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Candidates talk cash, little trash

Djou, Hanabusa debate as a poll shows a close race for Congress

By B.J. Reyes

LAST UPDATED: 9:31 p.m. HST, Oct 21, 2010

Canceling unspent stimulus funds, reducing the size of the government work force through attrition and ending Bush-era tax cuts for wealthier Americans were among the ideas offered for reducing federal spending as the candidates for Hawaii's 1st Congressional District faced off in one of the first public forums since the September primary election.

Republican incumbent U.S. Rep. Charles Djou stuck to his theme of "fixing" a dysfunctional Congress while Colleen Hanabusa, the Democratic state Senate president, pledged to work with the Congress and build bipartisanship if elected.

Both stuck mostly to familiar themes as they continued a campaign launched last spring, when Djou won a special election to replace Neil Abercrombie, who resigned to run for governor.

Their debate comes on the heels of a new public poll released yesterday in Washington, D.C., that shows the race in a virtual dead heat.

The Hill 2010 Midterm Election Poll showed Djou with a slight edge at 45 percent, followed by Hanabusa at 41 percent, with 12 percent undecided. Djou's lead falls within the margin of error of 4.9 percentage points, making the race a statistical tie.

Djou hammered away at his theme of trying to rein in a "fiscally irresponsible" Congress.

On a question about specific ways to cut government spending, Djou proposed canceling all unspent stimulus funds allocated under the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act and the Troubled Assets Relief Program. He also offered support for legislation to bring the government work force back to 2008 levels through hiring one employee for every two that leave.

Hanabusa said she wants to wait and see what proposals would come from a bipartisan, White House-commissioned task force charged with making recommendations for reducing the size of government. The task force is expected to issue a report by Dec. 1.

In the meantime, Hanabusa said she backs the expiration of Bush tax cuts for wealthier Americans.

The hourlong debate stayed on issues such as tourism, government transparency, health care, education and renewable energy without straying into personal barbs, although Hanabusa appeared to raise Djou's hackles with a comment about earmarks.

Responding to a question about how they would continue to support Hawaii's military, Hanabusa noted that many military spending programs have started as earmarks - "that terrible word, according to some people."

Djou, who has campaigned against earmarks and pledged to try to bring more openness and transparency to the federal budgeting process, used part of his allotted time on the next question to address the earmark comment.

"One thing I hear over and over and over again ... is if we had an open, honest, clear and transparent budgeting process, is that Hawaii would actually do better than a pork barrel system based on earmarks," Djou said.

The debate before an audience of about 60 people at the Plaza Club downtown was presented by the Chamber of Commerce of Hawaii and sponsored by the Hawaii Medical Assurance Association.

On a lighter note, the debate ended with moderator Bruce Coppa asking which person, living or dead, each would like to have lunch with if they could.

Hanabusa answered Bill Clinton, to ask him how he was able to achieve a budget surplus and what can be done to achieve that today. Djou said his children, calling them his inspiration for running.

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