On Politics: Now on powerful panels, U.S. Sen. Schatz shares hopes for rail reality, Hawaiians, Dems
Hawaii’s senior U.S. Sen. Brian Schatz can appreciate the benefits of being on the winning side. It may be a microscopic majority with Vice President Kamala Harris available to break ties in favor of the Democrats, but it counts that good things are going to faithful up-and-comers like Schatz.
In the last two months, the 48-year-old Makiki Democrat has become chairman of the Senate Appropriations Committee’s Transportation, Housing and Urban Development Subcommittee, and the chairman of the Senate Committee on Indian Affairs. Schatz was also named to the influential Senate Foreign Relations Committee.
There is not a living U.S. senator who does not look in a mirror and see the reflection of a really big deal, but chairing a Senate committee plus an influential subcommittee means Schatz has a place at the table with a placard saying that is where he belongs.
It is the kind of clout that means Schatz can and has discussed Honolulu rail woes with the new U.S. Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg. Schatz tactfully offers some advice to local rail officials.
The interim chief of Honolulu’s rail project, Lori Kahikina, is doing well, Schatz said.
“Lori is saying the right things about no longer engaging in magical thinking and just wishing away HART’s problems. I am giving them time to sharpen their pencils. And then I can help,” Schatz said in an interview last week, cautioning that help does not mean “there’s an extra $2 billion floating around.”
Schatz did say that in talks with Buttigieg, it was clear that “we have to regain our credibility and start telling the truth about the project.”
That same sort of reality- based politics was also emphasized by Schatz when he discussed his position leading the Indian Affairs Committee, a role that has been held by both Hawaii’s late senators, Daniel K. Inouye and Daniel Akaka.
This is not the time, Schatz said, for another version of a Native Hawaiian sovereignty bill as envisioned by Akaka. Instead, the new chairman said he wants to work to “enhance the trust relationship that already exists with the federal government and Native Hawaiians and enhance revenue streams with education, health, housing and broadband.”
Other parts of the Native Hawaiian equation are still to be resolved, Schatz said.
“Under (former President Barack) Obama, there was the beginning of the self-determination process.
“My thought is to help that along, but self-determination means self-determination. That means a consensus has to be developed among Hawaiians about the relationship they want or don’t want between a Native Hawaiian governing entity and the federal government.
“It is not ripe yet,” said Schatz.
Turning to the fractured national political scene facing America now, Schatz urged an optimistic view. Under the former president, “real harm was done to the nation’s most vulnerable.”
“He emboldened and strengthened an anti-democratic authoritarianism, even if it never got to be a governing majority,” Schatz said.
Can Republicans build on Donald Trump’s strength to take back the congressional majorities in 2022? Schatz said the task for Democrats is to sell and deliver a better plan.
“The best way to move on is to improve people’s lives. We were put in charge to deliver COVID relief and we have to keep our eyes on that prize.”
The political reality is that the party in control usually loses votes in the first midterm election. So Democrats, Schatz said, need to make a new reality for 2022.