Republican state Rep. Andria Tupola pledged to do more to cope with Hawaii’s crime problem if she is elected governor, while Gov. David Ige used a televised hourlong debate Monday night to stress his record of accomplishment in areas such as building housing and coping with homelessness.
Without pointing the finger directly at Ige, Tupola used the live television appearance eight days before the election to pointedly criticize “career politicians, people working for special interest groups and really not talking about the things that matter the most to the people.”
But when Ige was asked if Tupola is ready to take on the job of chief executive of the state, he replied that Hawaii state government is a $14 billion organization with 50,000 employees, “and I don’t believe that anyone can walk into the job without prior knowledge and experience.”
Ige, 61, served in the state Legislature from 1985 to 2014, when he was elected to his first term as governor. Tupola, 37, is serving her second two-year term in the state House, and is making her first run for statewide office.
Tupola said she wants “action in regards to the rise in violent crime that we’ve seen in our state. The current administration is not taking the rise in crime seriously. We have a revolving door of criminals that are getting locked up, and then let go, and yet we still haven’t addressed this in our public safety system.”
She said the state needs to have a “real talk” about revamping the public safety system, including the state’s high incarceration rate, and the practice of sending Hawaii prisoners to the mainland to serve out their sentences in facilities there “instead of keeping them home here and connected to their families and rehabilitation.”
Tupola said her goal is to adequately fund the public safety system so that the inmates can serve their sentences in Hawaii, and also increase rehabilitation services for inmates.
Ige, who is a Democrat, said he looks forward to working with police departments across the state to help them fight crime. He said the state has made grants to each of the counties to help prosecute career criminals, and has been increasing funding to cope with drug addition in each county.
He also cited a new Law Enforcement Assisted Diversion program designed to divert people who commit low-level victimless crimes — often homeless people — away from the correctional system and into treatment “so we can get them out of the revolving door.”
When moderator Paula Akana asked Tupola to grade the Ige administration, Tupola said it deserved a grade “somewhere between a D and a C,” citing inefficiencies in state government, inequitable funding for public school students, “and the amount of federal funding that we’ve lost.”
Ige countered that he deserves a grade of B. “I know that we can do better, but I’m proud of the work that we’ve done,” he said, such as completing 5,300 new housing units including more than 3,000 that are affordable.
He also cited the state’s Early College program that allows high school students to take college classes for credit, and a new Blueprint for Public Education.
Tupola carefully sidestepped a number of questions during the debate. While Ige said he supports holding a constitutional convention and will vote in favor of holding one, Tupola was more circumspect.
“I believe that since (the last convention in) 1978 until now, there’s definitely things we could talk about as a state, but of course I’m glad that it’s on the ballot and that our state will decide if this is the way forward for us,” she said.
When asked later whether Hawaii should have a state lottery, Tupola said the issue comes up because “we use our taxpayer dollars so inefficiently, and so people are always left to believe that we don’t have enough money so we need to generate more, but what does this encourage? It encourages inefficiencies in our departments.”
She pledged to make state government more efficient, but Ige pointed out that “Andria didn’t answer the question.” Ige said he opposes a lottery because the benefits of a lottery are not worth the costs of “increased crime,” and the fact that poor people tend to buy lottery tickets more often than others.
The debate on KITV was supposed to include the candidates for lieutenant governor, who were also invited. State senator and Democrat Josh Green attended the event, but Republican nominee for lieutenant governor Marissa Kerns did not attend.
Kerns has said publicly that her running mate Tupola should apologize for her voting record, which Kerns believes is too liberal, although the two say they are now working together.
Akana asked Ige and Tupola if they believe the state would be in good hands if something happened to them, and their running mates became governor.
Tupola replied that “I’ve known Miss Kerns for a very short amount of time, but I do believe that her heart is in the right place and she cares about the people of Hawaii, and I feel like the path forward for us is making sure that there’s an administration that’s very robust.”
Ige said that “I absolutely feel very comfortable, should I not be able to continue as governor, to have Dr. Green take over.”