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The Honolulu Advertiser

Posted on: Saturday, October 26, 2002

Hirono, Lingle trade jabs in only TV debate

Analysis: Lingle keeps Hirono on the defensive
Lingle gubernatorial campaign outspending Hirono, 3-to-1

By Lynda Arakawa
Advertiser Capitol Bureau

Gubernatorial candidates Mazie Hirono, left, and Linda Lingle engaged in their long-awaited TV debate last night.

Eugene Tanner • The Honolulu Advertiser

Democratic gubernatorial candidate Mazie Hirono and Republican nominee Linda Lingle picked apart each other's records and traded political jabs last night in their only TV debate before the Nov. 5 election.

The hour-long debate, at the Hawai'i Public Television studio, was simulcast live by six television stations and two radio stations.

Lingle, a former Maui mayor, took every opportunity to link Lt. Gov. Hirono with Gov. Ben Cayetano, repeatedly referring to "the Cayetano-Hirono administration" and Hirono's eight years "in the top level of government" when criticizing government policies and practices. She also was quick to attack many of the proposals and arguments Hirono made during the debate.

"Gov. Ben Cayetano and Mazie Hirono promised to be the agents of change in 1994 and again in 1998," Lingle said. "Now Lt. Gov. Hirono wants four more years to bring about change. Let's be honest: At some point you have to produce change, not just talk about it."

Hirono stressed that she indeed intends to change things for the better, saying "the status quo is unacceptable." She also cautioned voters against being seduced by promises of "change."

'Micah Kane, head of the Hawaii Republican Party, watches the debate from a television monitor in the KHET studio in Manoa.

Eugene Tanner • The Honolulu Advertiser

"Change is a buzzword in this campaign, but reckless change is not what we want," Hirono said. "The real question is who can make the positive changes."

She worked to paint Lingle as being "pro-business, anti-consumer" by highlighting Lingle's opposition to consumer-related state laws passed this year and promoted by the Democrats.

"Her position on the gas cap, for example — she is against it," Hirono said. "We have been gouged as consumers in this state and the prices we've paid for gasoline. Another example, lowering prescription-drug costs, one of the major issues facing over 200,000 people — she's against it. She's siding with the pharmaceutical companies."

But Lingle later shot back, pointing out that the Hawai'i Medical Association says the prescription drug plan won't work and won't go into effect for two years, and that a University of Hawai'i professor said the gas cap bill would drive up prices and create shortages.

Hirono advanced her proposal to create an "Economic Expansion Council" that would be made up of representatives from government, the private sector and other areas.

"The economic expansion council is going to be a very forceful way for the government to partner with the private sector, to move our economy in the areas of strength, to create good paying jobs for our people," Hirono said.

"It is our private sector that should set the agenda, that should set the priorities for how we're going to create these jobs."

Lingle attacked the idea.

"I always think it's good to reach out to the community and get new ideas, but it does seem a little strange that the lieutenant governor who's been at the highest level of government now for eight years and in the Legislature 14 years before that would need a committee to tell her what's wrong with the economy," Lingle said.

"We need to reduce regulation, reduce taxes, and change government's attitude toward business to be one of collaboration rather than an overregulation."

Lingle criticized Hirono for citing a lower jobless rate as a measure of economic success, saying the decrease was a result of the 20- to 34-year-old population declining by 37,000 in the 1990s.

"Why do you continue to claim that your policies have been successful when it is so obvious that they have not been successful?" Lingle said.

Hirono responded by pointing out that Bank of Hawaii economist Paul Brewbaker "said our economy is not going to hell in a handbasket — in fact, we are seeing the signs of recovery."

Hirono cited again her economic expansion council, and noted the groundbreaking of the University of Hawai'i biomedical research center in Kaka'ako, which "will create over 1,500 jobs, bring in millions of dollars in research money, provide partnering opportunities for the private sector."

Hirono then sent a verbal jab at Lingle, saying while ordinary citizens contact lawmakers to effect change, Lingle did nothing.

"You weren't there when I was working with the AARP on bills to reduce the costs of prescription drugs, or when I worked with parents and teachers in fixing the schools," Hirono said. "In fact, I don't recall seeing you at all. ... Where have you been?"

Lingle, the former head of the Hawai'i GOP, responded that she was working to create a two-party system of government and said having one party in power for too long contributed to problems of corruption.

"The most important thing citizens could have been doing over the past four years was to create a strong two party system of government so that we would have accountability and so that the public's interest would be protected rather than just have the special interests of the old boy network," she said.

Candidates at times avoided giving direct answers to some questions by a panel of TV journalists. Asked which government program she would cut if she preserved money for adult education programs, Hirono talked about the importance of adult education and described other education programs, but did not address whether or where she would cut areas of government.

Lingle failed to answer what steps she would take to limit the cost of public worker retirement benefits, instead criticizing the "Cayetano and Hirono administration" for raiding the retirement fund.

Reach Lynda Arakawa at larakawa@honoluluadvertiser.com or at 525-8070.