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Ige, Abercrombie square off in Kailua-Kona

July 30, 2014 - 8:57am

Democratic gubernatorial candidates Neil Abercrombie and David Ige tackled airports, business issues, harbors and other topics at a forum in Kailua-Kona Tuesday.

Neil Abercrombie, elected governor in 2010, has been a politician for nearly four decades. Over those years he has had a chance to build up a record and show he’s not Oahu-centric, he said.

“I’ve always been on the front lines of decision-making, not the sidelines.”

State Sen. David Ige, with 29 years in the Legislature, is the chairman of the Senate Committee on Ways and Means and a practicing electrical engineer. Ige said he’s running because he’s heard repeatedly from the public that government isn’t working for them.

About 100 people attended the forum which was held at Kealakehe High School and sponsored by the Kona-Kohala Chamber of Commerce, the Kohala Coast Resort Association, Hawaii Island Realtors, the West Hawaii Association of Realtors and West Hawaii Today.

Asked whether bringing an international arrivals terminal and customs agents to the Kona airport is a priority, Ige said the project needs to move ahead.

“The challenge is working with the federal government to make them understand how important it is not just to Kona but the rest of the state to have that second international gateway,” Ige said.

Abercrombie responded: “I’m not going to be talking about getting started on it. We are already doing it. We will build a new terminal if we have to.”

With low interest rates and a bright fiscal outlook, the time is right to move on such projects, Abercrombie said.

“We’ll rebuild the airport if that’s what we need to get customs agents,” he said.

Ige responded that very little has been done in a timely way for the airport.

Both candidates support bolstering agriculture and agreed that affordable shipping for produce from the neighbor islands to Oahu is key.

On the topic of improving Hawaii’s ranking as one of the country’s least business friendly states, Abercrombie stressed the fiscal stability his administration has established.

“Hundreds of billions are being invested in Waikiki and other areas because of confidence in the state’s fiscal stability,” said Abercrombie, who pointed out that furlough Fridays are a thing of the past and the unemployment insurance fund is flush with cash.

Ige called for less regulation of business and proposed putting together a group of small business people dedicated to finding avenues to change.

“We want Hawaii to be a business friendly state,” Ige said. “Regulations are smothering small businesses, especially businesses that are trying to get a start.”

Ige called Honokohau Harbor “a mess,” and said he’s heard from many people that the state’s rules governing harbors and ocean use is a morass.

In response to an observation that while the state’s rules run in the hundreds of pages, San Diego’s rules for harbors are contained in 17 pages, Ige said: “If San Diego can exist on 17 pages, we should look at wiping out our 400 pages, put the 17 in place and see what we have and what else is needed.”

Abercrombie shot back that it was irresponsible rhetoric.

“How can you say you will take 17 pages from a city you know nothing about?” he asked.

In the lieutenant governor’s forum, all nine candidates were invited and two Democrats were set to appear, but Elwin Ahu, a Republican of Honolulu, canceled.

So State Sen. Clayton Hee of Kaneohe, Oahu, held a talk-story with forum participants. Hee said the function of the lieutenant governor is much more limited than it should be, and that the office could be tackling homelessness, invasive species and Native Hawaiian discord.

“If not, someone should think about doing something else with that office,” Hee said.

Hee, with three decades in the Senate, is chairman of the Judiciary and Labor Committee, representing Lanai, Molokai and West Maui. A former educator, Hee supported teacher evaluations as a tool for improvement and decried development takeover of agricultural lands.

Asked why he was the best candidate for the job, Hee responded: “Because I’m the only one here.”