Ige, Hanabusa square off in debate as race for governor heats up

2018 Democratic Gubernatorial Debate

HONOLULU (HawaiiNewsNow) - Gov. David Ige faced off against his Democratic challenger, U.S. Rep. Colleen Hanabusa, on Monday, seeking to point to his record — and suggest she doesn't have one.

Meanwhile, at HNN's Super Debate, Hanabusa looked to portray the governor as a poor leader and questioned whether his missteps during his first term warranted another four years.

"I have always been motivated by one thing, and that's to serve the people of Hawaii," Hanabusa said, when asked whether her ambition for higher office has hurt Hawaii by sacrificing her seniority in the House.

In response to a question about January's false missile alert, Ige said he took steps immediately to ensure a similar incident would never happen again.

"The false missile alert was a terrifying event," he said. "The false alert was caused by human error."

When given a chance to ask Ige a question, Hanabusa zeroed in on the missile alert again.

"What were doing for 38 minutes?" she asked the governor, referring to the 38 minutes that passed before the state sent out a second alert to cellphones letting residents knowing the missile warning was false.

Ige acknowledged missteps and said, "Clearly we were not prepared. We made the changes to assure that the event would never happen again."

Some 400 invited guests attending the Super Debate at Kamehameha Schools-Kapalama, seeking to hear leading Democratic candidates for lieutenant governor, Congress and the governor's office tackling some of the biggest issues facing Hawaii.

When it was Ige's turn to ask his opponent a question, he asked her about a $75 million tax credit she pushed forward "for your developer friend" while in the state Senate. Hanabusa defended the credit. Ige responded, "That is special interest legislation in capital letters."

Later, Ige took the opporunity to highlight Hanabusa's record, including the fact that over the last two years in Congress, Hanabusa was the lead sponsor on 11 bills but only one — which would establish a new World War II memorial — actually became law.

"If you could only pass one bill in two years, I wouldn't be so proud of that," Ige said. "Being a congressperson does not substitute for executive experience."

Hanabusa, though, said that working in a Republican-controlled Congress means understanding that much of your proposed legislation won't make it far.

Early polling indicates that Ige is trailing Hanabusa by a significant margin.

Four years ago, after serving quietly in the state Legislature for nearly three decades, Ige won a stunning two-to-one primary election victory over Gov. Neil Abercrombie.

But from the start, his administration struggled.

A huge homeless encampment in Kakaako grew along with the statewide homeless crisis. Protesters blocked construction of the Thirty Meter Telescope at Mauna Kea. A mainland energy company moved to buy Hawaiian Electric. And Honolulu's rail project needed more state money.

Ige's slow response to those issues motivated Hanabusa to leave Congress after only two years to challenge him in the Aug. 11 primary.

The false missile alert in January did even more damage to Ige, but his role in responding to two natural disasters — ongoing eruptions on the Big Island and historic flooding on Kauai and Oahu — may dim voters memories.

His campaign, meanwhile, puts to successes under his watch. They include the cooling of more than 1,000 classrooms and environmental measures.

This is the second time Hanabusa, a labor lawyer and former state Senate president, has left the U.S. House to seek another office.

She was U.S. Sen. Daniel Inouye's deathbed choice to succeed him but lost to Brian Schatz in 2014.

A sizable chunk of Hanabusa's support still comes from Inouye loyalists. Before being elected to Congress, her last public role was a short stint as chairwoman of the board of the Honolulu rail project.

Ige contends that despite all of her positions, she has accomplished little.

The winner of the Democratic primary will take on the Republican winner. Top contenders John Carroll and state Rep. Andria Tupola were featured in a Republican debate on Hawaii News Now last week.

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