In December 2012 when Hawaii Gov. Neil Ambercrombie appointed Lt. Gov. Brian Schatz to take Daniel Inouye’s place instead of fulfilling the late Senator’s deathbed wish that Colleen Hanabusa succeed him, I, like many, was outraged.
OK, Schatz had spent most of his years in Hawaii (since the age of 2), but why not a local Japanese American? Why did we need another white person representing the state, where Asians outnumber whites two to one? Wasn’t eight years of Republican Gov. Linda Lingle enough?
Abercrombie reasoned that if he promoted the congresswoman to the Senate, Hawaii would have to hold a special election, and the last time they did that — to fill his own House seat as he ran for governor — Charles Djou, a Republican in a thoroughly Democratic state, won because the deluge of Democratic candidates split the vote.
Abercrombie didn’t want the same thing to happen again (Los Angeles Times reporter Mark Z. Barabak did a horrible job reporting on this year’s primary, failing to mention this). He was also hoping that the then-40 year-old Schatz would have more time to gain experience and seniority than Hanabusa, who was 61.
It wasn’t an easy pill to swallow, but I could understand the logic.
Like many, I waited for Hanabusa to run to “take back” the seat. Then I heard her in action. Oh boy. One was an interview where she complained about the ageist aspects of the campaign. She said it shouldn’t be held against women for starting their careers late as many get married, have children, and delay their professional trajectory. But she didn’t get married until 2008 and has no children! So what was her excuse?
In fact, both she and Schatz got into the Hawaii Legislature for the first time in 1998. And of course, he’s 21 years younger than her…
But what really annoyed me was seeing her debate Fox News’ Bill O’Reilly. He got into hot water for his Jan. 3, 2013 on-air conversation with producer Jesse Watters: “But you know what’s shocking? 35% of the Hawaiian population is Asian, and Asian people are not liberal, you know, by nature. They’re usually more industrious and hard-working.”
Watters: “But they did vote for President Obama.”
O’Reilly: “Big time!”
Ten days later, Colleen Hanabusa went on “The O’Reilly Factor” to take him to task… uh, for something. The first thing she talked about was how Japanese Americans were interned during World War II because of their race.
Huh? OK, it’s nice to get that reminder in of the hardships we’ve faced, but what does that have to do with why you’re offended?
O’Reilly asked her exactly that: What are you mad about? She (kind of) said it was his contention that Asian Americans couldn’t be liberal because they’re hard-working. She explained that a major part of the Asian/Pacific Islander culture is to cherish their elders.
Again, huh? She was blowing the opportunity to take this issue head-on and was instead confusing us with her own stance.
O’Reilly pointed out what she said had nothing to do with what they were talking about. He asked if she remembered seeing who his correspondent was. She said no. He then questioned if she even saw the whole piece because his producer went around Hawaii interviewing the average Joe on the beach, many of whom were too lazy to work and just wanted free stuff from the government [though most were white].
She admitted she only saw the rebroadcast, presumably a shorter version. To see the full report, click here.
The conservative pointed out that despite a low 5.3% unemployment rate, Hawaii had the highest percentage of people on food stamps and the fourth-highest homeless population in the country. He asserted it was liberal laws that encouraged this.
The host couldn’t believe that Hawaii only gives two years for raping a child and won’t pass Jessica’s Law, which would mandate a sentence of 15 years to life. Hanabusa said, “I will tell you… I will get behind it.” Meaning she hasn’t until now? Ai yi yi!…
She then went back to reminding him about the very strong Hawaiian culture of taking care of elders (why, because that worked so well the first time?).
O’Reilly said so did conservatives, so what?
Toward the end, Hanabusa not only had to suffer through being embarrassed by not having seen the entire segment she was blasting and not articulating her outrage clearly, but also O’Reilly’s patronizing tone as she could only look on like a chastised child: “Do me one favor because I think you’re a very good woman (he repeated variations of this before): Never again condemn anybody unless you see the total report. Because what I said was not offensive to Asians. I was talking into a context that you didn’t see because you took it off a far-left website that is dishonest.”
Hanabusa tried to continue her point: “We are not one kind of person. We want you to recognize that we are different.” O’Reilly said he’d do that if she would be fair by watching the full report as it was only 3 minutes and 30 seconds long. Hanabusa said, “I did see the report, and I’m sorry if you feel I didn’t watch the whole thing.” O’Reilly reminded her, “You just said you didn’t watch it!”
O’Reilly cut her off and ended the interview, thanking her.
My head hurt after that. This is all Hanabusa had to do: Tell O’Reilly that it was ridiculous to say that industrious people — of any race — can’t be liberal. That only Republicans or conservatives were hard-working.
This is the woman who wanted to replace Sen. Inouye? Oh man… To see the full debate, click here.
George Takei did a much better job clarifying why O’Reilly’s comments were so off on “The Ed Show” (sure, Schultz was a less hostile host), saying, “We vote for liberals because we ARE liberal!” The actor pointed out that most Asian Americans — and just about every Asian American member of Congress — are Democrats.
He also talked about the internment camps, but unlike Hanabusa, he raised it at the right time. And Takei did it in almost half the space Hanabusa got (3:45 vs. almost 7 minutes), To see Takei’s response, click here.
To be fair, I watched one of the debates between Hanabusa and Schatz — the one broadcast on July 17. To my surprise, she — like him — had a good handle on issues and statistics and defended former VA Secretary Eric Shinseki, saying President Obama shouldn’t have accepted his resignation just as he’d given major screw-up Kathleen Sebelius a year [well, six months] to fix the Obamacare website fiasco.
Hanabusa was a bit catty and snide, telling Schatz, “If you really understood this bill and what happened…” and reiterated it within the same one-minute comment: “So you really have to understand what you’re talking about before you make those statements…” But I suppose that’s the defensive position a challenger is often put in.
She got a good shot at her opponent, saying that although he claimed to have been against the governor’s budget, she couldn’t find one public statement he’d made against it.
In the end, after the primary votes were tallied on August 9, Hanabusa trailed Schatz by some 1,700 votes. Because two districts of Puna on the Big Island still had road closures and power outages to contend with, they got to vote six days later. All in all — along with 800 votes from Maui that somehow hadn’t been counted (sigh) — Hanabusa lost by 1,769 votes.
Because this election was only to fill out Inouye’s unfinished term, Hanabusa can challenge Schatz again for a full six-year term in 2016. Let’s hope by then she learns how to think on her feet a bit better and to actually watch what she’s debating.
’Til next time, keep your eyes and ears open.
Guy Aoki, co-founder of the Media Action Network for Asian Americans, writes from Glendale. He can be reached at [email protected] Opinions expressed in this column are not necessarily those of The Rafu Shimpo.