In HNN Super Debate, GOP gubernatorial candidates make their case to voters
HONOLULU (HawaiiNewsNow) - The three top Republican candidates for governor ― former Lt. Gov. James “Duke” Aiona, MMA champ B.J. Penn, and City Councilmember Heidi Tsuneyoshi ― were trying to make their case to Hawaii voters of all political stripes Thursday night in the HNN Super Debate.
And they weren’t just promoting themselves, but potential opportunities for a strong opposition party in predominately Blue Hawaii. It was the first time Penn has appeared in a live debate so far this election season.
And the early conversation on the stage focused on education, with Penn and Aiona both saying COVID lockdowns can’t happen again. “Definitely no lockdown,” Penn said. Added Aiona: “That cannot happen.”
Tsuneyoshi, meanwhile, said she supports early assessments to prevent educational problems later on.
During a period in which candidates were asked to ask one another’s questions, Tsuneyoshi asked Penn how he would lead the state without any experience in government.
“I’m running because the system is broken,” Penn said. “I’m going to make sure they all run properly.”
But both Penn and Aiona declined the opportunity to ask their opponents questions.
“I have no beef with Heidi or Duke,” Penn said.
The candidates also took up the issue of abortion rights, with Aiona and Penn saying that the Legislature ultimately is responsible for passing laws and so it wasn’t an issue worth debating.
Tsuneyoshi said she is against abortion.
And to a viewer question on character and Penn’s past run-ins with the law, Aiona said “everyone has made mistakes in our lives. Hopefully, we learn from our mistakes.”
Penn added: “My whole life is transparent. I’ve had my challenges and I’ve learned a lot.”
HNN Political Analyst Colin Moore said the fact that the Republican candidates were complimenting each other and declining to disagree publicly was a contrast to the Democratic debate earlier in the evening.
“It’s very clear that they think the real opponent here is the Hawaii Democratic Party,” he said.
Heading into the debate, Aiona appears to have an edge over his opponents.
Some 27% of Republican voters said they’d support the former lieutenant governor in the primary race, while 24% supported Penn. Tsuneyoshi was polling at about 9% among likely voters.
That means the debate might help many Republican voters make up their minds who they’re supporting.
While the primary election in the islands isn’t until Aug. 13, Hawaii’s mail-in election system means the vast majority of voters will be casting their votes much earlier. Ballots are to arrive in mailboxes by July 26.
The top vote-getter in the Republican race will face off against the lead Democratic candidate in the general.
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