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Democratic Ex-Rep. Hanabusa Takes Back Hawaii’s 1st District Seat

Wins seat left vacant by the death of Rep. Mark Takai

Democrat Colleen Hanabusa is headed back to Congress after winning her race in Hawaii's 1st District. (Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call file photo)
Democrat Colleen Hanabusa is headed back to Congress after winning her race in Hawaii's 1st District. (Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call file photo)

Former Hawaii Rep. Colleen Hanabusa had not planned to run for Congress again.

That changed when 1st District Democratic Rep. Mark Takai died in July, creating an open seat. After losing a Senate bid in 2014, it appeared that Hanabusa’s run in Washington was over, but a landslide victory earlier this year in a seven-way Democratic primary changed that.

She’s projected to defeat Republican Shirlene Ostrove to take back the seat she held from 2011 to 2015, according to The Associated Press.

Hanabusa led Ostrove, 74 percent to 21 percent, with 43 percent of precincts reporting. She simultaneously won a special election to serve out the remainder of Takai’s term.

[Election Results 2016]

Hawaii’s 1st District encompasses the southern part of the island of Oahu, the state’s center of commerce and tourism. Honolulu, the state capital, hosts most of Hawaii’s business and nearly 30 percent of its people

Up until Election Day, the race was rated Safe Democrat by The Rothenberg & Gonzales Political Report/Roll Call. Takai won election in 2014 by only four points though the district has a long history of Democratic strength. 

[Hawaii’s Colleen Hanabusa Poised to Reclaim Her Old Seat]

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

But 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 was later elected to a full term.

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

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.

Her win means that there will once again be two Buddhists in the House. Georgia Democrat Hank Johnson is the other. Hawaii’s senior Democratic 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 was considered the one guaranteed to return to Congress.

“I do believe after going through so many different variations that I have done through my political career as well as my legal career, it really is the fact that I am a legislator at heart,” Hanabusa told supporters while announcing her candidacy in June. “Legislating is something that I understand, something that I feel that I can do better than most.”

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