Congressional candidates trade barbs in debate
• Photo gallery: Congressional debate
By Curtis Lum
Advertiser Staff Writer
The top three candidates in the special election for Congress took their best shots at each other in a spirited televised debate last night at the Neal Blaisdell Exhibition Hall.
Former U.S. Rep. Ed Case and state Senate President Colleen Hanabusa, both Democrats, took the stage with City Councilman Charles Djou for the 90-minute event. The debate was sponsored by the Office of Hawaiian Affairs, Hawaii News Now and The Honolulu Advertiser.
With less than three weeks to go before the results of the winner-take-all election to fill the seat vacated by Neil Abercrombie are announced, each candidate took the opportunity to sell themselves to the voters and also to knock their opponents.
Case highlighted his moderate political views and experience in Congress. Hanabusa emphasized her accomplishments in the Senate and local ties. Djou pushed his fiscal conservative ideas and repeatedly reminded people that he is the only one of the three who lives in the 1st Congressional District in urban Honolulu and can vote for himself.
The debate featured questions from a panel of three, as well as from viewers via e-mail. The candidates answered questions about the Akaka bill, ceded land revenue owed to OHA, and their positions on the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.
But the highlight of the evening came when the candidates were allowed to question each other. That often led to heated verbal sparring, particularly between Djou and Case.
Djou accused Case of putting ambition ahead of principle because he said Case ran for four different elected offices in six years. Case countered that Djou was in the state House for just two years before running for the City Council.
In one exchange, Djou accused Case of not being the environmentalist he claim- ed to be because he wasn't present when former first lady Laura Bush ceremoniously proclaimed the Northwestern Hawaiian Islands Marine National Monument marine protected area in 2007. He said Case did nothing beyond introducing the measure.
"(Case) indeed did not even show up at the signing of this measure when first lady Laura Bush came to Hawai'i," Djou said.
Case said he introduced the measure that created the monument and worked tirelessly with the Bush administration to get the measure passed.
"I was at the White House when the monument was designated , standing behind President Bush," Case told Djou. "It was designated by a signing by President Bush. Laura Bush was not the president."
When asked by panelist Dan Boylan whether taxes should be raised to fund the two wars, Djou said no.
"The best way to reduce expenditures is for us to succeed in Iraq and Afghanistan," Djou said. "We have got to win, stabilize these countries and get out."
Case chuckled and said he "enjoys" listening to Djou because he said Djou has quick, easy answers to complex issues.
"It must be nice that everything is so simple," Case said. "I don't look at government being simple. Tough decisions come at you all the time."
While the two were sparring, Hanabusa also took a few jabs at her two opponents.
Hanabusa accused Case of misrepresenting support for him on his website by John Mink, husband of the late Congresswoman Patsy Mink. She also said Djou has failed to present details on how he would privatize the Medicare and Social Security systems.
Hanabusa criticized Djou for saying he's against insider politics and accepting support from sources outside the state, but yet she said he's doing just that in this campaign.
"You seem to be supported by the Republican National Committee and other insiders from Washington," she said to Djou. "How do you explain your discrepancy between your statements, first criticizing the Democrats and yet taking so much from the Republicans."
The apparent "ganging up" on Djou came one day after a new Hawai'i Poll showed that the Republican was leading Case by 8 percentage points and Hanabusa by 14 percentage points. Political experts believe Case and Hanabusa are splitting the Democrat vote, clearing the way for Djou.
When asked to sum up his reaction to the poll in one word, Djou said, "Nice."
Djou last night also received a rousing endorsement from Gov. Linda Lingle, who was asked to evaluate the debate following a TV break. The Republican governor drew applause from the Djou supporters and moans from the Case and Hanabusa camps when she said the public is "behind (Djou) because they want someone new and someone fresh."
Lingle also took the opportunity to criticize the Legislature and she characterized the recently completed session as "the worst legislative session on record during my time in office."
The special election to fill Abercrombie's seat is the state's largest mail-in race. Ballots were mailed to more than 300,000 voters on O'ahu; they must be received by the elections office by May 22.