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The Honolulu Advertiser
Posted on: Friday, April 16, 2010

Hanabusa: Liberal, sure. Is that a problem?

Hawaii news photo - The Honolulu Advertiser

Colleen Hanabusa

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Here we offer an opinionated introduction of the main contenders, with our endorsement to come in Sunday's Advertiser.

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As president of the state Senate for the past four years, Colleen Hanabusa has proven herself to be a strong and thoughtful leader, outwardly committed to collaboration but totally comfortable using her power to get votes lined up the "right" way.

A labor attorney who runs a successful practice, Hanabusa came to elected office in 1998, fairly late in her career but in a way that would mark her as someone not to be messed with. She took on the ethically challenged but influential incumbent Democrat, James Aki, a former president of the Senate himself, and beat him in the primary.

Jousting with Republican sparring partner Sam Slom on the radio, Hanabusa has shown herself to be an articulate (if sometimes windy) defender of Democratic policies and power. She is easygoing, self-deprecating and proud of her working-class roots in Wai'anae (as well as her graduation from St. Andrew's Priory).

Though it would be difficult to imagine a more "in" Democratic Party insider than Hanabusa today, her early years in the Senate were spent toiling on committee assignments no one else wanted, and she was viewed by some elders as an ambitious troublemaker.

And despite her career defending workers and union leaders, Hanabusa took the lead in pressing for civil service reforms in 2002, including an end to binding arbitration for the Hawai'i Government Employees Association and changes to government worker health benefits. Targeted by the unions, she won re-election, but four other like-minded legislators were sacked.

So while Hanabusa may have shown the unions who's boss over the past 12 years, she's also been one of the most reliable friends to organized labor, which has rewarded her with money, endorsements and manpower for her re-election campaigns as well as her two unsuccessful shots at Congress in 2002 and 2006.

Endorsed by senators Daniel K. Inouye and Daniel Akaka, Hanabusa is the Official Democratic Party Candidate in this race and the closest in political philsophy to the seat's previous occupant, Neil Abercrombie. But as O'ahu's politics inch toward the center, Hanabusa's base of liberal party faithful is shrinking.

As deficit trillions pile up and entitlement programs balloon, Hanabusa doesn't even pretend to be concerned about government spending. Paying for two wars is the main culprit, she says. She embraces the pork barrel.

And as for solving the state's budget crisis, the Senate, under her leadership, has gravitated toward broader tax increases than the House.