By Dennis Oda, Star-Bulletin
In a moment of levity before last night's debate,
U.S. Rep Neil Abercrombie, left, and challenger
Gene Ward shake hands and point at each other.
trade barbs in
lively, testy debate
Abercrombie takes offense
at Ward's 'orangutan' reference
By Craig Gima
Decision 98: Time of Change
Your guide to the election
At one point in last night's testy debate between Democratic U.S. Rep. Neil Abercrombie and Republican challenger state Rep. Gene Ward, a question about pork barrel spending turned especially prickly.
Ward was making a point that Hawaii ranks 41st in the nation in health and welfare spending, and that Guam gets more military spending per capita than Hawaii.
"Someone told me the other day, orangutans (would be) in the position to bring in federal spending because of our national importance, our strategic location in the Pacific," he said during the debate televised on KHON-TV2. "That's why we get this money. And yet we worship the delegation, and that's not right."
Abercrombie took offense.
"I hardly think that it does us any service to refer to Sen. (Dan) Inouye or Sen. (Dan) Akaka or Rep. (Patsy) Mink as orangutans."
Asked to clarify his remarks, Ward said he wanted to make the point that the significance of the congressional delegation is overplayed -- and apologized to anyone who may have taken offense to the statement "other than Mr. Abercrombie."
The tone of the debate fell in line with the negative TV ads both candidates have been running.
A question about negative campaigning even produced the first disagreement of the night when Abercrombie complained about Ward's opening statement accusing him of voting for tax increases, same-sex marriage, burning the flag and a congressional pay raise.
"Suddenly, a few days before an election, I am painted as some kind of monster," Abercrombie said.
"Couldn't we address the issues that will actually serve to help the people of this state see a revived economy and see what role the congressional member can do to bring that about?"
In response, Ward noted that Abercrombie put out the first negative campaign ads.
"He came out of Washington and immediately started blasting me as one who is linked to the hip with Newt Gingrich, would take away Social Security and have Medicare destroyed," Ward said.
"He actually attacked me first."
In between the attacks, the candidates did manage to talk about issues and even to agree on one. Both support the patient's bill of rights for people who use health maintenance organizations.
But the two mainly repeated barbs over abortion, same-sex marriage and the economy.
Abercrombie criticized Ward over his support of a flat tax, saying it shifts the burden of taxation from the wealthy to the middle class. Ward said taxes need to be simpler and he would maintain the mortgage interest tax deduction and the deduction for charitable contributions.
Ward also said he supports term limits because an elected official should be able to accomplish the job or move to a higher office within three consecutive terms. Abercrombie said he opposes term limits because seniority helps Hawaii's delegation, adding that Congress already has a term limit of sorts because representatives run for re-election every two years.