Politics vs. Policy

What are the issues UH Hilo students care about most?

News Writer Gina Selig

Graphic Designer Kapua Arsiga

With Election Day arriving tomorrow, politics has been front and center on TV, social media, and other media platforms. “Who will be our future president?” It’s a daunting question that comes with many disparate viewpoints. With this in mind, Ke Kalahea asked students about what specific issues, or policy changes, they wanted to see addressed by local, state, and national leaders.

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Keelee Martin, a senior majoring in marine science, has a number of policy priorities:

“My most important issues are getting stricter rules for obtaining guns. No semiautomatic weapons - if you are not in the military, they should not be in your hands - and enforcing background checks, proper licensing and registration. The Second Amendment is valuable, and responsible people who follow rules should be allowed to have guns if they want,” Martin said. Additionally, Martin called for economic and racial justice: “Raising the minimum wage. Also, in 2008 it was said that one in every 100 Americans is in prison or jail [according to the Pew Center on the States.] Our jails and prisons have too many… nonviolent, low-level, first-time offenders. And the sentence minimums for cases like these not only keep people from their families, but cost taxpayers billions of dollars. Discrimination is still so huge in this country. I’d like to see a politician who’s ready to tackle issues against religious and/or racial profiling, working with the ‘Black Lives Matter’ movement and work with the LGBTQ community.”

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Continuing to elaborate on the economy, Martin argues that “compared to where we were in 2008 with the housing crisis and Great Recession, I think we’re in a better place, but I think that there’s still room to grow. With so many products being shipped elsewhere for cheap labor, and our minimum wage still so low that families can have adults working 40-hour work weeks and still be at the poverty line. I don’t know much about the economy, but I know that’s not good. It seems so much of our country’s money is in the hands of obscenely wealthy people, and that doesn’t seem right either.”

As for international affairs, Martin concedes that “I feel like I know nothing about foreign policy, and that weakness is on me. So I don’t feel great about commenting on this. What I do want to say is that this generation was born in a time of war, and I have not been alive to see peace.”

Phil Mitchell, an exchange student from Minnesota, studies environmental science. With climate change an especially salient topic for Millennials, Mitchell’s focuses on the need for eco-friendly policies.

“There are no politically feasible policy options, that a potential president could make that will adequately address the magnitude of the problems facing our species,” Mitchell said. “This whole election cycle has been one big distraction—a distraction from climate change, ocean acidification, deforestation, pollution. We need bigger changes than can be made under our current system. We need the guts to dream, to venture into the unknown, to experiment. We need to do more than argue over Facebook, or post an angry Tweet! If we can’t bring ourselves to escape the comforts of society's crumbling narrative, perhaps peak oil and economic collapse will do it for us. We have the power to ensure a comfortable existence for future humans and other species, but every day that we go about our mundane comfortable routines, blindly kneeling before our gods of growth, that future slips a little farther out of reach.”

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Indeed, Mitchell argues that growing urgency over climate change logically follows from the belief that a “growth-based economy, based on economic laws formulated in an era of cheap fossil fuels is coming to an end. For many in ‘the 99%,’ this is already a reality. In our heads, we have decoupled our economy from the underlying natural resources and energy from which it depends on. We can grow-burn more fossil fuels by moving further in debt, but in reality, we are stealing from future generations as this debt will not be repaid.”

When it comes to the ramifications of U.S. economic and foreign policy decisions, Mitchell appears skeptical of America’s current leadership and their motives: “We have a dangerous tendency to think of ourselves as superior to others. We have relatively strict labor laws in the country, consumer protections, and environmental regulations. Publicly we push other nations to develop these same standards, but is that really what we want? If we really cared about others would we upgrade Malaysia’s human trafficking score for the possibility of increased trade with the TPP? We like to tell China and India to clean up their acts when it comes to fossil fuels, but how much of the fossil fuels that they burn go into producing cheap shots of dopamine for us? Junk, that soon ends up discarded in a landfill, or the belly of a sea turtle?”