Political rivals split on rail
By Derrick DePledge
Advertiser Government Writer
Honolulu City Councilman Charles Djou said yesterday that he would not pursue federal money for a Honolulu rail project if elected to Congress, while former congressman Ed Case and state Senate President Colleen Hanabusa said they would despite their concerns about how the city has approached the project.
Honolulu is depending on federal money to help pay the $5.3 billion elevated commuter rail line, and the state's congressional delegation has been united behind the project.
Djou, one of the main opponents of rail on the City Council, said he would not ask for federal money but would accept the funds if granted by the Federal Transit Administration.
"If money grew on trees. If we had an unlimited supply of financial resources, of course we should do rail," the Republican said at a forum sponsored by the Honolulu Japanese Chamber of Commerce, the Chinese Chamber of Commerce and the Hawai'i Association of Realtors at the Japanese Cultural Center.
"But the problem is, the people of Hawai'i are not made of money."
Case, a Democrat, said he would push for federal money for rail if elected. He said lawmakers have a responsibility to plan for the future and asked what Honolulu would look like in 50 years without mass transit.
But he also said he is concerned about the city's financial projections for the project and has no problem with Gov. Linda Lingle's plan for an independent financial analysis.
"We do not want to embark on something like this if we don't have it right," Case said.
Hanabusa, also a Demo-crat, has had concerns about the city's design for rail and with the environmental review process. But she said O'ahu voters determined in 2008 that they wanted the steel wheel/steel rail design.
She said she would do her part if elected to make sure the project goes forward.
"That's the democratic process, irrespective of how any individual may disagree or agree to it," she said.
The three leading candidates in the May 22 special election to fill out the remainder of former congressman Neil Abercrombie's term in urban Honolulu's 1st Congressional District spoke at the forum and answered questions from the audience.
The format did not allow for rebuttal. But the candidates did have a chance to spell out their campaign themes.
Case described himself as an experienced moderate who will reduce the national debt and try to change the partisan tone in Congress.
Hanabusa portrayed herself as a proven legislator who can effectively collaborate and work within the establishment.
Djou cast himself as an independent who will fight to lower taxes and reduce the size of government.
Hanabusa, who has been endorsed by many elected Democrats and labor unions, sought to draw clearer distinctions with Case and Djou, who have campaigned more as outsiders.
"You will hear the word 'independent' throughout this campaign, but what is independence?" she asked. "Experience has taught me that a legislator — and that's what a congressperson is — that no single person can solve a problem by working alone."
In an apparent reference to Djou, she said: "It is not hard to vote 'no,' " and added, in an apparent reference to Case, "or to think that you know better than everyone else."
Hanabusa described the real work of a legislator as listening and crafting workable solutions.
Case said his philosophy was in the middle, between those who believe government can be "all things to all people" and those who think government has little or no role and is the enemy.
"What it really does come down to is, 'Who has the best overall mix of experience, beliefs, principles, commitment and abilities to represent Hawai'i in Congress, but also to be part of the representation of a great country in a world that needs leadership?' " he said.
Djou said he is concerned that Congress is taking the country in the wrong direction.
"We are concerned that our government seems to continually get bigger and bigger, but our lives are not getting better," he said. "We are concerned that our government does very little efficiently or very cost-effectively, but despite that, continues to try to do more and more."