The setting was familiar, but the inquisitors were a lot younger than normal as lieutenant governor candidates Lynn Finnegan and Brian Schatz participated in an election forum yesterday before a panel of high school students.
The students asked sharp questions about job security, housing, homelessness and education, and persisted if a candidate seemed to dodge a question.
Roosevelt High School senior Mark Aoki asked Finnegan and Schatz how they would ensure that he would be able to find a job and buy a home in Hawaii.
Finnegan, running mate of Republican James "Duke" Aiona, and Schatz, Democrat Neil Abercrombie’s running mate, said they plan to focus on such areas clean energy, ocean and marine science, diversified agriculture and higher education to provide job opportunities.
Finnegan added that there is a need to improve the state’s business climate by not raising taxes. "You don’t do that by creating regulations that make it difficult for businesses," she said.
Schatz, a former legislator, stressed the need to increase the affordable-housing inventory through public-private partnerships.
The Rotary Club of Honolulu and Kids Voting Hawaii sponsored the forum at the Royal Hawaiian Hotel. Seven students ranging from sophomores to seniors from La Pietra-Hawaii School for Girls, Roosevelt High School, ‘Iolani School, Farrington High School and Island Pacific Academy asked the candidates questions.
Also yesterday, the "voting booth" at the Kids Voting Hawaii website (kidsvotinghawaii.org) opened. While their votes do not count in the general election, the website gives youth a vehicle to express themselves.
"Their voices are going to determine the leadership of the next round of elections in years to come," said Linda Coble, Kids Voting Hawaii chairwoman and moderator of yesterday’s forum.
Samantha Sprague, a senior at Island Pacific Academy, asked Finnegan and Schatz a two-part question: Does either plan to run for governor in the next eight years, and what roles do they envision for themselves as lieutenant governor if elected?
Both tackled the second part of the question first, with Finnegan saying her focus would be educational reform, while Schatz said his would be accountability.
Following Schatz’s answer, Aoki said Finnegan had not answered the first half of the question, drawing cheers from Rotary members.
Finnegan said, "I’m here to do the lieutenant governor’s role, which is fulfill the vision of the platform that we put forward."
"Yes? No? Maybe so?" Aoki asked.
"One step at a time," Finnegan said, adding that she is unsure whether she would to run for governor. "I’ve never planned out a political career for myself. Running for lieutenant governor wasn’t my plan even eight months ago, but I realized that the state is in a crossroads, that I needed to step up and create a strong team."
Schatz’s answer: "Yes, but no sooner than eight years from now."