Democratic gubernatorial candidates square off in first debate

Gov. Neil Abercrombie and state Sen. David Ige faced off in a debate Tuesday at the Japanese Cultural Center of Hawaii, as the two gear up for a primary election showdown.

They’re both Democrats and have devoted much of their adult lives to public service.

The center’s ballroom was packed with movers and shakers from Honolulu. The debate was for the most part cordial, but there were occasions where Ige and Abercrombie disagreed.

Take the Hawaii Health Connector, designed to enroll people without health care coverage.

Ige told Abercrombie that “you know we had an explicit exemption from the federal law, because the pre-paid health program in Hawaii that we developed over 30 years really should be the model for providing universal coverage for all of our people.”

Abercrombie responded to the state senator that “the Legislature did this, the Legislature did that. Well, what is the Health Connector? It’s completely a creature of the Legislature. The Health Connector didn’t suddenly appear. It wasn’t spontaneous combustion.”

Both gubernatorial candidates agreed that education is vital to the future of the state, with Gov. Abercrombie emphasizing the need for pre-schoolers to get an early start.

“The opportunity to be able to partner with community providers to see that our pre-schoolers have this chance to start in life with what they deserve,” he said. “This is a once in a lifetime opportunity.”

“I really do believe it’s one of the most important functions of state government,” Ige said, “and I’ve learned through my direct experience that the key to improving student learning is in the classroom.”

The State Department of Interior hearings on Hawaiian sovereignty also came up during the debate.

“Sovereignty is something that I think cannot be rushed,” Ige said. “It’s something that will impact each and every resident in our community.”

Abercrombie said that “from my political career, I’ve been supportive of it in every single instance where I’ve had the responsibility and the jurisdiction.”

The primary election is Saturday, Aug. 9.

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