On July 2, Hawaii News Now presented 3 1/2 hours in primetime in what was positioned as a "Super Debate," featuring an unprecedented line-up of candidate debates for the three major Democratic Party primaries: Governor, lieutenant governor and the 1st Congressional District.
Staging this event required a tremendous investment in time and resources from our organization as well as a significant challenge for our technical team – showcasing 13 candidates interacting with our moderators, anchor teams, and political analyst in an open air venue from the Kapalama Campus at Kamehameha Schools. We believed the venue would convey a special sense of place that would resonate with each of the candidates, as well as our viewers.
Just one week earlier, we hosted and broadcasted in primetime a gubernatorial debate between the two most competitive Republican candidates from our studio at Hawaii News Now.
We are very pleased the debates prompted a great deal of interest and positive feedback from our viewers, as well as all of the candidates who participated. However there has also been considerable misinformation circulated from some uninformed individuals and even some media organizations we would like to clear up.
Our goal in hosting and staging debates is to provide voters with an opportunity to become better educated on the important positions of the leading candidates in key races, all the while seeing how they handle themselves when challenged by their opponents, journalists and the public.
Our decision to preempt 3 1/2 hours of network primetime for the purpose of televising a live, local political debate is done first and foremost from a position of responsibility to best serve the people of Hawaii.
These debates are costly in many ways to produce, but we know from our history of presenting political debates they provide a real benefit to our audience, and for that matter the candidates who are seeking office. In this regard, we hold the bar very high in our efforts to create a forum in which to make the debates as engaging, informative and worthwhile for our viewing audience.
Toward that end, it simply is not feasible, in fact impossible, for us to televise every single political race. Consequently we commit our resources first and foremost to the statewide races for governor, lieutenant governor, and congressional seats, with the exception being key mayoral races on each island.
This year, in the Democratic primary, the vacant seats for the First Congressional District and for lieutenant governor attracted multiple candidates who were either current or former office holders, whose names were recognized and were qualified for the positions. We also have a well-known Congresswoman challenging a sitting governor.
On the Republican side, the only major race with well-known and experienced candidates was the Republican primary for governor.
We have been asked by the supporters of Maui Democrat Sherry Campagna, who is challenging Congresswoman Tulsi Gabbard in the Democratic primary for the 2nd congressional district, why we have not scheduled a televised debate featuring these candidates.
Simply put, we have invited Congresswoman Gabbard to debate Ms. Campagna on our television stations multiple times and the Congresswoman has declined our invitations. Furthermore, we also understand, she has waived off responding to the inquiries and challenges from Ms. Campagna's supporters to debate.
It's been suggested that despite Gabbard's refusal, we should set aside an hour of primetime to allow Campagna and perhaps the third Democrat in the race to debate without Gabbard.
We disagree that that would be of enough value to voters to justify sacrificing the primetime programming. That said, we have and will do stories about the race which feature Campagna and she is part of our popular online feature "Coffee with a Candidate."
This coverage gives voters ample opportunity to get to know Campagna and why she feels she is more qualified and a better representative for the people of the 2nd District than the incumbent. She also has the opportunity as a candidate to build support, raise money and mount her own campaign.
Our Republican debate for governor featured State House Minority Leader Andria Tupola and former State Senator John Carroll. Both of these candidates have won elections and earned leadership positions.
We decided not to invite a third candidate, Ray L'Huereux, a former military pilot and state education executive because Mr. L'Heureux had informed the Campaign Spending Commission that he would spend no more than $1,000 on his campaign.
In our opinion his statement was a clear sign he did not intend to mount a serious campaign, so consequently in the spirit of best serving our audience with a meaningful debate experience, we decided not to invite Mr. L'Heureux.
L'Heureux has since rescinded the statement limiting his campaign spending, and as a result of his taking a more serious approach to his campaign, Mr. L'Heureux will be featured in our coverage of the race both on-air and online until the primary election.
We hope this helps you understand our decision making and treatment of those candidates seeking political office as it relates to televised debates.
All of us at Hawaii News Now are fully committed to having the best and most comprehensive coverage of the candidate's campaigns and the upcoming election both on-air and online.