Hanabusa weighs Senate run, concentrates on military issues

Rep. Colleen Hanabusa (D-Hawaii) sees benefits in both the House and Senate, which is why after just one year in Congress, she’s considering running for retiring Democratic Sen. Daniel Akaka’s seat.

Hanabusa said the obvious benefit of the Senate is not having to run for reelection every two years.

“When I was in the [state] Senate we liked to think of ourselves as the calmer house, that had more time to think things out,” Hanabusa said. “And it gave us the luxury … of trying to say ‘Hey, this is something that we have to think about long-term’ and take the hard vote.”

But she also said the advantage of having to run for reelection more frequently is that it allows her to spend more time with constituents.

“I’m sure there are people who wish they wouldn’t constantly be raising money and running for reelection,” Hanabusa said.

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“There is also something about being there with your constituency all the time … To me that’s the most gratifying part of being in the House: you are very keenly aware of the constituency in a very immediate way because you are going to face that constituency within the next year again.”

Although Hanabusa served for 12 years in the Hawaii state Senate — five as Hawaii’s first female Senate President — she would be the least experienced candidate in the Democratic field if she decides to run.

“In terms of elected-official time, I’m very new compared to everyone else,” said Hanabusa, one of only seven new Democrats.

Democrats who have already entered the Senate race are Rep. Mazie Hirono (D-Hawaii), who was first elected to the House in 2006, and former Rep. Ed Case (D-Hawaii), who served three terms.

“I’ve always been governed by one principle, which is that I believe whether I get in or not in a race, my fundamental important criteria is what is in the best interest of Hawaii and how do I best serve Hawaii,” Hanabusa said. “That’s it.”

Hanabusa said she views her lack of political experience as a potential positive rather than a negative. She said despite some people thinking “it’s their turn,” she questions how it would affect Hawaii to lose its senior member in the House, Hirono.

She recalled a constituent telling her she should run for Senate instead of Hirono because if Akaka had never left the House for the Senate he would be chairman of the House Appropriations Committee today, putting Hawaii in a much better position.

“That was something I hadn’t even thought about,” Hanabusa said. “He said you have the less seniority, so we have the least to lose so you should run [for Senate] … It was just intriguing to see how people have different perspectives.”

Those differing perspectives are what Hanabusa said makes Hawaii so unique.

“What I think is very important about Hawaii politics is that our demographic is shifting,” Hanabusa said. “We are changing and that’s a major component. … The other thing about Hawaii politics is that we’re still probably the only state where there is no majority, we are comprised of minorities.”

Hanabusa said the challenge is making sure everyone feels that she understands the issues most important to them.

“It’s also an issue of understanding what the rural areas and the neighbor islands feel, and they really feel that our state is too Honolulu-centric,” Hanabusa said.

Hawaii’s 1st district, which Hanabusa represents, is mostly Honolulu, but she said having chaired the Hawaiian Affairs committee in the state Senate helps her understand voters on neighboring islands.

Hanabusa has said she will make a decision on a Senate race by the end of summer.

In the House, Hanabusa serves on the Armed Services and Natural Resources committees.

On Armed Services, Hanabusa has become a strong advocate for military personnel by requesting more time at home for troops who return from overseas duty and allowing reservists to enroll in TRICARE, the military health plan.

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Hanabusa originally supported President Obama’s troop surge in Afghanistan, but now questions the goals of the mission and whether the ends justify the means.

“I never supported troops in Iraq and I do not support the efforts in Libya, primarily because I just feel that I don’t know how they are measuring ‘success’ and, more importantly than that, I’m not sure that there is a real end game to what they’re doing there,” she said. “I’m getting a very similar sentiment as to Afghanistan. I’m not convinced now … that it justifies continued jeopardy of American lives in Afghanistan.”

Hanabusa said she was pleased to hear Obama announce last Wednesday night that 10,000 troops would return from Afghanistan this year. But she also said if the war could be ended before the 2014 deadline, it should be.

“I don’t want to second guess when [the Afghanistan war] is supposed to end,” Hanabusa said. “If it can be done sooner, sure, it should be done sooner. I just want it to be done safely and, more importantly, systematically.”