elected office, if any:
State Representative for HD-50, Kailua and Kāneʻohe Bay
Please describe your qualifications to represent the people of Hawaii.
This position requires a leader with a unique set of skills and experiences to meet this moment. As the only candidate in this race with significant Washington, DC experience, I have the relationships and experience necessary to be able to make Hawaiʻi a priority in the halls of Congress. As a US Diplomat, I served in the Secretary of State’s Operations Center, and worked in some of the world’s most unstable areas, such as Pakistan, Venezuela, Colombia, and Afghanistan. But no matter how many thousands of miles away I was in the Foreign Service, Hawaiʻi was always home. I returned home to run to serve the community I grew up in as their State Representative. I grew up in a multigenerational household in Kailua, and in the summers, my cousins and I were sent to Kurtistown to help out on my great-grandfather’s farm. My parents worked multiple jobs to provide for my brother and I, and it’s because of their hard work and sacrifice that I had the opportunity to attend the Kamehameha Schools, go to college and graduate school on full merit scholarships, and ultimately join the U.S. Foreign Service. In the State Legislature, I’ve worked to tackle some of our state’s most pressing problems. I worked to establish the Hawaiʻi Youth Conservation Corps to provide green jobs opportunities for our youth, and in collaboration with our police, I wrote the bill which banned the possession of ghost guns in Hawaiʻi.
What will be your top priority if elected?
My top priority is making Hawaiʻi an affordable place for all of our residents to live and thrive. Too many of our local people are being priced out and forced to move to the continent, while wealthy out of state investors buy more investment properties that continuously drive up property prices. I feel this personally. I still live in the same multigenerational household that I grew up in because I can’t afford to buy a home in the town I grew up in. In Congress, I will help build industry and bring good-paying jobs that allow people that were born in Hawaiʻi to be able to afford to stay in Hawaiʻi. Diversification of the economy is an issue of social and economic security, and I’m committed to securing the federal support needed to make this a reality. I’ll work to bolster Hawaiʻi’s agricultural industry, and secure the investments needed to secure our state’s biosecurity and food supply. As the only state in the country that can produce all forms of renewable energy, Hawaiʻi can serve as a model for the nation in transitioning to a clean energy economy. I’ll work to create green jobs through federal investments in geothermal energy exploration and production. These industries will help retain more of our local talent and ultimately ensure our families have the opportunities here at home to thrive. I will also work to secure increased funding from HUD to build sustainable affordable housing, and work closely with the Department of Interior to develop our Hawaiian Homelands to clear the backlog of Native Hawaiians waiting for a home.
Inflation has battered the U.S. economy in nearly all sectors. What can Congress do to help bring prices down and to help Americans cope with the rising cost of living?
It’s important to recognize that high inflation is a global issue, and there is not one single cause to the steep rise in inflation, nor is there a single solution to tackling inflation. As we debate what steps Congress should take to combat inflation, I have been disheartened to see how much discourse there has been on the need to take moves that will harm the financial health of working families in the name of bringing prices down. Unemployment is lower than it was pre-pandemic, but that is also coupled with the fact that participation in the labor force, particularly among women, is still lower than pre-pandemic levels. The domestic and global supply chains face a labor shortage, and that is due in part to the fact that too many families face an economic barrier to reentering the post-pandemic workforce. Congress can take concrete steps to addressing this barrier by prioritizing the expansion of programs that will ease the high cost of living and lower economic barriers to workforce reentry, such as universal pre-k, affordable childcare, and prohibiting oil and gas companies from gouging consumers at the pump in the name of shareholder profit.
What is your position on the Jones Act, which supporters say protects the U.S. shipping industry but opponents say unnecessarily inflates shipping prices and the subsequent costs to Hawaii consumers?
I support the Jones Act. Industries under the Jones Act in Hawai‘i support 13,000 jobs, deliver $787 million in annual workforce income, and have a $3.3 billion economic impact on the local economy. According to economists at the Hawai‘i-based TZ Economics and the Boston-based Reeve & Associates, the Jones Act has no significant impact on the cost of living in Hawai‘i. The Jones Act also plays a critical role in supporting our national security. Eliminating the Jones Act would allow foreign-built ships to operate in our domestic trade, benefiting countries like China at the expense of our local industries and workers. The COVID-19 pandemic, which saw most major ports in Asia closed, highlighted how dangerous it would be for Hawai‘i’s economy and food supply to be dependent on foreign vessels.
What, if anything, should Congress do in response to the decision by the U.S. Supreme Court to overturn Roe vs Wade?
