House hopefuls plot war on drugs
Most candidates agree robust federal support is crucial to the fight
As Hawaii continues the fight against illegal drugs, particularly crystal methamphetamine, or "ice," candidates seeking to represent the 2nd Congressional District in the U.S. House say their job, if elected, would be to make sure the state receives its fair share of federal dollars and other resources to combat the problem.
"Ice is tearing families and businesses apart, and it's the most urgent public health problem that Hawaii faces," said state Rep. Brian Schatz (D, Tantalus-Makiki). "We need federal dollars for prevention, treatment and law enforcement.
"I would work closely with Sen. (Dan) Inouye to bring home these dollars."
Others agreed that a big key to securing needed resources is to work with other members of the delegation and law enforcement at all levels of government.
"Combating the use of illegal drugs requires the concerted efforts of the local, state and federal governments and enforcement agencies," said former biotech executive Hanalei Aipoalani, a Democrat.
Comments were in response to a Star-Bulletin e-mail survey sent to all the Democrats and Republicans seeking to replace Ed Case to represent rural Oahu and the neighbor islands in the U.S. House.
Candidates were asked, As a member of Congress, what would you do at the federal level to continue the fight against illegal drugs, particularly "ice," in Hawaii?
Three years after the much-balleyhooed statewide summit to address the state's ice problem, some tangible steps already have been taken.
Earlier this year, Lt. Gov. James "Duke" Aiona signed into law a measure that requires anyone buying common cold medicines containing pseudoephedrine -- which is used to make ice -- to show photo identification and sign a logbook at the store. Some stores already are enforcing the law, which goes into effect on Oct. 1. In announcing the legislation in June, law enforcement officials noted that there had been only one documented meth lab investigated in Hawaii this year, compared with 17 last year.
"Our police and Hawaii DEA agents are doing a good job with what they have available, but Hawaii needs more resources," said state Sen. Clayton Hee (D, Kahuku-Kaneohe). "Washington needs to pay more attention to our special needs, and in particular the fact that we are an island state which requires more financial resources to access the ocean and each island harbor."
In addition to funding for existing programs, Republican candidate Quentin Kawananakoa said he also would try to attack the problem at the production level.
"I am committed to passing federal legislation that requires mandatory minimum sentencing for the operation of a crystal methamphetamine lab," he said.
The campaign's other GOP candidate, Sen. Bob Hogue, noted that the Legislature also passed a bill this year making it easier for law enforcement agencies to obtain electronic wiretaps for monitoring drug traffickers.
"I support a balanced approach of strong enforcement and working with law enforcement officials while recognizing the local needs for treatment. ... I'll work to secure federal funding for all these needs," said Hogue (R, Kaneohe-Kailua).
State Sen. Gary Hooser, the only candidate who does not live on Oahu, noted that the need for anti-drug resources is greater in the 2nd Congressional District because of the inroads that ice has made in neighbor island communities.
"Too many here fall victim first to their addiction, then to a system that punishes them disproportionately while denying them what they need most: effective treatment," said Hooser (D, Niihau-Kauai).
Honolulu City Councilman Nestor Garcia said he supports a three-pronged approach similar to the National Drug Control Strategy, which would include pursuing federal dollars for more treatment beds and maintaining Hawaii's designation as a High Intensity Drug Trafficking Area, which allows for more coordination of efforts between federal agencies.
"First, I would emphasize education and community engagement to help stop drug abuse before it starts," he said.
State Sen. Ron Menor (D, Mililani) said his approach also would combine education, treatment and law enforcement.
"We must put more federal money into fighting the criminals who manufacture and distribute Ice and other drugs," he said. "Those convicted with distribution and manufacture of drugs must be punished."
But law enforcement cannot focus solely on ice, said former state Sen. Matt Matsunaga.
"As ice arrests decrease in Hawaii, trafficking is up for drugs like cocaine," he said. "Without a comprehensive strategy, we'll forever be winning occasional battles but losing the war."
State Sen. Colleen Hanabusa, who was co-chairwoman of the Legislature's 2003 Joint Task Force on Ice and Drug Abatement, said a proactive, cooperative approach is needed.
"I would obtain additional federal funding to augment interdiction, prosecutorial and treatment programs of state and local authorities," said Hanabusa (D, Nanakuli-Makua). "On the state level, we passed legislation that required treatment for nonviolent, first-time offenders. This treatment program is working, and we should obtain federal funds to expand it."
Former Lt. Gov. Mazie Hirono called for more funding and support to identify and prosecute drug manufacturers and traffickers.
"At the same time, money is needed for more rehabilitation facilities for those who are addicted, since we currently have a shortage," she said. "In the long term we should focus on the prevention side of the problem -- especially on research into understanding and combating drug addiction."
Honolulu attorney and marathon runner Joe Zuiker also stressed the need for cooperation, while also calling it critical for government to be more fiscally disciplined and stop wasteful spending.
"It is for this very important problem area that I constantly remind all that Congress must stop wasting money on expensive and noncritical 'pork barrel' spending," he said. "We need the money for true national priorities like the ice threat."
Robert Wilcox IV, a nonpartisan candidate in the race, did not return messages to the Star-Bulletin seeking his participation in the e-mail survey.