Missed the Aiona, Davis, Hanneman and Ige Face Off on PBS Hawai‘i? Here’s What You Need to Know

Gubernatorial candidates sought to paint themselves as change agents as they seek to replace ousted Gov. Neil Abercrombie.
Photos: Courtesy of PBS Hawai‘i


If last night’s forum on PBS Hawai‘i’s Insights was the first you’ve seen or heard of the governor’s contest, you might be led to believe it’s a two-person race. And not between the two candidates you might expect.

Former Lt. Gov. James “Duke” Aiona, a Republican, and former Honolulu Mayor Mufi Hannemann, running as a newly minted Hawai‘i Independent, dominated the discussion (sometimes even hogging the mic), touting their executive experience and claiming the mantle of change-agent in a change election. State Sen. David Ige is both the presumptive front-runner according to early polls and the Democrat who ousted Gov. Neil Abercrombie. However, Ige appeared less aggressive, offering sometimes brief answers instead of taking the opportunity to do a little mic-hogging of his own.

To be sure, this is the Ige voters have come to know: congenial and unassuming, less willing to rely on boisterous rhetoric than his opponents. But he’s no shrinking violet.

For instance, Aiona and Hannemann went so far as to gang up on the mild-mannered state senator. Hannemann wanted Ige to explain why he didn’t push for a bill that would have helped the state hospital system. Aiona then piled on, asking the same question of Ige, who is the chairman of the powerful Ways and Means committee in the state Senate.

“If anyone wants to move a bill, you can. Why did you not see the urgency in regards to this issue?” Aiona asked.

Ige fired back. “It’s obvious that people here at the table don’t really know how the Legislature works,” he said. He then proceeded to school his opponents on the nuances of the sausage-making process.  

(Libertarian Jeff Davis’ addition was largely parenthetical, so here he is in parentheses. After overcoming microphone issues at the top of the show, Davis highlighted his concern over the state’s one-party dominance, the Jones Act and the state’s high cost of living. He didn’t, however, talk about some of his other favorite issues, like legalizing marijuana or cruise-ship gambling.)

Rather than boring readers with a blow-by-blow recap of last night’s debate, we’ve summarized the candidates’ positions on some of the important issues discussed last night. Here’s what they said:


James “Duke” Aiona (R)    


Aiona attempted to distance himself from the Lingle administration, whose furloughs of public school teachers and state employees hung around his neck in the 2010 elections. He said his role as lieutenant governor had one purpose: to be a “heartbeat” away from the governorship. “I was part of the discussion. But at the end of the day, it was the governor's say,” he said.


University of Hawai‘i:

Aiona says the University of Hawai‘i Board of Regents and the school’s leadership should be given more autonomy from the state Legislature. “Whenever something doesn’t go right, you have the Legislature interjecting,” he says.



“I don’t have any endorsements from public or private unions,” Aiona said, as if to suggest he would not be beholden to union leadership. Hannemann then confronted Aiona, claiming he had indeed sought the endorsement of at least one union, the State of Hawaii Organization of Police Officers, or SHOPO.



Aiona said that he and his running mate Elwin Ahu, senior pastor with New Hope Metro, are both former judges who are familiar and respectful of the rule of law. Their decisions have been “based on the rule of law,” and not on “prejudices,” he said.


Kaka‘ako Redevelopment:

Aiona said he would like to ensure there are a higher ratio of affordable homes and rentals in Kaka‘ako. He would like to remove loopholes that allow developers to change the ratio of affordable units over time.


Jeff Davis (L)

Can you run a state?

Davis was asked if he had the experience to be governor. He used a line that we would hear several more times throughout the evening: “I’ve never run for public office, and that’s one of my biggest assets.”


University of Hawai‘i:

The entire education system, including UH, needs to be overhauled, he said. A change of leadership is not enough to create systemic change. “New boss, same as the old boss,” Davis quipped.



Davis reminded the candidates that unions are groups of people and not entities unto themselves. He said decisions should be made in support of people, not unions, and the top candidates are offering “the same ole, same ole” solutions.



Davis said there would no religious influence to his decision-making.


Kaka‘ako Redevelopment:

“Right now we have not lived, worked and played,” Davis said. He called for the dismantling of the Hawai‘i Community Development Authority overseeing the development of the area.


Mufi Hannemann (HI)      

Political Opportunism:

Moderator Mahealani Richardson pointed out to viewers that Hannemann stepped down as mayor to challenge then-U.S. Rep. Neil Abercrombie to the Democratic nomination for governor in 2010. He lost. Then he lost again two years later to Tulsi Gabbard for U.S. Representative. Does shrugging off the Democratic party to run as an independent make him an opportunist, Richardson asked. Hannemann said no. He affirmed he has a commitment to public service and that he sees “an opportunity to change the direction of the state.” As Honolulu mayor, he said he demonstrated that party politics are “less important than getting the business of the people done.”


University of Hawai‘i:

Hannemann suggested that the UH system is bogged down by the state’s politics. He echoed the need for a more autonomous university and said he would remove the politics that is preventing the university leadership from doing its job.



“I’ve never had a problem with this,” Hannemann said. Though at the top of the show, Richardson did point out that Hannemann was often confused as a Republican because of his conservative views. At the city, Hannemann said he was respectful of every religion, attending Buddhist, Jewish and Muslim services in his capacity as mayor.


Kaka‘ako Redevelopment:

“Shift it back to the city and let them have the authority,” Hannemann said. He lamented the “rush” to build luxury high-rises. Hannemann said people need to feel as if Kaka‘ako is going to be their neighborhood and not a magnet for the wealthy.



David Ige (D)

Charisma (or lack thereof):

Ige was asked whether he’s got the persona to step into the role of the state’s chief executive. The state senator rattled off a list of impressive legislation he’s shepherded, including comprehensive restructuring of the state public school system and reforming workers compensation.


University of Hawai‘i:

Ige pointed to legislation that he supported that gave the university fiscal flexibility and allows the UH Board of Regents and the president decision-making power. He said the university’s success depends on it being autonomous from everyday politics.



A Buddhist, Ige said he believed “all (elected officials) separate the practice of faith and our jobs at the capitol.” He said he would serve the interests of all people, regardless of religious views.


Kaka‘ako Redevelopment:

Ige agreed there has been “too much, too fast” and “too much emphasis on luxury high-rises.” Ige said he would like to go back to the original vision of Kaka‘ako as a place for workforce housing and as a live, work and play neighborhood.