The Supreme Court overturning Roe v Wade was a devastating decision that rolls back decades of progress that our country has made on gender and reproductive equity. When the decision was announced, I joined millions across the country in protest demanding that wāhine be allowed to make their own healthcare decisions with physicians—not politicians. It is imperative that Congress codify Roe v Wade into law by passing the Women’s Health Protection Act, a bill that I will champion in Congress. In order to accomplish this, the Democratic majority in the Senate must have the political courage to abolish the filibuster to make the passage of the Women’s Health Protection Act a reality. In addition to codifying abortion rights into federal law, we must also do more to ensure there aren’t barriers to access for women seeking an abortion. Here in Hawai‘i, women living on the Neighbor Islands face significant economic barriers to access, and more funding for this essential healthcare service must be made available for our rural community health centers. An important aspect in making this a reality is overturning the Hyde Amendment, a provision within the federal budget which serves as one of the biggest economic barriers for low income women seeking an abortion.
Now that Roe vs. Wade has been overturned, some advocates say other civil liberties previously upheld by the Supreme Court will be vulnerable, including same-sex marriage. Do you agree and what, if anything, should Congress do in response?
In his concurring opinion in overturning Roe v Wade, conservative Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas helped lay the groundwork for future legal challenges to marriage equality and access to birth control by writing that the Supreme Court should reconsider landmark Supreme Court cases such as Griswold, Lawrence, and Obergefell. The potential future overturning of these important precedents would be disastrous for the fundamental rights of millions of Americans across the country. In order to safeguard marriage equality, in Congress, I will champion the Equality Act, which will codify rights for LGBTQ+ individuals into federal law. I will also champion the right to birth control access being codified into federal law.
What should Congress do to reduce gun violence and mass shootings in America?
We cannot accept daily mass shootings as a tragic but unavoidable reality in the United States. Our elected leaders must have the political courage to end the NRA’s stranglehold on Congress, and pass common sense gun safety legislation that will save the lives of our keiki and ‘ohana. I do not believe that weapons of war belong on our streets, and would support a federal assault weapons ban, as well as a ban on high-capacity magazines. I support enacting a nationwide “red flag law” which would deny the sale of guns to—and allow for the temporary removal of guns from—people who pose a risk to themselves or others. I believe that we need enhanced universal background checks that will close the dangerous “Charleston Loophole” in background checks—which allows gun purchases to move forward by default after three business days, even if the background check has not been completed. 90% of federal background checks are completed in minutes, but those that take longer than three business days are 4x as likely to be denied. I also believe that gun violence is a public health emergency, and would support funding to allow the CDC to be able to study the gun violence epidemic.
What is the best strategy to break through the political gridlock in Congress?
The polarization of our Congress and political leadership is benefitting adversaries like China or Russia, and emboldening anti-democratic forces around the world. We need leaders who are willing to work together not as Democrats or Republicans, but as Americans. Senator Inouye served as a great model for making bipartisan progress on behalf of Hawaiʻi through his decades-long partnership with the Republican Senator from Alaska Ted Stevens. I will not compromise my values, and while I do not believe I will be able to get election deniers like Jim Jordan or Paul Gosar to see the light, I will work with moderate Republicans who are interested in working across the aisle to bring back resources and federal support for Hawaiʻi. On a practical note, I currently represent Kailua and Kāneʻohe Bay, a seat which was represented by a Republican for 30 years. I’m accustomed to working with and earning the support of people who look for strong leadership, regardless of party label.
What specific policies should Congress enact that could help mitigate the affects of sea-level rise and climate change?
While the continent talks about the future effects of the climate crisis, Hawaiʻi has been feeling its effects for years. As an island state, climate change threatens Hawaiʻi’s vitality and way of life. Federal action is needed to help stem the impending effects of the climate crisis. As the only state in the country that can produce all forms of renewable energy, Hawaiʻi can serve as a model for the nation. In Congress, I will help facilitate the transition of our state and nation to a clean energy economy, by growing investment in geothermal energy exploration and production in Hawaiʻi. I will also advocate for a national climate action plan which prioritizes the smooth transition of our national economy to 100% clean energy, invests in creating good-paying green jobs, and ends subsidies for fossil fuel companies posting record profits as they gouge consumers at the gas pump.
Is there anything more that you would like voters to know about you?
I’ve dedicated my life to serving Hawaiʻi and our country, and I roll up my sleeves and do the hard work myself. At the start of the pandemic, I put my crisis management skills to work to keep our community safe. My tūtū, mom, and I made 500 kūpuna kits filled with gloves, hand sanitizer, a can of soup, apple sauce, and a roll of toilet paper to help our kūpuna get by. My ʻohana and I also sewed over 4,000 masks that we gave away to community members in need for free. For me, it has always been about giving back to the community that has given me so much.
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