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Hirono would serve well in U.S. Senate

LAST UPDATED: 9:24 p.m. HST, Oct 28, 2012

>> Oct. 19-28: Our picks on key races

U.S. Rep. Mazie Hirono and former Gov. Linda Lingle have faced off in multiple debates in their contest for the U.S. Senate, and it was clear who had the better skills onstage. Lingle is more poised and adroit at thinking on her feet. Hirono has improved at presentation over the years but can be halting and at times, somewhat defensive.

This is no small thing — communications are important in representing voter interests — but it's not the main thing.

Where it counts the most, Hirono has been a consistent advocate for government actions and policies that serve Hawaii, and she would be the most reliable vote on some key issues coming up on Capitol Hill in the near and long term.

In particular, her support of the Affordable Care Act, of a balanced approach to budgetary and entitlement reform, and of curbs on waste in military and other government spending recommends her for the job. Overall, her experience in the House has prepared her to be the better candidate for one of Hawaii's two seats in the U.S. Senate.

Lingle, as Hawaii's two-term Republican governor, had to deal with the after-effects of the 2008 financial crash and the recession it produced. Budget shortfalls led to furloughs for the state's workforce. Ultimately the state's teachers took that same route, and parent unhappiness culminated in a sit-in at the governor's office. Lingle's response? She had them arrested.

The Legislature's Democratic supermajority certainly contributed to the discord over the years and Lingle can't bear all the blame for her stalled agenda. But, while the former governor has touted bipartisanship accomplishments among her credentials, history doesn't back up that narrative. One example: Her standoff with Pat Hamamoto, then schools superintendent, and the lack of cooperation with the Department of Education meant that most educational moves that Lingle advanced could have been enhanced under friendlier circumstances.

And there were the memorable side-trips four years ago to join the presidential campaign tour of John McCain and Sarah Palin, with the Hawaii governor engaging enthusiastically on the stump in a take-down of Barack Obama.

Hirono, by contrast, is almost drama-averse. She has not wavered in her commitment on several issues critical to national interests as well as those specific to Hawaii. Above all, she champions health care reform.

Though in need of additional measures to help bend the cost curve for health care, the Affordable Care Act still represents the most comprehensive first step toward greater access to health coverage and a more efficient delivery system. President Obama's Republican counterparts still haven't put forward anything approaching the same potency. And if presented with the option of an up-or-down vote on repealing Obamacare, Lingle said she's a "yes" for repeal. We say "no" to that.

Other positions:

» Hirono is the more solidly anti-war candidate, and accepts the Obama timetable on winding down the Afghanistan war in 2014, informed by ground conditions. Her voice would be important in defense debates, helping to ensure that future military entanglements are considered more prudently.

» While acknowledging that younger people must plan to supplement Social Security retirement income, she believes the program must be made more sustainable immediately by raising the cap on income levels that are assessed for the tax.

» She remains a staunch defender of the Medicare defined benefit over its conversion to a "voucher" plan; we agree, but we also see the need for some accommodation to contain costs.

» The congresswoman has pledged to work on behalf of federal funding for the rail project. Her opponent has proposed seeking some indefinite route for redirecting those funds for other uses, also unspecified.

» Of the two candidates, only Hirono would press for the expiration at year's end of Bush-era tax cuts for the very wealthy, a solid right step in the direction that's needed to build a more balanced fiscal policy.

As a member of Congress, Mazie Hirono has upheld the values of her party and, in most cases, those are the positions that do most to strengthen the middle class. Those middle-class voters in Hawaii can support her and know where she stands. Judging by her past history on the Hill, she stands with them.

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