Hannemann and Gabbard: Down to the Wire

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With the Aug. 11 Hawaii Democratic primary less than a week away, polls are pointing to a photo-finish between the top two candidates for the Second Congressional District being vacated by Mazie Hirono.

A recent poll by Honolulu Civil Beat showed first-term Honolulu City Council member Tulsi Gabbard with a 20% lead over former Honolulu mayor Mufi Hannemann. A Hawaii News Now/Star Advertiser poll on July 30 had Hannemann with a 10-point lead, but Gabbard has been climbing in popularity since January of this year, benefiting from aggressive spending efforts.

No Republican candidate appears to be a credible threat this year, and with Hawaii Democrats likely to keep control of Hirono’s seat in the House of Representatives, we take a moment to examine the top two contenders for her congressional post.

Hannemann: Experienced, Well-Connected

Mufi Hannemann began his private sector career as an executive with C. Brewer & Co., at the time one of Hawaii’s largest agribusinesses. His time there included a stint on the Big Island, including managing the Punalu`u Bake Shop, known for its sweetbread.

He went on to run the Department of Business, Economic Development, and Tourism during the Waihe`e administration, and served in multiple Democrat and Republican presidential administrations. He made an unsuccessful bid for congress in 1990, but would go on to be elected to the Honolulu City Council, eventually serving as its chair. Hannemann later served two terms as Honolulu mayor before a failed bid for the governorship in 2010. He is currently the president of the Hawaii Lodging and Tourism Association.

Mufi Hannemann. Image courtesy University of Hawaii.


To promote economic growth in Hawaii, Hannemann is focused on streamlining visa applications for overseas visitors. He is in favor of a pilot program to allow visa waivers for Chinese citizens visiting Hawaii. A similar visa waiver program for South Koreans proved highly successful at increasing foreign visitor traffic.

Agricultural growth should be a major focus of the outer-island economies, according to Hannemann, who reduced property tax rates on farm land during his time as Honolulu mayor. He supports extensions of credit assistance and loan guarantee programs for farmers, and says he will work to promote greater access to overseas markets.

He is a supporter of the Simpson-Bowles Commission recommendations to lower the federal budget deficit, citing his experience in balancing Honolulu’s finances as proof that he is capable of tackling fiscal issues. Hannemann is quick to remind voters of the 5% pay cuts he instituted within his mayoral cabinet in 2009.

At seeming odds with his commitment to lower the national debt is Hannemann’s insistence that he will bring generous federal funding to Hawaii State. The candidate proudly cites the hundreds of millions of dollars in federal grants he received during his mayoral tenure, and promises to seek more funding for Hawaii-based projects.

Honolulu’s rail project is set to become one of Mufi Hannemann’s legacies. Image courtesy University of Hawaii.

In regard to health care reform, Hannemann has stated his support for President Obama’s Affordable Care Act.


He enjoys the support of the State of Hawaii Organization of Police Officers, the UPW, ILWU, HSTA, HGEA, Hawaii Firefighters Association, and other organizations.

Gabbard: A Fresh-Faced Veteran

Tulsi Gabbard is the youngest woman in the USA to have been elected as a state representative, being elected to represent Oahu’s 42nd district at the age of 21. She would go on to serve two volunteer tours of duty (one in Iraq, and one in Kuwait) with the Hawaii National Guard, being honored with meritorious service both in training and while on duty overseas.

Tulsi Gabbard. Courtesy photo.

Gabbard is now a company commander in the Hawaii National Guard, and serves on the Honolulu City Council, representing District 6. She announced her candidacy for the US Congress in May of 2011, and has managed to nearly match the much more established Mufi Hannemann in fundraising efforts.

Both are apparently feeling pre-election pressure. Hannemann loaned his campaign $150,000 in late July, while Gabbard gave her campaign $30,000 of her own funds last Friday.


When it comes to resolving fiscal issues at the federal level, Gabbard opposes cuts to Medicare and Social Security (both of which could happen under the Simpson-Bowles plan that Hanneman says he supports). Instead, she claims the best solution to solving the nation’s debt woes is economic growth. To meet that end, she agrees with Hannemann’s position on visa waivers. She also supports tax breaks for “green” and “high technology” start-ups in Hawaii. In the realm of agriculture, Gabbard claims to support “small farmers,” and although her website fails to mention specific initiatives, she has come out in favor of labeling for GMO (genetically modified) products.

