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WASHINGTON — Former Honolulu Mayor Mufi Hannemann stands out as the most socially conservative Democrat in the race for Hawaii’s 2nd Congressional District, according to questionnaires that he and four other candidates filled out for Civil Beat.
He’s also the front-runner to replace Mazie Hirono, arguably Hawaii’s most liberal congressional delegate. Hirono has represented the district since 2007 but is vacating her post to run for U.S. Senate.
How much might the views of the person representing the 2nd district change? To find out, Civil Beat asked the five candidates where they stood on seven issues. Candidates revealed a wide range of views on social issues like same-sex marriage, abortion and access to emergency contraceptives.
Hannemann, who now serves as president of the Hawaii Lodging & Tourism Association; and Hilo attorney Bob Marx detailed positions that put them on the more conservative side of the spectrum.
Office of Hawaiian Affairs advocate Esther Kiaaina, Honolulu attorney Rafael del Castillo and Honolulu City Council member Tulsi Gabbard took more traditionally liberal stances, with Kiaaina arguably the most definitively left-leaning.
Gabbard’s defense of Roe v. Wade and support of same-sex marriage represent a significant shift from her conservative roots.
Here’s a question-by-question rundown of how the candidates answered Civil Beat’s survey, with complete responses from each candidate footnoted at the bottom of the page.
The question: Do you agree with Kathleen Sebelius’ decision to overrule the FDA on allowing girls under 17 to purchase Plan B without a prescription? Why or why not?
Bob Marx1 was the only candidate who said he agreed with Sebelius on her decision to overrule the FDA, citing a “host of secondary effects are associated with the use of this drug.”
But the controversy around the Sebelius decision has to do with the fact that the FDA, scientists and members of the medical community say that the morning-after pill has been extensively tested and deemed safe. Several members of Congress — including Hawaii delegates — have called on Sebelius to explain the scientific basis for her decision.
While Hannemann2 acknowledged that he has “concerns” about making the drug available to girls under 17, he disagreed with Sebelius’ handling of the matter.
“There were times (as Honolulu mayor) that I felt differently about a certain issue espoused by a Cabinet director and their department,” Hannemann said. “But I yielded to that line agency with the mandated responsibilities and the requisite expertise on the matter, rather than selectively overruling their decisions.”
The other three candidates clearly oppose Sebelius’ decision. Kiaaina3 said it is “imperative” for Sebelius and others to “explain the rationale behind this decision.” The harshest criticism came from del Castillo4, who is a patients rights attorney.
“Once again, Secretary Sebelius has plunged into controversy against the evidence and advice of probably the most cautious and deliberate food and drug agency in the world today,” del Castillo said.
The questions: Would you support overturning Roe v. Wade? How do you characterize your position on abortion?
Hannemann offered the most conservative viewpoints on abortion, but still defended women’s right to choose.
“While I am personally opposed to abortion, I believe that every woman should have the ability to utilize their free agency in exercising their right to choose,” Hannemann said.
His position on Roe v. Wade, the landmark Supreme Court decision that enables American women to get abortions in the early stages of pregnancy, was a little murkier. Hannemann described Roe v. Wade as “the law of the land,” and himself as “bound to uphold” it. He also said that individual states should be tasked with regulating abortion.
Marx said that “aborting a human fetus is a deeply serious issue,” but described Roe v. Wade as “reasonable” and said that he is “against re-opening that decision.”
Del Castillo, Gabbard5 and Kiaaina all said that they would not support overturning Roe v. Wade, with Kiaaina offering the clearest opposition:
“I support Roe v. Wade and will do everything possible to preserve it and oppose measures which seeks to restrict a woman’s right to choose,” Kiaaina said, emphasizing that she supports federal funding for abortions and that she personally would want the option to choose abortion in a “potentially traumatizing situation.”
While del Castillo said that he would not support overturning Roe v. Wade, he also said that he is committed to eliminating abortions by “eliminating the reasons women have to resort to them.”
The questions: Do you believe that same-sex couples should be able to get legally married? If not, do you believe that same-sex couples should be able to enter into civil unions?
Only Hannemann said definitively that he does not support same-sex marriage, which he views as “between a man and a woman,” but Marx avoided directly answering the question by saying that the issue had been resolved by a Hawaii Constitutional amendment that allowed the state to ban same-sex marriage in 1998.
Pressed for a more definitive stance, Marx told Civil Beat that he does not support same-sex marriage.
“No, not at this time,” Marx said in an email sent to Civil Beat. “If Civil Unions do not obtain equality under the laws, then yes. Civil unions should be treated the same as married couples under our laws.”
Notably, Hannemann said that he supports civil unions for same-sex couples. That’s a departure from his opposition to civil unions during his 2010 run for Hawaii governor. Since then, Gov. Neil Abercrombie signed into law a measure that enables Hawaii couples to enter into civil unions. The law took effect on Jan. 1.
Another candidate whose views on gay rights have — in her words — “evolved” is Gabbard, who argued that the government has “no business in our bedrooms” and said that “same-sex couples should be afforded all benefits, privileges, and rights that the government grants to heterosexual couples.” Gabbard also said that she will work for the repeal of the federal Defense of Marriage Act, and that she supports civil unions for states during the “interim.”
Kiaaina also said that she supports a repeal of the act, and that same-sex couples should “absolutely” be allowed to get married across the country. Similarly in favor of same-sex marriages, del Castillo said that he “cannot and will not” support any law that “limits access to marriage or any other special status based upon gender.”
“For the time being, civil unions are a must,” del Castillo said. “But even if they confer the same rights as a marriage contract, I am opposed to separate-but-equal schemes which are not embraced by all concerned.”
The question: Do you believe that same-sex couples should be able to adopt children?
None of the five candidates outright opposed same-sex couples adopting children, but Hannemann again found himself on the most conservative side of the spectrum.
“All things being equal, I believe a child should be placed in a relative’s home, ideally with a man and a woman living in a traditional setting of a marriage,” Hannemann said. “However, in the absence of identifying such a nurturing couple that is capable of providing such a loving environment, I would defer to the government agencies to find the best situation which would enable the child to be happy, thrive and prosper.”
The other four candidates said definitively that same-sex couples should be allowed to adopt. Del Castillo said that there are “considerable resources” devoted to protecting children, and “no need for us to protect them from loving relationships.”
Marx was similarly straightforward in his response: “Yes, same sex couples should be able to adopt children on the same basis as other couples or singles. The question is: Will they make good parents?”
The question: Should people who identify as LGBTQ be covered by federal anti-discrimination laws?
Only del Castillo questioned the need to protect those who identify as lesbian, gay, bi or transgendered with federal anti-discrimination laws. The other four candidates said they believe such members of the population should be covered by anti-discrimination laws, with Kiaaina specifying that they should also be protected under “federal civil rights laws.”
“It appears to me that our constitution and laws have proven flexible enough to deal with bad cases,” del Castillo said. “(The Defense of Marriage Act), for example, is a Congressional bad joke, unconstitutional on its face. Would particularized federal anti-discrimination laws have prevented it? I strongly doubt it given what we have seen from our Congress.”
Del Castillo also added that he is “fiercely proud of, and grateful for the LGBTQ struggle.”