HONOLULU (HawaiiNewsNow) - In a wide-ranging debate Wednesday, the two leading Republican candidates for governor sparred over how to tackle the biggest issues facing the islands, from homelessness to the high cost of living.
The event featured state. Rep. Andria Tupola, one of just five Republicans in the state House, and former state Sen. John Carroll.
On Hawaii's high cost of living, Tupola said that the state needs to better support developers and "keep local jobs here."
Carroll, though, said the "economy has to be straightened out."
Both candidates, meanwhile, said that Hawaii — where Democrats hold the governor's office and have an overwhelming majority in the state Legislature — needs to start considering Republican leadership.
"We need to be able to step up with a new perspective. The message of change is one we are out there and spreading," Tupola said.
Countered Carroll, "I know what needs to be done. I know how to get it done."
Tupola and Carroll found common ground on a number of issues, but were on polar opposites on the issue of marijuana.
Carroll said he supports legalizing marijuana — and has since the 1970s. But Tupola said legalizing recreational marijuana isn't the answer, especially for rural communities.
Meanwhile, on the homeless crisis, Tupola said she supports bolstering programs aimed at helping the most vulnerable, including housing first, a program aimed at housing the chronically homeless and then tackling the issues that kept them on the streets.
Carroll said he agrees that more programs are needed to help the homeless, but asked where Hawaii is going to get the money to pay for them.
"The fact is we don't have the money to do most of these things," he said, adding that he also supports vagrancy laws that would move homeless off sidewalks and out of parks.
Carroll is a familiar figure in Hawaii politics, last serving in the state House and Senate — four decades ago. The Korean War veteran, retired lawyer and great-grandfather has also run for governor twice.
Tupola won her first election in 2014. The Kamehameha Schools graduate is the first Samoan and Hawaiian woman to serve as House minority leader.
In a state where the Republican Party has been described as "almost extinct," the candidates saw Wednesday's debate as a chance to convince voters they deserve Hawaii's highest political office.
"I'm clearly the most well-qualified person running," Carroll said.
Closing out the debate, Tupola said, "What the voters are really looking for is somebody who will advocate on their behalf."
Tupola and Carroll will face each other in the primary election, and the winner will advance to the general.
On the Democratic side, U.S. Rep. Colleen Hanabusa is challenging incumbent David Ige, who is hoping to secure a second term.
On Monday, tune in for HNN's Super Debate, starting at 6:30 p.m. on KGMB. The debate, to be held at Kamehameha Schools Kapalama Campus, will feature leading Democratic candidates for governor, lieutenant governor and 1st Congressional district.