The military veteran is a major proponent of ending the war in Afghanistan, proposing that the funds saved be used for domestic infrastructure investment. She is also in favor of ending “oil speculation,” claiming that it has had a role in driving up the price of oil, which Hawaii is dependent on, though she has failed to elaborate on or provide concrete proof of that claim. Gabbard has made energy independence for Hawaii a part of her platform.

Tulsi Gabbard wants to quickly end the war in Afghanistan.

Gabbard vaguely describes an agenda of eliminating waste and fraud, but gets specific in her criticism of Hannemann’s management of the Honolulu rail project, where she claims he awarded roughly $700 million in contracts to campaign contributors. Hannemann has disputed that there was any impropriety, and no charges have been brought to date related to his handling of rail contracts.

Like Hannemann, Gabbard supports President Obama’s Affordable Care Act.

Her supporters include the Sierra Club, Emily’s List, VoteVets.org, WUFPAC, and the IBEW Local 1186, among other groups.

Social Issues: The Dividing Line

The clearest differences between Hannemann and Gabbard are found in the candidate’s views on social issues. Hannemann clearly states he is morally opposed to abortion, although he insists he would not fight to overturn Roe vs. Wade. He does however, support states’ ability to regulate the procedure.

Gabbard, who was formerly opposed to abortion, is now strongly against overturning Roe vs. Wade. She has garnered the support of the women’s advocacy group “Emily’s List,” and supports efforts to expand women’s access to contraceptives.

Gay marriage and other social issues sharply divide Hannemann from Gabbard. Image courtesy University of Iowa.

On gay marriage, Hannemann has traditionally taken a strongly conservative stance, though his views moderated slightly after his failed bid for the governorship in 2010. He now claims to support civil unions, but is murky when queried over same-sex couples adopting children. The former mayor has said that, ideally, children should be placed with relatives who live in traditional marriage settings, but notes that he would defer to state law.

Gabbard’s views on gay marriage have taken a sharp left turn in recent years. As the daughter of a state senator staunchly opposed to gay marriage, Tulsi Gabbard voiced strong opposition to the homosexual lifestyle in 2004, testifying as a state representative that year that “to try to act as if there is a difference between ‘civil unions’ and same-sex marriage is dishonest…As Democrats we should be representing the views of the people, not a small number of homosexual extremists.”

Eight years later, her views have changed dramatically. In a December 2011 letter posted on her website, Gabbard described how she had experienced a major shift in her thinking after military deployments to the Middle East, claiming that seeing oppressive policies against women led her to change her position on social issues. Gabbard explained that she now feels “allowing government to dictate these most personal aspects of our lives is diametrically opposed to what makes America great.”

Gabbard’s public stance on marriage has recently become decidedly libertarian, stating “government has no business in our bedrooms.” She says she will fight to repeal the federal defense of marriage act (DOMA), and favors reclassifying all legal unions (marriage included) as “Civil Unions,” to eliminate what she describes as a “two tier” system that is inherently discriminatory. She feels that same-sex couples should also be allowed to adopt.

Experience vs. Change

With a combination of private and public sector experience in a broad variety of settings, Hannemann’s resume is impressive. While there is no denying the former mayor is highly capable, some may be weary of a well-connected, established candidate with strong ties to Hawaii’s traditional union bastions. His conservative views on marriage and abortion rights are well-known, and should allow traditional-values voters an easy choice.

Gabbard’s impressive military record and early political experiences foreshadow what could be a long electoral career. Though she lacks Hannemann’s experience and connections, it is worth noting that does not disqualify a candidate from being “effective.” After all, Hawaii’s senior senator, Dan Inouye, was elected to the US House of Representatives while still in his early 30s. Her recent leftward shift on social issues allows her some key contrasts from Hannemann, something that should be appealing to more liberal residents.

With likely no major Republican contender for the congressional seat being vacated by Mazie Hirono, the Hawaii Democratic Primary on Aug. 11 is all but certain to crown the Second Congressional District’s next representative.

Voters should weigh the choice carefully, and decide which candidate most closely represents their mix of goals and social values.

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