A Risky Race For Rep. Schatz
Wednesday - April 05, 2006
Of the half-dozen announced or rumored Democratic candidates for Hawaii’s 2nd District Congressional seat, only state Rep. Brian Schatz risks anything.
Should they lose the Democratic primary on Sept. 23, state Sens. Colleen Hanabusa, Clayton Hee, Gary Hooser and Ron Menor will all return to the Senate chamber next session. And Mazie Hirono and Matt Matsunaga will continue to practice law - or whatever they’ve been doing - since their defeat for the governorship and lieutenant governorship four years ago.
But Schatz will be out of office for the first time since he upset freshman Republican Sam Aiona for the 24th District state House seat (Makiki, Tantalus, Manoa) in 1998. For Schatz, who filed his candidate papers on Feb. 9, there’s no looking back.
“I’m not dabbling,” he says. “I’m not testing the waters. This isn’t one of many options for me. I’m running for Congress. It’s what I want to do.
“It’s a risk I don’t take lightly. Being a congressman takes a certain set of skills: energy, the ability to articulate your district’s concerns, the willingness to dig in on behalf of your constituents.
“But I see my career as that of a public servant, and politics is one way to engage in public service. If this doesn’t work out, there are other ways to serve.”
The 34-year-old Schatz is the youngest of the congressional hopefuls, Democrat or Republican, who have thus far indicated they will run. One of four sons of Dr. Irv Schatz, a professor at the John A. Burns School of Medicine, Brian came to Hawaii in 1972 when he was 2 years old. He attended Punahou School and Pomona College in California where he took a degree in philosophy.
While Brian Schatz headed toward politics, his twin brother Stephen looked to education; Stephen is the principal of Pohakea Elementary School in Ewa Beach. “I take advice from all of my brothers,” says Brian, “but probably most from Stephen because he’s more plugged into the local community.”
And to the issue of education, where Schatz feels the Bush administration has gone wrong: “The sad part is that the No Child Left Behind law is fixable. For starters, it needs to be fully funded. We also have to change the way success is measured. Currently if one of a school’s several constituent cohorts fails, the school is pronounced a failure.
“That doesn’t make sense. Business doesn’t work that way. If a business has nine divisions, and one isn’t making money, no one says the whole business is failing. No Child Left Behind was absurdly put together.”
Schatz is equally vehement in his denunciation of the war in Iraq: “Iraq was an unnecessary war of choice. Its most troublesome aspect is that the Iraq war strengthened President Ahmadinejad in Iran. It elevated a two-bit despot. Now Iran’s citizens are rallying behind him.
“He’s sitting pretty, and the Bush administration gave him his stability. Remember, it is Ahmadinejad’s expressed desire to wipe Israel off the map. Despite what some might argue, it is not a moderate position to be in favor of this war.”
Schatz describes himself as “pro-business and pro-environment.” He counts as his greatest legislative accomplishment his support for Act 221, the high technology tax incentive.
“It has created between 800 and 1,000 jobs per year,” he says. “Good paying jobs in the range of $45,000 to $50,000.”
He also takes pride in the 2004 session’s tripling of the Department of Education’s school maintenance and repair budget. He counts as a legislative regret his vote to grant emergency powers to the governor in the hysteria following the 9/11 attacks.
Schatz argues that he’s known both the inside and the outside in the legislative wars - inside as House Majority Whip and chair of the Economic Development Committee, outside since his support of a move to oust Speaker Calvin Say - and that he understands how to operate from both locales.
Since his announcement, Schatz has been campaigning on every island: sign-waving, holding coffee hours, talking to various groups. One recent Sunday evening he found himself so wrung out from the effort that he couldn’t remember what Neighbor Island he was taking off from to return to Honolulu.
“I’ve got to take my campaign straight to the voters,” he says. “Seeing the traditional party leaders is important, but they’re not going to win this election for me.”
When not practicing politics, Schatz serves as the chief executive officer of Helping Hands Hawaii, a social service agency that helps more than 7,000 families yearly with everything from back rent to diapers to psychiatric services. Wife Linda is the marketing manager for Brookfield Homes, a development company active at Kauai’s Princeville Resort and at Ko Olina on Oahu. The Schatzs have a 2-year-old son, Tyler.
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