- Associated Press - Wednesday, September 24, 2014

HONOLULU (AP) - Candidates competing to represent Hawaii as governor and in Congress debated taxes and money as they faced off in the forum hosted by the Chamber of Commerce.

State Rep. Mark Takai and former U.S. Rep. Charles Djou, who are competing for a congressional seat, disagreed Tuesday on foreign policy, taxes and shipping laws.

Djou said Takai voted for a host of tax increases, and Takai replied that he supports some fees to fund programs that wouldn’t otherwise have money.

Both candidates stressed their experience serving in the military, and Djou said he knows what it’s like to put boots on the ground in combat. Djou served in the U.S. Army in Afghanistan in 2011-2012. He is now a major in the U.S. Army Reserve. Takai is a lieutenant colonel and preventive medical officer in the Hawaii National Guard, and he deployed to the Middle East as part of Operation Iraqi Freedom in 2009.

Djou said he thinks President Barack Obama took too long to develop a strategy to confront the Islamic State group, but that he would have voted to support the president’s action to arm and train Syrian rebels.

Takai would have voted against that action, he said.

“The war in the Middle East from my perspective is really not our war,” Takai said. “This is centuries in the making; these conflicts began when time began.”

The candidates disagreed on what to do about the Jones Act, a maritime law designed to protect the U.S. shipping industry. Djou would like to see Hawaii get an exemption from the law, he said.

“What we have here in Hawaii are monopoly shipping prices that have artificially increased the cost of living,” Djou said.

Takai disagreed because the law protects jobs, the shipping industry and the military, which relies on domestic ships, he said.

Three candidates for governor agreed that Hawaii made mistakes in the way it built its troubled health exchange.

Democratic state Sen. David Ige said Hawaii should continue to seek an exemption from the federal government to get out of some of the requirements of the Affordable Care Act, but it can’t just wait until 2017, which is when the state has been told exemptions would be available.

Republican candidate James “Duke” Aiona said the state saw no return on its investment in the Hawaii Health Connector, so it should be eliminated. Independent Party candidate Mufi Hannemann said the state should cut its losses and get out of the exchange.

“We should have never implemented the Hawaii Health Connector,” Hannemann said.

The gubernatorial candidates want to boost tourism by opening another international airport terminal.

Aiona wants the Legislature to stop raising taxes on tourists and to create a tourism liaison in the governor’s office.

“Tourists vote also,” Aiona said. “They vote with their feet. And before you know it, they will not be coming to Hawaii.”

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Follow Cathy Bussewitz on twitter at https://twitter.com/cbussewitz

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