HONOLULU (HawaiiNewsNow) - Four of the candidates in the Democratic party primary for Hawaii's 2nd Congressional District squared off in a 90-minute debate on Hawaii News Now.
Tulsi Gabbard, Mufi Hannemann, Esther Kia'aina and Bob Marx went through a wide range of issues, including Obamacare, student loan interest rates and many other topics. But much of the debate seemed to focus on the records of front-runners Hannemann and Gabbard.
Hannemann stressed his experience, saying that it would be a plus for a new member of Congress. "This is an opportunity to send someone who, yes, will be a freshman. But it's important that this freshman not be treated like a freshman," he said.
"Mufi Hannemann talks about his experience, but his experience is that of a CEO. And people have always talked about his 'my way or the highway' approach to getting things done, and that's not going to be effective in Congress when you're one of 435 members, where you have to work as a member of the team," countered Gabbard.
But Gabbard came under fire for what the other candidates claimed was her shifting position on same-sex marriage.
"I support President Obama's recent announcement in support of marriage equality, and as a member of Congress, I will work to repeal DOMA (the Defense of Marriage Act) and will co-sponsor the Respect for Marriage Act," Gabbard said.
"I'm actually surprised to hear Miss Gabbard talk about consistency, when she herself is on record as opposing civil unions and same-sex marriage," said Kia'aina, who has worked with the Office of Hawaiian Affairs and the Kamehameha Schools.
"She had a public record of being anti-gay, opposed gay rights, equality for gays, and even opposed civil unions before this election," said Marx about Gabbard.
But Gabbard fired back, especially at Hannemann, on the issue, claiming that he had changed his view as well.
"I have never discriminated against anyone who does not share my same views, especially with respect to traditional marriage or same-sex marriages," Hannemann responded. "I worked with people who practice a different lifestyle, and I've always been inclusive." Hannemann said he supported DOMA, but was open to discussing the issue with people who believe it should be repealed.
Meantime, Marx, a Hilo attorney and businessman, was criticized for a campaign statement in which he said that being Hawaiian is "a state of mind."
"When I say being Hawaiian is a statement of mind, some people are one-sixteenth Hawaiian, one percent Hawaiian, or a hundred percent Hawaiian, but it's how we live in the aloha part in our heart that counts," said Marx.
Kia'aina said that she was offended by the statement. "I think all of us have the aloha spirit," she told Marx. "I just want to make sure that when you say we are a state of mind, you know that we are a people and we are living and we are breathing in our homeland."
The debate was sponsored by Hawaii News Now and the Honolulu Star-Advertiser. The next televised debate on July 26 will pit Democrats Ed Case and Mazie Hirono in the race for U.S. Senate.