HONOLULU (HawaiiNewsNow) - U.S. Senate candidates squared off today in the first of only five debates between the democrats. This one was sponsored by the Hawaii Lodging and Tourism Association and naturally stayed on the tourism theme.
Mazie Hirono focused the majority of her comments on her Visit the USA bill which would ease visa requirements making it easier for the Chinese to spend their money here in Hawaii.
"China, now that is a huge market 54 million Chinese are traveling all across the world, fewer than a million of them come to our country. Why? Because our visa process is so difficult," said Mazie Hirono, (D) Senate Candidate. "We can attract some 300,000 Chinese visitors, $600 million spent in our economy, creating 6,000 jobs."
Democrat opponent Ed Case agreed it's a good idea but claims he's better suited to get it passed. He criticized Hirono for taking so long to introduce it and getting relatively few in congress to support it.
"She didn't do anything for almost five years so from my perspective this is something she did because she is running for the Senate not because she was focusing on tourism," said Ed Case, (D) Senate Candidate. "People need a senator that works all six years not just in an election year and that's what I will do."
When asked about lack of support in Congress Hirono responded saying there is a lot going on.
"Right now there is an election that we need to get through but it's going to have bipartisan support," said Hirono.
Case said he would diversify tourism because Hawaii is not just about Waikiki and beaches.
"People want constant change, they want some things about Hawaii but they want agricultural tourism, they want eco tourism, they want scientific tourism, educational tourism and these can all occur throughout this state," said Case.
Hirono touted her efforts to land $6 million for Hawaii airports. She says the money may be used for three new security screening machines at Kahului Airport.
"Our airports need to be maintained they need to be modernized, that's part of our tourism economy. In a bipartisan way I pushed for an amendment to the FAA bill that will bring $6 million more to Hawaii's airports," said Hirono.
Case wasn't about to be upstaged. He has attacked Hirono for turning down offers to do live televised debates that would reach bigger audiences.
"What is your record, what are your beliefs and what is your agenda? What are you going to do? What have you done and what are you going to do? Thus far we've really just had a bunch of mush really out of the campaign," said Case.
That mush to go along with the Jell-O comment which Case compared Hirono to earlier.
So how did Hirono feel about the debate?
"I felt great. And we're going to have four more," said Hirono.
Republican candidate John Carroll also joined in lightening things up with his opponent Linda Lingle on the Big Island and declining the invitation to attend.
"Right now I'm worried about the Chinese buying Washington on eBay because of the amount of federal debt we have to the Chinese. The government is not our mother. The government is not our father. The government is supposed to be our servant," said John Carroll, (R) Senate Candidate.