A debate between Hawaii Gov. Neil Abercrombie and state Sen. David Ige on Tuesday revealed few major differences in their visions of Hawaii’s future.
Both Democratic candidates want to solve Hawaii’s housing problems, support Native Hawaiian sovereignty and improve the state’s troubled health exchange. They also both want to keep gambling out of Hawaii and improve its public education system.
But the primary rivals are split more on who’s to blame for Hawaii’s issues than they are on how to solve those problems.
That tendency was highlighted when the candidates were asked about possible solutions for fixing Hawaii’s troubled health exchange, which was built under President Barack Obama’s federal health care overhaul.
"The Health Connector has been a disaster," Ige said.
Ige said the Legislature approved only minimal funding for the entity and told it to clean up its act.
But Abercrombie said the health exchange is a "creature of the Legislature" and he told Ige and lawmakers to "hold up a mirror."
Ige countered that Abercrombie had appointed four cabinet members to the Health Connector’s board. "To pretend like the governor is not involved with the Health Connector is absolutely inaccurate," Ige said.
The candidates also differed on who could take more credit for balancing the state’s budget as Hawaii recovered from a recession.
Abercrombie stressed his role, saying: "We’re back, we’re in the black, we’re on the right track." He said he worked to provide a long-term balanced budget, but "the Legislature has the luxury perhaps of taking the short-term view."
Ige countered that the Legislature cut the governor’s budget requests by about $1 billion over the past four years, rejecting tax increases and making the state live within its means.
The candidates met at a lunchtime forum at the Honolulu Japanese Chamber of Commerce.
Two other candidates outside the parties are expected to be part of the race in November. Republican James "Duke" Aiona, a previous lieutenant governor who lost handily to Abercrombie in 2010, is running again. And former Honolulu Mayor Mufi Hannemann is running as a member of the Independent Party.