HONOLULU — U.S. Sen. Brian Schatz and U.S. Rep. Colleen Hanabusa argued over who has achieved a better record in Congress as the Democrats faced off in their final debate before the primary election.
The candidates vying to serve Hawaii in the U.S. Senate faced off on Hawaii News Now Thursday night.
“I think this race ought to be about one simple thing, which is our records in the Congress,” Schatz said.
Hanabusa has served in the U.S. House since 2011, and Schatz has served in the U.S. Senate since he was appointed by Gov. Neil Abercrombie in late 2012.
Schatz said Hanabusa’s record is not distinguished after she introduced about 28 bills in the past three-and-a-half years.
“Exactly one of them has passed, which was to rename a post office in Kaimuki,” Schatz said.
Hanabusa countered that the tourism committee where Schatz is chairman met only once — he later said it met twice — and that it didn’t introduce any bills.
“He says I don’t have a record. Look at the national Defense Authorization Act,” Hanabusa said, saying she secured federal funding for Hawaii.
Asked to grade Schatz on his performance as a senator, Hanabusa said she would give him a high grade for “just simply saying things, because he doesn’t really have the record that he claims he has.”
On social security, which Schatz has made a key issue in the campaign, Hanabusa questioned why only one Senator had signed on to a bill Schatz co-introduced.
“I don’t think Brian lies about it,” Hanabusa said. “I think maybe he embellishes.”
“Neither of them has a strong track record in the Congress, so it’s not like there was a big difference there,” said Carlos Juarez, chairman of the department of social sciences at Hawaii Pacific University, after the debate.
Hanabusa challenged Schatz on how he can be counted on for an independent vote when he was afraid to stand up to Gov. Neil Abercrombie about a plan to tax pensions.
Schatz replies that Hanabusa wants to talk about every topic except her record in Congress.
On the topic of helping veterans who have had to wait too long for health care, Schatz asked Hanabusa why she wanted to build a veterans’ hospital on Guam.
“We’ve got to invest in doctors and nurses in the state of Hawaii and not on Guam,” Schatz said.
Hanabusa replied that veterans want all veterans to be taken care of, and that 83 of about 300 people on a waiting list for care are from Guam.
“The Guam hospital idea is one in the long term as to how we fix this whole issue of serving our vets,” Hanabusa said.
In the final matchup, Schatz appeared to increase his criticisms of Hanabusa, who has throughout the debate come across as more willing to attack her opponent.
Juarez said in Thursday’s debate Schatz took the higher ground while Hanabusa was sometimes aggressive. He said that as a challenger to an incumbent she has to, but there’s a risk that she’ll be seen as angry.
In an interview, Hanabusa said she believes she’s coming across to voters during the debates as tenacious, someone who will fight for them. “They see someone who will go toe-to-toe,” Hanabusa said. “I’m from Waianae. I grew up in a very tough area, and I know … what it means to stand up and be heard and accountable.”
Schatz said in an interview that it’s unfortunate that the debates have periodically become personal.
“I think that people are seeing a contrast, not just on issues, but also in style,” Schatz said. “I’m going to focus on the differences between the two of us in terms of the issues and in terms of our performance in Congress.”