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Gubernatorial hopefuls square off in televised debate

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State Sen. David Ige on Tuesday night took a more piercing tone against his rivals for governor, chiding former Lt. Gov. James “Duke” Aiona for improperly filming a campaign advertisement in a state courtroom and former Honolulu Mayor Mufi Hannemann for his administration’s blacklisting of two stagehands after a dispute over a benefit concert.

Aiona and Hannemann have been chipping away at Ige during a series of debates and forums before the November election. In a one-hour debate sponsored by KHON and AARP Hawaii Tuesday night, Ige sought to deflate his opponents.

Aiona, a Republican and former judge, called his campaign ad with courtroom footage “a great commercial” and suggested that complaints about the ad were politically motivated. But he described his campaign’s failure to get a permit as “an honest mistake” and noted that the ad has been pulled from the air.

Hannemann, an independent, said he was not involved in the city’s decision to ban two stagehands over their preparations for a benefit concert for the Aloha Medical Mission at the Blaisdell Center in 2007 that featured the mayor. The stagehands had several encounters with Hannemann’s brother, Nephi, over the sound system and other matters during rehearsals. Hannemann, according to court testimony from a city official, was unhappy with the show.

The state Supreme Court ruled last year that banning the stagehands from working at the Blaisdell Center and the Waikiki Shell violated their constitutional rights to liberty.

“This election, I have heard loud and clear that people want change. People want change in leadership — who can be open, honest and trustful,” Ige, the Democrat, scolded. “We don’t need more leaders who believe that they are above the law, and who can do anything that they choose to, irrespective of what the rules or the law requires.

“We need leaders who can do the right thing the right way.”

Since the debate — moderated by KHON reporter Gina Mangieri — was co-sponsored by AARP Hawaii, many of the questions dealt with issues important to seniors.

Although the candidates did not offer many new policy ideas, Aiona said he would support tax credits for businesses that match workers who want to finance long-term care insurance. He also said he would consider new personal savings accounts for workers — matched by businesses — that would be separate from 401(k) or other retirement plans.

Hannemann said he would urge the federal government to approve a pilot visa-waiver program in Hawaii for China so more Chinese visitors can come to the islands and help boost tourism.

Both Aiona and Hannemann criticized Ige for favoring an increase to the state’s general-excise tax in 2011 to help close a projected budget deficit. The idea stalled, however, when Ige’s own Senate Ways and Means Committee refused to advance the bill. Ige has since said he does not support a GET hike to help the state budget.

Hannemann suggested that Aiona, who served as lieutenant governor for eight years under former Gov. Linda Lingle, did not have any singular accomplishments like some of the state’s previous lieutenant governors. He said Aiona himself has described his tenure as an observer to the chief executive.

“If that’s what you’re basing your experience on — with respect to being an observer — that hardly puts you in a position to hit the ground running from day one,” Hannemann said.

Asked to cite an issue in which he disagreed with Lingle, Aiona said he would have met with parents who staged a sit-in in the governor’s office at the state Capitol in 2010 to protest teacher furloughs. “That was something that I disagreed with her on,” he said. “I would have met with them, heard their concerns, and obviously taken it from there in regards to what their request may have been, or what their statement may have been, or what their position may have been.”

Aiona mocked Hannemann’s idea to revive a ferry project between the islands — like the failed Hawaii Superferry — as a “pipe dream” because Hannemann has not identified any private investors or ferry vessels. “And so, another false promise for you, the people of Hawaii,” he said.

Aiona also said Ige and majority Democrats have foisted the troubled health insurance exchange on Hawaii because of party politics. He said Ige and the Democrats were behind the insurance exchange and the federal health care reform law “simply because it was something that was implemented, and was passed, by the Democratic Party.”

Hannemann, meanwhile, continued to clarify his position on marriage equality. He had said on Sunday during a forum at New Hope Leeward’s Kapolei campus that one of the reasons he could no longer remain a Democrat was because he believes in the sanctity of marriage between a man and a woman.

He has said he would not have called a special session, like Gov. Neil Abercrombie did last year, and would have instead allowed voters to decide the issue through a constitutional amendment.

Asked on Tuesday whether he would have signed the marriage equality bill had he been governor, Hannemann said he would have let the bill become law without his signature.

Aiona, who also believes marriage equality should have gone before voters, said he would not have signed the bill into law.

Ige said he would have signed marriage equality into law, but he would not have called a special session.

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