The Candidate

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Colleen Hanabusa speaks at the Jonathan Club in Los Angeles on Feb. 20. Hanabusa, president of Hawaii’s State Senate, will face Republican Charles Djou and Democrat Ed Case in a special election on May 22. (GWEN MURANAKA/Rafu Shimpo)

By GWEN MURANAKA
RAFU ENGLISH EDITOR

“Aloha everyone,” said Colleen Hanabusa, introducing herself at a gathering in downtown Los Angeles in support of her congressional campaign on Feb. 20.

Although well known in Hawaii, the 57-year-old state senator from Oahu’s Waianae area traveled to Los Angeles to introduce herself and raise money as she seeks the seat vacated by Rep. Neil Abercrombie on Monday. She also met with supporters in San Francisco’s Japantown.

“People feel that for Hawaii’s representation to continue, it has to be a great team and you need people there who work together. We won’t agree on everything, but we are all there for the purpose of serving Hawaii and the United States,” Hanabusa said.

She has gotten the support of Sen. Daniel Inouye, who said he has never endorsed a candidate in a political primary, but has come out strongly for her campaign. Hanabusa will face Republican City Councilman Charles Djou and former U.S. Rep. Ed Case in a special winner-take-all election on May 22.

From left, Irene Hirano, Sen. Daniel Inouye, Hanabusa and Lillian Kawasaki. (GWEN MURANAKA/Rafu Shimpo)

“She is someone with all the attributes you want in a political leader or legislator. And the people have recognized this,” Inouye said. “At a time when division and dissension and extreme groups are common place, she is able to get people together.”

Hanabusa, a labor attorney, became the first Asian American woman to preside over a state legislature in 2007. This is the third time she is seeking a seat in the U.S. House of Representatives, following unsuccessful bids in 2003 and 2006. Some have said the race sets itself up for a Republican victory for Djou who has been hailed as “the next potential Scott Brown.” The Yonsei denied those claims, noting the strong Democratic leanings of the island.

“The Republicans are looking at Hawaii possibly because it is the home of President Obama. But I also believe people in Hawaii tend to be very consistent in how they vote,” Hanabusa said. “They vote for the candidate, they don’t vote for the party necessarily, they vote for the person. Because of that you will probably see a Democrat in Rep. Abercrombie’s seat.”

As president of the Senate, Hanabusa has fought for legislation to require insurance companies to cover birth control, to guarantee access to emergency contraception for victims of sexual assault, protect the rights of workers to organize, and to secure funding for schools to strengthen infrastructure.

In the congressional race, she said the economy, health care and jobs were the top issues among voters.

“What voters are not interested in hearing is that that’s not my responsibility. It’s going to come down to the economy and how we’re going to fix that,” she said. “We can’t just have people in Congress who are always going to vote no to everything or aren’t able to deliver for Hawaii.”

At the Los Angeles meeting, Hanabusa was able to meet many prominent local Japanese Americans and elected officials, including Lillian Kawasaki, a member of the Water Replenishment District Board of Directors,  Akemi Kikumura Yano, Japanese American National Museum; City Attorney Rocky Delgadillo; State Sen. Gil Cedillo and Al Muratsuchi, Torrance School Board.

“I found I connected with her because of the ways she has worked with government, gone to leadership positions and worked with both parties and her perspective on how she can work on a federal level in order to get things done,” said Vivian Shimoyama, a businesswoman from Long Beach.

As Hanabusa looks to a short, but intense campaign, she said her grandparents, who were plantation workers, helped to keep her grounded.

“My grandmother told me I could be whatever I wanted, just as long as I’m respectful and don’t be sassy. Those were her exact words, You can be and do what you want to be,” Hanabusa said.

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