If debates determined the winners of elections, Mufi Hannemann would be our next governor.

I’ve attended, watched or participated in most of the forums and debates between the gubernatorial candidates in the general election period, and I’ve made it a point to ask lots of folks after each event who did best. In most cases, the answer is Hannemann.

That was the case in the most recent debate, the Hawaii News Now town hall at the University of Hawaii Cancer Center in Kakaako Oct. 15. As the station’s political analyst, UH Political Science professor Colin Moore, said of the former Honolulu mayor running as an independent, “He has a real talent for getting his points out there quickly, connecting in this case with the students and comparing and contrasting his views with the other candidates.”

Moore also said it was a bad night for Democrat David Ige: “He actually forgot one of the questions partway through an answer. He said he didn’t know much about agriculture and he admitted he never traveled much to the neighbor islands until the last year when he started running for governor.”

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The Hawaii News Now debate Oct. 15.

KGMB

Two Dozen Appearances

The Hannemann campaign happily emailed to supporters and the media Moore’s comments and a link to the story, boasting that the Hawaii Independent Party candidate “stood tall on all issues as he outlined his strategies on how to better the lives of the people of the State of Hawaii.”

The big question, however, is whether Hannemann’s winning debate performances will win him enough votes to pass Ige and Republican Duke Aiona, who he trails in the polls. It’s not clear how many people actually watch the debates.

“I think the number of requests we had in the primary was probably, maybe 10 or 12. And we’ve got 50 or 60 requests for forums in the general.” — David Ige

Not that there hasn’t been plenty of opportunities to see Ige, Aiona, Hannemann and sometimes Libertarian Jeff Davis on TV and in person. The forums and debates have included live ones broadcast statewide on KITV, KHON, Hawaii News Now and PBS Hawaii.

By my count, there have been about two dozen joint appearances at which all or some of the candidates were in attendance. There are several more scheduled this week and next.

The candidates themselves acknowledge the numerous joint appearances and say that it’s been challenging to make all of them.

KITV Governors Debate1

At the KITV studio on Sept. 30.

Nathan Eagle/Civil Beat

A Scheduling Challenge

Ige was asked about the issue at a Civil Beat editorial board earlier this month.

“I think the number of requests we had in the primary was probably, maybe 10 or 12,” he said. “And we’ve got 50 or 60 requests for forums in the general. It has gotten to be at some point where we are making decisions now — because we’ve agreed to do so many of them — that we are looking at some of the others and asking, ‘How is this different? Does it reach a different audience?’ Because at some point in time it does become a kind of case of diminishing returns.”

“Our feeling is, if it’s on the schedule and you can make it, you go. The only reason we could not make it is if there is a prior commitment that we cannot break.” — Mufi Hannemann

Aiona, who participated in debates when he ran for governor in 2010, agrees there have been a surprising number this year.

“There’s a lot,” he said during at editorial board meeting Sept. 29. “One just came up last week, and we just can’t fit it in. We are trying to move the schedule. The calendar is so compressed. But we’ve accommodated almost every single one. Not ducking anything.”

The Hannemann campaign has also faced scheduling conflicts.

“But our feeling is, if it’s on the schedule and you can make it, you go,” he told Civil Beat in early October. “The only reason we could not make it is if there is a prior commitment that we cannot break.”

David Ige speaks at Chamber of Commerce at the Plaza Club debate with  Mufi Hannemann and Duke Aiona on September 23, 2014

At a Sept. 23 Chamber of Commerce of Hawaii forum at the Plaza Club.

PF Bentley/Civil Beat

Diminishing Returns?

Hannemann cited an example: a forum sponsored by the Kona-Kohala Chamber of Commerce at Kealakehe High School Oct. 13. Aiona and Ige agreed to participate, but Hannemann had a conflict.

“At first I had to decline. But then I decided, ‘We’ve got to go. We’ve just got to go,'” he said. “We got some people mad because we had a scheduled event, they were expecting us at a major coffee hour, but I said, ‘I’m sorry. I can’t make it.’”

