By CAROLYN LUCAS-ZENK
The Kona-Kohala Chamber of Commerce and several community organizations hosted Sunday afternoon a forum for candidates in the running for the seat being vacated by U.S. Sen. Daniel K. Akaka, who is retiring after more than 20 years of service. His retirement opens up a reliably Democratic seat.
However, the audience in Kealakehe High School cafeteria only heard from one candidate, Republican Linda Lingle, because she showed up. Her opponent, Democrat Mazie Hirono, was absent.
According to the moderator, Sherry Bracken of LAVA 105 and Hawaii Public Radio, Lingle accepted the forum invitation weeks before the August primary while Hirono “put off” responding to the request for months. Bracken said forum sponsors received a letter, dated Sept. 20, from Hirono, stating her schedule was preventing her attendance. Instead of canceling the forum, the event became talk story session, which allowed attendees to still hear Lingle’s platform and learn more about the former Hawaii governor.
The hour-and-a-half-long event featured a variety of topics, including how Lingle would deal with anti-American sentiments to her thoughts on term limits, furloughs and the calling for a constitutional amendment banning abortion.
A top priority for Lingle is getting a subcommittee on tourism created in the U.S. Senate. She called not having such a subcommittee on important industry that employs millions of people “a gross oversight.” She envisions chairing the subcommittee, helping streamlining the visa process and supporting measures that attract and keep businesses strong.
Other priorities included making sure the U.S. Pacific Command is well funded and staffed strong; eliminating the tax loopholes and special tax treatment that resulted in $1.1 trillion a year in revenue loss to the federal government; and simplifying the tax code.
Lingle favors bringing down the corporate tax rate from 39 percent to something more reasonable, such as 20 to 25 percent. However, she would still retain deductions, such as the mortgage interest and charitable contributions. Lingle also said she would cut the regulations that “strangle” the business community, as well as require a jobs impact statement that would accompany every new federal rule and regulation. The jobs impact statement would allegedly provide the public greater understanding of the risk the proposed rule would present for jobs and the overall economy, she added.
When it comes to Medicare, Lingle shared her support and enthusiasm for an idea recommended by the Bipartisan Policy Center, a national policy and advocacy think tank. She revealed she’s one of six founding members of the center’s governors council, and she favors preserving traditional Medicare, but also offering seniors in Medicare a premium-support payment they could use to purchase private insurance as an option. Lingle said private health plans would be chosen from those who meet the minimum requirements and be from regulated exchanges. She also stressed there would be regulations preventing cherry-picking of the healthiest seniors. She thinks this private option would increase competition, lower costs and best contain Medicare’s growth.
Lingle repeatedly focused on her bipartisan approach to national problems and ending the gridlock in Washington, D.C.; her commitment to putting Hawaii’s people first and possessing an understanding of the important issues facing neighbor island communities; and her ability to make tough decisions. She said she can best articulate Hawaii’s needs, including why money spent on the Big Island is in the country’s best interests. She pledged to not be held to the Republican Party and not go to work for the next president. Instead, she expressed her duty to propose and support legislation that’s good for Hawaii. She said she wants to be more like Sen. Susan Collins, R-Maine, “who votes 62 percent with the party,” and “doesn’t vote based on whose idea it was, but who benefits.”
Lingle claimed the skills she gained as Hawaii governor from 2002-10, including confronting and managing the state’s economic crisis by closing an almost $3 billion deficit in 18 months without increasing taxes and while maintaining a “AA” bond rating. She also touted her win of the majority of votes in all of Hawaii’s 51 House Districts during her 2006 re-election campaign — something that she believes shows a trust and proves her ability to work across party lines.
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