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Hanabusa Planning Primary Challenge to Hawaii Governor

Democrat giving up safe seat for second time to seek higher office

Hawaii Rep. Colleen Hanabusa is planning to file papers to run for governor. (Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call File Photo)
Hawaii Rep. Colleen Hanabusa is planning to file papers to run for governor. (Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call File Photo)

Hawaii Democrat Colleen Hanabusa hasn’t been back in Congress for long  — and now she’s planning to leave to once again to run for higher office.

The congresswoman on Friday announced her plans to launch a primary challenge to incumbent Democratic Gov. Dave Ige. Her decision to not run for re-election in the 1st District will open up a safe Democratic seat that Hillary Clinton carried by more than 30 points last fall. 

“Throughout my career, I have fortunately gained the skill set and the experience to address the issues facing us,” Hanabusa said in a statement, according to the Honolulu Star-Advertiser.

“Hawaii is the best place to be in our great country. I believe we need experienced leadership to continue the Hawaii that I care so deeply about and love,” she added.

Hanabusa won a landslide victory in a seven-way Democratic primary for the 1st District last summer. In November, she easily won a special election to fill out the term of the late Rep. Mark Takai and a simultaneous general election for a full term, reclaiming the seat she’d held from 2011 to 2015. 

It was a bid for Senate that caused Hanabusa to give up that House seat the first time.

Longtime Sen. Daniel K. Inouye, on his deathbed in December 2012, handpicked her as his chosen successor. But then-Gov. Neil Abercrombie saw things differently. He picked his lieutenant governor, Brian Schatz, to fill Inouye’s seat until a special election in 2014. Schatz defeated Hanabusa by less than a point in the Democratic primary that year and remains Hawaii’s senior senator.

Takai succeeded Hanabusa in the House. As he was dying from pancreatic cancer last year, he asked his predecessor to run for her old House seat. Between the end of her first stint in Congress and her return last fall, Hanabusa, a labor lawyer, represented the Hawaii State Teacher’s Association and served on the board of the Honolulu Authority for Rapid Transportation.

It took Hanabusa four tries to get to Congress. She previously ran in Democratic special election primaries for the 2nd District in 2003 and 2006, losing both contests. She lost to Republican Charles K. Djou in a 2010 special election to replace Abercrombie when he vacated the 1st District seat, but she then unseated Djou in the regular election that year with 53 percent of the vote. 

She’ll now have a competitive primary against Ige, who defeated Abercrombie in a 2014 Democratic primary

Inside Elections with Nathan L. Gonzales rates the 1st District race Solid Democratic

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