KAKAAKO, OAHU (HawaiiNewsNow) - The final televised gubernatorial debate before November's general election produced no major gaffes but did have a fairly clear winner and loser Wednesday, according to a political analyst.
The three candidates frequently avoided direct answers to University of Hawaii students' questions during the hour and a half debate broadcast live from the UH Cancer Center in Kakaako. Hawaii News Now and the Honolulu Star-Advertiser sponsored the debate.
The candidates got most heated when they questioned each other.
Former Honolulu Mayor Mufi Hannemann, the independent candidate for governor, said problems in Hawaii have gotten worse during Democrat David Ige's time in the legislature, with the highest electricity costs in the country and continuing problems in the public school system.
"How can we be assured that if you couldn't do the job for 29 years as a legislator that you can fix our problems in four years as the governor when you're going to a bigger and greater job?" Hannemann asked Ige.
"It's hard to be a leader because it's about making things work," said Ige, a longtime state senator who chairs the Senate ways and means committee.
"It's about getting consensus with your colleagues. It's about being able to legislation passed. I'm running for governor because I know I can't do it as a legislator. I have to be governor to make these things work," Ige added.
Ige then asked a pointed question of Republican Duke Aiona, who served as lieutenant governor under Gov. Linda Lingle from 2002 to 2010.
"You gave us furlough Fridays, you withheld tax refunds from you the taxpayer and you just stopped paying bills. How do you decide when to support and standby Governor Lingle and when to say you were just an observer and had no input?" Ige asked Aiona.
"Why aren't you asking these questions to Governor Lingle as opposed to me?" Aiona countered. "It would be just as incumbent on me to say right now that your administration is going to be just like the Abercrombie-Tsutsui administration because Shan Tsutsui is your lieutenant governor."
UH Political Science professor Colin Moore, Hawaii News Now's political analyst, said Hannemann was the strongest debater.
"He has a real talent for getting his points out there quickly, connecting in this case with the students and comparing and contrasting his views with the other candidates," Moore said.
And who was the weakest?
"Senator Ige does struggle to get his view out in the time limit," Moore said. "I think he likes to talk about details. He's a very detail-oriented person which is part of his strength, but it makes it more difficult to debate."
Ige, who has admitted he's not a strong debater, actually forgot one of the questions Wednesday night, halfway through his answer. He also said he didn't know much about agriculture and admitted he never traveled much to the neighbor islands until the last year when he started running for governor.
Moore said all three candidates frequently dodged the students' questions, which covered UH tuition, the power of public unions, the environment and dealing with poverty.
"Instead of really addressing the issues, they returned to their talking points," Moore said.
The most comical moment of the evening came when Hawaii News Now anchor Keahi Tucker asked the lieutenant governor candidates to reveal a little-known fact about their running mate.
Republican lieutenant governor candidate Elwin Ahu disclosed that Aiona "can't dance," a remark that brought a brief moment of laughter to the debate.