HILO — Barely 20 miles away from Hilo, Madame Pele is creeping toward Pahoa in Hawaii County’s Puna District. The latest prediction is that the lava flow will reach Highway 130 within two weeks, cutting off the vast region’s main road.

How, then, would David Ige, Duke Aiona and Mufi Hannemann address the crisis if they were governor?

All three candidates on Thursday assured an audience in Hilo’s Sangha Hall that, while counties take the lead for disaster preparation and recovery, the state plays a critical role. All three recently visited the Puna area and spoke with residents and community leaders.

David Ige, Duke Aiona and Mufi Hannemann candidates for governor.

Hawaii gubernatorial candidates, from left, David Ige, Duke Aiona and Mufi Hannemann.

PF Bentley/Civil Beat

Ige, the Democrat, said the Abercrombie administration — which includes Ige’s running mate, Lt. Gov. Shan Tsutsui — did the right thing in issuing executive orders to help Mayor Billy Kenoi do what he needs to do to ensure that a transportation route is established and that essential services are protected.

Hannemann, the independent, said his plan for a Council of Leaders featuring the governor and the four county mayors would facilitate collaboration between the governments in the event of any disaster. He noted that as Honolulu mayor he was closely involved in civil defense and emergency management. His connections in Washington, D.C., would, he said, help him get federal aid.

And Aiona, the Republican, said he had the privilege as lieutenant governor of helping Gov. Linda Lingle, who was on the Big Island when a major earthquake struck in 2006. His immediate concern would be that all the necessary parties are in communication — something he believes is currently the case for Pahoa — and that the federal government be involved in the longer term if lava blocks off the highway.

Hawaii Island Chamber gov forum 10.9.2014

Thursday night’s gubernatorial forum was held at Sangha Hall in Hilo .

Chad Blair

The question about the state’s role in disasters underscored how, while a governor may be running to represent a fleet of islands, each one has its own unique challenges. That was an obvious theme at the gubernatorial forum, which was sponsored by the Hawaii Island Chamber of Commerce and a number of other groups.

Hilo voters, who live in a county where a smaller percentage of people have college degrees compared with the state average, wanted to hear what the candidates would do about education. They also wanted to know what the state would do about invasive species, especially little fire ants and coqui frogs. (The tiny yet vocal amphibians’ distinct ko-KEE cry was audible in the open-air hall.)

By now, the candidates have their stump speech down and have heard nearly every possible question voters and the media can throw at them.

They wanted the candidates to say what could be done about the Hawaii Health Systems Corporation, which is underfunded and has had layoffs, leaving the Big Island vulnerable because it has several of those hospitals.

And Hilo voters wanted to know where the candidates stood on cesspools — specifically, their positions on a draft plan by the state Department of Health that is “raising a stink among local real estate agents and builders,” according to the Hawaii Tribune-Herald. The proposed rules requiring that septic tank systems replace cesspools “could add $10,000 to the price of a new home and make buying and selling existing homes less affordable.”

LWV Hawaii County

The Hawaii County League of Women Voters passed out information on the five constitutional amendment questions.

Chad Blair/Civil Beat

Ige, Aiona and Hannemann were united on the cesspool mandate: They oppose it, saying it is not fair and is insensitive to local concerns.

By now, the candidates have their stump speech down and have heard nearly every possible question voters and the media can throw at them.

Each candidate once again answered why he is running for governor.

For Aiona, it’s to take the state in a “new direction,” one leading away from the disappointing tenure of Gov. Neil Abercrombie, who defeated Aiona in 2010. The Republican doesn’t like the way Hawaii has treated businesses, and there are too many taxes and fees. Mainly, he’s running because he believes it is his “calling” to do his best for his children and grandchildren.

Glenn Shiroma of Hilo

Glenn Shiroma was one of the many Hilo residents who shrugged off the muggy night to hear from the candidates.

For Ige, it’s also about the generations to come. As he said when he ran against — and then handily defeated — Abercrombie in the primary, he hears from folks across the state that they feel disconnected from government, that they are not listened to. Ige will bring people together, he said; he’ll find common solutions.

After things ended, Hannemann asked the audience to give themselves a round for applause for having just spent “two hours to listen to three politicians.”

Hannemann wants voters to think of themselves as employers hiring a new leader for the state. He believes he is the employee — the candidate — with the most executive experience, and the best qualifications and track record. Hawaii needs someone with D.C. connections, now that Sen. Dan Inouye has passed on. And Hannemann knows the Asia-Pacific region, which is where Hawaii’s future lies.

As usual in a neighbor island appearance, the candidates made local references.

Ige, for example, explained how he had worked to fund a Hawaiian language program at the University of Hawaii at Hilo. Without a language, Ige said, there is no culture. Hannemann recalled fond memories of his time working for C. Brewer and running the Punaluu Sweetbread Shop.

Ige, Aiona, Hannemann in Hilo 10.9.2014

The candidates pose for photos after the two-hour forum.

Chad Blair/Civil Beat

Despite their difference on many issues, they also agree on some things. For one, there will never again be Furlough Fridays — four-day school weeks to address budget constraints — as happened under Lingle.

All three men also want to fix the Hawaii Health Systems Corporation. Hannemann reminded the Hilo audience that he was the first of the candidates to propose a new model to fix the HHSC, one relying on public-private partnerships.

Forum moderator Sherry Bracken of LAVA 105.3 and Hawaii Public Radio kept things rolling along for the two-hour forum. Libertarian candidate Jeff Davis, who has not been invited to some debates, was not present.

Next up for Ige, Aiona and Hannemann: a candidate forum sponsored by the Kona-Kohala Chamber of Commerce. That’s Monday evening at Kealakehe High School.

If it is similar to the Hilo forum, it will be a long, muggy night.

After things ended, Hannemann asked the audience to give themselves a round for applause for having just spent “two hours to listen to three politicians.”

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