Congresswoman Colleen Hanabusa seemed to pull back from some of the messages her gubernatorial campaign and supporters have put out in recent days attacking Gov. David Ige’s record on homelessness, rail funding and women during a wide-ranging discussion Wednesday evening.

The hourlong livestreamed event at Hawaii Pacific University touched on super PACs, housing and living wages, among other issues.

The latest installment in Civil Beat’s “Know Your Candidates” series came hours after Hanabusa’s campaign emailed supporters with a request for donations alongside a statement from House Majority Leader Della Au Belatti that took Ige to task for an ad in which he says “criticism isn’t leadership.”

Congresswoman Colleen Hanabusa said she would have found a way to reach the media and inform the public about the false missile alert much more quickly than Gov. David Ige did. Anthony Quintano/Civil Beat

Belatti called that a “flat-out double standard,” and said in the email that “women who speak up for what’s right are too often told to sit down and shut up.”

When asked if Ige is actually telling women to “sit down and shut up,” Hanabusa responded, “It’s Della’s words, not my words.”

The Race For Governor

Civil Beat’s Chad Blair noted the accusation is on Hanabusa’s campaign website as well, and asked her to provide an example of Ige demeaning women.

She offered that she was accused of being too critical of his administration.

“Do I feel that women have had a difficult time? I do feel that,” Hanabusa said, adding that being critical is part of leadership.

“I don’t understand why someone who’s been governor for four years can’t stand the heat,” she said.

Ige’s campaign has accused Hanabusa of criticizing without providing specifics of what she would actually do if elected governor.

Hanabusa shared a few more specifics during Wednesday’s event that built on some of the biggest issues she’s criticized, such as Ige’s handling of the false missile alert in January, his objection to legal encampments or “ohana zones” to address homelessness and his openness to making permanent the half-percent general excise tax surcharge for the rail project.

Hanabusa, who chaired the Honolulu Authority for Rapid Transportation before returning to Congress in 2016, said she opposes an indefinite extension of the tax surcharge.

In an email blast to supporters Tuesday, Hanabusa hammered Ige for saying during a PBS debate that “he would support an ‘indefinite’ extension of the general excise tax (GET) for the Honolulu Rail Project.”

But a review of the debate shows that Ige said “it was an option” that he would consider to extend the Honolulu rail line to Waikiki and the University of Hawaii’s Manoa campus. The project is being built now to go 20 miles from Kapolei to Ala Moana Center.

Hanabusa acknowledged that she did hear him say it was an option, not something he would definitely do, but that her point was that it is something she would not even consider.

She said she is not mischaracterizing his remarks in posting on her campaign website that “Ige would extend the Rail tax ‘indefinitely’ – Colleen would absolutely not.”

Civil Beat politics and opinion editor Chad Blair interviewed U.S. Rep. Colleen Hanabusa at the “Know Your Candidates” event Wednesday. Anthony Quintano/Civil Beat

Hanabusa handled the tough questions comfortably, never getting flustered or visibly irritated. The audience of a few dozen people who watched live in the conference room at Aloha Tower applauded her remarks at times and listened attentively.

When asked how she would have handled the missile alert — a critical campaign point from the beginning of her run for governor — Hanabusa said she would have called the media much faster to help them get the word out to the public about it being a false alarm.

She did not buy Ige’s excuse that the phone lines were busy at news stations.

“You get to the media,” she said. “You make the calls to the stations and you make the announcement.”

Be Change Now, a super PAC funded by the Hawaii Regional Council of Carpenters, has put out an attack ad called “38 Minutes,” criticizing how long it took to retract the false alarm.

Hanabusa noted that super PACs can spend unlimited amounts of money trying to influence an election but cannot coordinate with any candidate’s campaign.

She said she was OK with the “38 Minutes” ad and others as long as they are factual.

“In this case, they are expressing their First Amendment right,” Hanabusa said.

She was also pressed to explain her contention that statistics showing homelessness is decreasing in Hawaii were “dubious,” as she states on her campaign website.

The annual point-in-time count has found homelessness to have gone down by 9.6 percent during Ige’s three-plus years as governor, which he highlights in his campaign for re-election.

Hanabusa said that was not a “dubious statistic” but added that it “feels” like the homelessness problem is not getting better and that it “depends on who counts” and where.

“We feel that it’s being swept from one place to the other,” Hanabusa said.

She provided more details on what she would do to move quickly on the $30 million that the Legislature appropriated for “ohana zones,” essentially a designated safe area for homeless to take shelter. Her first priority would be finding appropriate sites that are near services.

Regarding living wages, Hanabusa said she would push for a $5 an hour increase to the state’s $10.10 minimum wage, but was not sure how fast that could happen. Historically, the Legislature has approved incremental increases.

With the primary less than three weeks away, polling has shown a tight race between Hanabusa and Ige. She has upped her participation in public events recently and will be debating the governor Thursday morning during the Hawaii Conservation Conference at the Hawaii Convention Center in Honolulu.

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.

Help power our public service journalism

As a local newsroom, Civil Beat has a unique public service role in times of crisis.

That’s why we’re committed to a paywall-free website and subscription-free content, so we can get vital information out to everyone, from all communities.

We are deploying a significant amount of our resources to covering the Maui fires, and your support ensures that we can pivot when these types of emergencies arise.

Make a gift to Civil Beat today and help power our nonprofit newsroom.

About the Author