UPDATED 4/20/12 2:30 p.m.

U.S. Rep. Mazie Hirono‘s decision not to accept any debates on major television networks has prompted her opponent to call the decision “an insult to Hawaii voters.”

Ed Case accused her of avoiding statewide public discussions on the issues.

Hirono declined debate offers from Civil Beat-KITV, KHON and two debates with Hawaii News Now-Honolulu Star Advertiser — that is, network TV stations, the state’s daily newspaper and its leading online news agency.

Case and Hirono are vying to be the Democratic nominee for the first open U.S. Senate seat from Hawaii in more than a generation. The primary is on Aug. 11.

In a statement, Case had this to say about Hirono’s decision:

This schedule is shibai. In cherry picking just a few with the least possible exposure, they’re fooling nobody. This is plain and simple about avoiding any real statewide public discussion at all costs and is typical of what’s wrong with DC today.

Hirono’s campaign declined Civil Beat’s request to speak with the candidate or to explain on the record why it was skipping network TV.

Case had previously accepted those debates as well as five other debates or invitations to joint apperances.

On Thursday, the Hirono campaign released a list of debates and joint-appearances where she agreed to appear:

• Hosted joint forum by Oahu County Democrats in advance of Hawaii Democratic State Convention, May 25

• Hawaii Lodging and Tourism Association, May 29

• Debate hosted by Maui AARP, June 12

• Radio debate on Hawaii Public Radio, June 13

• Televised candidate forum hosted by PBS Hawaii, June 14

In a press release, Hirono said, “I’m pleased that these debates and joint forums will include a neighbor island debate, and sponsorships by public radio and public television.”

The press release also stated, “These debates and forums are in addition to Congresswoman Hirono’s grassroots discussions and coffee hours with voters across Hawaii.”

Case, who previously accepted the invites from the Hawaii Lodging and Tourism Association and PBS, said he will accept the other three debates with Hirono, too.

‘Hiding Behind Handlers’

In his press release, Case once again accused Hirono of hiding behind “handlers and spin.”

“It’s tragic that my opponent is denying Hawaii’s voters the opportunity to judge for themselves who can best do the job,” he said. “The campaign’s real slogan is: ‘No Debates; Just Watch My Commercials’. I hope voters see through the slick ads upcoming to what’s really going on.”

In addition to the four network TV broadcasts, the Case campaign said Hirono also rejected invitations from the Chamber of Commerce of Hawaii, the Kona-Kohala Chamber of Commerce, the Big Island chapter of the Hawaii Lodging and Tourism Association, the Hawaii Crop Improvement Association and Hawaii Pacific University. Pending invitations, the campaign said, included the Honolulu Japanese Chamber of Commerce.

In contrast to Case, who has been aggressively sign-waving, tweeting, emailing and campaigning across the state in his Senate bid, Hirono has adopted a sort of Rose Garden strategy — in other words, using most of her time to deal with her official duties rather than make the campaign rounds.

Most of the debates and appearances that she has agreed to play to her strengths: AARP Hawaii, given Hirono’s strong support for entitlement programs; the Oahu County Democrats, many who are closer aligned to liberal Hirono than moderate Case; and the Hawaii Lodging and Tourism Association, given her work on easing visa restrictions for East Asia travelers.

Of note: Mufi Hannemann is president and CEO of the statewide Hawaii Lodging and Tourism Association and a Democrat seeking to step into the 2nd Congressional District seat that Hirono is vacating. Just two years ago, Case called Mufi Hannemann “the most dangerous politician in a generation” when Case endorsed Neil Abercrombie for governor.

Hawaii Public Radio’s signal strength reaches across the state, so many voters will have the opportunity to listen to Hirono and Case debate. They just won’t be able to look at them.

The PBS appearance, meanwhile, to be held the day after the June 13 HPR debate, is on Dan Boylan’s “Island Insights” and is not a debate per se.

Boylan is sure to grill both candidates, but the show’s producer-director, Joy Chong-Stannard, told Civil Beat that other Democrat candidates could be invited as well; as of Thursday, three other candidates had pulled papers to run in the primary, none of them well known.

(Of note: The only debate or joint appearance between Case and U.S. Sen. Daniel Akaka in the 2006 Democratic primary contest was a debate on PBS.)

Unless they agree to further appearances, the last time voters will see Case and Hirono side by side is a full two months before the Aug. 11 primary election.

UPDATE

Absentee ballot applications will be accepted beginning June 12, with absentee and walk-in voting beginning July 30.1

Find out more about the races on our Hawaii Elections Guide 2012.

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