The glow from Charles Djou’s big win is likely to dim quickly as Democrats remain in control of Washington. At home, the spotlight is already shifting to local Democrats and other races.
When Congressman-elect Djou arrives in the nation’s Capitol this week, he will have his first opportunity to act on his oft-cited commitment to fiscal responsibility.
All Washington does is “spend, spend, spend,” Djou said numerous times during his campaign. He opposes tax increases, “unexamined” earmarks, and a “bloated federal budget,” according to his platform.
Well, guess what: Washington is set to tax, spend and bloat again.
Anxious to pass a bill before a weeklong break beginning Memorial Day, the U.S. House is considering extending jobless benefits for the unemployed. It is also looking to increase taxes on investment managers, on multinational companies based in the United States and on oil companies. Among other “provisions” in the bill: $1.5 billion for farmers who suffered crop damage in 2009.
The bill’s cost to taxpayers: As much as $200 billion, according to the Associated Press, with much of it tacked on to the federal deficit. Many Republicans and even some Democrats hate the bill.
The U.S. Senate, meantime, approved tough restrictions on the nation’s financial sector last week. The New York Times reports that Wall Street lobbyists are now aggressively courting House lawmakers in an effort to remove a provision that would force banks to “spin off” their derivatives businesses.
The lobbyists have money on their side: The Times says that banks, hedge funds, insurance companies and financial sector special interest have given congressional candidates more than $1.7 billion over the past 10 years. Not surprisingly, only three Senate Republicans voted in favor of the financial bill.
How will Djou, only the third Republican Hawaii has sent to Congress in 50 years, perform in this milieu? He is not only a minority in Hawaii’s Democratic delegation: He is a member of a party that controls neither the White House nor either houses of Congress.
As much as Djou believes Hawaii “sent a message” by electing him with a 39.4 percent plurality, he won’t be in charge. Several commentators have already observed that his conservative votes may very well be “canceled out” by his liberal Democratic colleague, Rep. Mazie Hirono.
Djou also won’t have a lot of time in office. If he wants to return to Congress in 2011 he’ll need to campaign for the Sept. 18 Republican primary (albeit as an incumbent) and face a single Democrat in the Nov. 2 general.
Congress has another weeklong recess scheduled around the Fourth of July, a monthlong recess beginning Aug. 9, and a targeted adjournment on Oct. 8.
That works out to about 65 work days, not counting weekends. Don’t forget that it takes more than 10 hours to fly from Washington to Honolulu — one way.
And, as much as Djou believes the pundits are wrong on the meaning of his election, a Republican takeover of the House this fall is by no means certain.
How meaningful is Djou’s victory?
“Not very,” wrote a Newsweek blogger. Djou’s “election says less about the national mood or the Republicanization of Honolulu than the particular conditions of the contest in question.”
Back home, what Honolulu can expect to see beginning this week might be called re-Democratization. The spotlight will very quickly switch to other stars. Honolulu Mayor Mufi Hannemann will likely make known his gubernatorial intentions and a half-dozen well-known candidates will make clear their desire for his job.
Democrats will also have a love fest at their three-day convention in Waikiki beginning Friday. They’ll hear from party lion Sen. Daniel K. Inouye, the-man-who-would-be governor Neil Abercrombie, new golden child Colleen Hanabusa, and a host of familiar faces seeking the lieutenant governor position.
If things go like they did four years ago — the fateful year Ed Case dared challenge Sen. Daniel Akaka — the damaged Case will be given a speaking slot distant from Inouye and company.
All that said, Charles Djou should not be underestimated.
The son of immigrants was elected to Congress at the tender age of 39 by prevailing in a long, costly and sometimes ugly race. The smooth public-relations structure that served him well on the Honolulu City Council and during the campaign will no doubt be in operation even while he’s 5,000 miles away from home.
Not only can Djou count on the largesse of the national party and of national PAC money to help him out this fall, he has achieved what only one other Republican, Gov. Linda Lingle, has done in the past 20 years: He has united his party.
Election night at Djou-Hawaii GOP headquarters was a heady celebration of a party long in the wilderness. Djou supporters old and young, rich and poor, and Asian, Hawaiian and white gave hugs and high-fives. Some wept.
“Democrats think they’ll win with Hanabusa, but I don’t think many Case supporters are going to vote for her,” one old-timer whispered to me.
As the congressman-elect said himself Saturday night, “Now the real hard work begins. A short-term lease with an option to buy in November is what Hawaii’s people have given us. This is not the time to rest on our laurels. We must redouble our efforts.”
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