LIHUE — An hourlong debate between Gov. David Ige and Congresswoman Colleen Hanabusa attracted about 150 people to the Aqua Kauai Beach Resort Tuesday night.
The governor and his primary challenger fielded questions on taxes, agriculture, natural disaster and occasionally took a few jabs at each other in what was otherwise a face off with few fireworks.
When asked if the cap on the amount of money counties receive from the Transient Accommodations Tax should be lifted, Hanabusa said her concern has always been how the tax is used.
“I believe the TAT is a special tax and there should be a nexus between the tax and what it’s used for and it should be used in the context of enhancing tourism,” Hanabusa said.
Ige said he supports lifting the cap.
“The cap was actually set at a level that was higher than what they received in the previous years, but obviously, as you said, much time has passed and obviously the TAT has grown,” he said. “The share that the counties receive has grown incrementally but not in proportion in the growth in the TAT in general.”
Ige said he would support the agriculture industry by making investments in the University of Hawaii’s College of Tropical Agriculture that would work with farmers to understand technologies to increase yield and research new varieties.
Making investments to create diversified agriculture parks, investing in water systems and making space available on state lands suitable for farming, creating better markets and providing farm mentorship training programs are also ways Ige said he would support the agriculture industry.
Issues with kalo farmers are what first brought Hanabusa to Kauai as a Congresswoman. Kalo, she said, is a legacy crop. It’s much more significant than just a plant and should be protected, she said.
“As we all know, 80 percent of the kalo grown in the state is grown on Kauai and 60 percent of that is grown in Hanalei,” she said.
Kalo is one thing that’s so much part of Hawaii and so much part of the Hawaiian culture, she said.
“It represents from where we come from, so those kinds of agricultural endeavors must have a certain level of protection and we must do everything we can to ensure that the federal government understands that,” she said.
The debate turned to natural disasters and one major miscue that have shaken the state this year.
In April, Kauai experienced historic flooding from record rains that devastated communities on the North Shore and in Koloa. At the same time, parts of Oahu experienced flooding. Most recently, many homes, businesses and infrastructure on Hawaii Island were lost due to a volcanic eruption that continues.
In January, a false missile alert frightened residents throughout the state. Ige was blamed for the state’s slow reaction and handling of the incident that was largely blamed on an employee mistake.
Hanabusa said missile alert shouldn’t be handled on a state level, which is why the Congressional Delegation sought to clarify the Department of Defense’s role on procedures.
“They should be the entity that triggers it and not the state and that’s why we had the problem to begin with,” she said.
The state is responsible for natural disasters and has to rely on the federal government, she said.
“It is a matter of being able to anticipate what needs to be done,” she said. “When it comes to flooding, the one thing that we cannot ignore is it’s also a function of climate change and we have to be able to plan for that accordingly.”
Ige said responding to natural or man-made disasters is a team effort between state, county and federal governments.
“I was really proud of our collective response to the flooding here on Kauai as well as East Honolulu as well as the current eruption on eruption on Hawaii Island,” Ige said.
The entities acted quickly and were able to get disaster declarations from the president and FEMA that enabled access to resources the state wouldn’t normally have been able to access.
“We are also working on helping communities be more resilient,” Ige said.
This election is about leadership, but it is also about the respect the government gives to Kauai County, Hanabusa said, adding that the government is often too Oahu centered.
“That’s what has to end. Each island is a gem in and of itself and what you need in terms of how government views you is the ability to say, ‘hey, we will help you develop whatever that infrastructure is, or whatever that specific economic development engine you have that defines you,’ because it is you who matter,” she said.
Ige said real leadership is about engaging the community, working with stakeholders, identifying the best solutions and doing the right thing.
“I’m proud of what we’ve been able to do together as a community,” he said. “I’m proud to serve as your governor because of all of the things we’ve been able to accomplish.”
Bethany Freudenthal, Courts, Crime and County reporter, 652-7891, email@example.com