Trailing by a wide margin in the polls, Republican state Rep. Andria Tupola had nothing to lose going into her final televised debate Monday night against Democratic Gov. David Ige.
Her answers were polished for the most part, and she was clearly more in her element than Ige fielding questions on more than a dozen issues from KITV anchor Paula Akana. But as the governor was quick to point out, Tupola didn’t answer all of them.
She hammered Ige for wanting to raise taxes to fund certain programs when she said state departments should instead look for efficiencies and ways to cut fat.
She didn’t specify what tax increase she was talking about, but in the past has criticized Ige for supporting a proposed constitutional amendment allowing the state to levy property taxes to help fund schools. The ballot measure has been invalidated by the Supreme Court.
Ige, while less articulate, highlighted the accomplishments of his first four-year term — building thousands of homes, cooling classrooms and reducing homelessness, though Tupola questioned his numbers.
He called out Tupola for not answering a question, a simple yes or no on her support for a possible state lottery. (Ige said he opposed a lottery.)
She also dodged questions related to her running mate and President Donald Trump.
Asked twice, Tupola would not say if she agreed with Trump calling the media a “true enemy” of the people after bombs were sent to CNN and the homes of prominent Democrats and Jews died in a mass shooting at a synagogue in Pittsburgh.
She said the nation needs a leader who can unite the people.
Ige described the media as the antidote to many of the problems facing the country by bringing transparency to issues.
Tupola also balked when asked if she would have chosen Marissa Kerns as her running mate for lieutenant governor. Kerns, who was elected independently as the GOP candidate in the primary, did not show up for the debate despite confirming she’d be there ahead of time, KITV’s Akana said during the event.
Update: Kerns later denied that she had been invited to the debate.
Tupola said she appreciates Kerns’ dedication to lowering the cost of living and fiscal accountability.
Ige said he is looking forward to working with his running mate, state Sen. Josh Green, and would lean on him for those issues he feels most passionate about. Green said that as a medical doctor, he would want to focus on reducing chronic homelessness and opioid addiction.
Tupola described herself as a “different type of Republican” when asked if it was hard being a member of the minority party in Hawaii. She’s one of just five Republicans in the 76-member Legislature.
“When you run as a Republican in Hawaii, you cannot be average. You have to be amazing,” she said.
She said that as a House member she has held domestic violence conferences, emergency preparedness fairs, town halls and other events in her westside Oahu district.
Tupola said too often in Hawaii, Democrats get complacent because they face no challenge in getting re-elected.
Ige said he’s a proud Democrat and would continue to work with the Legislature to pass his initiatives, which include trying to double the amount of locally grown food and making the state carbon neutral.
Top leaders in the House and Senate supported his former opponent, Congresswoman Colleen Hanabusa, during the primary. But Ige noted Monday he has worked with them for many years, including during his time as a state senator, and would continue to do so.
“They’ve passed more than 90 percent of my budget and more than 90 percent of my initiatives,” he said.
Tupola took Ige to task for acting too slowly to address longstanding issues, including the state’s massive cesspool problem and threats from sea level rise.
“The reality is we haven’t taken any real steps,” she said. “What our state desperately needs right now is less career politicians, more common sense.”
Ige pointed at the efforts his administration has taken to hold community meetings to consider what the state should do to help tens of thousands of residents convert their cesspools into systems less apt to pollute the water.
During his tenure, the state also released a report on the threats the islands face from rising seas and what solutions should be considered.
Ige has dominated Tupola in polling, leading by 21 percentage points in the latest Civil Beat Poll earlier this month.
Tupola gave Ige “somewhere between a D and C” when asked to grade his first term.
Ige gave himself a B. He said his administration has done well so far, laying out a blueprint for public education and building more affordable homes.
“I know that we can do better,” he said, adding that he looks forward to furthering his initiatives in a second term.
Watch the debate in its entirety:
Stay Up To Date On The Coronavirus And Other Hawaii Issues
Not a subscription
Civil Beat is a small nonprofit newsroom, and we’re committed to a paywall-free website and subscription-free content because we believe in journalism as a public service.
That’s why donations from readers like you are essential to our continued existence.
Help keep our journalism free for all readers by becoming a monthly member of Civil Beat today.