Political junkies rejoice!

Congresswoman Mazie Hirono’s decision to run for U.S. Senate in the 2012 election has set into motion a political game of musical chairs — some might call it a free-for-all — that could include a host of familiar names in local politics.

For starters, Hirono’s announcement is interesting because it adds another well-known candidate to the race for the senate seat that Sen. Dan Akaka is vacating. Former Congressman Ed Case announced his candidacy in April. It also paves the way for a wide-open U.S. House race.

Candidates who have run for seats in both the 1st and 2nd congressional districts have not always lived in the district they seek to represent, though candidates who don’t can expect some criticism. Thus far, living outside of the congressional district that’s up for grabs has not been a deal breaker for voters.

Here’s an alphabetical rundown of some of the potential House candidates we’re tracking (yes, even the ones who don’t live in the 2nd District). See what they had to say about their place in the 2012 election melee:

The candidate: City Council member Ikaika Anderson
What he has to say about it: “U.S. House? Not at this point, no.”

The candidate: Former Honolulu City Council Chairman Todd Apo
What he has to say about it: “My answer is no. I’ve made the commitment to Disney for now, and I’m having a good time. Not looking to go back into politics right now.”

The candidate: Sen. Donovan Dela Cruz
What he has to say about it: “In light of what (Congresswoman Hirono) announced, I’ve been getting several phone calls. It’s too early to say, really. There’s no doubt that Hawaii needs leadership and people who are willing to take risks to do what we need to do. Hopefully those qualities will be in someone who runs. But it’s too early to say.”

The candidate: Sen. Will Espero
What he has to say about it: “Right now, my intention is to run for re-election unless something really, really super ended up happening. I don’t think it’s going to happen this time around, but I’m definitely looking at options in the future. Nowadays, a big issue is being able to raise money, and being able to get your message out. In these races there’s going to be a lot of people with a lot of messages, and not only from the primary perspective, but the general as well.

“It really is open season. What happens between now and December matters. Will people end up like Newt Gingrich and just totally bomb? If that happens, I think I’d just be open-minded. I’m always open-minded always, or I try to be.”

The candidate: Sen. Mike Gabbard
What a spokesman had to say about it: “He has no plans or intentions to run for Congress.”

The candidate: Sen. Brickwood Galuteria
What he has to say about it: “Congress, it’s something that I certainly need to explore. What a difference a day makes. I think I can bring a good solid representation for the Islands in Washington, D.C. As the party chair, I’ve spent time in Washington — albeit on a partisan level — and I understand how that town operates. We’re going to need a tough voice out there. The Democrats are in the minority in the House. I would hope to bring everything I’ve learned over the past years.”

The candidate: Honolulu City Council Chairman Nestor Garcia
What he has to say about it: “I’m not considering it now. I just got the news myself. I only just now saw it on Twitter. I haven’t really thought about it. When I get back (from a conference in Washington), I’ll reassess.”

The candidate: Former Honolulu Mayor Mufi Hannemann
What he has to say about it: “Well first I’d like to say congratulations to Mazie for entering the race. I’m still weighing it. Everyone has their own timetable, and I’m keeping my options open.”

(For what it’s worth, we also asked Hannemann — back in February — if he’d consider running against Honolulu Mayor Peter Carlisle in the 2012 mayoral race. Hannemann let out a big laugh at the question, but he didn’t say ‘no’ either.)

The candidate: Former Sen. Gary Hooser
What he has to say about it: “For me, you know my first priority is to serve the governor in the position he’s appointed me to (as director of the State Department of Health’s Office of Environmental Quality Control). That’s really where my attention is right now. The office needs revitalizing and rebuilding and I’m committed to doing that. It’s too early and there are too many factors for me to sort out.

“I have gotten calls and emails from a variety of friends and supporters, people who have supported me in the past, encouraging me to consider entering. Many would say that I’m a natural because I ran before. I actually live in the district. Serving in Congress would obviously be a great honor. But, for now, my focus is on rebuilding and revitalizing the OEQC… Definitely not ruling it out, but whether it’s right for me and for the state at this time, I don’t know yet.”

The candidate: Former Rep. Jon Riki Karamatsu
What he has to say about it: “It hasn’t crossed my mind. I’m super focused on my prosecuting attorney job right now. Some people called me, but I just right now I’m focused on my job.”

The candidate: Lt. Gov. Brian Schatz
What he has to say about it: A spokesman said he had no comment.

The candidate: Sen. Sam Slom
What he has to say about it: “No, not at all. I’m happy in the (state) senate. I’m happy in private industry. People have asked me, and I’m flattered. But aside from that, who wants to live in Washington? So, no, not at all, zero chance.”

The candidate: Rep. Cynthia Thielen
What she has to say about it: “I had a very vigorous campaign — what was it, five years ago when I ran? It was a very vigorous six-week campaign. It was a wonderful experience, but I won’t do it again. I wish you’d call my daughter, though. I think she would make a wonderful senator.”

[Note to Rep. Thielen: We did call your daughter, former chair of the State Department of Land and Natural Resources, and she had a good laugh before telling us she’s not running.]

Some of the other folks we called but haven’t yet reached include Sen. Clayton Hee, Sen. Maile Shimabukuro, former Honolulu Managing Director Kirk Caldwell, Sen. Donna Mercado Kim, Maui Mayor Alan Arakawa, Big Island Mayor Billy Kenoi, Kauai Mayor Bernard Carvalho Jr.

Still want more? We’re keeping an eye on former Sens. Bobby Bunda, Matt Matsunaga and Ron Menor; Former Rep. Quentin Kawananakoa; Former congressional candidates Hanalei Aipoalani and Rafael del Castillo.

The Hanabusa Factor

The race could get crazier still if Congresswoman Colleen Hanabusa throws her hat into the ring. Don’t rule her out just because her colleague in the U.S. House is in. Hanabusa issued a statement today saying she is “definitely considering a Senate run,” but it would make for a cutthroat match-up, and Hanabusa would arguably run the risk of facing criticism for challenging Hirono’s seniority.

Hirono doesn’t have to resign to run. Legally, she can remain in her capacity as Hawaii’s 2nd District Congresswoman until election night — her congressional term ends in 2012 anyway.

The other wildcard in this race — and every other race in local politics — isn’t a candidate, but a once-a-decade process: reapportionment.

Political districts across the islands are being reassessed, and in some cases redrawn, by October. Given that elections maps show below-average population growth on the East side of Oahu, for example, we could see an entire Senatorial district absorbed by others (forcing two incumbents to run against one another). And that could give some East Oahu senators a nothing-to-lose mentality about upcoming elections.

A shift in the state’s congressional districts could also alter the advantage that comes with a congressional candidate living in the district he or she aims to represent.

“We’ll see what happens with reapportionment,” Espero said. “That’s going to determine a lot. For instance, (Congressional District) 1, and whether there’s going to be some movement, some changes in the boundary. Right now I’m in CD1, and you always want to be living in the district that you’re running in. But in Congress, it’s not mandatory.”

About the Author