Gov. Neil Abercrombie and Sen. David Ige sparred over several issues, with both men trying to take credit for the state's successes and blaming the other for failures, in a debate between the two Democratic gubernatorial candidates on Hawaii News Now.
Ige challenged Abercrombie on public schools. "Across the board, principals are saying that they've lost autonomy that more and more decisions are being made by the state board and the state department, and they don't believe they can make the decisions to move the school board forward," he said.
"First we say public employees aren't doing their job, now we're saying that the Board of Education isn't doing its job," Abercrombie responded.
Abercrombie also defended his decision to appoint Brian Schatz to replace the late U.S. Sen. Daniel Inouye, who had asked that Rep. Colleen Hanabusa succeed him.
"Many have said after so many years of dedicated service to the people of Hawaii, how can a simple request be ignored?" asked Ige.
"It only makes sense that for him to say what he would like to see done, but in the end he realized and indicated directly to me that as governor, I had to make the best decision," said Abercrombie.
"Gov. Abercrombie was trying to show that he was calm and confident and in charge, and of course Sen. Ige kept saying the same thing he's been saying throughout the campaign, which is that his administration lacks leadership," said University of Hawaii political science professor Colin Moore.
Ige used the phrase "lack of leadership" several times during the debate. We asked Moore if the strategy works.
"He clearly thinks its going to work. And I think the challenge for him in this debate, one that perhaps he really didn't meet this time was to articulate a different vision from Gov. Abercrombie," said Moore.
There were other heated moments during the debate, including an exchange over the troubled Hawaii Health Connector.
"The legislature legislates. The executive executes. And this is a failure to execute," said Ige.
"In other words, the legislature created the Health Connector. All I can do is execute what the legislature tells me to do," Abercrombie responded.
The debate's format did not include time limits for candidate responses, and was designed so that they could have more freedom to speak. But some viewers complained that Abercrombie talked too much.
"Well, he certainly spoke more than the senator did," said Moore. "That may be something that turns the voters off, and it may look like he's dominating the conversation, that he's not giving the senator enough time to articulate his own views."
Did Ige think he got less time to speak? "I did, but I think it's really more the quality of the words rather than the quantity of words. I felt that I had an opportunity to respond and I was able to get my points in," he said.
This is the last scheduled televised debate before the primary election, just 30 days away. "I am disappointed that this is the last televised debate," said Ige. "I believe the people of Hawaii deserve to see candidates side by side more and more frequently."
Abercrombie noted that there are other, non-televised forums scheduled before the election. "We're going to be on the road elsewhere in the state over the next 30 days and give everybody an opportunity to make a judgment," he said.