Colleen Hanabusa, who formerly served as president of the state Senate and was a congresswoman from 2011 to 2015, won two elections in November of 2016 — one to complete the term of Rep. Mark Takai, who died in July, and another to serve a full two-year term beginning in January of 2017.
On May 2, 2013, Hanabusa announced her campaign for the U.S. Senate seat held by Brian Schatz. Schatz was appointed to that position in December 2012 following the death of Daniel K. Inouye, who had asked Gov. Neil Abercrombie to appoint Hanabusa, but Schatz was appointed instead.
Hanabusa lost to Schatz by a narrow margin in a bitter fought 2014 Democratic primary. After leaving Congress, she returned to her law practice. She also held membership on the boards of Honolulu rail and the Gas Company, and in 2016 was named a lecturer and the Inouye Visiting Scholar, a joint appointment shared between the University of Hawaii Public Policy Center and the Political Science Department.
In Congress, Hanabusa served on the House Armed Services Committee and the House Natural Resources Committee. She also served on a number of subcommittees, and more than one dozen caucuses.
Hanabusa, a fourth-generation Japanese American, was born May 4, 1951, and was raised in Waianae on Oahu’s Leeward Coast. She earned a B.A. in economics and sociology and an M.A. in sociology from the University of Hawaii at Manoa.
In 1977 Hanabusa received her degree from the William S. Richardson School Law, a part of the Manoa campus. She has worked as a labor attorney for more than three decades.
In 1998 Hanabusa was elected to state Senate District 21, which covered Waianae, Ko Olina, Nanakuli, Maili, Makaha and Makua. During her 12 years in the Hawaii Legislature, she served as chair of the Senate Committee on Water, Land and Agriculture, was a member of the Hawaiian Affairs Committee, and was vice-chairwoman of the Ways and Means Committee.
Hanabusa later served as Senate Majority Leader and in 2006 was named by her colleagues the Senate president. She was re-elected in 2008 to represent District 21 for another four-year term.
As Senate president, Hanabusa was the first woman to lead the chamber in Hawaii history and the first Asian-American woman to preside over a United States legislative body in the United States.
Hanabusa is a loyal Democrat, and rarely votes against her party’s majority. However, in her first eight months in Congress, she crossed the aisle to vote with a Republican majority more often than any of her congressional colleagues from Hawaii. In the 5 percent of the time that Hanabusa voted with a Republican majority, it related to approving defense appropriations.
When Mark Takai decided not to run for re-election to the U.S. House of Representatives in May of 2015 after learning that his cancer had spread, he endorsed Hanabusa in June. He died in July of pancreatic cancer.
It was the second time a dying statesman hand-picked Hanabusa to be his successor.
When Abercrombie’s decision set the stage for a bitter primary fight between Schatz and Hanabusa, the sitting senator edged the former congresswoman by 1,782 votes, less than 1 percent of all ballots cast.
She is married to John Souza.