Hawaii’s top candidates for the 1st Congressional District found common ground on the Jones Act and the Honolulu rail project but disagreed about marijuana legalization and Native Hawaiian sovereignty during a forum Friday hosted by the Grassroot Institute of Hawaii.
Former Democratic Congressman Ed Case and former Republican state Rep. Cam Cavasso were also divided over whether U.S. Sen. Mazie Hirono should have told men across the country last week to “shut up and step up” in regards to sexual assault.
Her remarks came in response to the sexual assault allegations against President Donald Trump’s Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh. The Senate Judiciary Committee, which Hirono sits on, voted Friday along partisan lines to send the appointment on to a vote by the full Senate pending an FBI investigation.
Case, who has known Hirono for decades and lost two tough elections to her, said he would not “prejudge her” on this issue.
“I have never doubted her sincerity and I have never walked in her shoes,” he said.
Cavasso said the situation surrounding Kavanaugh’s appointment is a national disgrace, lamenting a world where a person is now guilty until proven innocent.
“It’s crazy,” he said. “(Hirono) is entirely out of order.”
The question came up at the end of the forum when the audience was allowed to ask the candidates about issues. A few dozen people attended the luncheon.
Keli’i Akina, president of the Grassroot Institute, a libertarian-leaning nonprofit, moderated the event.
On issues like the Honolulu rail project, which is a few billion dollars over budget, Cavasso and Case agreed that it’s too late to scrap it. Instead, they said there needs to be increased focus on controlling costs and finishing as fast as possible.
The candidates also both see the federal Jones Act as a contributor to Hawaii’s high cost of living. They want to see it reformed, with possible exemptions carved out for Hawaii. The law requires any cargo shipped between domestic ports to be aboard U.S.-built and U.S.-owned vessels with at least 75 percent American crews.
Cavasso, a financial adviser, and Case, a senior vice president with Outrigger Hotels Hawaii, diverged on legalizing recreational marijuana.
Cavasso was adamantly against it, saying the country already has an opioid epidemic on its hands.
“It’s taking a chance,” he said, adding that he believes marijuana use leads to other drugs.
Case supported letting states continue “to experiment” with legalization. He said the federal government should not continue to list it as a Schedule 1 drug alongside heroin and cocaine.
The candidates also differed on Native Hawaiian sovereignty.
Case said he supports a direct relationship between Native Hawaiians and the federal government, something akin to what American Indian tribes have on the mainland.
“Native Hawaiians are better off if they exercise autonomy over a limited scope of their own affairs,” he said.
Cavasso opposes a Hawaiian nation and said it’s not in the best interest of Native Hawaiians to be given a similar classification as American Indians. He quoted King Kamehameha III as saying, “we are all one blood.”
Asked how they would reform the health insurance marketplace, Case said the Affordable Care Act, known as Obamacare, had made solid accomplishments in ensuring coverage of up to 40 million previously uninsured people while restricting the ability of health insurers to deny coverage based on pre-existing conditions.
He said the program’s rollout was rough but it should not be jettisoned. Instead, he said it needs to be fixed by giving states more flexibility to adapt to their own unique situations.
Cavasso, who supported Trump’s positions on issues throughout the forum, said Obamacare hurt the country. He said he wants to let doctors design their own system.
Case bested six other Democratic candidates in the Aug. 11 primary, including four lawmakers and the lieutenant governor. Cavasso handily beat his sole Republican opponent.
Heading into the general election Nov. 6, Case is considered a heavy favorite with stronger name recognition and more fundraising abilities.
Case loaned his campaign $150,000 to kickstart it, being a late entry in a crowded primary field of Democrats. He raised another $200,000 from donors and spent almost all of it to help win the primary. He had $21,000 on hand as of July 22, the most recent filing period with the Federal Election Commission.
Case, a former state lawmaker, was first elected to Congress in a special election in 2002 to fill the seat of the late U.S. Rep. Patsy Mink. He won a full two-year term in 2004 but gave up his seat for an unsuccessful bid for the Senate in 2006. He lost a subsequent bid for Congress in 2010 and another bid for the Senate in 2012.
Cavasso, who lost his last three bids for a U.S. Senate seat, raised $23,000 for his congressional campaign and had spent just over $2,200 as of July 22. He had $20,900 on hand.
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