Leading Democratic, GOP candidates for governor spar in HNN Super Debate

The Council for Native Hawaiian Advancement hosted the debate in Waikiki, and the leading Democratic candidates for governor were the first to take the stage.
Published: Jul. 21, 2022 at 2:17 PM HST|Updated: Jul. 22, 2022 at 7:07 AM HST
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HONOLULU (HawaiiNewsNow) - With time running out to change voters’ minds before the primary election, leading candidates for governor and lieutenant governor duked it out in the HNN Super Debate on Thursday as they laid out their plans for tackling big issues facing the state, from the cost of living to climate change.

The Council for Native Hawaiian Advancement hosted the debate in Waikiki, and the leading Democratic candidates for governor were the first to take the stage.


Businesswoman Vicky Cayetano, Lt. Gov. Josh Green and U.S. Rep. Kai Kahele focused on the high cost of living and soaring inflation, but also questioned one another on ethics.

Green and Kahele, in particular, shot barbs at one another.

At one point, Kahele pushed Green on his medical income and how he reports it ― and called the lieutenant governor a “liar” over his responses to the line of questioning.

Green had tough words for Kahele, too: “He served just one year on Congress and then quit on us.”

On Hawaii’s cost of living, the lieutenant governor said he wants to focus on affordable housing and institute a new tax on visitors. Kahele, meanwhile, supported lower property taxes. And Cayetano said she’d institute a general excise tax moratorium for food, medicine and drugs for those who make $100,000 or less.

“People have lost hope,” Kahele said. “We have to give them a reason to stay.”

The Republican debate for governor was far tamer than its Democratic counterpart, with the candidates appearing to take pains to avoid criticizing each other’s positions. “It’s very clear that they think the real opponent here is the Hawaii Democratic Party,” said HNN Political Analyst Colin said.

But the GOP candidates ― Duke Aiona, B.J. Penn and Heidi Tsuneyoshi ― did tackle tough issues, from abortion rights to housing to the pandemic.

“I’m running because the system is broken,” Penn said. “I have no beef with Duke or Heidi.”

Added Aiona: ”I’m so proud of everybody, but we have 10 candidates in the race. To run in the state as a Republican takes a lot of courage and I applaud them for that.”

In the third debate of the night, the Democratic candidates for lieutenant governor tried to make an impression on voters in a crowded field. They also tried to connect with voters on a personal level.

Former state lawmaker Sylvia Luke talked about the struggles she had learning English as a young child who had immigrated from Korea. Keith Amemiya touched on his mother’s lifelong struggles with mental illness.

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 Democratic races will face off against the winning Republican candidate in the general.

Green headed into the Democratic debate as the clear frontrunner, with nearly half of Democratic primary voters supporting him. Kahele was in a distant second place in a recent Civil Beat/HNN poll and Cayetano was third.


But the lieutenant governor still has to woo a hefty group of undecided voters ― about 1 in 5 said they weren’t sure who they planned to support in the primary election. And he’s sure to face tough questions from his opponents about his time in public office and his troubled relationship with the governor.

Moore said Green’s lead has been consistent through the election season.

In other words, the window for Cayetano or Kahele to make a big splash is closing.

In the Civil Beat/HNN poll, Green’s lead was most pronounced among Hawaii voters 50 and up. More than half threw their support behind him. Among those 18 to 49, about 38% said they planned to vote for him.

The candidates are preparing to debate as Hawaii voters grapple with a long list of kitchen table issues ― from rising inflation to a hot housing market and a continued outmigration of families looking for more opportunities.

They’re also expected to tackle other key issues, including how they plan to address everything from educational learning loss to economic diversification to the pandemic’s ongoing strain on the population. And Democratic voters will also undoubtedly be hoping to hear their views on preserving abortion and other rights.

Meanwhile, was the leading Republican gubernatorial candidate heading into the debate.

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.

This is a developing story. Please check back for updates.

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