UPDATED 5/25/12 10:16 a.m.

No one living on a Neighbor Island has ever been elected to represent Hawaii’s 2nd Congressional District — and it’s a safe bet voters will keep this streak going in November.

Does it matter where your representative lives? That depends on who you ask.

But first, let’s look closer at what comprises this diverse district, known in the Hawaii political world as CD2.

By the numbers, the 2nd Congressional District includes almost 700,000 people and spans 331 miles across all the Neighbor Islands and Oahu outside of urban Honolulu.

This area represents a broad swath of cultures and communities, geography and topography. There are rolling farm lands and suburban shopping centers, gated neighborhoods with pools and government-subsidized housing complexes.

Honolulu resident Mazie Hirono has represented the 2nd Congressional District since 2007. She is vacating the seat to run for U.S. Senate.

Several Democratic replacements have been actively campaigning for the seat, including Tulsi Gabbard of Honolulu, Mufi Hannemann of Aiea, Esther Kiaaina of Nanakuli and Bob Marx of Hilo.

Matthew DiGeronimo of Honolulu has filed to run as a Republican and has recently started actively campaigning.

Except for Marx, they all live on Oahu including including the top two fundraisers, Gabbard and Hannemann.

Before Hirono, the three others who have represented the Aloha State’s 2nd Congressional District also lived on Oahu.

Ed Case lives in Kaneohe1 and is running for the U.S. Senate this year. Patsy Mink was born on Maui, but lived in Honolulu while serving in elected offices. Daniel Akaka, who represented the district for 13 years before becoming a U.S. senator, was born in Honolulu and still resides there.

Living in the District

Whether a candidate should live in the district has generated some controversy in recent years. Some local offices, such as Honolulu City Council, require you to live in the district.

But at the federal level, it’s nothing more than a political choice.

The U.S. Constitution says members of Congress only must be “an inhabitant of that state.”

Some long-time politicians have championed this law for the flexibility it affords. Others have pushed for a constitutional amendment requiring members of Congress to live in the district they represent.

With less than three months until the primary, the current rules are unlikely to be changed in time to impact this election. So the focus returns to the candidates’ choices on where they want to live, and the statement that may make to voters.

University of Hawaii professor and political analyst Neal Milner said he has no problem with candidates living outside the congressional district unless they seem uncommitted to it.

“It always appears to be a bigger issue than it is,” he said, adding that it’s not like when someone lives in Washington too long and becomes an outsider.

Former state Senate Majority Leader Gary Hooser feels otherwise. The Kauai resident ran for Congress in 2006 and finished in the middle of the pack. He mulled another run this time around, but decided against it.

“I tried to stand out because I was one of the few people that lived in the district,” he said of his ’06 bid.

“I think at end of the day it doesn’t matter to most voters. If the candidate running is strong, well known, it doesn’t seem to be a big deal to them. I think it is,” said Hooser, who directs the state Office of Environmental Quality Control. “Candidates should live in the district they represent. I feel strongly about that.”

Milner said too often it just comes down to name recognition.

“People don’t have an explicit bias against the Neighbor Islands; it’s just these people aren’t as well known,” Milner said. “The big-shot politicians here have come from (Oahu). This is still the place to build a political career.”

Hooser agreed with this reality.

“To build your name and credibility up in the community so you can raise the money and network with statewide decision-makers, you definitely need to spend a lot of time in Honolulu proper,” he said. “Whether you need to live there or not, I don’t know, but you definitely need to be part of the Honolulu establishment.”

If anyone living on a Neighbor Island has a chance of winning the CD2 seat in November, political experts say it’s Marx. He’s raised significantly more money than other Neighbor Island candidates and has mounted a serious campaign, running numerous TV spots statewide to boost his profile.

Although he lives on the Big Island now, he used to live in Kailua. Marx said in a recent phone interview that his experience residing and working in both places has helped him develop a better understanding of those constituents’ needs.

“It’s very strange for people not living in the district to get elected,” he said, before taking a swipe at his Honolulu opponents. “Their ambition is so great that they can almost see the 2nd Congressional District from their downtown Honolulu condos.”

In a written statement Wednseday, Gabbard said the candidate’s residency in this race is “irrelevant” because the district includes so many distinct communities.

“The most important thing is that a representative humbly respects the people, listens to their concerns, and is motivated by a sincere desire to serve them,” she said.

Gabbard, who lives in the 1st Congressional District, represents Kalihi Valley to Makiki on the Honolulu City Council. The city charter requires council members to live in the district they represent.

“Local concerns greatly differ throughout the district, not only from island to island, but within different communities on the same island,” she said. “Obviously, someone living in one of these particular communities in CD2 doesn’t make them any more knowledgeable of or caring about all the other communities in CD2.”

Gabbard pointed out that Hirono, Case and Akaka all lived in CD1 when they were elected to Congress to represent CD2.

Like the other candidates running for the 2nd Congressional District, Hannemann said winning the election will involve a grassroots effort on each island.

“It’s very important that the district’s next congressional representative understand and appreciate its distinct history, geography, and culture,” he said in a written statement Wednesday. “The neighbor islands comprise nearly two-thirds of the district, and I’m very proud of my longstanding connections there.”

Kiaaina said she has been spending a lot of time campaigning on Neighbor Islands because Oahu is her home base.

“There’s no more diverse district in the country than the 2nd District,” she said in a recent phone interview.

Kiaaina said she plans to rely on her family roots on Molokai, Maui and rural Oahu, as well as her experience working for Akaka and Case to help her connect with CD2 constituents.

“You need to be everywhere, but you can’t,” she said.

Milner said the biggest challenge isn’t how a representative is able to know what his or her constituents’ needs are throughout the district so much as how to actually accomplish anything in such a dysfunctional Congress.

“My main concern would be how can I get any work done there,” he said. “The challenge is even greater for a new representative. The body is so big, and there’s even less discretion now to operate independently because of how the parties are polarized.”

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