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UPDATE: Schatz, Hanabusa Court Big Island Voters

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***Updated 8:24 p.m.***

US Sen. Brian Schatz and US Rep. Colleen Hanabusa squared off tonight in Hilo as they looked to garner support for their bids in the Democratic primary to fill the remaining term of the late Sen. Daniel Inouye.

The debate, held before a full house at Hilo’s Sangha Hall, was the second meeting between the two Senate hopefuls following a debate Monday night on Kauai.

Both candidates at times invoked the names of prominent supporters, past or present.

In Schatz’s case, that was President Obama, who has endorsed him in the race.

For Hanabusa, it was Inouye, who endorsed her as his successor, and whose wife is also among her supporters.


When asked by moderator Sherry Bracken which bills about which they were most passionate, Hanabusa said it was the National Defense Authorization Act.

She said that legislation is needed to restore funding for Department of Defense projects in Hawaii, including further improvements to Saddle Road, now officially the Daniel K. Inouye Highway.

Schatz singled out the Social Security Enhancement Act, which he said is needed to protect the program.

He also accused Hanabusa of casting a vote in the House that would undermine those efforts.

Hanabusa maintained that she is also a strong supporter of Social Security, but said she doesn’t believe there are currently any significant threats to the program.


Regarding economic opportunities, Hanabusa said she would pursue additional resources for ongoing research and development projects, including astronomy on Mauna Kea, the pharmacy school at the University of Hawaii at Hilo and the USDA’s Pacific Basin Agricultural Research Center.

Schatz said his focus would continue to be on clean energy and support for the University of Hawaii at Hilo.

Asked about the current lack of a customs office in Kona, Schatz said federal custom officials have told the Senate Subcommittee on Tourism, Innovation, and Competitiveness he chairs that they are pursuing negotiations for advance clearance for tourists while still in Japan.

Hanabusa said she would support that effort, but said the state also needs to commit to providing the resources for such a facility and for Kona International Airport as a major international destination to attract increased federal support.

On the matter of Pohakuloa Training Area, Schatz called it a “critical asset,” but said legislation Hanabusa supported would expand its runway to handle C-17 aircraft and increased training. He said she should have first asked Big Island residents whether they wanted such an expansion.


Hanabusa said the legislation was aimed at studying the issue, adding that she is sensitive to increased military presence because she has lived near Makua Valley on Oahu, another Army training area.

On Saddle Road, both candidates said they had funding mechanisms in mind for completing renovation of the cross-island highway.

“We’re going to finish this,” Schatz said.

As for genetically modified organisms, Hanabusa said the federal government is already dealing with it through regulation of organic foods.

Schatz said he favors “home rule,” adding that he doesn’t believe it is the federal government’s role to interfere with the local or county government’s decisions on the matter.

Asked what they could bring to the job they seek, Schatz said he has already been building relationships in the Senate.

Hanabusa said her extensive experience in the Hawaii Legislature has shown that it’s easy to get things done when one is a member of a majority.

“I know what it’s like to be in a situation where you can call the shots,” she said.

She said the true test is showing political skill when in a minority, as she is in the Republican-controlled US House, and being able to find bi-partisan support.

Posted 12:51 p.m.:

The leading candidates for Hawaii’s US Senate seat revealed some significant differences in their first debate of the election season held on Kauai Tuesday night.

US Sen. Brian Schatz and US Rep. Colleen Hanabusa differed widely on issues that included veterans’ care and genetically modified organisms, the Honolulu Star-Advertiser reported today.

The two will meet again tonight in Hilo in their only scheduled Big Island match-up leading up to the Aug. 9 primary.

The newspaper reported (http://bit.ly/1xiOqzF — premium) that while Hanabusa favored expanding the US Naval Hospital on Guam for care of veterans, Schatz believes Veterans Affairs resources should be expended in Hawaii where the vast majority of the veterans in the Asia-Pacific region are located.

The Sangha Hall in Hilo. File photo.

The Sangha Hall in Hilo. File photo.

They and were also split on the issue of GMOs, with Hanabusa in favor of the federal government overseeing regulation and Schatz favoring home rule.

Both candidates are in opposition to further military action in Iraq and in favor of protecting Social Security and Medicare, the newspaper reported.

Tonight’s event, which is free and open to the public, is scheduled for 6:30-8 p.m. at the Sangha Hall on Kilauea Avenue.

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