By Gordon Y.K. Pang, The Honolulu Star-Advertiser
McClatchy-Tribune Information Services

July 14--With less than a month to go before the Aug. 9 primary, state Senate President Donna Mercado Kim, a veteran campaigner, and human rights activist Kathryn Xian, a political newcomer, are the U.S. House candidates who are stepping away from the pack on key issues.

Kim, whom polls show as the front-runner for the Demo­cratic nomination, has taken more conservative positions on several key issues, while Xian has been unwavering in sending the message to voters that she is the anti-establishment candidate.

At a whirlwind 50-minute episode of "Insights" on PBS Hawaii on Thursday night, state Rep. Mark Takai, whom polls show as Kim's most serious threat, was often agreeing with the majority in the field. The other contenders are Hono­lulu City Councilmen Ikaika Anderson, Stanley Chang and Joey Mana­han, and state Sen. Will Espero.

The forum was the first live, televised appearance by all seven and only the second time all seven have appeared on the same stage. KITV is hosting a one-hour forum July 23.

Here is a look at the issues.

--Genetically modified organisms:

Xian supports not only federal labeling of GMO crops, but is the only one of the seven who also favors a ban on GMO products. Because a federal ban would be impossible under the Obama administration, Xian said, she wants to support moves that would allow counties to enact their own legislation.

As with Xian, Mana­han said counties and states should be allowed to implement stricter reporting requirements for GMO products, including the disclosure of pesticides used.

Anderson said he supports GMO labeling by the U.S. Department of Agriculture because state and county governments do not have the expertise to implement the program.

Takai said the USDA already labels foods for nutritional value and that requiring the agency to deal with GMO information would bring more consistency and fairness to the situation.

Kim said that a state law requiring GMO labeling would put Hawaii farmers at a disadvantage if those bringing in products from elsewhere don't have to be labeled.

Chang said a GMO-free lifestyle is a personal choice but one that's based on being given as much information as possible.

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Espero said the Hawaii papaya industry would not exist if there were a GMO ban. "I love Hawaii papaya," he added.


Kim was the only candidate to support a Hawaii exemption from Obama­care, the federal Affordable Care Act. Kim said she supports an exemption because the state's existing prepaid health care plan is so much better.

Chang said he supports Obama­care but that it doesn't go far enough.

"The only way to get truly universal health care in the United States and in Hawaii would be a single-payer system," he said, arguing that it would cut administrative costs by as much as 30 percent.

Single-payer national health insurance is a system in which a single public or quasi-public agency organizes health care financing, but the delivery of care remains largely in private hands.

The other five candidates said they support Obama­care. They either rejected or did not address the idea of exempting Hawaii from Obama­care.

Espero said the new law would ensure 32 million Americans are provided with health insurance.

"I firmly believe every citizen has the right to access health care, and we need to do what we can to make sure these individuals are taken care of," he said.

Anderson said Americans are better off today than when they were without Obama­care. Under the program, pre-existing conditions are covered, and children can stay on their parents' medical plans into adulthood, Anderson said.

--Same-sex marriage:

Kim is the only one of the Demo­crats to come out against same-sex marriage. On Thursday she said her personal opposition to the same-sex marriage bill at the Legislature was based on her Roman Catho­lic beliefs.

She noted, however, that she did not stop the bill from advancing as Senate president.

Saying that both her sister and her sister-in-law, her son's godmother, are gay, Kim said that she will push for federal laws requiring couples in civil unions to get the same benefits as those in traditional marriages.

Manahan, the only other candidate asked directly about same-sex marriage, said he supports it.

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"If you're going to create policy, it should not discriminate against anybody," he said.

The other five candidates have previously stated their support for same-sex marriage. Takai had been against same-sex marriage but reversed his position last year and voted with the majority of the Legislature in approving it.

Former U.S. Rep. Charles Djou is expected to win the GOP nomination and take on the Demo­cratic nominee in November.


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