Mad Scramble For Votes

With almost as many candidates vying for Ed Case’s old seat in Congress as there are voters in the District 2, MidWeek’s political sage profiles candidates from both parties

Dan Boylan
Friday - September 01, 2006
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Hawaii’s 2nd Congressional District begins in the ethnically Hawaiian Waimanalo on Windward Oahu, runs through the haole and upscale Republican Kailua, the more politically ambiguous Kaneohe, along the rural beach communities of Kaaawa and Hauula. Mormon Laie adds another dash of conservative Republicanism, then on to the former plantation community of Kahuku, through touristy Haleiwa and up into central Oahu. Oahu’s second city, Kapolei, also sits in the 2nd District - so too the beaches and Hawaiian homelands of the Waianae Coast.

The 2nd includes Oahu’s Neighbor Islands as well: Kauai, Maui, Molokai, Lanai, the Big Island of Hawaii. Oahu’s Windward coast and the Neighbor Islands boast some of the world’s finest beaches and most exciting surfing spots. Add the Volcanoes National Park on Hawaii island, Kauai’s Napali Coast and Waimea Canyon and Maui’s Haleakala Crater, and the 2nd adds enormous luster to the state as one of the nation’s - and the world’s - premier tourist destinations.

But for most of the 20th century, the Neighbor Islands meant sugar and pineapple cultivation, unionized plantation workers and solid Democratic majorities. Whatever votes a Republican candidate might pick up on Oahu, he or she would have them drowned out by the Neighbor Islands’ heavy majorities.

All that’s changed. With the exception of the small Gay and Robinson sugar operation on Kauai, and Alexander and Baldwin’s plantation in central Maui, sugar and pine are dead in the 2nd District. They’ve been replaced in part by coffee and macadamia nuts, but more by retirees wealthy enough to forego Florida for Hawaii as the paradise of their golden years.

The 2nd’s recent political history demonstrates the change: All three Neighbor Island counties claim Republican mayors, and Gov. Linda Lingle built her political career as a Republican councilwoman and mayor on Maui.

The district’s congressional history demonstrates a similar evolution. For most of its post-statehood history, Patsy Mink represented the 2nd in Washington. Mink championed labor, women’s rights and withdrawal of United States forces from Vietnam. For the 14 years Mink was absent from Washington, Dan Akaka supported a similar list of liberal causes as the 2nd’s Congressional representative.

But four years ago the 2nd gave evidence of its changing demographics. Its voters passed on pro-labor candidates and famous Democratic names like Matt Matsunaga and Colleen Hanabusa to elect the more politically moderate Ed Case.

This year, of course, Case has opted to test his brand of politics in a bold move to unseat Sen. Dan Akaka. In the process, he’s added something almost as unique as a volcano to Hawaii’s allure: an open congressional seat. This year’s mid-term congressional elections offer only 19 open House seats.

Thus the large number of Democrats running for the 2nd District seat. While Hawaii’s Democratic Party had a difficult time finding candidates to run for governor against a popular Republican governor, no less than 10 stepped forward to run for Congress. Given the low favorability ratings of President George W. Bush, Democrats smell an easy win in November’s general election. “The Democrats could win this seat with a ham sandwich,” said one of the Democrats’ 10.

Alphabetically, those Democrats who wish to be the “ham sandwich” are:

Hanalei Aipoalani
Hanalei Aipoalani

* Hanalei Aipoalani. At 27, Aipoalani is the youngest in the Democratic field. A native of the Waianae Coast where homelessness has become epidemic, Aipoalani speaks often of the need for more affordable housing. He also speaks of the need for greater openness on the part of elected officials to people from all economic backgrounds.

Aipoalani spent a year working on Congresswoman Patsy Mink’s staff. Employed in the biotechnology and semiconductor fields, Aipoalani has lived in Fremont, Calif., for the past seven years. He returned to Nanakuli this spring to make a bid for the open congressional seat.

Nestor Garcia
Nestor Garcia

* Nestor Garcia (48) is in the midst of his second term on the Honolulu City Council where - among other things - he has championed a half-percent boost in the state excise tax to support the construction of a train from Kapolei to the University of Hawaii at Manoa.

Prior to winning a council seat, Garcia earned a journalism degree from the University of Hawaii, spent a decade as reporter for KHON-TV news, and served as a press aide to Sen. Daniel K. Inouye. In 1994 he ran successfully for an open state House seat from his hometown of Waipahu.

Garcia touts himself as one of the few elected officials “willing to risk their political careers to do the right thing.” Along with his support of an excise tax hike, Garcia cites his legislative vote for same-sex marriage and his support of a bill that “would allow first-time, non-violent drug offenders to go straight to rehabilitation rather than to prison.”

During the campaign, Garcia has spoken of the need to “manage growth” by improving transportation on all the islands, creating more affordable housing, and finding federal support for Hawaii’s schools.

Colleen Hanabusa
Colleen Hanabusa

* Colleen Hanabusa (54) is making her second run for the 2nd’s congressional seat. Born and reared on the Waianae Coast where her family ran an auto parts store, Hanabusa received both her undergraduate and law degrees from the University of Hawaii and soon established herself as a respected labor lawyer.

Hanabusa won election to the state Senate in 1998, and almost immediately sought a leadership role for herself and her supporters. Hanabusa failed in that and subsequent attempts to seize the reins of the Senate; but in her roles as chair of the Senate’s Judiciary Committee and Senate majority leader, few would argue with her leadership of that body.

“People know I’m not afraid to express an opinion, yet as an independent I’ve learned that you have to respect others,” she says. “No one will know a legislative issue better than I will. No one will marshal the facts better than I.”

While she hesitates to call herself as liberal as Patsy Mink, Hanabusa says she shares Mink’s commitment to “civil rights ... women’s issues and issues facing the elderly.” She says that “equity and fairness” for the Neighbor Islands would be her goal in Congress. And, had she been in Congress, she would have opposed both the United States’ invasion of Iraq and passage of the Patriot Act.

Clayton Hee
Clayton Hee

* Clayton Hee (53) wants “a voice in Congress that says the United States should get out of Iraq, a voice that says No Child Left Behind isn’t a cookie cutter fit for our diverse population, many of whom are immigrants. I want the challenge of making Hawaii a more prominent state in Washington,

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