Senators boost Hanabusa
By Derrick DePledge
Advertiser Government Writer
U.S. Sen. Daniel K. Inouye, U.S. Sen. Daniel Akaka and several prominent union and political leaders stood behind state Senate President Colleen Hanabusa yesterday, lending the weight of the Democratic establishment to her campaign for Congress.
Hanabusa is facing former congressman Ed Case and Honolulu City Councilman Charles Djou in a special election to fill the remaining months of U.S. Rep. Neil Abercrombie's term in urban Ho-nolulu's 1st Congressional District. Abercrombie is resigning to concentrate on his campaign in the Democratic primary for governor.
At the opening of Hanabusa's campaign headquarters on Ward Avenue, Inouye, the state's leading Democrat, praised her skill as a labor attorney and Senate president and described her as a politician who keeps her word.
"It's good currency. You can count on it," he said. "She's got integrity. She's a very principled woman."
Inouye spoke in unusually personal terms about Case, a moderate Democrat who has alienated many in the party's establishment.
Inouye said Case insisted on running in a special election in 2002 to fill the remaining weeks in the late U.S Rep. Patsy Mink's term, even though many party leaders wanted Mink's husband, John, to have the honor. Case — interested in obtaining seniority — won the special election, and then a second special election in early 2003 to replace Mink in Congress.
Inouye said the state's congressional delegation welcomed Case but was let down. The senator said Case told the delegation he wasn't going to run against Akaka in the 2006 primary for Senate, then surprisingly announced his campaign. Case has said he never told the delegation he would not run against Akaka, only that he was keeping his options open.
Case lost the Senate primary, but the election was the toughest of Akaka's long career.
"I don't mind people changing their minds, because that's the nature of human beings. If we're not doing the right thing, we should say so, 'I've changed my mind,' " Inouye said. "But to come out and say, 'No,' when all the time you intended to do otherwise, that's not my kind of guy.
"Colleen is my kind of gal, and I want all of you to go all out to support her."
Akaka, as if to remind the audience of Inouye's power and influence, said: "Daniel K. Inouye has spoken."
Akaka said Hanabusa, D-21st (Nänäkuli, Mäkaha), would be a welcome addition to the congressional delegation. "Without question, she will make a huge difference there amongst us," he said.
The blessing from Inouye and Akaka — and the array of union and political leaders — may not by itself persuade voters who are unplugged from party politics. But for the party insiders and activists who help with fundraising, grassroots organizing and shaping public opinion, it is potentially huge.
One of Case's political strengths is his reputation for independence, so he did not expect to get many establishment endorsements. But Hanabusa is trying to turn that strength into a weakness by describing Case as a "maverick" unable to be a team player with the delegation.
On a more subtle level, "maverick" was a label often used by U.S. Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., and then-Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin during the 2008 presidential campaign. Applying it to Case may be an attempt to suggest to Democrats that Case is really more of a Republican at heart.
"You cannot get things done alone. We are not mavericks out there. We are, and must be, a team," Hanabusa said.
Case, who beat Hanabusa in the 2003 special election to replace Mink, said Hanabusa's decision to pull out "the big guns" is a sign that she does not like her position going into the special election.
Case has higher name recognition, experience in Congress and has been campaigning since last March. Hanabusa's hope to build momentum leading up to the September primary was blown when Abercrombie announced he will resign, prompting a special election as soon as May.
While Case recognizes the value of endorsements — former Gov. Ben Cayetano is featured in one of his campaign ads — he believes voters will make up their own minds.
"I think voters are far more independent in their thinking than they were even a few years ago," he said. "I think far more voters want to think for themselves, as opposed of being told what to think."
Case said his campaign will likely center on issues such as the economy, job creation and federal spending, but, because it is a special election to fill out Abercrombie's term, the main push will be his experience in Congress.
"They don't want to run Ed Case against Colleen Hanabusa," he said. "They want to run Ed Case against anything else. Not the direct comparison of whether she or me can do the best job in Congress, walking in on day one after a special election after Neil leaves.
"You will see months of distractions from that core issue."
Hanabusa said she will likely focus on Case's record in Congress, including his support for the war in Iraq and for the increased government surveillance of the USA Patriot Act.
Djou, a Republican, said he will gladly leave the fighting to Hanabusa and Case.
"I'm eagerly looking forward to the Democrats in the race tearing themselves to pieces," he said. "And I'll be right there to pick up the pieces."
The special election is winner-take-all, which is one factor Inouye used to explain why he spoke out for Hanabusa. Many Democrats, like Republicans, usually honor an unwritten political code of not officially making endorsements in competitive primaries.
The winner of the special election, however, will likely have the advantage in the September primary and November general election to replace Abercrombie.
"This is a one-time election, all or nothing," Inouye told reporters afterward. "And, as far as I'm concerned, Colleen is, well, she's the one that should represent us."
Inouye said Case's previous actions, particularly the challenge to Akaka, "cut deep into me."