Seven candidates offered in broad strokes their vision and priorities — and occasionally revealed some of their quirks — during the first major event of Hawaii’s 2018 gubernatorial race Friday.
The candidates event was sponsored by the Council for Native Hawaiian Advancement and generally centered on Native Hawaiian issues.
Each candidate got a different mix of several questions, chosen from a larger list of 35. They covered education, housing, health and the environment. Here’s a rundown of what they said:
Several candidates, including the House minority leader, were asked why state leaders spend $80 million annually on the Hawaii Tourism Authority but say they don’t have enough funds for other constitutionally mandated needs such as water and natural resource management, and Hawaiian homesteads.
Tupola, like most of the candidates, didn’t delve into specifics — but she did say the state does have enough cash. It all depends on priorities, and state leaders need to scrap their longstanding “mentality of scarcity” for a “mentality of abundance,” she said.
She further pledged not to raise taxes as governor.
She expressed a desire to cut into the 22,000-person wait list for Hawaiian homesteads and issue thousands of leases during her tenure — but she also said the program should set realistic goals and only promise what it can deliver.
Tupola said she’s not running for re-election for her Leeward coast House district because she “can’t keep doing this and be OK that we’re not fixing the system.”
“As you know I’m a music teacher, and I’m way out of my comfort zone,” an emotional Tupola told the audience. “But everything inside me tells me this is what I have to do right now.”
Asked about HTA, the Navy veteran and former sugar manager from Hawaii Island called the authority “a joke.” Ka’ehu’ae’a lambasted HTA for refusing to pay mixed-martial arts promoter UFC a $6 million fee so that champion fighter Max Holloway, a Waianae native, could compete in front of a hometown crowd at Aloha Stadium.
HTA regularly spent nearly that much to host the NFL’s Pro Bowl at Aloha Stadium, Ka’ehu’ae’a noted. “I get a chance, I would terminate all of them,” he said of HTA officials.
Ka’ehu’ae’a said he wants to see Hawaiian homestead beneficiaries have more say over how they can use their lands, and state workers to get their full paychecks without deductions for union dues.
Hawaii’s governor faces an uphill climb for re-election, recent polling shows, but Ige told the forum that he’s the only candidate who can talk about what he’s done, versus what he’s promised.
He also said he doesn’t make decisions based on special interests or “secret deals” — an apparent swipe at his toughest opponent so far, Congresswoman Colleen Hanabusa, who’s been endorsed by top legislative leaders.
As a state legislator, Ige said he served as vice-chair of the Hawaiian Affairs Committee that helped draft the state’s water code, which provides access to water for homesteads. He said that he’s been a strong supporter of Hawaiian language immersion programs in public schools.
Ige also said he’s the state’s first governor to have his cabinet members trained in their constitutional obligations to uphold the Native Hawaiian Trust.
The debate’s moderators said that Hawaiian artists are grossly underrepresented in the state’s public arts collections, representing about 4 percent of the works. Ige said he would work with the State Foundation on Culture and the Arts officials to remedy that.
He also called for “pu’uhonua” — modeled substance rehabilitation programs that reflect the islands’ traditional cultural practices.
Ige said he’s looked for ways to accelerate Hawaiian Homestead leases and make sure those eligible can accept them. Often they’re not accepted because those eligible don’t approve of the location, they don’t have a down payment, or they can’t qualify financially.
Notably, moderators did not ask Ige about the controversies surrounding the proposed Thirty Meter Telescope on Mauna Kea. They did ask other candidates.
The former state senator delivered most of his opening remarks in Hawaiian. He said he relies on his constituents for input, and that the “wealth of intelligence isn’t located between my left pepeiao (ear) and my right pepeiao” — it comes from the community.
Asked what he would do about the state’s brain drain, in which recent college graduates and skilled workers leave Hawaii, Hee said that the owners of the proposed Thirty Meter Telescope should further “open their wallets” to help solve the issue by funding college tuition for public students.
“As governor, I would be the can opener to open their wallets,” he said.
Hee called Oahu’s rail project a “financial blight” siphoning funding that could be used instead to fight the worsening effects of climate change. He further called for a state lottery and to legalize “adult” use of marijuana, as several Western states have already done, to raise more revenues.
Government needs to think outside the box — and “it’s not a big box,” Hee said.
A recent Honolulu Star-Advertiser poll gave the congresswoman an approximately 20-point lead over Ige, and in her remarks before an audience of mostly Hawaiian constituents, the 1st Congressional District representative seemed to play it safe.
All of the candidates agreed that if elected they would participate in a February policy summit with forum organizers, along with their eventual cabinet members. Only Hanabusa qualified that she couldn’t be certain her cabinet would be confirmed by the Legislature by February. “That’s the lawyer in me,” she quipped.
Hanabusa was the only major candidate to mention the death of former U.S. Sen. Daniel Akaka, the first Hawaiian elected to that chamber. “Who will be there” to represent Hawaiians? she asked.
Hanabusa said her record on Hawaiian issues is well-known. She studies the matters carefully, and her “views have evolved over time,” she said.
On the Thirty Meter Telescope, Hanabusa said she voted for the project in 2010 as the state Senate’s president as an effort that could help during a sluggish economy. She said the project hasn’t been executed properly, but didn’t go into detail.
Hanabusa played up her legal acumen, explaining how the Department of Hawaiian Home Lands relates to the constitution and supersedes Hawaii’s state statutes.
“I really have studied it,” Hanabusa said. “That’s my job.”
Asked what he could do as governor to help prepare the Pacific region for climate change impacts, Carroll said he “didn’t have anything he could say that makes sense to me.”
Carroll blasted the approved Hoopili home development on West Oahu, which he said would wipe out agricultural production while putting greater strains for water on the island.
He said he’s also worried about pesticides and herbicides flowing into the ocean. The Department of Land Management “is going to be very very busy if I am governor, I can tell you.”
Carroll said he would also survey all state government personnel so that “if they do not appear to be something that’s useful and worth the money they’re going to be abolished.”
“The good die young and I figure I can go at least 35 years at that,” Carroll quipped.
The Kalihi native said he’s running because “in Hawaii, the aina is sick, the people are sick.”
He pointed to “greed and corruption going around,” and he specifically cited the development boom in Kakaako. “We cannot afford to live in places like this anymore.”
Carvalho said the state could reduce its shortage of physicians by paying for their education and requiring them to practice locally for the first 10 years of their career.
Carvalho said the state needs more behavioral health facilities to help former inmates transitioning out of prison.
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