HAWAII'S GUBERNATORIAL DEBATE
FL MORRIS / FMORRIS@STARBULLETIN.COM
Gubernatorial candidates Linda Lingle and Randy Iwase put on their game faces at the opening of last night's televised debate at the KITV News4 studio.
Sticking to safe scripts
Democrat Randy Iwase strives to link Linda Lingle to Bush, while the GOP governor points to her achievements
The challenger went on the attack while the incumbent stayed mostly on message, highlighting her past four years in office, as the two candidates for governor faced off in what is expected to be their only live, televised debate before the Nov. 7 general election.
Given the chance to directly question Gov. Linda Lingle, Democratic challenger Randy Iwase harshly criticized the Bush administration and the war in Iraq, drawing attention to the toll it has taken on Hawaii's military families.
"Are you ready to admit that you and President Bush were wrong, and will you pick up the phone and call him and demand an exit strategy?" Iwase asked Lingle.
Lingle noted that an "overwhelming" majority of federal lawmakers voted in favor of the war, saying that she sympathizes with Hawaii's military families, but she does not support setting a firm withdrawal date.
"We should never telegraph a timetable to the terrorists," she said. "An artificial timetable would put our troops at risk, and that's something that I will just never do."
The discourse became testy at times, with Iwase calling attention to Lingle's record campaign war chest of $6 million.
Responding to a question on prisons, Lingle noted that Iwase has said he favors building a new facility in a "rural" area of the state. She then challenged him to say where he would build it, noting that no community had stepped forward to support a new prison.
"For $6 million, I think you could be a little more accurate on my quote," Iwase said, clarifying that he had said he supported building a prison in a "remote" area.
"It is not leadership to say this is a NIMBY issue," he added, referring to opposition known as "not in my back yard."
His stance on prisons was one of several issues the Lingle camp challenged in an e-mail campaign during the debate.
Throughout the broadcast, the campaign sent 11 e-mail messages entitled "Setting the Record Straight" which brought up past statements or votes by Iwase that tended to contradict what he said on air.
"I think it was obvious why that was needed," Lingle said after the debate, "because Mr. Iwase said things that were simply not true.
"I thought tonight went well because I was able to talk about clearly the achievements that I've made with the community in these past four years. Mr. Iwase wants to try to rewrite our history."
FL MORRIS / FMORRIS@STARBULLETIN.COM
Supporters lined the sidewalk on King Street outside the KITV studio, which hosted a debate last night between Gov. Linda Lingle and Randy Iwase. Rak Moon Sung of Koreans for Lingle/Aiona beat a drum as his group walked down the street alongside Iwase backers.
The debate highlighted the candidates' differences on several issues, although both said they would not support another tax increase for mass transit and that they supported a form of federal recognition for native Hawaiians.
Iwase said afterward he was satisfied with his performance.
"I tried to answer the questions to the best of my ability, as honestly as possible," he said. "What I did here was not scripted."
Iwase repeatedly tried to link the governor to the Bush administration, referring to the president as "your friend" when addressing Lingle.
The governor stuck mainly to highlighting her achievements and repeated themes that she has emphasized in campaign ads, including the state's improved economy and tougher laws on crime.
To Iwase she noted four anti-crime measures she had signed into law -- including the establishment of an online sexual offender registry and tougher penalties for "three strikes" offenders -- and asked whether he supported such measures.
Iwase said he agreed with some of the measures, but criticized Lingle for taking credit for proposals that already were moving forward among Democrats in the Legislature, calling her administration "public relations and taking credit for everything."
The debate, held at the KITV-4 studio on King Street, was sponsored by the Hawaii chapter of the Society of Professional Journalists.
Supporters for both candidates began gathering along the sidewalk outside the studio by 5 p.m., waving signs and voicing their support to rush-hour traffic.
The mood was cooperative as opponents shared sidewalk space despite their differences of opinion. As a group of Lingle supporters shouted the incumbent's familiar chant of "four more years," a nearby group of Iwase fans responded, "of what?"
Ahuimanu Elementary teacher Mae Kishimoto turned out in support of Iwase, saying she believes he will support education.
"He has the right heart for education," she said. "Both candidates say they're for education, but not all are supportive of teachers. I feel Randy is supportive of teachers."
Lingle supporters echoed the theme of the Lingle campaign, stressing the accomplishments of her first term.
"I think she can make a strong case in showing that she has done a tremendous job," said Brandon Dela Cruz, 27, of Salt Lake, who was sign-waving with Susan Jackson, state deputy health director.
Star-Bulletin reporter Crystal Kua contributed to this report.