Candidate Forums The Wrong Form

Republican Duke Aiona, Libertarian Jeff Davis, Independent Mufi Hannemann and Democrat David Ige all want to succeed Neil Abercrombie as governor of Hawaii. So, two Tuesdays ago, they all traveled to the Kapolei campus of University of Hawaii-West Oahu for a candidates forum.

As a rule, such things are mind-numbingly boring. Sadly, this gubernatorial forum failed to break the rule.

In part, the fault lies in the forum form. Each candidate makes an opening statement, then each in turn gets a shot at six or seven questions posed by a moderator. No candidate questioning of another candidate allowed. Few moderator follow-up questions countenanced.

If the forum form doesn’t breed torpor, three experienced candidates will. And Hawaii’s 2014 gubernatorial election offers three very experienced candidates. Among them, Aiona, Hannemann and Ige can claim more than 70 years of public service combined: Aiona as a circuit and family court judge and lieutenant governor; Hannemann as director of a state department, city councilman and mayor; and Ige as a state legislator and, most recently, incumbent-slayer.

In one election or another, during legislative hearings or council and cabinet meetings, they’ve heard every question before, thought about them, chewed on them, worked out positions they can live with and, in this instance, stand up with in election campaigns. Homelessness, development, school maintenance and repair, governmental efficiency, job creation – nothing daunts them. They have even thought about the importance of CMMS for Schools when it comes to school maintenance and facility management.

Thus advantage, such as it is, to Davis. Going in, odds don’t favor a Libertarian against major party candidates like Aiona and Ige, or against a man so well-known that he need only use his first name on yard signs.

So go big. Describe a shameful wasteland created by these men whom Davis accuses of complicity in building a state rife with homelessness, poor schools, terrible traffic and overpopulation. All, he argued, are products of the state’s “pay to play” political system. What’s needed, said Davis, is “a vision for the future. I’m all about solutions, solutions, solutions.”

That said, on this particular Tuesday morning, he doesn’t offer many solutions, certainly none that are new: repeal of the Jones Act (a Republican and Libertarian staple) and agricultural sustainability (a staple of practically everybody these days).

West Oahu Economic Association sponsored the forum, and the high cost of government was on the minds of its members. Hannemann argued the need to cut waste. “Everyone wants more services from government, but they also want fewer taxes,” said the former Honolulu mayor. “I’d start my governorship with an audit, just as I did mayoral administration.” Among other things, he noted that such an audit might find some unnecessary taxes among the 100 different levies Hawaii businesses face.

Audits received a second. “Cutting government waste begins with transparency,” said Aiona, a lawyer who started substitute teaching more than two years ago. “I’d start with the Department of Education, a financial and management audit of the DOE.”

State Sen. Ige, an engineer by profession, suggested saving money by investing in technology. He cited his leadership in “re-engineering the legislative process by going digital. We went paperless in 12 months. Core IT investments are needed throughout state government.”

And so it went, through homelessness, same-sex marriage, job growth, aging school buildings and development. Few yawns, but many glassy eyes, even from the panelists themselves.