The most interesting moment in Wednesday night’s hourlong forum featuring the seven Democratic candidates trying to represent Hawaii in Congress for the next two years came when the moderator, KITV anchor Yunji de Nies, asked them who they’d vote for if they couldn’t cast a ballot for themselves.
It was a tie between state Rep. Mark Takai and Honolulu City Councilman Joey Manahan. Each got three votes. Human rights advocate Kathryn Xian picked up the other vote courtesy of Honolulu City Councilman Stanley Chang, who called her a dedicated public servant.
State Senate President Donna Mercado Kim, the frontrunner, cast a surprising vote for Takai, her chief opponent in the Aug. 9 primary. The most recent polls give her a six-point lead.
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The rest of the so-called debate, which lacked a single exchange between the candidates, was predominantly a poorly rehearsed delivery of what they think about immigration reform, Native Hawaiian governance, cost of living, homelessness and national security threats.
It was dry, occasionally awkward, and started to become more about who relied on their notes the least (Chang). Some wore their puuwai on their sleeves (Honolulu City Councilman Ikaika Anderson), but most wore their nerves.
State Sen. Will Espero was well prepared, answering questions directly with specific ideas, like providing dormitory-style housing for the homeless and making his first item of business a bill to preserve World War II internment camps in the Kunia area under the National Park Service.
Anderson was the only candidate to take a shot at any of his competition. He tried to put Kim, Takai and Espero on the spot for the lack of funding they’ve provided to help the homeless at the state level compared to the city’s efforts.
The winner of the Democratic primary is expected to face Republican Charles Djou in the Nov. 4 general election to fill the 1st Congressional District seat being vacated by U.S. Rep. Colleen Hanabusa, who is running for Senate against incumbent Brian Schatz.