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It’s amazing how quickly Neil Abercrombie exited center stage. One day he’s chief executive of the state of Hawaii, the next day you don’t see him around much.
Of course, he lost his re-election bid Aug. 9. Badly.
Now, one of these four men hope to take the reins from the governor this fall: Democrat David Ige, Republican Duke Aiona, independent Mufi Hannemann or Libertarian Jeff Davis.
Davis is a long shot. The flier that I saw advertising the West Oahu Economic Development Association gubernatorial forum Tuesday didn’t even mention him, though he was part of the program.
Then again, voters who so easily dumped a Democratic Party incumbent in a primary may be very serious about a big change in leadership. Whoever wins — Mufi, David, Duke or Jeff — it will represent a departure from Neil.
We’ll get to what the Fab Four had to say about the challenges and opportunities for the part of Oahu that runs from Waipahu to Makaha — the main topic of the WOEDA forum — but first a little news regarding their positions on same-sex marriage.
With the exception of Davis, who seemed disappointed by a question asking whether same-sex marriage “is behind us,” the other three candidates had more solid answers regarding the controversial 2013 legislation.
Aiona, who served as lieutenant governor under a governor who vetoed civil unions, said the legislation is now the law of the land. He does not propose to overturn it, but he said same-sex marriage is still an issue “in hearts and minds,” both here and across the nation.
Aiona said he sees no “finality” to the issue: “It will always be something discussed.” The U.S. Supreme Court would ultimately rule on the matter, he said, something he called “unfortunate” because it will be nine unelected people. (Aiona is a former judge.)
Hannemann said, if elected governor, he would swear to uphold the law. But he would not have called a special session on same-sex marriage, as Abercrombie did. His basic philosophy is that “the voices of the people need to be heard.”
Like Aiona, Hannemann would have preferred the question be put on the ballot. He made an analogy to rail, an issue for which he led the charge as Honolulu mayor but a priority he said he would have abandoned had voters elected to kill it. (They did not.) Hannemann also said it was important to respect and tolerate diversity.
Ige pointed out that he was the only candidate to have voted on the matter, and he voted yes. He reiterated his support for extending the same benefits that straight couples have to gay couples and said the legislation struck a balance by protecting the rights of clergy and churches who opposed gay marriage.
But Ige also said that democracy allows for continual challenges to constitutions and laws, suggesting that if enough people want to change things, it’s “always a possibility” that laws — presumably including same-sex marriage — could change.
Ige is the giant killer, the man who did what seemed impossible by beating Abercrombie in a huge landslide.
Back to Davis. He called the question of whether the state had put same-sex marriage behind it “divisive.” His solution was for everyone to take “one step forward” to “the middle” and “with aloha.”
Some more news: Hannemann wants to take away the zoning power of the Hawaii Community Development Authority and give it to the city. He said the city could do a better job of zoning for more affordable housing, and he called HCDA’s control over things a “big puka” in the city’s necessary purview. Let HCDA instead focus on infrastructure in Kakaako and developing Kalaeloa, where area residents are clamoring for a racetrack.
This was the first general election gubernatorial forum where all four candidates participated. Ige pulled out of a Grassroot Institute of Hawaii forum Friday, citing problems with the institute’s videotaping guidelines.
It was not a debate. The candidates were not allowed to rebut or challenge one another, though it was clear some wished for the opportunity. (Hannemann, for example, took a shot at Aiona, noting that Gov. Linda Lingle pushed for the Hawaii Superferry without first obtaining the necessary environmental impact statement.)
Freer exchanges of ideas may come in later forums, but credit goes to WOEDA for sponsoring Tuesday’s forum and to Olelo Community Media for broadcasting it live. (It will rebroadcast several times next week on Channel 49.)
The candidates took questions on education, homelessness, housing, rail development, government waste and transparency, economic stimulation and digital media. You can read, listen and watch elsewhere for the answers each gave. Many of them have already been covered and are available on the candidates websites and literature.
Here’s some other observations.
Ige is the giant killer, the man who did what seemed impossible by beating Abercrombie in a huge landslide. He has grown more comfortable in his public appearances, and he has honed his message through a long primary season. He will never be an exciting candidate, capable of moving crowds with his rhetoric. He’s an engineer from Pearl City, after all. He approaches government from the often dull legislative side. Yet, he is competent and, by dint of his primary victory and the fact that he is a Democrat, the frontrunner in this race.
Aiona is tan, rested and ready, as is sometimes said of candidates who lost big races but bided their time until they had another chance.
Hannemann is the experienced executive, the man who ran Honolulu and has a track record to prove it. He believes he would do a far better job than Ige in “bringing people to the table” and crafting solutions, since he’s already done it. He ran a terrible campaign for governor four years ago and an uninspired campaign for Congress two years ago. But he’s smart, passionate about governance and hungry to get back in the game. He appears as relaxed, focused and motivated as he was when he was first elected mayor, albeit narrowly, in 2004. It is very challenging to run as a third-party candidate without much financing, but Hannemann has thrown himself into it with renewed gusto.
Aiona is tan, rested and ready, as is sometimes said of candidates who lost big races but bided their time until they had another chance. His body language and confidence tell you he thinks this is his year, and he’s been getting good feedback about his chances across the state. Aiona is conversational and comfortable on stage and has relished his work as a coach and a substitute teacher over the past few years. Electing him and running mate Elwin Ahu, he said, would be a historic first: two Hawaiians in the top slots. Some polls and pundits have him — for now — winning on Nov. 4.
(It’s obvious that Hawaii Republicans believe the race is between Ige and Aiona. Shortly after the WOEDA forum, Party Chairwoman Pat Saiki released a list of what she sees as evidence of Ige’s habit of “constantly saying one thing and doing another.”)
Hannemann is the experienced executive, the man who ran Honolulu and has a track record to prove it.
Davis is an unusual candidate, representing a non-mainstream party with little electoral success. He speaks too much in clichés, as when he complains that nobody wants to talk about the “elephant in the room,” meaning the fact that Hawaii imports nearly all of its food and energy needs. He repeats himself a lot (“elephant in the room,” “pay to play,” “solutions, solutions, solutions”), which detract from his message. But his message, detailed on a single piece of blue paper that he held up one too many times Tuesday, may appeal to many: that Hawaii has the highest cost of living, housing and electricity; that traffic sucks and homelessness is rising; that there is only so much room on an island. (When’s the last time you heard a politician bring up the topic of population control?)
Davis can ramble on, but he is smart and articulate and he cares about what he says. He deserves recognition for actually setting up a tent in Kakaako and camping out with homeless families to raise awareness. He’s got a point that a pay-to-play culture in which special interests money keeps flowing into the pockets of beholden politicians may be a big reason why we have some big problems.
Whether Davis will be invited to future gubernatorial forums, especially on network TV, remains to be seen. He certainly mixes up the status quo, though.
A final point: The WOEDA forum was held at a school that wasn’t built just a few years ago, on a road that did not exist and near a rail line that had not begun to rise. There is nothing much else for miles around, and the brush fires burning on the Makakilo hillside are a reminder of just how rural much of West Oahu is. But it is changing.
Photographer PF Bentley and I ran into Hannemann before he entered the UH West Oahu ballroom, and I commented on how the rail was visibly progressing. The former mayor broke into song:
I hear the train a comin’
It’s rollin’ ’round the bend,
And I ain’t seen the sunshine,
Since, I don’t know when. …
Change is coming to Oahu and to Hawaii, and one of these four men will soon be the chief conductor.