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Abercrombie, Hannemann field each other's queries

By Derrick DePledge

LAST UPDATED: 2:25 a.m. HST, Aug 12, 2010

In their first real opportunity to question each other, former U.S. Rep. Neil Abercrombie challenged former Honolulu Mayor Mufi Hannemann yesterday to more debates before their primary election for governor and Hannemann asked Abercrombie to justify his support for offshore oil and natural gas drilling given the devastating BP spill in the Gulf of Mexico.

The two Democratic candidates stuck closely to their campaign themes during a luncheon forum sponsored by the Hawaii Publishers Association at Dole Cannery. Abercrombie described the primary as a referendum on leadership and a struggle between the status quo and change for the future. Hannemann stressed the value of chief executive experience and the ability to work with the business and labor communities.

The candidates answered questions on public education, tourism, the power of public-sector labor unions, civil unions, affordable housing, high-technology tax credits, food and energy security, and rail during the hourlong forum.

But they also had a chance to question each other .

Hannemann asked Abercrombie whether he regrets his advocacy for offshore drilling in light of the Gulf oil spill, his acceptance of campaign contributions from petroleum interests and his description of drilling opponents as an "environmental Taliban."

"If you do not regret that decision, please specify why," the former mayor said.

"Well, here we go again," Abercrombie said. He called the question a "typical campaign move" by Hannemann that "tells you more about the person asking it than it does about the person being asked to answer."

Abercrombie said he was part of a bipartisan effort in Congress to move toward energy independence and believes the nation needs a "carbon-based bridge." The unsuccessful proposal included using revenue from limited offshore drilling to help finance clean energy initiatives. He said he also wanted stronger oversight and enforcement on drilling.

"Not only do I not regret it, I wish we had been able to move more quickly," he said.

Abercrombie said the forum did not really constitute a debate and asked Hannemann to commit to formal debates. He said playfully that he was asked by friends at the YMCA in Nuuanu why Hannemann would not want to "use that Harvard education he's always talking about" to debate.

Hannemann said he has agreed to television debates and other forums but does not want Abercrombie to set the schedule of his campaign.

"Neil, I think I'm demonstrating today, I'm not afraid to debate you," he said.

Other revealing exchanges came after questions about civil unions and their proudest accomplishments.

Steve Petranik, editor of Hawaii Business magazine, who moderated the forum, asked Hannemann whether his administration would take an active role in civil unions if it came up at the state Legislature next year, and whether he would sign or veto a civil-unions bill.

Hannemann said he wanted to end discrimination and would work to extend benefits to gay couples. He said he believes marriage is sacrosanct and should be between a man and a woman.

The former mayor has said previously that he, like Gov. Linda Lingle, would have vetoed a civil-unions bill passed this year by the Legislature because he considered it the same as marriage under state law.

Abercrombie, who favors civil unions and has said he would sign the bill into law, chided Hannemann for not directly answering. Asked the same questions by Petranik, Abercrombie simply responded, "Yes."

Asked about his proudest accomplishment, Hannemann said he believes he left the city in better financial condition than he found it when he took over as mayor six years ago.

"At the end of the day, it's about watching your money," he said.

Abercrombie said he considers his accomplishments collaborative, rather than individual, endeavors.

"I think the proudest achievement that anybody could have is to have the faith and trust of their constituents that allow them to occupy an office," he said.

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