HONOLULU - Three out of four candidates for Hawaii governor say they agree Hawaii's health exchange is a mess, taxes are burdensome and leadership style in the state's top office needs to change.
The fourth - and most formidable opponent to each of the other candidates - was absent Friday during the first debate of the general election after a disagreement with organizers.
Democrat nominee David Ige was mentioned frequently during the 90-minute forum between Republican James "Duke" Aiona, Independent Party candidate Mufi Hannemann and Libertarian Jeff Davis.
Aiona says his campaign is about transparency. Hannemann says he'd key in on Hawaii's troubled health exchange and revive a failed plan for an interisland ferry. Davis says he wants to get money out of politics and emphasize that the campaign is a four-way race.
"I can tell you right now, what you see is what you get," said Aiona, who said many people overlooked during the primary that Republicans had selected the first governor-lieutenant governor ticket of two candidates of Native Hawaiian ancestry.
"This was very unique," said Aiona, a former lieutenant governor who ran unsuccessfully for the state's top office in 2010 against Hawaii Gov. Neil Abercrombie.
Four years later, the governor's race looks much different with Abercrombie already failing in his bid for a second term.
Ige, a state senator and chairman of the Senate finance committee, took down Abercrombie in a primary earlier this month by a surprising margin.
A poll commissioned by the Honolulu Star-Advertiser and Hawaii News Now in July, before the state's primary, showed Aiona ahead of Ige in a hypothetical three-way matchup with Hannemann, a former Democrat. But more than four in five voters who cast ballots during the primary voted in Democratic races, and Ige drew nearly four times as many votes as Aiona in his more competitive race.
The three candidates debating Friday agreed that Hawaii should not raise its general excise tax and that the Jones Act, a federal law that regulates the shipping industry, might be amended.
Hannemann, who said he has long supported the federal law, said he is willing to discuss a potential amendment if it would benefit Hawaii.
"You never shut down ideas from those who may oppose how you feel," Hannemann said. "You always have to be open to having those discussions."
Aiona said he would support Hawaii being exempted from the law.
The candidates also discussed education, government transparency, an Oahu rail project and Hawaii's role in implementing President Barack Obama's federal health care overhaul.
Ige's campaign announced his withdrawal from the forum Thursday afternoon after a disagreement with organizers over the recording and distribution of video of the event.
Organizers at the Grassroot Institute of Hawaii said they did not plan to do anything with the video besides post it on their website, but Ige disagreed with a clause that said the group could distribute the material as it saw fit.