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Hot topics await election season


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POSTED: Sunday, May 10, 2009

Elections may be 18 months away, but the 76 Democrats and Republicans realize that the big controversial issues from this year will follow them down next year's campaign trail.

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Hawaii has had no more divisive social issue in the last decade than same-sex marriage, and it was back again this year without a decision.

Democrats also raised an estimated extra $300 million in state taxes while Republican Gov. Linda Lingle rallied the GOP and businesses in a big but ineffectual tax protest.

And finally, Democrats showed in the closing days of the Legislature that they are going to make Lingle herself an issue in next year's campaign.

“;The minority party and this governor have been in charge of this government and have done nothing. There has been no streamlining, no budget cutting, all we have are grand announcements,”; said Sen. Gary Hooser (D, Kauai-Niihau) in a closing-day speech.

Republican Sen. Sam Slom discounts the effect Lingle will have in next year's elections because “;we found out years ago that the governor really doesn't have any coattails,”; meaning she has not been able to increase GOP numbers in the Legislature.

“;She won't help people and she won't hurt people; the issue is clear: taxation and spending,”; Slom says.

The same-sex issue, however, could be a dividing point next year.

At the close of the 2009 session, Democrats pushed out a bill, HB 444, to permit civil unions between members of the same sex. It was then amended to stipulate that a civil union was not marriage and that even non-gay couples could use it.

Time ran out for any more action this year, and Senate President Colleen Hanabusa thinks it can be easily handled next year.

“;What this bill does is address the middle ground,”; Hanabusa said.

But Sen. Mike Gabbard (D, Kalealoa-Makakilo) says the public is strongly opposed to same-sex marriage or increased civil unions.

“;This issue is very important to the people of Hawaii,”; Gabbard says, warning candidates that taking the wrong position could cost them the election.

During Hawaii's first round of debates on same-sex marriage in 1996-98, Gabbard was one of the chief opponents and helped defeat several legislators.

“;The level of frustration has risen because this keeps coming back after the public thought it was settled 10 years ago,”; Gabbard said.

Finally, Democrats and Republicans will square off on local tax increases once again next year.

Lingle staged a public ceremony to veto the tax bills she opposed last week, challenging the Legislature to override her vetoes. After all four of the tax bills, raising income tax, hotel room rates, home sale costs and some cigarette costs, were approved, the issue was still hot.

House Speaker Calvin Say said the state budget had to be balanced and the only way to do that was by getting more money through tax increases and cutting spending.

“;When I go house to house, I'll tell my constituents and voters: At the end of the day, what would you want Calvin Say to do? Increase the general excise tax by two percent and forgive those four tax measures? That was the decision, the choice, we had to make, which was very, very difficult,”; Say said.

Hanabusa dismissed the GOP call against high taxes, because that is the norm for Hawaii.

“;Hawaii has always had high taxes; it is nothing new. The question is going to be, what did you do to reduce, or did you fatten, the budget,”; Hanabusa said.