October 28, 2010

Disputed Video Brings Religion to Forefront of Hawaii’s Gubernatorial Race

Hawaii Lt. Governor James “Duke” Aiona‘s religious beliefs and his past involvement with an international Christian organization, the International Transformation Network, have become an issue in his bid for the governor’s office, according to Hawaiian media reports. Aiona, a Republican, is running against Democrat Neil Abercrombie, who represented Hawaii’s 1st District in Congress from 1991 until stepping down this year to run for governor. Recent polls show Abercrombie pulling ahead of Aiona, according to the Honolulu Advertiser, which reported that some voters are concerned about Aiona’s “ability to separate his strong Catholic faith from decisions on social policy.”

On Oct. 20, Aiona accused Abercrombie’s campaign of disseminating aYouTube video  about Aiona’s ties to the International Transformation Network and its local affiliate, Transformation Hawaii, according to theAssociated Press.  On its website, the international group calls itself “a voluntary association of men and women of faith and good will devoted to nation transformation.”  The video shows a clip of Aiona endorsing the group’s prayer ministry, followed by an excerpt from a TV news interview in which Aiona denied that he was a member of the international evangelical group but said he has participated in some of its events because “they share some of the tenets and values of my basic Catholic Christian beliefs.” The video also includes footage from several International Transformation Network events that Aiona reportedly attended and accuses Aiona of violating state ethics rules by accepting thousands of dollars in gifts to fly to Argentina to attend one of the group’s conferences.

Aiona told the AP that the video was an “unconscionable, fabricated video attacking me and my personal faith.” He also said the Hawaii State Ethics Commission had dismissed a complaint against him in connection with the International Transformation Network events, and he accused Abercrombie of resorting to negative campaign tactics, KITV reported.

Abercrombie’s social media director, L.P. “Neenz” Faleafine, had linked to the video using a personal twitter account on Oct. 18. Laurie Au, a spokeswoman for the Abercrombie campaign, denied that sharing the video via a personal twitter account amounted to negative campaigning. Au also said that voters have expressed concern that Aiona “is mixing religion with politics in a way that may not be appropriate in Hawaii today,” according to the AP.

Earlier in October, the national Republican Governors Association released a series of television ads urging Hawaiians to “rise and shine” and vote for Aiona.  According to Maui News, some Aiona supporters and opponents alike interpreted the phrase “rise and shine” as a Biblical reference meant to allude to Aiona’s religious conservatism.

A state-by-state analysis of data from the Pew Forum’s U.S. Religious Landscape Survey found that 55% of Hawaiians say that religion is very important in their lives, which is nearly identical to the percentage of all Americans who say religion is very important to them (56%).

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