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Hawaii’s Colleen Hanabusa Poised to Reclaim Her Old Seat

Former congresswoman was Mark Takai's pick to replace him

Former Rep. Colleen Hanabusa, D-Hawaii, won the Democratic primary over the weekend for the seat vacated by the late Rep. Mark Takai. (Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call File Photo)
Former Rep. Colleen Hanabusa, D-Hawaii, won the Democratic primary over the weekend for the seat vacated by the late Rep. Mark Takai. (Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call File Photo)

Former Rep. Colleen Hanabusa wasn’t supposed to return to Congress next year. 

But the death of 1st District Rep. Mark Takai in July left an opening in the Hawaii delegation that she effectively won Saturday night with a landslide victory in the seven-way Democratic primary.

She’ll face minimal opposition in the November general election, and will likely reclaim the seat she held from 2011 to 2015. Hanabusa is also running at the same time in a special election to serve out the remainder of Takai’s term.

Hanabusa was elected to the House in 2010 and re-elected in 2012. But it was her bid for Senate that led her to give up her House seat. As longtime Sen. Dan Inouye was dying, he urged Hanabusa to run for his seat. She was his hand-picked successor. 

But then-Gov. Neil Abercrombie had different ideas. He selected Lt. Gov. Brian Schatz in December 2012 to fill Inouye’s seat until the special election in 2014. Schatz went on to defeat Hanabusa by less than a point in the August primary that year and is now serving in the Senate.

Hanabusa went back to Hawaii, where the longtime labor attorney has been representing the Hawaii State Teacher’s Association and serving on the board of the Honolulu Authority for Rapid Transportation. 

Takai won Hanabusa’s seat in 2014, but he revealed last October that he’d been diagnosed with pancreatic cancer. In May, Takai announced that his cancer had spread and that he would not seek re-election. Before he died late last month, the freshman representative asked Hanabusa to run for her old seat.  

“I really thought long and hard about it, because you make all these plans based on the fact that you’re not in politics,” she told the Associated Press.

Hanabusa was elected to the House on her fourth try. She previously ran in Democratic special election primaries for the 2nd District in 2003 and 2006, losing both contests. She lost a 2010 special election to replace Abercrombie when he vacated the 1st District seat, but then won the regular election with 53 percent of the vote. 

During her previous tenure in the House, Hanabusa served on the Armed Services and Natural Resources Committees. She was a big advocate of defense spending in her home state.  

If she returns to Congress, there will once again be two Buddhists in the House. Georgia Democrat Hank Johnson is the other. Hawaii Sen. Mazie K. Hirono is the only Buddhist in the Senate. 

Hanabusa isn’t the only former member trying to return to the House this year, although she’s certainly the most likely to make it.

[5 Former Members of Congress You Didn’t Know Were Running Again]

Former Illinois Rep. Brad Schneider, former New Hampshire Rep. Carol Shea-Porter, former Texas Rep. Pete Gallego, and former Florida Rep. Joe Garcia are all running in competitive primaries or general elections in hopes of returning to the halls of Congress.  

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