Wednesday was the first time I saw the five leading candidates for Hawaii’s 1st Congressional District office all in the same room.

It came on the same day the Civil Beat Poll showed how each is faring in the race to replace U.S. Rep. Colleen Hanabusa, who is running for governor.

My main takeaway from the forum, sponsored by the Chamber of Commerce Hawaii and held at The Plaza Club downtown, is that none of the candidates did poorly.

State Rep. Kaniela Ing Anthony Quintano/Civil Beat

They actually agreed on a number of topics — paid family leave, for example, although they differed on who should pay for it; and a higher minimum wage — and generally did not have nice things to say about President Donald Trump.

State Rep. Kaniela Ing called the president a “misogynist bigot,” for example, while Honolulu City Council Chairman Ernie Martin said Trump was like a quarterback who tells the team in the huddle to run left but then runs right during the actual play.

“He is so unpredictable,” said Martin. “It is very difficult to know which way our country is headed.”

In brief, here’s what each candidate had to say about themselves and why we should vote for them:

Lt. Gov. Doug Chin Anthony Quintano/Civil Beat

Lt. Gov. Doug Chin said he is the son of immigrants who valued hard work, studying and giving back to the community. He described his work as attorney general as “facing down” Trump through lawsuits, especially against the administration’s travel ban for immigrants from mostly Muslim countries. Chin said that that was something that set him apart from his opponents and would help him serve Hawaii in Congress.

State Sen. Donna Mercado Kim said Hawaii would benefit from her 35 years in public service and her history of holding government agencies accountable “for our tax dollars.” She comes from a humble upbringing in Kalihi-Palama, where her mom was a waitress and her dad a carpenter in a family of seven that did not have running water. Kim reminded the audience that she had run a small business, and she promised to be “a fighter” for Hawaii and “a warrior” for working families in Congress.

Honolulu City Council Chairman Ernie Martin Anthony Quintano/Civil Beat

Councilman Ernie Martin had modest beginnings, too — one of nine kids raised in public housing in a family whose patriarch is a military veteran. The fact that Martin is now the longest-serving council chair, he said, is testament to his skills and understanding of government. His favorite saying: “Where there is crisis, there is opportunity.”

State Rep. Kaniela Ing apologized in his opening remarks for any mistakes he may have made in past state House races. (He was referring to allegations of misusing campaign funds.) But Ing, too, has modest origins: He was only 11 when his father died and he worked in the pineapple fields of Maui to help his mother pay the the family bills. He is a Kamehameha Schools graduate who knocked off a Republican in his first House race after knocking on 15,000 doors.

State Rep. Beth Fukumoto said she got involved in politics because so many people of her young generation struggle to make a living. The former Republican running for the first time as a Democrat said that the people in power have “lost touch” with how so many in Hawaii are challenged economically, and so she has devoted her career to fighting “the status quo.” Hawaii, she said, should send a “revolutionary” like herself to Washington.

State Sen. Donna Mercado Kim Anthony Quintano/Civil Beat

The forum, moderated by John Hart, chairman of the Department of Communication at Hawaii Pacific University, allowed for no rebuttal or other opportunity for candidates to challenge one another. So there were no fireworks.

Generally speaking, each candidate was critical of the Trump tax cuts because they mostly benefitted the wealthy and corporations; each is worried about Hawaii’s defense and sustainability in the Trump era of ditching trade arrangements and ripping up international agreements; and all are committed to a healthy environment that undergirds the state’s tourism industry.

They also shared microphones, as The Plaza’s PA system kept crapping out.

Hart asked the candidates how they spend their free time.

State Rep. Beth Fukumoto Anthony Quintano/Civil Beat

Chin: He jogs, he’s got two dogs, he loves to stay at home with his wife and read.

Fukumoto: She “decompresses” at home, spends time helping raise a 10-year-old niece, and loves her sister and parents.

Ing: He likes to surf, play basketball and play guitar, but every free moment these days is spent with his 2-year-old son.

Kim: “Free time? What’s that?” she asked. The senator is a caregiver for her mom, spends time serving on various community boards and — when she can — bakes cookies and pies.

Martin: He keeps Sundays for the family, including his 94-year-old father. Martin does all the cooking, and he refrains from talking politics.

One other note about Martin: He said he rarely smiles because he grew up in public housing where, if one smiled, one got bullied.

The return of comments: Join Civil Beat political editor Chad Blair and reporter Nathan Eagle for a live discussion of  poll results on Friday from 9 to 11 a.m. We’ll be accepting — and moderating — comments in a new live chat format you can find on our home page Friday.

Thoughts on this or any other story? Write a Letter to the Editor. Send to and put Letter in the subject line. 200 words max. You need to use your name and city and include a contact phone for verification purposes. And you can still comment on stories on our Facebook page.

About the Author