The economy and job creation were key priorities several U.S. Senate and House candidates listed during the Kona-Kohala Chamber of Commerce moderated forum Monday evening.
All candidates running in both races were invited to the forum at Kealakehe High School. However, not everyone came. Four of the six Democrats running for U.S. House seat — Tulsi Gabbard, Mufi Hannemann, Esther Kiaaina and Bob Marx — attended.
For the seat being vacated by retiring U.S. Sen. Daniel Akaka, only Democrat Ed Case, Republican John Carroll and Independent Heath Beasley participated. Both Case and Carroll criticized their so-called major opponents for their lack of attendance.
A former U.S. Congressman who was born in Hilo, Case promised Hawaii voters that he could “provide strong, effective leadership” for Hawaii and the county, “today and over the next generation.” If elected, he plans to address the economy by helping it grow. His No. 1 priority is to make sure taxes and regulations are fair, as well as reform the federal tax code. He also said he would identify and foster emerging industries. Other priorities included helping preserve Social Security, ensuring Hawaii’s energy needs and balancing the budget.
Beasley said he has the experience “to get the job done” and to bring people together for “fruitful negotiations” and to make “mutual compromises” that favor Hawaii and the nation.
He’s a Navy veteran and a substitute teacher on Oahu. His top priority was replacing the tax code instead of reforming it, having it generate money and not having any group of citizens, including the rich, bear the nation’s burden.
Also important, he said, is balancing the budget and reforming health care.
Throughout the forum, Carroll, an Air Force veteran and former state senator, consistently shared his opposition for the Jones Act, which he said increases the cost of goods throughout the state, severely limits international shipping and creates what nearly amounts to a shipping monopoly. He stressed the need for a trade development board similar to the one in Singapore. He also spoke about the need to “bring a budgetary balance” by “eliminating waste and reducing spending,” before raising taxes or enacting any laws.
Honolulu city council member and decorated war veteran Gabbard thinks too many leaders have put their own interests — as well as those of huge corporations, rich special interests and self-serving Wall Street — before the needs of the public. In an attempt to combat “the dysfunction in Washington,” she is running to “return the focus back to the people.”
Her top priority is to make it easier for small business owners and entrepreneurs to create jobs by reducing the tax burden, as well as eliminating regulatory redundancy and unnecessary bureaucracy to make it hard for them to start and succeed. Another priority is working to get troops out of Afghanistan and bringing the money now spent there home to rebuild the economy, Gabbard said.
When it comes to pursuing federal funding for Hawaii Island, Gabbard said she would go after projects to improve key infrastructure, such as harbors and airports; fighting invasive species and investments in West Hawaii’s community college.
Getting people back to work by promoting diversified tourism, starting construction of infrastructure projects and supporting clean energy opportunities was a top priority for Hannemann, the former Honolulu mayor. He repeatedly touted his bipartisan leadership and past experiences of stimulating the economy at the state and county levels.
Helping the poor and seniors, as well as sustaining Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid programs, were also among his priorities. But just as important is securing funding for long-overdue improvements at airports and for education, including supporting Hawaii’s teachers, improving teacher quality and strengthening early childhood education, he said.
Kiaaina was an intern for Sen. Daniel Inouye, a legislative assistant for Akaka and chief of staff for Case. According to her, the economy is the most important issue. She said she intends to bolster the economy by protecting existing jobs, creating new ones and helping small businesses.
She said she also wants to protect the gains of the Affordable Health Care Act; will fight to protect Social Security and Medicare; and will support incentives for alternative energy because it creates new, clean jobs and makes Hawaii more self-sufficient.
To get long-term economic growth, Marx, a Hilo attorney, thinks the government and American labor needs to work together. This includes securing infrastructure projects such as roads, water systems and revitalizing irrigation systems and other vital agricultural sector elements. His other priorities included protecting Medicare and Medicaid from budget cuts.
Another top priority, he said, is investing in well-funded and maintained schools that provide quality technical training, as well as providing student loan forgiveness to those who go on to work in vital fields. Marx also was in favor of tax breaks for small businesses and those who create jobs at home.
Besides priorities, candidates answered questions pertaining to the health-care provider shortage, visa waiver program, the Jones Act, job creation, promotion of the ocean recreation industry and other issues.