Saturday, December 07, 2013

Which ConservaDem will represent Obama’s birthplace? And does it even matter?


Is Hawaii about to elect a conservative anti-gay crusader disguised as a Democrat to Congress?

President Obama won Hawai`i’s 1st Congressional District-- the urban Honolulu district where he was born, went to high school and partied to the tunes of both Stevie Nicks and Stevie Wonder-- last year with 70 percent of the vote.

This is a solid-blue district. Over the last couple of decades, the only time a Republican represented the district (briefly) was when there was a special election, and two Democrats split the vote in a winner-take-all format.

There are no prominent Republicans interested in running in HI-01. Democrats will keep the seat for years to come.

Incumbent ConservaDem Colleen Hanabusa is apparently giving up the seat for a quixotic attempt to oust progressive Blue America-endorsed U.S. Sen. Brian Schatz. (We say "apparently" because she’s being trounced by Schatz in both fundraising and endorsements, and her campaign’s emails over the last several weeks have raised no substantive issues, but just called for endless debates-- as losing candidates often do. Will she actually file for U.S. Senate or just hold on to her current U.S. House seat? We’ll find out sometime in the February-June candidate-filing period.)

By most measures, Hawai`i is one the nation’s most progressive and Democratic states. It enacted healthcare reform (with an employer mandate) four decades ago, has an all-Dem Congressional delegation, has a State Capitol dominated by Democrats, started issuing same-sex marriage licenses earlier this month and was Obama’s strongest state in both of his elections.

One would think Hanabusa’s departure would be a golden opportunity for up-and-coming progressives in HI-01. But none are running.

There are five arguably serious candidates: Honolulu City Councilmembers Ikaika Anderson and Stanley Chang and state legislators Donna Mercado Kim, Mark Takai and Will Espero.

The local media has suggested Kim, who replaced Hanabusa as President of the State Senate, is the frontrunner, largely based on the name recognition and campaign war chest she’s developed through decades in state and city office. But the money she’s raised for her state seat can’t be transferred to her Congressional run. As of the last filing, she had reported no cash on hand for this race.

Kim’s political career has been highlighted by both social and economic conservatism. She was one of just four senators to vote against marriage equality this year, and she’s long been known for railing against public-employee unions, the local public university and government spending generally. It's hard to imagine a constituency she'll appeal to in a Congressional primary. But because of her connections and position in state government, she’ll likely be able to crank up her fundraising efforts and reach relative money parity with Chang.

And Kim is the only major female candidate in the race. Will EMILY’s List throw her a lifeline? (Even though her friendliness with Hawai`i's small-but-loud Religious Right community might make one question her commitment to reproductive freedom, she just might be choice-y enough to get the nod.).

Chang is the current money leader with $272,916 cash on hand, and he was once lauded by some progressives and has introduced resolutions supporting Obama's gun violence plan, regulating carbon as a pollutant, and supporting marriage equality. But in recent months he’s bizarrely used his seat on the City Council to support tax breaks for millionaire mansion owners and attack the homeless. [This critique of Chang may be a stretch and we'll get into his actual positions more thoroughly next week; he's clearly a much better candidate than any of the others.] He’s also been lured by Congresswoman Tulsi Gabbard to co-found the self-described “Post-Partisan” Hawai`i Future Caucus with outspoken anti-gay Republican State Reps. Beth Fukumoto and Richard Fale. The tiny GOP contingent in the state legislature (7 out of 51 in the House; 1 of 25 in the Senate) was derided for its almost uniformly bigoted performance during the special session, but is now getting a credibility boost thanks to Chang and others in the mealy-mouthed Future Caucus (including Anderson).

Anderson and Takai both trail Chang badly, with each reporting only about $100,000 cash on hand. Espero barely registers, at just over $18,000. Conveniently, all three announced their new support for marriage equality right around the time they announced for Congress. They’re all downplaying relatively conservative pasts. Anderson is a former Republican candidate for State House, Takai is interested in drug testing welfare recipients, and Espero has been spotted at libertarian functions and being interviewed by fringe conservative websites. Unlike Chang and Kim, though, they at least seem to recognize it's a good idea to court liberals (no matter how sincerely) when trying to get voters to come out in an early-August Democratic primary. Give the Anderson/Takai/Espero also-rans credit for that, though it's probably not enough to make them competitive.

State Rep. Chris Lee had once been touted as a white knight to carry the progressive banner in this race. But he’s repeatedly denied interest. And, alas, he’s part of the “post-partisan” caucus too.

What will happen in HI-01? Chang and Kim probably have the best chances just because of their past fundraising success, with Kim likely going over the top if she can get EMILY's List's backing. Tellingly, the websites of both Chang and Kim lack issues sections. Chang merely touts his youth, Kim her experience. But ultimately what difference does it make who wins? It's a substance-less, uninspiring choice, at least from the perspective of Honolulu's progressives.

UPDATE: You Thought Nothing Could Be Worse Than Donna Kim? Keep Reading

The weak roster of candidates apparently has proved to be too much of a temptation to former Honolulu Mayor Mufi Hannemann, who has previously lost multiple races for Congress from 1986 through 2012. Ideologically, he fits with this ConservaDem field. He's a former Reagan White House aide and opposes reproductive freedom and marriage equality.
Several Democratic insiders have said over the past few days that former Honolulu Mayor Mufi Hannemann plans to run for Congress.

Hannemann himself, however, is not ready to formally announce for urban Honolulu's 1st Congressional District. "I have nothing definitive to report at this time," he said in a text on Thursday afternoon.

The barrier for Hannemann has been the Democratic primary. He lost to U.S. Rep. Tulsi Gabbard for the 2nd Congressional District last year and to Gov. Neil Abercrombie for governor in 2010 after many insiders believed the former mayor had legitimate chances to prevail.

...Hannemann has been viewed as too conservative to win over a primary electorate that has moved to the left over the past decade.

But the crowded field in the primary to replace U.S. Rep. Colleen Hanabusa-- who is vacating her seat to challenge U.S. Sen. Brian Schatz-- could provide Hannemann with an opening. He would have the highest name recognition in a race where the winner could claim victory with a plurality of votes.

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At 5:44 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

No we will not, if I have anything to do with it.

I thought we had kicked out the last blue dog 4 years ago.


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