Please note: none of the sponsoring organizations endorse any candidate, party, or platform. The sponsors of the forums specifically provide the forums for education only. The decision to continue with Sunday’s event, despite the possibility that one candidate may not attend, does not imply endorsement in any way, shape, or form.
A statement from the Kona-Kohala Chamber of Commerce, received Friday, September 21, 2012, which they asked us to append to this article:
The views and opinions expressed in this invitation are strictly those of Big Island News Center and its staff. They in no way reflect the opinions of or should be interpreted as an endorsement for any candidate by the Kona-Kohala Chamber of Commerce or any of the other forum sponsors. The Kona-Kohala Chamber of Commerce was not interviewed nor had knowledge of this story prior to its release.
Several community organizations are sponsoring a series of candidate forums, with Kona-Kohala Chamber of Commerce taking the lead. Sunday, September 23, there is a U. S Senate Forum at Kealakehe High School at 2. But only Governor Linda Lingle has accepted the Chamber’s invitation.
The show will go on, with a slight change in that it will now be a moderated “talk story” with Lingle rather than a debate with Hirono. Hawaii County voters deserve to be able to hear from any U. S. Senate Candidate who values Hawaii Island enough to show up, and are urged to bring their questions to the forum or email them to moderator Sherry Bracken at email@example.com.
The Kona-Kohala Chamber, Kohala Coast Resort Association, West Hawaii Today, Mahalo Broadcasting, Rotary of Kona, and Kealakehe High School sponsor these events. The Chamber’s Forum Team invited Lingle, Mazie Hirono, and former Congressman Ed Case several months ago to the September 23 event, to get it on the calendar. Case and Lingle accepted immediately. At the time, Hirono’s campaign team said they wanted to wait until after the Primary. As a note, Hirono had already declined the Chamber’s invitation to participate in a pre-Primary debate with her Democratic opponent, Ed Case.
After the Primary the team re-extended the invitation, and heard nothing back despite several email and phone followups. Finally, Chamber President Vivian Landrum contacted Hirono’s Congressional Team. They acknowledged the request and said they would ask the Campaign Team to respond. Weeks later, there still was no response. On Tuesday, the forum moderator, sherry Bracken, sent a final confirmation to both candidates, containing details, and indicating that there will be a seat at the table for Mazie Hirono, but if Hirono does not appear, the event will still go on. On Wednesday, four days prior to the scheduled event, Patrick Williams, who identified himself as a volunteer in the Mazie for Hirono (sic) campaign, thanked the Chamber for the invitation and forwarded an unsigned letter, dated the next day, September 20, from Betsy Lin, Hirono’s Campaign Chair, declining the invitation, saying her schedule would not permit her to attend. The letter from Lin goes on to say “However we do anticipate lively discussion in our five debates of the general election; including televised debates on all three broadcast networks. We hope that voters will engage in the serious discussion facing our state and our country.”
The sponsoring organizations would not normally host a one-person forum or talk story event, but after careful discussion, the team decided it was unfair to allow Congresswoman Hirono to dictate from whom the public can hear based on her decision not to appear–and especially as she communicated the decision, or had her team do so, at the last minute. Governor Linda Lingle had committed long ago to take part in the event, and it would have been unfair to cancel at the last minute. The continuation of the forum is not an endorsement of Governor Linda Lingle, as the sponsoring organizations do not endorse candidates. And, as a note, the Kona-Kohala Chamber of Commerce is not part of the U. S. Chamber of Commerce, which does make endorsements.
Although Hirono’s team has said she will not attend, there still will be a seat at the table if she changes her mind. A Pacific Business News poll of 1131 potential voters released Thursday put Hirono at 43% and Lingle at 53%, with 3% undecided and 1% with no opinion (Pacific Business News says this is not a scientific poll, but a snapshot of what voters are thinking). If Hirono feels she should talk directly to Hawaii Island voters, including about Hawaii Island issues, and is present on Sunday, the team will be ready.
Meanwhile, even lifelong Democrats say they are disappointed at Hirono’s decision. However, it is not without precedent: in 2002, Hirono, then Lt. Governor under Ben Cayetano, ran for Governor. Her opponent was Linda Lingle, and some lesser-known candidates. Hirono declined to participate in the West Hawaii Candidate Forum sponsored by the Kona-Kohala Chamber and other organizations then, too, and again gave only a few days’ notice. The forum went on, with three candidates. Lingle won her first term as Governor that year.
Meanwhile, the public is invited to attend the moderated talk story Sunday, September 23, at 2 pm. at Kealakehe High School. Moderator Sherry Bracken will talk story with Lingle, using questions developed by the team and those received from the public. The forum will also air live on LAVA 105.3 fm starting at 2 p.m., ending at 3 p.m. if only Governor Lingle is present. If Congresswoman Hirono attends, the forum will finish at 3:30 p.m.