Hawaii has an open seat for the U.S. Congress this year, yet the race has attracted little attention.

It’s overshadowed by a tight race for the U.S. Senate and a governor’s race that has recently become more competitive.

But there are seven Democrats running to replace Rep. Colleen Hanabusa in the 1st Congressional District, and it’s been difficult to bring them all together for a forum or debate.

Donna Mercado Kim, considered the election’s frontrunner due to her name recognition, years of experience in office, large reservoir of campaign funds and high poll numbers, has tended to avoid joint appearances.

CD1 candidates + June 2014

From left: Honolulu City Councilman Stanley Chang, state Sens. Will Espero and Donna Mercado Kim, Councilman Joey Manahan, state Rep. Mark Takai, Councilman Ikaika Anderson and activist Kathryn Xian at Honolulu Community College, June 28, 2014.

Chad Blair/Civil Beat

That all changed Saturday when Kim, Will Espero, Stanley Chang, Kathryn Xian, Ikaika Anderson, Mark Takai and Joey Manahan met for an hour or so at Honolulu Community College.

What brought them together was a forum sponsored by two important ethnic groups, Korean-Americans and Filipino-Americans. Manahan and Espero are Filipino-Americans while Kim is a Filipino-Korean American. Xian has Korean ancestry.

Filipinos now exceed Japanese-Americans as the single-largest Asian population in Hawaii, and their vote is especially coveted.

First, the “news” from the forum: Each candidate handled herself or himself well. There were no gaffes nor any surprising statements. And no candidate went after a colleague, even though Kim and to a lesser extent Takai are natural targets as leaders in the polls.

Will Espero and Donna Kim CD1 forum

Will Espero and Donna Kim share a light moment before the forum began.

Chad Blair/Civil Beat

The lack of fireworks was probably due in part to the fact that the forum was also narrowly focused on issues of importance to Korean- and Filipino-Americans.

It was no surprise, then, that the seven candidates largely agreed on the need for immigration reform, making college affordable, honoring Filipino veterans from World War II, expanding U.S. opportunities in the Philippines and South Korea and holding a firm line on North Korea aggression.

In fact, the candidates had been provided the top three questions in advance — on foreign policy, helping the Filipino-American community and immigration.

Mark Takai, Kathryn Xian, CD1 forum

Mark Takai and Kathryn Xian flashing familiar shakas.

Chad Blair/Civil Beat

As such, there were detailed answers, with some candidates even reading from notes.

The one spontaneous moment came when each candidate was handed a sealed envelop to answer an individual question.

Filipinos now exceed Japanese-Americans as the single-largest Asian population in Hawaii, and their vote is especially coveted.

Chang,  Xian, Anderson and Manahan received tougher questions — on trade missions, the tax code, federal programs for long-term care and national education standards.

Espero had it easier. Asked how he would support small businesses, he mentioned all the restaurants he patronizes.

With a son in college and borrowing money, Kim answered her question on student loans in a personalized way.

Takai got a question that might have tripped up some of the other candidates — about Filipino and Korean role models — but he demonstrated his awareness of diversity, citing local educator Amy Agbayani and state Rep. Sylvia Luke.

One Other Joint Forum Scheduled

Kudos to the Korean American Bar Association, the Filipino Chamber of Commerce of Hawaii, the Asian American Junior Chamber of Commerce and Hawaii Korean Chamber of Commerce for being able to do what no other groups have done so far.

Indeed, besides a one-hour appearance July 10 on PBS Hawaii’s “Insights,” no other event has been scheduled for a majority of voters to see the seven Dems side by side.

Ikaika Anderson CD1 forum

Ikaika Anderson prepping for the CD1 forum.

Chad Blair/Civil Beat

That is too bad. Hawaii sends just four people to represent the state in Washington, D.C. It’s an important job, and more voters need to know what they are getting in — and from — their representatives.

They also need to hear from the candidates on a wide range of issues — entitlement programs, the Middle East, veterans affairs and partisan gridlock, to name a few of the more pressing ones. And the candidates should not be provided with questions beforehand.

There are two Republicans and two nonpartisan candidates also running for the CD1 seat. Charles Djou, who briefly served in Washington four years ago, is the leading GOP candidate. He could not attend Saturday’s forum.

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