The fiscal cliff, Hawaii’s post-Inouye politics and 2013 predictions: Interview with Tiffany Au

Danny de Gracia interviews former Republican candidate Tiffany Au for a 2012 year-in-review for Hawaii and national politics. Photo: Tiffany Au Official Photo

HONOLULU, December 29, 2012 – The whirlwind year that some prophesized to be the end of the world is now almost over and for better or worse, Planet Earth and all of us are still here. To give us a capstone perspective on the biggest issues and the year in review, I sought out former 2012 Republican House candidate and reigning Hawaii Narcissus Queen Tiffany Au.

Au, a second-generation American whose parents were Vietnamese boat refugees who fled to the United States, is perhaps the most unique personality I have interviewed this year and truly my column’s featured “wavemaker” of the year. 

Danny de Gracia: So 2012 has been a long and very newsy year. President Obama got re-elected, the world didn’t end on December 21st, Hawaii has a completely new congressional delegation and Brian Schatz is now our new senator, filling the vacancy created by Dan Inouye’s passing. What’s your thoughts on this year in review?

Tiffany Au: (Laughs) This was certainly a watershed year of key events in both local Hawaii and American history. We’re in an ongoing recession and the decisions that are being made in Washington … I’m not sure if it’s necessarily the best course for the future and that the public is fully engaged or aware of what the consequences are going to be of this election.

I think the public sometimes confuses a good marketing strategy with having a competent leader. President Obama had a great campaign that was something to everyone but the implementation and continuation of his polices and their impact is going to affect the public in ways that will ultimately affect the taxpayer’s pocketbook and in ways people don’t realize.

Here in Hawaii, on Oahu the mayoral election brought out a very important issue to the front and that’s rail. I think its something that has the potential – if not managed wisely – can affect the economy. Hawaii relies on tourism and the military. If we have a rail that’s being built for 20 years, how will that impact our economy? Unfortunately the anti-rail candidate didn’t win, so now we’re going to see whether or not the construction of this project is going to bring about the great promises – or not – that the pro-rail candidates made.

Regarding the passing of Senator Inouye and Brian Schatz, I know many people in Hawaii didn’t take it well. A lot of people felt that Inouye’s wishes should have been honored because he’s been in office for over fifty years.

DDG: You’re referring to the memo that was delivered requesting that Rep. Colleen Hanabusa replace him.

Au: Right. As for how Senator Schatz will do in office, I’m not going to pass judgment on that, we’ll see how things go and how it turns out.

DDG: Well let’s look at this from a different perspective. When Governor Abercrombie appointed Schatz, the Hawaii Republican Party put out this press release saying –

Au: Right, I saw that.

DDG: … they were basically saying in effect that had Rep. Hanabusa been nominated they were ready to field a candidate for a special election and my first thought was why say that? Isn’t that like saying their electoral victory depends on the governor giving them a free throw? Isn’t that showing their hand a little too much?

Au: (Laughs) Oh. I saw that press release. My first thought was that its reactionary. It doesn’t promote action on behalf of the party.

DDG: That press release basically seemed … I don’t know, it makes it seem like this is the end of the Hawaii Republican Party as a viable organization. That pretty much seems that you’re in a desperation mode. What do you think?

Au: I think that nothing really dies. Life is always in flux, so are organizations. I don’t think that the Republican Party can ever really die, and I also don’t think that the Democrats want the GOP to die. If that’s the case, there’s no way that they can blame anyone but themselves. They would be accountable for everything. It’s in the Democratic self interest to have a couple. Now the public is unaware–

DDG: Whoa. So you’re basically saying that (laughs) that it’s good to have controlled opposition?

Au: (Laughs) From a strategic standpoint the Democrats would always need to have a scapegoat.

DDG: You mentioned economics and the fallout of public policy. Let’s step into an alternate reality where you’d actually won your election to the House. What would you be doing right now policy-wise and what issues would you triage right now?

Au: Well the economy needs to be addressed. Pensions are pretty much not a guarantee anymore, the low interest rates are bad for people who want to save for retirement and combined with inflation, it’s a stealth tax on people’s future. The point that I’m getting at here is that you need a stable currency and you need some kind of predictability with public policy so that investment and wealth generation can actually occur. The American Dream is ultimately about property ownership and freedom to enjoy the fruits of one’s labor.

