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Abercrombie and Ige clash in Kona debate

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    Sen. David Ige, right, debated Gov. Neil Abercrombie Tuesday morning at the King Kamehameha Kona Beach Hotel.

KAILUA-KONA >> Gov. Neil Abercrombie and state Sen. David Ige clashed Tuesday morning on taxes, preschool and leadership style in a debate in the Democratic primary for governor.

The debate, sponsored by AARP Hawaii at the King Kamehameha Kona Beach Hotel, included several questions on issues important to seniors.

Ige said he and the state Senate fought Abercrombie’s unpopular pension tax to help close a projected state budget deficit in 2011. Abercrombie countered that Ige had supported a general-excise tax increase that year to contain the deficit, which would have had a far greater economic impact than a pension tax.

But Abercrombie said his administration had heard the public opposition to a pension tax from seniors and others and vowed not to propose the idea again. The governor instead called for tax relief for seniors.

Abercrombie challenged Ige over the state senator’s opposition to a constitutional amendment on the November ballot that would allow public money to be spent on private preschool. The governor believes a public-private partnership would help eventually provide preschool to all of the state’s 4-year-olds.

Ige questioned both the estimated $125 million cost of a statewide program and whether private preschools have the capacity to serve children with the most need.

Asked about his leadership style, Ige described himself as a collaborator.

Abercrombie said the question is not about style, but action. The governor pointed to the state’s economic turnaround over the past four years that he’s been in office. Leadership, he said, is about getting the job done.

The one-hour debate, moderated by Gerald Kato, a University of Hawaii-Manoa journalism professor, was the fifth of six debates between Abercrombie and Ige. The last debate is scheduled for Tuesday evening before the Kona-Kohala Chamber of Commerce.

Abercrombie had initially agreed to four forums by AARP Hawaii across the state. But the governor withdrew from three of the events, citing scheduling difficulties.

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