TACOMA — The Pacific Islands sweep over Melanesia, Micronesia and Polynesia, beginning from Hawai‘i and Rapa Nui (Easter Island) to Palau and New Caledonia, spreading across a significant portion of the Pacific Ocean. Multiple issues impact the islands acutely. For instance, extreme weather patterns pose a threat to homes, livelihoods and marine biodiversity while overfishing depletes oceanic resources. Considering the fragility of the Pacific Islands — weak economies, fragile infrastructure and subpar access to basic services — the region is one of the most vulnerable in the world. In 2019, the U.N. reported that around 25% of Pacific Islanders live in poverty. Furthermore, according to UNICEF, about 40% of children on the islands are vulnerable to sinking into poverty. Recognizing these vulnerabilities, Congressman Ed Case initially introduced the BLUE Pacific Act in July 2020 during the 116th Congress and re-introduced it in the 117th Congress to advance the U.S.’s long-term comprehensive strategy and policy for the Pacific Islands. The Borgen Project reached out to Congressman Ed Case, representing Hawaii’s First Congressional District, for insight into the latest version of the bill and its importance in supporting the Pacific Islands.
Tell us about the BLUE Pacific Act you introduced.
The Blue Pacific Act, a bipartisan proposal introduced by several members of our House Pacific Islands Caucus, would establish a comprehensive, long-term U.S. strategy in the Pacific Islands region to support and expand U.S. diplomatic and development presence in the Pacific Islands. This would include regional economic and social development in areas of public health, education, infrastructure, climate change resilience and adaptation, the promotion of shared values like press freedom and gender equality and programs to strengthen people-to-people relationships and civil society.
How did you become personally interested in the plight of the world’s poor?
I would reframe the question to focus on the moral obligation and the interests of the United States and the international community in reducing inequality around the world and on the unique contributions that all countries can make to that effort. I believe foreign assistance is both a moral obligation and a critical component of our country’s long-term economic and national security strategy. Well-designed aid can reduce international instability, unlock human potential and create the conditions for transformational change in developing nations that can raise countless individuals out of poverty and into the greater global economy.
What’s the best way for individuals to engage their members of Congress in an issue that they’re passionate about?
Individuals who want to engage their members of Congress on issues they are passionate about should look up who their representative is and contact them. Often the best way to spur action is to research an issue, see what bills Congress has proposed on the topic and ask for a meeting to discuss the issue. If a member of Congress is not available, often his or her staff will take the meeting. I also believe it is incumbent upon the lawmaker to make the best effort to stay in touch with constituents. While modern technology avails him or her with the latest tools to communicate with constituents, there is no substitute for one-on-one personal contact. For this reason, I make it a point to host what I refer to as “Talk Stories” or “Town Halls,” as they are more commonly known, so that I can more personally engage with people and hear not just what is on their mind but what they think about my work on their behalf in Congress. I would also encourage individuals to research which issues are controlled by the federal government and which issues are managed locally. Local and state governments often are overlooked in outreach, but they control many of the policies that make the biggest differences in daily life.
What is the top issue that drove you to run for Congress?
I ran for Congress to contribute to national leadership, champion Hawai‘i interests and support my constituents’ needs. In Congress on the national level, I especially focus on international environmental challenges, particularly our world’s oceans, United States engagement in the broad Indo-Pacific, and practical, results-oriented governance.
What’s something that you’ve found interesting about working on Capitol Hill?
I’ve found the overall effort to pursue bipartisan consensus especially challenging and surprisingly productive. Often the issues where Democrats and Republicans are best able to work closest together and positively help the largest number of people are in areas where there is less attention. Though sometimes it is frustrating and difficult, more bipartisanship happens in Washington than people realize.
The Borgen Project applauds Rep. Case’s longstanding efforts as a poverty reduction champion. If enacted, the renewed commitments in the latest reintroduction of the BLUE Pacific Act (H.R.4538) will further diplomatic ties between the United States and Pacific Island nations while advancing development in the region and alleviating poverty.
– Staff Reports