HONOLULU — Rep. Colleen Hanabusa (D-Hawaii) formally announced on Sept. 1 that she is running for governor in 2018, challenging incumbent and fellow Democrat Gov. David Ige.
Ending widespread speculation about her political ambitions, Hanabusa said in a statement, “I am fourth generation from Waianae. I have had the honor and privilege of serving a community who was forgotten and ignored by many. I know what it means to be focused and steadfast of the challenges and I know the difficulties in bringing about major changes. Throughout my career, I have fortunately gained the skill set and the experience to address the issues facing us.”
Citing her many years in public office, she said, “I believe we need experienced leadership to continue the Hawaii that I care so deeply about and love.”
Ige, who said in an interview that he was not concerned about the challenge from Hanabusa, said in a statement he looks forward to “giving voters the opportunity to compare our records of achievement and visions for the future.”
He added, “I hope to build on the solid foundation my administration has established in our first three years.”
A labor lawyer with almost 30 years of experience, Hanabusa, 66, is the great-granddaughter of Japanese immigrants who came to Hawaii in the 1880s to work on the Waianae sugar plantation. Her parents ran a well-known gas station in Waianae. She graduated from St. Andrew’s Priory, received her BA and MA from University of Hawaii at Manoa, and earned her law degree from William S. Richardson School of Law.
She was a member of the Hawaii Senate from 1999 to 2010, representing the 21st District, which includes Waianae, Ko Olina, Kahe Point, Nanakuli, Ma’ili, Makaha, Makua and Ka’ena Point. She served as Senate majority leader before being elected the state’s first woman president of the Senate — and the nation’s first Asian American woman to preside over a state legislative chamber — in 2007.
Hanabusa first ran for Congress in 2003 in a special election to succeed the late Rep. Patsy Takemoto Mink (D) of the 2nd Congressional District, but lost to Democrat Ed Case. She ran for the same seat in 2006 but lost in the Democratic primary to former Lt. Gov. Mazie Hirono, who is now a U.S. senator.
In 2010, Hanabusa and Case ran to serve out the remaining months of Rep. Neil Abercrombie’s (D) term, but both lost to Republican Charles Djou. Later that year, Hanabusa, who had the support of U.S. Sens. Daniel Inouye and Daniel Akaka, won the Democratic primary and beat Djou in the general election. She ran against Djou again in 2012 and won a second term.
After Inouye’s death in 2012, it was revealed that the senator had sent a letter to Abercrombie, now the governor, asking that Hanabusa be appointed to the vacant Senate seat. Abercrombie decided to appoint Lt. Gov. Brian Schatz instead. In 2014, Hanabusa unsuccessfully challenged incumbent Schatz in the Democratic primary.
In 2016, Hanabusa won a special election to fill the remaining term of Rep. Mark Takai (D) of the 1st Congressional District, who had died of cancer. She then won the general election to serve a full term.
“Colleen fought to prevent the Republican government shutdown and defeat [House Speaker] Paul Ryan’s plan to end Medicare and Medicaid as we know it,” Hanabusa’s campaign said. “She co-sponsored the Paycheck Fairness Act to try and end the shame of women earning 77 cents on the dollar compared to their male counterparts.
“When the Republicans put the Pacific Tsunami Warning Center (located in Oahu) on the chopping block, Colleen made a stand, gave her full-throated support for the center before the Budget Committee, and helped save it from the chopping block. And when it came time to ensure that Hawaii’s special military role was secured, Colleen Hanabusa worked to deliver more than $500 million for vital military construction projects in Hawaii.”
Ige, 60, served in the Hawaii House of Representatives, representing the 43rd District from 1985 to 1993 and the 34th District from 1993 to 1995, then moved to the Hawaii Senate, representing the 17th District from 1995 to 2003 and the 16th District from 2003 to 2014.
He ran against Abercrombie in the Democratic primary for the 2014 gubernatorial election and became the first candidate to defeat an incumbent governor of Hawaii in a primary election. In the general election, Ige bested Republican Duke Aiona and Independent Mufi Hannemann.
Ige, who took office in December 2014, is the first person of Japanese descent to be elected governor of Hawaii — the first was George Ariyoshi, who appointed him to the State House — and the first person of Okinawan to be elected governor in the U.S. During his inauguration, he paid tribute to his father, who served in the 100th Infantry Battalion/442nd Regimental Combat Team with Inouye.
In 2015 Ige declared a state of emergency due to increasing homelessness in Hawaii. Following President Trump’s decision earlier this year to withdraw the U.S. from the Paris Agreement on climate change, Ige signed a bill committing Hawaii to meet its greenhouse gas emission targets under the agreement.
According to Hawaii News Now, Republican State Rep. Bob McDermott suddenly withdrew his name from the governor’s race, but State Rep. Andria Tupola may jump in.