Rep. Andria Tupola criticized Democratic Gov. David Ige for not doing enough to increase affordable housing, cool classrooms, make the state’s roads safer, reduce the waiting list for Hawaiian homelands and reduce homelessness, during a one-hour gubernatorial debate Monday night. Going on the offensive, the Republican nominee for governor argued that Hawaii needs a change.
“We cannot solve the systemic issues of our state with the same mindset in which they were created,” said Tupola. “This will be the first time that the people will be able to vote for somebody that truly works for the people, not for special interest groups, not for the establishment, not for political insiders.”
Ige fought back, trumpeting his programs for reducing the cost of college, his support for more affordable housing and success at cooling more than 1,300 classrooms. He also pressed Tupola on her support for President Donald Trump and his policies, which he said run counter to Hawaii values.
“The difference between myself and Andria is that I disagree with Trump’s policies on immigration, on affordable health care, on women’s reproductive rights, because I believe that they are contrary to the values that we share in our communities,” said Ige. “I’ve chosen to challenge the president in each of these areas because I believe that it is fundamentally important that we express our values that we share here in Hawaii.”
While Ige and Tupola differ on some of the hot button issues that divide the two parties, such as gun control and reproductive rights, they also showed that they share common ground on a lot of issues.
Both Ige and Tupola said they opposed the legalization of recreational marijuana, the lottery and gambling. They both agree on the need to create more affordable housing to help locals stay in Hawaii. And they both said they would support an interisland ferry system, saying that a key to its success is securing federal subsidies.
They differed on a proposed constitutional amendment that would allow the state to tax investment properties to support public education. Tupola said that Hawaii was overtaxed and that it could raise the cost of living in the state. She said that instead she would audit the Department of Education and find ways to divert more of its budget to teachers and classrooms.
Ige, who is endorsed by the Hawaii State Teachers Association, the major backer of the measure, supports the ballot question, which voters will decide on Nov. 6.
“I support this amendment because we’ve seen year after year about the needs of our public education system that cannot be funded with the funds that we have now,” said Ige, noting that Hawaii is the only state in the country that doesn’t use property taxes to fund education.
The KHON debate, which was broadcast and streamed live, also included the lieutenant governor running mates. Marissa Kerns, the Republican nominee, and state Sen. Josh Green, the Democratic nominee, responded to questions from a separate studio during segments interspersed throughout the debate.
Tupola and Kerns face a tough campaign to convince voters to choose them in a state dominated by Democratic politics. While Tupola has garnered name recognition by serving as a state legislator for four years, ascending to House minority leader, Kerns, a small-business owner, has been a virtual unknown in Hawaii politics.
Those challenges have been exacerbated by tensions between Tupola and Kerns that have spilled out into public view. Kerns, who has the backing of the Hawaii Republican Assembly, a far-right faction of the Republican Party, has accused Tupola of not being conservative enough and too equivocal in her support for Trump.
The campaign has tried to smooth over those divisions publicly and Kerns emphasized during Monday night’s debate that her and Tupola were working as a team, even though they have both campaigned separately throughout the general election.
Kerns criticized the Democratic ticket, calling on voters to “drain the swamp,” a reference to a slogan often employed by Trump. She blamed thousands of illegal immigrants for raising the cost of living in Hawaii.
“Who’s taking all our homes? Our rental homes, isn’t it those guys?” she said. “Who’s housing them? Who’s paying for their health care, OK?”
Kerns also said she wanted to abandon the rail project, or at least completely privatize it.
“I want the taxpayer out of that rail boondoggle and (the) other way is to recycle it,” said Kerns. “We have a local company that recycles cement. It’s cheaper to just cut it off, haul the pile-ons. The rest of it, you know, maybe we should throw it in the ocean. We have the deepest ocean in the Pacific.”
Green said that it was important to finish the project.
“It’s disappointing to hear my opponent suggest that we would throw all that money, time, resource away,” said Green. “We have to support people’s jobs, we’ve got to support solutions on traffic, we’ve got to support rail.”
The KHON debate is the first of two major gubernatorial debates and aired just as early ballots are being sent out to voters. The second debate will be Oct. 29 on KITV.