Hawaii has two congressional districts, the 1st and 2nd. The 1st Congressional District is essentially urban Honolulu, but it stretches from Hawaii Kai in East Honolulu to Waipahu in west Oahu and Mililani in central Oahu. The district includes Pearl City, Waimalu, Aiea and the downtown area where Hawaii’s government offices and many of its top businesses are concentrated. The 2nd Congressional District comprises all the other areas of Oahu and the counties of Maui, Kauai and Hawaii Island.
In 2014, U.S. Rep Colleen Hanabusa, a Democrat, gave up the seat to run for the U.S. Senate, a race she lost in the Democratic primary. Democrat Mark Takai, a state legislator, and GOP contender Charles Djou, who held the seat briefly and has run multiple times, were vying to replace her. Takai won but died before finishing his term and Tulsi Gabbard was elected to fill his vacancy in 2012 and was re-elected in 2016.
The 2011 Reapportionment Commission redrew new district boundaries based on 2010 census data. One change meant that Hanabusa’s Ko Olina home, which was located in the 2nd District, is now within the 1st.
Hawaii congressional representatives are not required to live in the district they represent, though the practice has been criticized.
About half of the nearly 700,000 people who live in the 1st Congressional District are registered voters. The district has a diverse population in terms of ethnicity and socioeconomic status, and so the congressional representative has diverse constituencies with varying needs.
For example, issues facing residents of Kalihi, an area near downtown that includes some of the poorest neighborhoods on Oahu, differ considerably from Kahala and Diamond Head, an East Honolulu region that is among the wealthiest in the state. Some neighborhoods, like downtown, are densely populated urban areas; others, like Aina Haina, are bedroom communities; and some, like Waipio, include agricultural-zoned land.
The district also has major academic institutions like the University of Hawaii at Manoa, the major transportation hubs of Honolulu Harbor and the Honolulu International Airport, industrial and warehouse cores, the tourism center of Waikiki, and military facilities such as Joint Base Pearl Harbor Hickam.
From statehood in 1959 until 1963, Hawaii had only one representative in the U.S. House, as it did during the territorial period from 1900 until 1959. In 1963 Hawaii began sending two statewide at-large representatives to Congress.
The 1st Congressional District was created in 1971 and has mostly been occupied by Democrats: Spark Matsunaga (1971-1977), Cec Heftel (1977-1986) and Neil Abercrombie (1986-1987, 1991-2010). Pat Saiki (1987-1991) was the first Republican to serve the district.
Despite the one-party dominance of Democrats, recent campaign results suggest there is significant support for Republicans in the district.
In the 2008 presidential election, 70 percent of the vote in Honolulu — which includes a portion of the 2nd Congressional District but primarily comprises the 1st — went to Barack Obama, who was born in Honolulu. That same year the incumbent Abercrombie was re-elected with 70 percent of the vote.
In 2004, however, Democratic John Kerry edged President George W. Bush 51-48 percent on Oahu. Vice President Dick Cheney campaigned in Hawaii during the closing days of the race, as did one of Kerry’s daughters. Republican Dalton Tanonaka managed to pick up 33 percent of the vote to Abercrombie’s 60 percent that year.
In 2000, Democrat Al Gore defeated Bush 54-39 percent, in Hawaii while Abercrombie topped Republican Phil Meyers 62-26 percent.