In the first of more than a dozen gubernatorial forums set for this month and next, the four candidates for Hawaii’s top job each talked Monday night on Hawaii Public Radio about the importance of changing the way state government does things.
Each has different ways to do that.
To the highlights:
In his opening remarks, the Republican jabbed at Democrat David Ige, saying the state senator was part of the system of government over the past 30 years that had screwed up education, stifled business and hurt almost everyone by not bringing down the extreme cost of living. He says people don’t trust their leaders and that a Republican team in the fifth floor of the Capitol will balance things out.
Aiona repeated his specific proposals to help the state, including directing more tax revenue to the Rental Housing Trust Fund, auditing the Department of Education and setting up mobile homeless courts of justice. He said he wants to bring back the idea of an undersea cable between the islands to help with energy needs.
And Aiona was the only candidate to answer a question about combining the departments of Health and Human Services. He doesn’t like the idea. But he used it as an opening to zing Mufi Hannemann for saying as Honolulu mayor that homelessness is a state problem.
The Hawaii Independent Party candidate said people are tired of party politics and gridlock, a dig at both Ige and Aiona, the mainstream party politicians. It’s time to elect a governor who has a record of executive accomplishments, Hannemann argued. Also, Hawaii needs an administration that works with all four county mayors, he said.
Hannemann repeated his desire to take away control of Kakaako from an unelected state board and give it back to the elected officials of the city. The Department of Hawaiian Home Lands could help with affordable housing. He said tent cities may be a way to help with homelessness. And he fired back at Aiona, saying that when the Republican was part of Linga Lingle’s administration, they cut mental health services, which certainly did not help reduce homelessness.
Tourism is key to Hawaii’s economy, so Hannemann proposed a visa waiver for Chinese visiting Hawaii — a waiver, he said, similar to what the Commonwealth of the Northern Mariana Islands enjoys. He also agreed with Ige that the proposed constitutional amendment to use public dollars for private preschool is a bad idea. Aiona supports the measure.
The Democrat said he was the only candidate with direct experience crafting a state budget. He listed many accomplishments from his long legislative career, including recent bills to restructure the Public Utilities Commission to help achieve renewable energy goals. And he said he led efforts to kill a plan to tax the pensions of seniors.
Ige wants to continue to modernize the state’s tax system, which he believes will lead to revenue gains. His focus on education is empowering principals and teachers rather than relying on DOE bureaucracy. The main thing voters tell him across the state, Ige said, is that they want the government to listen to them and be responsive to their needs.
Ige said the words “truly,” “you know” and “it really is” many, many times throughout the hourlong forum. He uses them all the time. But then, public speaking isn’t his thing.
The Libertarian repeated many times his central position, which is that things won’t change in the state until the pay-to-play quid pro quo that funnels special interest money into the pockets of politicians stops.
Davis said he wants to end the Jones Act, which he blamed for high shipping costs that drive up nearly every other cost in the state. He wants to legalize industrial hemp and marijuana. He wants gambling on cruise ships. He said the word “aloha” many times. And “gorilla,” as in “gorilla in the room,” which is what the Jones Act is. And pay to play.
Speaking of pakalolo: Aiona is concerned that dispensaries for medical marijuana may be abused, and as a former judge he sides with law enforcement that casts a wary eye on the idea. Ige doesn’t want to legalize pot, but since we have a medical-pot law, we may as well have dispensaries. And Hannemann was somewhere in the middle on the dispensaries question, agreeing there was potential for abuse but also recognizing that there is a legitimate legal need.
Hannemann and Aiona, by the way, mentioned the names of their running mates (Les Chang and Elwin Ahu) several times. Ige did not mention Shan Tsutsui. No word from Davis on his running mate, either. Her name is Cynthia (Lahi) Marlin.
The live forum on HPR was broadcast statewide and seen on public access channels on Oahu, Maui and the Big Island. It will also be rebroadcast on Olelo Community Media.
There are many more gubernatorial forums to come, some featuring all four candidates, some only three.
The next is Tuesday night at The Plaza Club in downtown Honolulu, but you need to register for that one. The candidates are also set to appear on PBS Hawaii’s “Insights” on Thursday evening.
Capping off the week, several ethnic chambers of commerce are holding a forum Saturday morning at the Center for Korean Studies at UH Manoa.