Abortion. Immigration. Suicide. Gambling. Marriage. Civil unions. Sex education. Emergency contraception.

These are the issues important to the Hawaii Family Forum and the Hawaii Catholic Conference, which have surveyed the 2010 primary candidates to help their members make informed choices at the ballot box.

The questions reflect the interests of both groups, which have taken active rolls in influencing policy — and produced some surprises, such as that governor candidates Mufi Hannemann and James “Duke” Aiona gave identical responses to questions on social issues.

As the Hawaii Family Forum states on its website, “Our vision is to see every Christian congregation in Hawaii equipped and united to strengthen and defend Hawaii’s families and disadvantaged.”

The candidate surveys, which were posted online this week and will be made available in print beginning next week, are not meant to be used passively.

“If the candidate(s) in your district did not respond to the survey, then we are strongly encouraging you to call them,” according to the Hawaii Catholic Conference’s website. “The guide provides their phone numbers.”

“The whole idea is that this is voter education, and we hope that people look at this survey,” said Walter Yoshimitsu, chancellor of the Roman Catholic Church in Hawaii. “Many times the electing population just goes by name recognition and does not look at what a candidate stands for. So we hope that this might help.”

This is not the first time Hawaii Family Forum and Hawaii Catholic Conference have produced a candidate survey. Yoshimitsu says its surveys have been produced every election cycle for about 10 years.

But Yoshimitsu says interest in the 2010 survey is up, which he attributes to controversial issues like the emotional debate over Hawaii civil unions. A total of 30,000 print copies of the survey — up from 7,000 to 10,000 copies in previous years — will be distributed to local churches beginning Monday.

The survey is also available for download here.

The nonprofit Hawaii Family Forum is the leading conservative-religious political advocacy group in the state. Self-described as a “pro-family educational organization,” the forum is affiliated with the Colorado-based Focus on the Family, a “a global Christian ministry dedicated to helping families thrive.”

The Hawaii Catholic Conference is the public policy arm of the Diocese of Honolulu, part of the Roman Catholic Church in Hawaii.

Success In Influencing Policy

In addition to rallying against House Bill 444, the now-vetoed legislation that would have granted Hawaii civil unions, the forum and the conference have been at the forefront of efforts to prohibit gambling, physician-assisted suicide and expansion of sex education.

Its legislative victories including raising the age of sexual consent from 14 to 16 and passage of a Megan’s law to protect kids from sex offenders. (The forum’s website includes a link to the state’s online sex offender database.)

Just over half of all candidates responded to the 2010 survey.

They include prominent Republicans such as U.S. Rep. Charles Djou, Lt. Gov. Aiona (a candidate for governor), state Rep. Lynn Finnegan (lieutenant governor candidate), and former legislator John Carroll (governor candidate).

Prominent Democrats include governor candidate Hannemann and lieutenant governor candidates Bobby Bunda and state Sen. Norman Sakamoto.

Those declining to participate in the survey include other well-known Democrats such as U.S. Sen. Daniel K. Inouye, U.S. Rep. Mazie Hirono, governor candidate Neil Abercrombie, state Sen. Colleen Hanabusa (congressional candidate) and lieutenant governor contenders Brian Schatz, Lyla Berg, Gary Hooser and Norman Sakamoto.

Responses from Hannemann, Aiona and Djou

The candidate survey questions — 24 in all, with five or seven for each race — include the following:

  • For Congress: “Currently, federal taxpayer funds may not be used to pay for abortions except in the case of rape, incest or when the pregnancy threatens the woman’s life. Would you vote to continue this policy?”

  • For governor and lieutenant governor: “Would you sign into law a bill that would legalize physician-assisted suicide in Hawaii?”

  • For the Legislature: “Would you vote for a civil union bill that would give same-sex couples the exact same parental rights as married couples with respect to adoption and child custody?”

  • For the school board: “Would you vote to give parents advance notice about school presentations on human sexuality so they can opt out of such presentations?”

Candidates for Honolulu mayor, City Council and city prosecutor were not surveyed.

Hannemann, according to the survey, is against gambling, physician-assisted suicide and civil unions but supports term limits, increasing state funding for affordable rental housing, a constitutional amendment defining marriage as between one man and one woman, and granting religious affiliated health-care institutions a “conscience exemption” to laws requiring hospitals to offer emergency contraceptives to sex assault victims.

Aiona answered exactly the same as Hannemann.

Djou, according to the survey, said he would not vote to repeal the federal Defense of Marriage Act and would vote to continue the policy of not using federal taxpayer funds to pay for abortions except in the case of rape, incest or when the pregnancy threatens the woman’s life.

The freshman congressman also supports the Akaka bill.

Djou gave no answer, however, to this question: “Would you vote for immigration reform that would increase border enforcement, unification of families, plus enable undocumented workers to earn lawful status by demonstrating gainful employment, good moral character and payment of taxes?”

Asked if he would vote for a constitutional amendment defining marriage as between one man and one woman, Djou said “no.”

“It’s About Civic Responsibility”

Not all the questions concern hot-button social issues. In addition to questions on term limits and affordable housing, there are others about capping charter school creation and a governor-appointed school superintendent and board.

But there are no questions to Congress about foreign policy and budget deficits, no questions to the governor about judicial appointments and the homeless, no questions to the Legislature about clean energy and the general excise tax, and no questions to the school board about teacher accountability and student achievement.

Moral issues dominate the survey. One question to Board of Education candidates, for example, asks if they would allow students to use public school facilities for after-school activities that are faith-based. Of the 11 candidates who answered, 10 said yes.

Dennis Arakaki, the former executive director of the Hawaii family Forum, directed Civil Beat’s call to the forum’s president, Francis Oda. (Arakaki said he left the forum this summer to pursue ministry interests.)

“The purpose is to create better-informed voters and to get people interested so they will actually go to the polls and vote,” Oda told Civil Beat. “The number of people who actually vote as compared to those that are registered is abysmal. We are encouraged that registration numbers are up this year.”

The Hawaii Family Forum and the Hawaii Catholic Conference have both pushed an iVote initiative this year, which seeks to register 100 percent of church congregations.

“Some pastors say they have reached that goal,” said Oda. “They bring their yellow (registration) card and hold it up. It’s about civic responsibility.”

The forum and conference will conduct another survey for the general election candidates.

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