Colleen Hanabusa was sworn in Wednesday at the U.S. Capitol to a two-year term representing Hawaii’s1st Congressional District. The former state Senate president, 59, lost on her first three tries for Congress but prevailed over Republican Charles Djou on Nov. 2.
The congressman spoke with Civil Beat not long after her swearing in ceremony.
Civil Beat: Congresswoman Hanabusa — congratulations. Can you tell us who was in D.C. for the ceremony?
Colleen Hanabusa: There were a lot of people here. In the gallery there was my husband, my mother, a very good friend. A total of 14 family members made the trek, and in addition to that some people were kind enough to do double-time to see Sen. Inouye sworn in as well as myself. Walter Dods was here — he was very critical for my campaign.
Where were you sworn in? Who did the honors?
It took place in House chambers — which has no assigned seating. Only the Senate gets that — it’s like old school desks. The names are etched into brass plates. But we have no assigned seating. (John) Dingell (of Michigan) did the swearing in for (John) Boehner, of course, and then he swore us en masse. So it was not like a chief justice doing it.
I understand you immediately had to vote on some things, like rule changes.
I’m still waiting to vote on that. The first vote was to establish a quorum. There was also the vote on speaker, which was Boehner, but (Nancy) Pelosi’s name was nominated and a few others. There was also some sort of procedural vote…I can’t remember.
The rule changes, that’s going to be very interesting. It has to do with giving the chair of appropriations the discretion of whether to use the CBO (Congressional Budget Office) estimates. I don’t anticipate to support it. Another change has implications to do with the territories like Guam, American Samoa, Puerto Rico. The rule changes would mean their members cannot vote in a committee of the whole but only vote in a committee they sit on. For Guam, especially, because of their military build-up, they would want to have their say on the armed services committee, but now they may only get to sit on natural resources.
Where are you living?
I rented an apartment for two months because I am trying to decide on what I need. That’s because the work schedule has changed, and if it continues I may not need a place that’s very large — I’ll probably find a studio. The schedule right now is two weeks here, one week in Hawaii. My place is on 7th SW in D.C.
I am not an expert on how the schedule works, but it doesn’t make much sense. You only work for only a couple days a week, and certain days there are no votes after 3 o’clock, which allows people to get home — but not people like me! But a one-week stretch in the district does allow us to do a lot of work back home, and that’s good.
How’s the house search going on in your home district?
We’ve put the home on the market and are looking actively. I’m looking at Manoa, Aina Haina, the Hawaii Kai area. In the meantime, we are setting up a rental there as well.
You’ve gone from being a majority leader to a freshman in a minority. How are you adjusting?
You know, Chad, everyone seems to ask that question. You remember when I was first elected, yes? I was part of the dissident group. That’s the thing about Hawaii; we may not act like we have a minority here, but we definitely have had majorities with a whole bunch of factions. So, I keep reminding myself of that, and that you learn how to crawl first before you walk. You fall and scrape your knee, too, and I know what that feels like. The secret behind it is that elected officials have only one thing they can give, and that is our word.
Your Republican colleagues want to end earmarks and repeal health-care reform. Your thoughts?
I have never been opposed to earmarks, as you know. I believe they have been critical to Hawaii. Not only that, but to me they have been one of the stabilizing impacts that we have had during these difficult economic times. I believe it was the targeting of certain projects in Hawaii that helped us not hit rock bottom, and that is why we are starting to see the upswing now beginning. I have always been a critic of earmarks cut in back rooms — I don’t think that is the case, though. Maybe what we need to do is make it more transparent. But we are not going to get rid of earmarks that brought us things like the East-West Center, which has helped us get APEC, or the Pacific Tsunami Warning System, for example or Saddle Road improvements on the Big Island.
So, I will try to do anything to prevent earmarks from being taken away. The other thing is is that it takes two houses to do anything. We have to compromise with the Senate, and Sen. Inouye has never been shy about his support of earmarks.
And the health-care repeal?
I have said that I view this as a symbolic vote. The reality of it being repealed is not practical. Even if Republicans and the Tea Party miraculously get this through, the president is not going to sign it. So, it’s not going to happen. We need to focus on the economy and job creation and the deficit.
When you got in your office, was there any message left from you from Charles Djou?
I am told there was a note saying “good luck” or something, “best wishes,” but I have not seen it. I did not get into the office until Jan. 3. He never tried to call me.