If I were in office the first thing that I’d be doing is going after the fiscal and economic policies that are causing the very distortions in the marketplace that are behind this slump we’re in. Right now people in elected office really don’t seem to get it when it comes to economic issues and that’s something that needs to be focused on. Hawaii is one of the worst places to do business. The cost of doing business here is so high. Gas prices are so high. There’s this inflationary cycle going on and people are going under and getting laid off. I’d work to not only fix that but the root issues behind that.

DDG: So what do you think is going to happen with the fiscal cliff?

Au: The fiscal cliff is (laughs) very scary. We’re probably going to see taxes go up. And with all that’s going on right now, it’s almost like the average American has no one speaking up for them and it’s every man for themselves. I think that a lot of people are concerned and confused in Washington about how to approach this. I think they’re putting politics before economic reality.

During the election here in Hawaii, I don’t know of that many people who even touched the fiscal cliff as an issue. We need to get our fiscal house in order. I ran as a Republican because I firmly believe that at the end of the day all these ideas that legislators come up with is impacting someone’s life and isn’t free.

The American people are hardworking, innovative and responsible. If you unleash them and allow them to get back to work, America will start working again too.

DDG: Right. Speaking of working, just recently across the Atlantic the party leader of UKIP and Europarl MEP Nigel Farage put out a message for the new year in which he said “we’ll go on battling for no tax on the minimum wage to give the people in this country in low paid jobs a real incentive to get off benefits”. I heard that and I thought to myself, that’s a brilliant idea, how come we can’t do the same thing here? Why don’t we just repeal the taxes on the people making minimum wage here in the United States to encourage people to work and save. What do you think about that idea?

Au: People don’t grow unless they’re in a position where they need to work, so working is good. No income tax? That is a very interesting idea, because we need taxes for the roads, for public safety and basic functions of government and I’m not sure if some people who do work who make a little bit more that minimum wage would like that idea. There have been proposals over the years to just have a flat tax and we all pay the same taxes instead of having tax brackets, but we’re in an era where people know they have to work. There’s no getting around it.

DDG: Well, you know but then it becomes a question of at what point does working stop being about working to live and working to be in compliance to government and to pay for the government’s growing mission creep. I understand some level of taxation is going to be inevitable. But aren’t we getting to the point where we’re basically Duracell batteries now and the only purpose of our existence is to provide ongoing revenue streams to a government machine?

The point of working should be to live, to support your family, to enjoy life and the fruits of your labor. Not to pay for legislators who go on vacation after getting elected, not to pay for every idea that floats through a legislator’s mind.

Au: I’ve mentally prepared myself for a long haul (laughs) to do what I need to do to survive in this world. And so I know that life is hard and I know a lot of my classmates have moved out of the country to find work in places like China which has a better economy or are harnessing their skills in creative ways off-shore to launch themselves. With all these economic policies that penalize you – increases in taxes, the individual healthcare mandate – it’s going to get that much harder and people are going to have a different viewpoint of the government.

DDG: Well, the very reason that you’re here in Hawaii is because your parents fled from Vietnam because they didn’t want to get stuck in a country that had undergone a communist takeover. But on the flipside of that, I’m beginning to wonder if your parents jumped out of the frying pan and into the fire. Ronald Reagan famously said that people came to America for freedom but if freedom falls in America there’s no place you and I can go to.

Again, that’s why I’m asking, have we really reached the point where we’re just a revenue stream for the government and that’s our only reason for existence? Is this the Matrix where we live to power a government machine and pay for Congress’ bills?

Au: We are turning into that Duracell battery. And you know in part it’s a function of the loss of understanding of the dangers of government growth. When I was growing up I read the dystopian books and essays that warn of the dangers of government like Animal Farm, Fahrenheit 451, A Brave New World, Nineteen Eighty-Four, we–

DDG: Did you, uh, read Obama’s book?

Au: Obama’s book?

DDG: The Audacity of Hope.

“what I really wanted for Christmas was world peace.” -Tiffany Au (U.S. Air Force file photo)

Au: Oh no, no, no, (laughs) we didn’t have that literature yet. But I had fabulous literature to draw upon. Ayn Rand’s Atlas Shrugged and the theme of these books is that if you’re being controlled by the government then the result is that you are just a pawn and not in control of your destiny. You are just this Duracell battery that you referred to.

And yes, we’ve entered into this era where everything is breaking down and the school system is not addressing the dangers we face today. People are not taught to be free and to think like free people, with respect to the right and proper role of government. People think money just comes out of plain air. The whole culture doesn’t have an understanding of how things should work. Conservatism is starting to be viewed as backwardness.

