With two weeks to go before Election Day, the candidates for Hawaii’s hotly contested 1st Congressional District sharpened their rhetoric on each other last night as they faced off in a live debate for the fourth time in seven days.
Republican incumbent U.S. Rep. Charles Djou continued portraying his opponent as a "rubber stamp" who supports failed federal policies that have led to record debt and unacceptable unemployment rates at the state and national levels.
Democratic state Senate President Colleen Hanabusa characterized her rival as an obstructionist and out of touch with Hawaii’s needs while also being disingenuous for opposing various measures from which he benefited.
Djou also took aim at Hanabusa’s claim of being someone who can work across the aisle.
When given the opportunity to question each other, Djou asked Hanabusa to name one member of the Republican caucus with whom she would seek bipartisan cooperation.
Hanabusa did not name a specific person, saying it would depend on the issue.
"I can’t answer that question because I’ve never been in the position of actually doing that," she said. "However, I believe that the people look at my record — how I’ve acted in the Senate."
She noted that her colleagues had voted her to various leadership positions, including Senate president the past four years and before that as majority leader. "It shows you a level of confidence that transcends not only Democrats, but also Republicans," she said.
Djou countered that when a similar question was posed at a mainland debate last week, Democratic U.S. Rep. Walter Minnick of Idaho named Djou as someone he could work with. Djou also noted his co-sponsorship of legislation with Democratic U.S. Rep. Gabrielle Giffords of Arizona.
"There is talking about bipartisanship, and there is actually doing something about it," Djou said.
Hanabusa, with her first question, repeated one from a previous debate, seeking a dollar amount Djou spent on automated telephone calls and four direct-mail pieces shortly after taking office in May.
Known as franking, such expenditures are allowed for members to reach out to constituents. Djou’s calls and mailings were surveys asking constituents for feedback on various issues.
Djou did not say how much was spent, but defended the practice, saying constituents were thankful to hear from their newly elected representative.
"I take no apologies whatsoever for making sure that I always remember and never forget that the people of Hawaii are my bosses," he said.
"Colleen is trying to implicate here that I have done something illegal or wrong. … Everything that I have done completely conforms with all ethical standards in the House and is no different from what the majority of the members of the U.S. House of Representatives do, which is communicate with their constituency."
He said all of the figures are available online.
According to the website of the U.S. House Clerk’s Office, the public disclosure documents related to franking are available to the public but must be formally requested during normal business hours.
Hanabusa noted that four of the direct-mail pieces went out in Djou’s first 23 days in office. She estimated the postage at $500,000.
"I’m not saying you did anything wrong," Hanabusa said. "All I’m asking you, Charles, is for a number. The people deserve to know how much of their taxpayers’ money you spent in 23 days."
Djou also repeated a contention that in her four years as Senate president, Hanabusa has voted yes on every bill that has come before the chamber. Hanabusa noted that the bills that reach the floor already have been vetted, adding that only 8 percent of the bills introduced over that time have reached the floor for final reading.
Hanabusa, meanwhile, called Djou disingenuous for voting against projects aided by the federal stimulus program but at the same time showing up at their groundbreaking ceremonies. Djou said that while stimulus dollars have funded some worthwhile projects, the overall price tag was too large and it has not accomplished the stated purpose of stemming unemployment.
Both covered familiar ground on issues including the importance of residency in the district, how they would reduce the federal deficit, the Bush tax cuts and the effectiveness of the national health care reform act.
Last night’s debate was televised live by Hawaii News Now. The candidates have a final televised debate tomorrow night on KHON.