While both candidates for Hawaii’s 1st Congressional District agreed on the need to lower the cost of living for local residents, they differed on the approaches to take.
The differences were highlighted in a candidate forum Wednesday night before several dozen people at the Filipino Community Center in Waipahu.
Republican Charles Djou, who held the office for seven months after winning a special election in 2010, is facing state Rep. Mark Takai, a 20-year veteran of the state House, for the seat representing urban Oahu.
Djou emphasized the need to lower the cost of doing business in Hawaii by reducing the layers of government regulation and taxes, thus encouraging more small business owners to hire more employees and expand their operations.
"I believe that what drives all businesses isn’t infrastructure — it’s small business owners. We need to create more small business owners," he said. "That’s the right way to grow our economy — expand small business and create jobs."
Takai voiced support for infrastructure projects at the federal level that drive the economy and create jobs. Support for those types of projects at the federal level would, in turn, support all businesses in Hawaii, he said.
"Congress is driven by support of infrastructure — government provides that support," he said. "Without government, we wouldn’t have roads, airports, harbors."
Takai also stressed innovation in renewable energy and sustainable living to reduce the amount of money that is exported each year — up to $9 billion, by some estimates — to bring in foreign oil and food to Hawaii.
He said he has supported and would continue to support tax credits for renewable energy projects at corporate and individual levels.
Djou maintains natural gas would prove to be a long-term energy solution, but government regulation, such as the Jones Act, makes the costs prohibitive.
The Jones Act, which Takai supports, shields the domestic shipping industry from foreign competition.
Djou said he believes the Jones Act is an antiquated piece of legislation passed in 1920 at a time when Congress never believed that a non-contiguous state would be part of the county.
Takai said he does not believe there is any evidence that suggests abolishing the Jones Act would lower the cost of living in Hawaii.
The candidates spoke for a half hour but broke little new ground, repeating their support for issues such as expanding visa waivers to encourage tourism and their differing stances on President Barack Obama’s action to combat the Islamic State in Syria.
In response to a question on what they did directly to support aid missions in the Philippines following Super Typhoon Haiyan in 2013, both cited their service in the military.
Takai is a lieutenant colonel in the Hawaii Army National Guard and Djou is a major in the U.S. Army Reserve. While neither was dispatched to the storm-ravaged area, both said they worked with their respective units and projects that supported the victims.
The two will meet again face-to-face Thursday night on PBS Hawaii’s "Insights."