This wasn’t your traditional debate format — just a “talk story” with Civil Beat Editor John Temple and moderator Rick Hamada in front of a live audience and those tuning in via radio and online.
This was their last joint appearance in their race for the 1st Congressional District before the Nov. 2 general election. Here’s a summary of what was discussed.
7:08 a.m. — Charles Djou arrives.
Each candidate gets two minutes to make an intro.
Colleen: Notes that this is probably last forum for the election cycle. This is a critical election for nation and for Hawaii. It’s critical because it’ll define who we are and the Hawaii we want to see. Says this election is about values and that Hawaii is someplace where we care for others.
Charles: Opens by saying that this election comes down to one question: “Are you satisfied?” Are you satfed with this Congress today, programs that do not work, failed polices that have led to a 9.7 percent national unemployment rate, mortgaging our childrens’ futures to China.
John opens up the conversation asking about Djou’s “rubber stamp” comments about Hanabusa.
Charles: Says you have to have someone who puts interests of Hawaii first, someone willing to vote yes and no, willing to break ranks from party. He gives the example of him voting ‘yes’ to offshore drilling moratorium, ‘no’ when the government wanted to bail out mainland governments using the food stamp program to do it. “I think you should be an independent thinker.”
Colleen: Comes back at Charles, saying, that unlike the city council, the Legislature went over 12,000 bills over the 4 years she was Senate president — only 8 percent made it through. “My job is make sure that whatever hits the floor has consensus, I do that job very well. That’s what the Legislative process is about. We’re not there to vote no, we’re there to take issues relevant to the state of Hawaii, get as much consensus and move it forward.”
Charles: “Colleen just made my point about why we need change.” Says laws shouldn’t be crafted behind closed doors and massaged so that everyone rubber stamps it. Things come out as manufactured.
7:30 a.m. — First break.
The conversation shifts to the estate tax, which has been temporarily repealed for 2010.
Complex topic, but basically, under the 2009 rules, the first $3.5 million of an estate typically was exempt from federal estate tax and the top tax rate was 45 percent.
Charles: Starts out by saying that the estate tax is particularly onerous to Hawaii because of the higher real estate prices. He sees two flaws with the estate tax. First, all this money has already been taxed. The federal government “should only have one bite at the apple.” It’s a basic principle of tax law — once you tax a person’s income once, you shouldn’t go back and tax it a second time. Second, that small business owners are the bulk of the people affected by the estate tax. As for the “super rich” (e.g., Warren Buffet), he says we should tax those people while they’re still alive.
Rick asks, “What’s the definition of rich?”
Charles dodges by saying, “I want everybody to be rich.” Says it should be determined by your own individual worth.
John steers the conversation to federal government spending.
John notes that Colleen has blamed the deficit on two wars and Bush tax cuts. But there are spending issues. Where could we reduce spending? Charles has suggested downsizing government.
Colleen: Says we need to be clear about what’s deficit and what’s debt. If we had taken across-the-board five percent cuts — personnel is the biggest cost — if we did that early, we wouldn’t be faced with furloughs if we had bitten the bullet back then.
Charles: On the deficit — what Bush administration did was wrong, far too much spending. But says the current administration has dug the hole even deeper.
John: Notes that Charles has argued against the federal stimulus, but that that Hawaii government has credited the federal stimulus for balancing state budget.
Charles: On the whole, has the stimulus project been good for the nation, Hawaii? The answer, no. Says it was a means to prevent unemployment rate going higher, but it hasn’t done that.
7:55 a.m. — Second break.
Taking questions submitted by Civil Beat members.
John: Dave Briscoe to Charles: What have you learned from your first few months in Congress; what would you do differently?
Charles: Casually — the importance of getting regular sleep. “One thing I’d do a little bit differently is take more time to talk to caucuses.” Look forward to being more judicious with my time.
Another question from a Civil Beat member to Colleen: Asks about a significant disagreement you’ve had with your own party.
Colleen: Talks about civil service reform during her third year in the Legislature. Says she felt the most critical element was “binding arbitration,” or “restoration of the right to strike.” She added, “it’s so fundamental to me, in terms of people’s rights to take those steps.”
Rick: Brings up the recent firing of Juan Williams, commentator for National Public Radio. Asked for thoughts on public funding paying for public broadcast — there are calls for Congress to reexamine funding for public broadcast.
Colleen: Says public broadcast serves important role. Likens it to legal aid in that there are strings attached to the money.
Charles: Flat out: “No.” If we had an unlimited supply of money, then sure. Says the theory behind pubic TV and radio comes from 50 years ago as an outlet to give views in the public domain. In the 21st century — 475 channels now in Hawaii, billions of websites. Is there still a need for taxpayers to support this?
Colleen: It’s supposed to be nonpartisan. The issue of public financing is becoming more relevant now when look at campaign financing. Says that for Hawaii’s public access stations — Olelo, Akaku, Hoike — most funding comes from Oceanic Time Warner. There’s a level of credibility and no strings attached to their funding, so she believes it is a reliable outlet.
Charles: If the purpose of public access TV and radio is to make alternative views not expressed elsewhere, then why was Juan Williams fired?
John: Asks candidates to share a time had a role in a significant civil rights issue.
Charles: I’m a child of immigrants here. Recalls work with the Honolulu City Council changing zoning law and zoning codes to make them non-discriminatory so that churches and religious groups could meet in industrially-zoned areas.
Colleen: Gender equality for women in sports. Title 9. Girls would have same rights as young men to be scouted and get scholarships. After 2000, pushed for CIP (capital improvement projects) projects so that girls could have locker rooms.
8:35 a.m. — Third break.
Rick starts the last segment off talking about the mortgage industry — Fannie and Freddie.
Charles: He contends Fannie and Freddie need to be independent. Calls them a “moral hazard” — having the backing of taxpayers of the U.S. and gambling with investor money. He feels lawmakers should make an explicit statement that the federal government will never bail them out if they hit turbulence.
In 2010, the economy is a little better, but people aren’t spending. They’re worried about a high regulatory environment the government is imposing on banks. We have to accept the standard that banks take risks, and if they lose, it’s their shareholders that have to eat it, not taxpayers.
Colleen: Recalls a TV show that said banks have $1.8 trillion and corporations have $1.2 trillion — but neither are investing money. Banks aren’t lending to small businesses. The federal government took Freddie and Fannie in and we’re not going to get that bailout money back, she said. “Keep in mind that their bailout happened in 2008.” Makes passing mention of the $1 billion of state revenues that are tied up in troubled student loans the state bought (SLARS).
John: Switches the topic to campaigning. You have to raise a lot of money to do what you’re doing, running for Congress. How much time spent and how onerous?
Colleen: 30 percent is a good estimate. You’ve got to have capital available. Brings up the need for campaign finance reform.
Charles: Fundraising takes a lot of time. A lot tied in to talking to people, groups and organizations. “After you get to know them, often times they turn around and support you financially.” Important to talk to people. Says his concern about campaign finance reform is that that element will be removed.
Closing remarks at 8:53 a.m.
Colleen: Says again that this is a critical election. “This is the election that will define us and who we are. I contend that Hawaii is a place that does not say ‘no’ to the unemployed, the kupuna … the teachers, first responders.” Says we are a society of compassion and hope. “I believe that I best represent the Hawaii that the people want.”
Charles: “At stake,” he says, “is not just changing the direction of Congress … stakes are very, very high.” Says that with about 300 of the 435 seats in Congress up for election, a handful are close between a Republican and Democrat candidate. “This seat sits on the point of the fulcrum on whether Democrats or Republicans get control of the House of Representatives.” He says there’s the potential to further the status quo.