Democrat Neil Abercrombie, the lead sponsor of the Akaka bill in the U.S. House, said the best hope for the measure may come during the lame-duck Senate session between Nov. 2 and when a new Congress is sworn in come January.

Republican Duke Aiona, who would be only the second U.S. governor of Hawaiian ancestry if elected, says Republicans are poised to take Congress, so he’ll will work with whoever is in power.

Most everything else that came out of Tuesday night’s governor’s debate was familiar territory. But oh, what a fine debate!

The live televised debate, broadcast on Oceanic Cable, was sponsored by the Office of Hawaiian Affairs, an independent state agency established through the Hawaii Constitution to advocate for better treatment of the islands’ indigenous population.

I’m not sure what it is about OHA debates, but they seem to bring the best out of many candidates. They’re just … emotional. Whoops and hollers from the theater audience — divided among Abercrombie and Aiona supporters and a host of political and community dignitaries — added to the feel of the room but not so much that it overwhelmed the debate.

The debate between Charles Djou, Ed Case and Colleen Hanabusa earlier this year was similarly substantive. And eight years ago the debate between Linda Lingle and Mazie Hirono may have proved decisive in sending Lingle to Washington Place.

Tuesday night’s debate between Aiona and Abercrombie at the Hawaii Convention Center hit a lot of marks: on the issues — Hawaiian and everyone’s — on their running mates, on the candidates themselves.

Hawaiian Issues

Everything is a Hawaiian issue, of course, but the matter of federal recognition, language immersion schools and ceded land revenue are particular to the state’s indigenous population.

The first questions of the night — from OHA CEO Clyde Namuo and educator Amy Kalili — were on the Native Hawaiian Government Reorganization Bill, aka the Akaka bill.

Abercrombie pinned the blame for the bill’s inability to pass on Senate Republicans. He said the Akaka bill’s best hope may come during the lame-duck session following the election, before the new 112th Congress comes in in January.

Aiona said he would continue to advocate for the bill.

OHA’s Namuo pressed him for specifics, saying he doubted Republicans would come around.

“Time is running out,” he said of the 10-year struggle to pass the bill.

Aiona replied that it was likely his political party would win back Congress this fall, so it was best to wait until then. He promised he would work with the new leadership to get the bill passed.

Not long after that exchange, the Aiona campaign issued a “fact check” that stated it was a Democrat-controlled Senate that failed to pass the Akaka bill in 2009 and 2010, even when it had a supermajority for a spell.

That, as we say here at Civil Beat, is half true: Democrats had a supermajority of 60 only between the time Al Franken was sworn in from Minnesota and Scott Brown from Massachusetts — from July 7, 2009, to Feb. 4, 2010.

But the last time there was an actual vote on the Akaka bill was in 2006, when Republicans controlled the Senate. The legislation fell short of the votes needed to stop a filibuster, with nearly every Democrat in support of invoking cloture and a majority of Republicans against it.

Both men also answered questions on ceded-lands and revenue from the state to OHA. Here Aiona scored better, noting that it was the Lingle administration that pushed (unsuccessfully) for a settlement with the Legislature. He also took credit for the administration’s success in moving more Hawaiians onto Hawaiian homelands.

Abercrombie suggested a Democratic governor would work better with a Democratic Legislature to settle the ceded-lands dispute — though Aiona pointed out that the last Democratic governor, Ben Cayetano, stopped the payments. They would resume by executive order under his successor, Lingle.

Where You Wen Grad?

The remainder of the debate focused mostly on the economy, education, government furloughs, federal funding and civil unions.

That won’t be covered here, though. Instead, read about the candidates positions on Abercrombie’s website and Aiona’s website. Or pick up today’s issue of The Honolulu Star-Advertiser or read all the great articles on the candidates at Honolulu Civil Beat.

There’s also another governor’s debate Thursday on PBS and few others in the pipe before this election is over.

Instead, let’s talk about where the candidates went to high school. The candidates certainly did Tuesday night.

Aiona went to Saint Louis School in Honolulu.

Abercrombie had Calvin Say as a student when he was teaching at UH. The future House Speaker went to Saint Louis, too.

Aiona joked that moderator Howard Dashefsky probably went to Punahou School. (He actually went to high school on the mainland.)

The point of all that? Not much, except it got a lot of laughs and gave the night a personal feel.

Both candidates seemed more comfortable taking digs at each other, often scoring points.

There were also a couple of classic dodges — in Aiona’s case, not really answering why it is that 24 percent of the state is made up of Hawaiians but that 39 percent of the prison population is Hawaiian, as a recent OHA report revealed.

(Aiona said education was the solution to fixing families.)

And Abercrombie said the words “federal dollars” so many times that if the audience took a kava shot every time he said it, they would not have been able to drive home.

The crowd also joined in, though never too much.

For example, after Abercrombie spoke passionately about how the matter of civil unions was really about civil rights, a woman sitting near me said, “Damn right!”

And when Aiona, in his closing remarks, cited the state’s motto — “Ua mau ke ea o ka aina I ka pono” (if you don’t know what this means, you should) — and followed it up with a “Aloha ke akua” (God is love) — another woman turned to her friend and said, “Goosebumps, girl!”

Yep, goosebumps. (Not chicken skin … which is the same thing.)

Maybe she went to Punahou, eh?

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