Because of the multiple forums, the candidates find themselves answering a lot of the same questions.

“Let’s just be honest. It’s so apathetic out there. I’m hoping that it will catch. But you know what? I don’t think it’s catching at all. And I’m really sad about that.” — Duke Aiona

“It does get monotonous,” said Ige. “And you can’t blame the hosts of the forums, because a lot of the questions are the same questions that people are asking. The different organizations might have more specific issues that are higher priority in their mind, and they’ll ask those. But by and large 80 percent of the forums cover the same ground over and over again. And I think that’s a challenge.”

There has also been a mixed record with turnout, with some attracting a few dozen and others packing rooms. Aiona pointed to a Chamber of Commerce of Hawaii forum at the Plaza Club Sept. 23.

“It was a pretty bad showing at the Plaza Club, a lot of empty tables,” he said. “I was a little disappointed. And if you take out the supporters and take out the press, and take out the sponsors, I think you would have had maybe 20 people.”

Aiona added, “Let’s just be honest. It’s so apathetic out there. I’m hoping that it will catch. But you know what? I don’t think it’s catching at all. And I’m really sad about that.”

The four gubernatorial before the start of forum at UH West Oahu presented by the West Oahu Economic Development Association, left to right are Duke Aiona, Republican Party, Jeff Davis, Libertarian Party, Mufi Hannemann, Independent Party,  Sen. David Ige, Democratic Party on August 26, 2014

The West Oahu Economic Development Association forum at UH West Oahu, Aug. 26.

PF Bentley/Civil Beat

‘Whether It’s 30 or 300, It’s Important’

Hannemann had a different take on whether there has been a satisfactory turnout.

“You know, it depends,” he said. “Obviously, the television ones, there may be no one in the studio, but there are some eyeballs out there. Those are always good. But to me, I’ve always taken the position that, whether it’s 30 people — maybe the minimum I ever saw — or 300, it’s important. Because everyone’s a voter.”

Hannemann compared a politician showing up to forums and debates to being an entertainer.

“It’s my job, whether it’s 20 or 200, I’m going to give them a good show,” he said, recalling the advice of his brother, Nephi Hannemann. “So, that’s my feeling. Whether it’s 30 or 300, you’ve got to go out there. Because I think they’ll see the disrespect when you don’t go.”

“I can understand not being in a debate, but it is my civil right to enter a public property to tell them that they are out of control.” — Jeff Davis

The multiple forums and debates have also raised the question about who to invite. Davis, the Libertarian, has been invited to some events, rejected by others and, in some cases, showed up anyway and talked his way onto the dais.

Davis caused a mini-scene Oct. 15 at the Hawaii News Now and Honolulu Star-Advertiser debate at the University of Hawaii cancer center in Kakaako. Davis said he was stopped by security guards who he said had photos of him so they would know who he is.

“I can understand not being in a debate, but it is my civil right to enter a public property to tell them that they are out of control,” Davis told Civil Beat last week. “I am pissed.”

Davis said he filed a police report and is considering litigation.

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At the Laniakea YWCA on Oct. 8

Chad Blair/Civil Beat

Mark Platte, the news director at Hawaii News Now, believes the station made the right call in excluding Davis, noting that KITV-Civil Beat and KHON did the same.

Platte was informed by security that Davis had arrived and he spoke with him briefly before the debate.

“He was not invited to participate in the debate, so he wanted to come over, which was fine, except that I could not have him show up or walk through the open doors at the cancer center,” Platte told Civil Beat. “He complains his civil rights were violated — how? I do not know him well enough, but based on what I see, he is a bit of a loose cannon.”

Ige said he understands why Davis is disappointed that he has not been invited to all the forums, but he also said he understands that news agencies have to make calls on who to invite.

“I feel for Jeff Davis,” he said. “In the primary it was part of our strategy to get before more people. I can empathize with him. … But it does limit the questions that can be asked. That means fewer questions get asked. So, it’s a balancing act. It does change the nature of the forum or debate. It changes the interaction. “

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