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Kona-Kohala Chamber of Commerce governor candidate forum

Gubernatorial candidates (from left) Mufi Hannemann, Daniel Cunningham, Tony Clapes, John Carroll and Neil Abercrombie, with moderator Sherry Bracken, at the forum Thursday, Aug. 26 at Kealakehe High School. (Hawaii 24/7 photo by Karin Stanton)

Karin Stanton | Hawaii 24/7 Contributing Editor

Five gubernatorial candidates had their chance to impress West Hawaii voters Thursday evening at a forum at Kealakehe High School. The slate of candidates included the two Democrat leaders, a Republican, a non-partisan candidate and Hilo’s own Free Energy Party nominee.

Predictably, Hannemann and Abercombie squared off on this election’s hot topics, while the other three candidates presented slightly different agendas.

Following the forum, a quick survey of some of the 300 attendees found most arrived with their minds made up, although they were interested to hear all the candidates. No-one, however, said anything they heard at the forum changed their votes or their opinions of the candidates.

Another governor forum at Kealakehe High School is slated for Oct. 14, after the primary election.

Here are some selected highlights, quotes and notes from the two-hour forum, which featured moderator Sherry Bracken asking the questions and the candidates having 90 seconds to reply:

* Top priorities

Carroll: Would start a class-action lawsuit to eliminate the Jones Act. (The Jones Act of 1917 requires cargo moving between U.S. ports travel on ships that are made, owned and crewed by Americans. It has long been criticized for stunting commerce and raising prices for Hawaii residents.) This would be a boost for local business and agriculture and help the economy without relying on government and tourism. Keep the islands’ environment pristine.

Cunningham: Institute a state-owned bank and publicly owned power companies. Diversify energy sources.

Clapes: Remake state government as a instrument of the people, make government more efficient, more open, easier to deal with and friendlier. “Right-size” or downsize government. Restructure the Department of Education so it deals only with state-level education issues.

Abercrombie: Start turning federal money into local paychecks. Work on food security and renewable energy to make Hawaii more sustainable and provide jobs. Invest in Hawaii’s human capital.

Hannemann: Get long-delayed Capital Improvement Projects started, including at Kona International Airport and Honokohau Harbor, to create jobs. Release education funds in a more timely fashion. Work toward a University of Hawaii West Hawaii campus. Focus on the environment.

* Creating jobs, especially on the Big Island

Hannemann: Move forward with the airport modernization plan, harbor improvements, and the Oahu rail project, which will create 4,000 construction jobs and 10,000 long-term jobs.

Abercrombie: Denounced job creation through the “imaginary rail system” and focus on areas that can grow on the Big Island. For example, capitalizing on the UH-Hilo College of Pharmacy and expanding health care employment opportunities.

Cunningham: Start a state-owned bank that can help fund construction jobs. “We’re headed for a cliff if we don’t do something drastic.”

Clapes: Everything revolves around education. With a good foundation, Hawaii students will have better opportunities.

Carroll: Eliminate the Jones Act, which will open agricultural shipping opportunities. “Agriculture should be No. 1.”

* Agriculture

Carroll: Eliminate the Jones Act. Currently, Hawaii cattle are shipped to British Columbia and trucked to Oregon and California. Take advantage of fiber optics communication and high-tech avenues to make Hawaii a center of trade and commerce.

Abercrombie: “If people aren’t making money farming, it’s gardening.” Farmers need business skills. Water is vital; repair and improve irrigation systems to lower costs. Use federal funds to support farmers.

Hannemann: Farmers farm, but need help with marketing. Department of Agriculture has been the “Rodney Dangerfield of this administration.” Joint effort between state and federal agencies to combat invasive species.

Cunningham: Agriculture depends on lowering electricity costs.

* Tourism

Cunningham: Depends on a healthy eco-system. State can’t be over-run by concrete. The mongoose needs to go.

Carroll: Keep costs and taxes down. Create extensive network of bike paths to promote eco-tourism. Take advantage of sporting activities; host national and international sporting events, such as the Pan American Games.

Hannemann: Build synergism between ag-tourism, cultural tourism, eco-tourism. Can’t just have tourism recovery on Oahu. It needs to be felt on the neighbor islands.

Clapes: The more successful tourism is, the more natural beauty is replaced by towers. For most people, it’s an option to visit, not a necessity. Take care of the natural resources.

Abercrombie: Understand why people come here, then invest and take care of it. Market Hawaii. Use the Transient Accommodation Tax to develop the infrastructure to benefit visitors and residents.


Carroll: Board of Education is emasculated, teachers are underpaid. Local councils should make management decisions.

Clapes: Local boards are needed to oversee individual schools. Teaching quality, by and large, is good. Problem lies in the bureaucracy.

Hannemann: Doesn’t matter whether superintendent is elected or appointed. Demand financial accountability.

Abercrombie: Education issues should not be confrontational. Superintendent should be a member of the governor’s cabinet. Authority should be given to teachers, staff and principals to achieve a high level of accountability. Governor should take personal responsibility for education system.

Cunningham: Take advantage of technology and Internet to boost home-schooling. Funds should go to the teachers who are doing the job.

* Raise the General Excise Tax?

Hannemann: No

Cunningham: No

Clapes: No

Carroll: Eliminate it

Abercrombie: No

* Civil Unions

Clapes: “It’s not proper for me to answer.” The matter is in the courts; wait for that decision.

Cunningham: We are all created equal. Solve the tax problem and it would solve the civil union problem.

Carroll: Against same-sex marriage. Supreme Court is likely to decide states must recognize other state’s unions.

Hannemann: Believes in sanctity of marriage between man and woman; civil unions tantamount. Willing to work on a bill that focuses on equal benefits.

Abercrombie: Marriage definition is not an issue. Believes in equality in benefits and protecting civil rights.

2 Responses to “Kona-Kohala Chamber of Commerce governor candidate forum”

  1. William Ing says:

    Very useful reporting, Karin. I don’t know whether you opted for this format because of deadline constraints, but I like this question-by-question, candidate-by-candidate breakdown. For me, it’s far more informative than, say, the typical, generalized-type reportage we usually get after a political forum. For example, see the Mufi/Neil-centric story turned in by WHT writer Erin Miller in this morning’s HTH and WHT.

    If nothing else, Karin’s story affords more even exposure for the responses of the “minor” candidates.

  2. Ohanawong says:

    Great job, Karin, of letting the candidates speak for themselves.


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