In debate, candidates for lieutenant governor point to their exp - Hawaii News Now - KGMB and KHNL

In debate, candidates for lieutenant governor point to their experience, priorities

The candidates for lieutenant governor are trying to convince voters they're the right choice for the job. (Image: Hawaii News Now) The candidates for lieutenant governor are trying to convince voters they're the right choice for the job. (Image: Hawaii News Now)
HONOLULU (HawaiiNewsNow) -

Some of Hawaii's most visible politicians are vying to become the state's next lieutenant governor.

And on Monday night, five of the top Democratic contenders took to the stage at Kamehameha Schools to make their case to voters.

The first question out of the gates for the candiates at HNN's Super Debate: "Taxpayers pay the Lt. Governor a six-figure salary and provide a full staff, office, travel and security — all for a job with little responsibility and no power. How will you define this job so the taxpayers will get their money's worth?"

To answer the question, several of the contenders pointed to their record.

State. Sen. Josh Green pointed to his hands-on experience "in the trenches," while state Sen. Jill Tokuda suggested giving the job more power if there are concerns that it doesn't have enough. Her suggestion: Make the lieutenant governor the chair of the Board of Education.

Kauai Mayor Bernard Carvalho, whose profile was raised during the response to the island's flooding disaster, said education and key partnerships are central to pushing Hawaii forward. 

"We've gone through a lot of things. But I have the ability to reach out and make the right decisions. I bring that experience, that aloha," he said.

The position of lieutenant governor has often been characterized as a political stepping stone with little real power.

In addition to providing a successor if the governor can't serve, the lieutenant governor administers things like deeds, name changes and public notices.

Tokuda, who lost her position as chair of the powerful Ways and Means Committee over funding Honolulu's rail project, also brings experience with schools as the Senate's education chair.

She said she'd be the best candidate able to work with the state's chief executive to get things done.

"We all win when we work together," she said.

Former state Sen. Will Espero has been a vocal watchdog of state and county law enforcement. He retired from his Ewa seat to run, and told attendees Monday that he brings out-of-the-box solutions to things like housing.

"I want to build affordable housing, especially tiny homes on Hawaiian homelands," he said, adding that reforms to corrections systems in Hawaii are overdue. 

And Green, from Hawaii Island, has brought the most money into the race and has the help of a political action committee tied to the carpenters union and construction industry.

He said that as lieutenant governor, he would "take ownership" of the state's homeless crisis and opioid epidemic.

Former school board member Kim Coco Iwamoto, the first transgender person elected to office in Hawaii, is running on a civil rights and ethics platform and said she would turn the Office of the Lieutenant Governor into a "people's office."

"People come first, not corporate interests," she said.

During the tail-end of the debate, candidates took on a number of rapid fire questions, which they had to answer in a sentence or less.

The first question they had to tackle: Gov. David Ige or U.S. Rep. Colleen Hanabusa — who would you prefer as boss?

None of the candidates picked either Ige or Hanabusa, saying they could work for either the current governor or his challenger.

Meanwhile, three of the five candidates answered "no" when asked whether they'd bring in the National Guard to protect construction of the Thirty Meter Telescope atop Mauna Kea. Carvalho and Tokuda answered "yes."

The winner in the primary election will run in partnership with the winning Democratic governor candidate, but that doesn't guarantee that the governor will entrust the lieutenant governor with any significant work.

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