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The Honolulu Advertiser
Posted on: Wednesday, October 14, 2009

Congressional race intriguing contest


By David Shapiro

Governor is the marquee race in the 2010 election, but voters in the 1st Congressional District have an intriguing contest shaping up between Ed Case, Colleen Hanabusa and Charles Djou to replace U.S. Rep. Neil Abercrombie.

Case and Hanabusa have both been at the top of the class in their generation of Democratic lawmakers, and the articulate Djou has been one of the few local Republicans to succeed in recent years.

That's exactly what we need more of in Hawai'i politics real choices among our best and brightest for our highest offices.

Case rose to majority leader in the state House, came within a hair's breadth of winning the Democratic nomination for governor in 2002 and represented the 2nd Congressional District for three years before losing his bid to unseat U.S. Sen. Daniel Akaka in 2006.

Hanabusa, who lost two previous runs for Congress, has stood out as a leader in the state Senate since her freshman year and currently serves as Senate president.

The two faced off before in a 2002 special election to replace the late Patsy Mink in the 2nd Congressional District, with Case winning by a wide margin while Hanabusa finished a distant third.

Hanabusa did better in a second run for the seat in 2006, coming within a few hundred votes of beating Mazie Hirono.

The 1st District sets up well demographically for Case, who represented Manoa in the state House, and is far from Hanabusa's home turf in Wai'anae, but she's running with the support of senior Hawai'i Sen. Daniel Inouye and national women's groups such as Emily's List.

From early jousting, it looks like much of the battle will be fought over Hanabusa's argument that she's better equipped to work with Hawai'i's congressional "team" vs. Case's pitch for the value of an independent and change-oriented voice.

On the issues, Case is liberal on social issues and moderate on economic and foreign policy matters, with a pretty clear record of where he stands.

Hanabusa, a master of situational politics, is more difficult to peg. In this year's legislative session, for instance, she said she supported civil unions but maneuvered to stall the bill after it started to look politically dicey.

She does have her own independent streak. A labor attorney, she drew the ire of powerful public worker unions by sponsoring civil service reforms and was the only Democrat to vote against restoring binding arbitration for the Hawai'i Government Employees Association.

Both have known their share of controversy.

Case angered native Hawaiians by trying to reorganize Hawaiian agencies and lasted only two years as state House majority leader before stepping down to pursue a dissident course.

Hanabusa led the ouster of former Attorney General Margery Bronster in the middle of her Bishop Estate investigation and has drawn questions about her close ties to Ko Olina developer Jeff Stone, for whom she engineered a $75 million tax break for an aquarium that turned out to be nonexistent.

The Republican Djou, who served in the Legislature before his two terms on the City Council, has gained a following for opposing rail transit and fighting higher city taxes and fees.

The question is whether he can make the step up from offering contrarian views on municipal problems to debating national issues with the big kids.

Djou is getting help from the Republican congressional campaign committee, which provides him needed resources.

But it could be a problem if it means he has to follow the Rush Limbaugh playbook the national GOP seems to be using; running on strident attacks against President Barack Obama is unlikely to win in Hawai'i.

David Shapiro, a veteran Hawai'i journalist, can be reached at dave@volcanicash.net. Read his daily blog, Volcanic Ash, at http://volcanicash.honadvblogs.com.