State Sen. David Ige, asked on Thursday evening whether he has the leadership ability and charisma to inspire Hawaii as governor, said his nearly three decades in the Legislature and private sector experience have prepared him.
The unassuming Democrat who stunned Gov. Neil Abercrombie in the Democratic primary also described himself as "the biggest change agent" among the candidates for governor.
"I’m the only one at the table that has been successful in organizing majorities in the House and Senate, working with leadership, balancing the budget — I fought the pension taxes and other tax increases proposed," the chairman of the Senate Ways and Means Committee and electrical engineer said at a one-hour debate on PBS Hawaii "Insights" moderated by Mahealani Richardson.
Ige said he "cut a billion dollars out of the budget request of the (Abercrombie) administration so that we could have a balanced budget, live within our means, and really focus on right-sizing state government."
Former Lt. Gov. James "Duke" Aiona, the Republican, said he is capable of building relationships with the Democratic-controlled state Legislature despite being a member of the minority party.
"It comes down to relationships, and that’s what my whole life has been about," he said. "If you look at my professional career as a judge, as an attorney, and then of course when I went into private practice, it’s all about relationships. I’m a mediator. I’m an arbitrator.
"I know how to bring people together. I know how facilitate. I know how to manage conflict. And that’s really what it’s all about."
Ige questioned how Aiona would be collaborative when former Gov. Linda Lingle, a Republican, was often in conflict with the Legislature during her two terms.
Aiona said he learned a lot as lieutenant governor under Lingle during controversies over teacher furloughs and the state’s exemption of harbor improvements for the Hawaii Superferry project. He also praised Lingle’s leadership on the landmark Hawaii Clean Energy Initiative.
But Aiona said he did not have the final say on policy decisions. "I had input. I was part of the discussion," he said. "But ultimately it’s the governor’s decision."
Former Honolulu Mayor Mufi Hannemann, the Hawaii Independent Party candidate, touted his non-partisan leadership of the city and suggested that the two major party candidates only offer the "same old, same old" solutions to the state’s policy challenges.
He rejected the idea that he is an opportunist by running as an independent after losing back-to-back campaigns for governor and Congress as a Democrat.
Hannemann claimed that Ige, a career legislator, lacks chief executive experience. "An executive has a far greater responsibility," he said.
Jeff Davis, a solar contractor and talk radio host who is the Libertarian Party candidate for governor, called for expanded public financing of elections and term limits for the state House and Senate, which he believes would limit the influence of money in politics.