Candidates Try For Separation

How do I find traction on a crowded field, none of whom has previously run in anything larger than a city council district?”

That’s the question faced daily by each of the Democrats seeking the first district congressional seat being vacated by Congress-woman Colleen Hanabusa.

And in the back of their minds, there’s another: “Should I win, how do I draw sufficient support to defeat former Republican Congressman Charles Djou, who has run three times for the office and has no problem with name recognition?”

Their dilemma was on display two Saturdays ago at a candidates’ forum held at Honolulu Community College. The sponsors included Hawaii Korean Chamber of Commerce, Filipino Chamber of Commerce, Asian American Junior Chamber of Commerce, and Korean Bar Association of Hawaii. About 100 people attended.

In their opening comments, each did their best to establish his or her local credentials. Councilman Ikaika Anderson identified himself as a “proud son of Hawaii” and graduate of University of Hawaii. State Sen. President Donna Mercado Kim noted that she had grown up near HCC in a family that “didn’t have much.” Councilman Joey Manahan spoke of his birth in the Philippines and his council district that ran down the center of the CD1 from Iwilei to Aloha Stadium. Councilman Stanley Chang said his “father had come from China and found the American dream in Hawaii.” State Rep. Mark Takai cited his ancestors, who came to the Islands “as immigrant and plantation laborers.” Rights activist Catherine Xian invoked her grandfather, an immigrant from Korea. State Sen. Will Espero told of his being a son of the Philippines who’d been born in Japan, where his father was serving in the U.S. armed forces.

Their Hawaii, Filipino, Korean, or immigrant bonafides established, each spoke for two minutes on three questions they’d been asked to prepare on policies relating to the Korean peninsula, on what each had done to aid Filipinos and on their views regarding immigration reform.

Little separated the candidates on . . . well, just about anything. Opinions on North Korea ran from Espero calling for “sports and cultural interchange” with the Communist North and Kim touting “peace negotiations and dialogue” to Chang insisting that “talks must lead to nuclear disarmament” and Takai calling for “verifiable agreements.” Xian offered that Communist North Korea would “collapse on its own.”

All seven Democrats favored immigration reform that would make it possible for families to reunite more easily and the DREAM Act that gives immigrants who came to the United States as minors the opportunity to stay.

On the question of “What have you done for Filipinos?” Anderson noted his votes to fund city projects in predominantly Filipino neighborhoods, while Kim brought up her support for the Filipino Community Center in Waipahu and funding for Kalihi’s Farrington High School. Several mentions were made of the need for better funding for the public schools and greater access to higher education for Filipinos.

The moderators entertained no questions from the crowd, and the candidates were allowed no opportunity to question each other.

As the forum was declared over, a young man in the middle of the audience turned to a friend and said, “I don’t know. I can’t decide. They all sounded good.”

And they did. No one gained any traction this day.