Look at pop culture. You don’t hear rappers singing, “Oh gosh, I gotta pay my bills.” (Laughs) “I need work hard, I have to make something.” Oh no, it’s just the end result. “Let’s just have a good time” is the message.

DDG: “Man I feel like money is attracted to me!”

Au: Right! But the key thing here is people don’t question motives anymore of government. They just want to feel good but in the end they’re no longer in control of themselves. People aren’t learning what freedom is anymore and knowing that there are consequences.

DDG: Yeah. Getting back to Hawaii, one of the things that people are upset about is the Public Land Development Corporation. Do you think in 2013 the PLDC will be repealed?

Au: Yeah, that is a big issue and a lot of talk for it to be repealed. That was even on the candidate questionnaires we did. The whole process and how it was done wasn’t right and a lot of people were upset. So hopefully it will be repealed. As I said there’ a lot of talk but we need people to pay attention in the first place and be aware of what’s going on.

DDG: Wow. Well the City and County of Honolulu in February 2013 is going to be taking applications for the Neighborhood Board election. Are you going to file as a candidate? I think you’d be a shoo-in for that and you could continue to champion the issues.

Au: Honolulu Neighborhood Board? Well, I’d have to look into that. (Laughs) I did get that e-mail. I am in a transitional phase and there’s only so many things I can handle as one person. Right now what I’d really like to do is be able to take care of my family, my friends and myself and then I can inspire others. I think with Neighborhood Board that would be a lovely idea but I just have to see how things go in the coming days.

DDG: So tell our readers what your predictions are for 2013.

Au: I think as a positive the era of entrepreneurship is here because there’s a heightened level of risk that puts people into difficult situations but they’re also going to find innovative solutions to them. People are going to reinvent themselves and their circumstances.

On a negative, we also do have a situation now where there’s so much information but where is the direction? Wisdom is the proper use of knowledge. There needs to be an effort to leverage wisdom to put an end to this chaos. We need real leaders and real direction. I think in 2013 there are going to also be a lot of people who won’t know what hit them.

DDG: So. In review. Let’s talk the tops and bests of 2012. What was the best movie of the year?

Au: (Laughs) With the campaign I didn’t get to watch a lot of movies, but I liked 2016: Obama’s America.

DDG: So why didn’t the world end on December 21st?

Au: I was not afraid at all. Actually in the Mayan culture the end of the calendar doesn’t really mean the end of the world, it just means the end of the cycle.

DDG: So it’s like a pull and tear wall calendar, they forgot to load the next calendar stone or something.

Au: (Laughs) Basically. I wasn’t afraid. People used it as an excuse to have block parties.

DDG: So what was the top news story of 2012?

Au: Well, in Hawaii, it was the rail project.

DDG: Okay. So did you get what you wanted for Christmas? Aside from being elected to office. (Laughs)

Au: Thanks for rubbing it in! What I really wanted for Christmas – oh gosh, now this is going to sound like a beauty pageant – but what I really wanted for Christmas was world peace. (Laughs)

DDG: Have you seen Miss Congeniality? Maybe you should have asked for tougher sentences for parole violators. Now that’s true Republican style. (Laughs)

Au: (Laughs) Well I did at one point win Miss Congeniality.

DDG: I’m going to give you the last word of 2012 with my column, is there anything you’d like to say to the nation and to Hawaii?

Au: It’s important to remember above all else to keep on living and to keep on pressing forward. A lot of people aren’t sure what’s going to happen with the fiscal cliff and they’re afraid. But know that you’re not alone. All of us are in this together. One of the things that I’ve learned from Chinese culture is that patience is important in achieving your goals, so no matter what happens, no matter what you see, hang in there. Our attitude may be all that we have left.

Winston Churchill once said that history is written by the victors. Today perhaps our message is that history shall be written by the survivors. I want everyone reading this to know that we have to stay positive and to keep seeking the truth and to keep moving for a better tomorrow. 

 

Danny de Gracia is a political scientist who lives in Hawaii. For more interviews and to find out more about Danny, follow him on his offical blog!


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Danny de Gracia

Dr. Danny de Gracia is a political scientist and a former senior adviser to the Human Services and International Affairs committees at the Hawaii State Legislature. From 2011-2013 he served as an elected municipal board member in Waipahu. As an expert in international relations theory, military policy, political psychology and economics, Danny has advised numerous policymakers and elected officials and his opinions have been featured worldwide. Now working on his first novel, Danny resides on the island of Oahu.

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