U.S. Rep. Colleen Hanabusa has only been in Congress for five months, but already she is giving serious thought to running for the Senate next year.
In part 2 of our Q&A with Civil Beat, Hanabusa says that working in Washington “isn’t as bad as people say it is.”
She also assesses the Hawaii Legislature’s 2011 session — the first without her leadership in over a decade.
Civil Beat: You said at the Palolo town hall this week that being in Washington “isn’t as bad as people say it is.” You said it’s because you sit on the Armed Services committee, which you described as a bipartisan committee that transcends party lines. Can you elaborate on that?
Colleen Hanabusa: First, some background: I had no idea of what to expect. My initial reaction to it was that it was going to be a pretty partisan sitation, because (House) Democrats before went from a huge majority to losing (the House) by not small numbers.
What happened was that I got assigned to two committees — Natural Resources is the other one — and I was the only freshman Democrat assigned Armed Services this session and one of the only freshmen period. Working on the National Defense Authorization Act, which we passed three weeks ago, I was part of a very interesting situation. Going through the process really opened my eyes to what I consider the bipartisan nature of Armed Services.
The way it is done is that we individually propose amendments … the chairs said the purpose is to be bipartisan and open and just go on the merits of the amendments. And that is exactly what they did. … Some of my amendments made it into the NDAA. And it includes money for Hawaii military projects. It is scheduled for next week on the Senate side.
So, it is that process of being able to contribute, even though it is a pecking-order situation and I am at the bottom of the bottom, a minority and the youngest (in seniority). I ask the last questions. But, I get great feedback. They think I am somehow different than what they are accustomed to.
What do mean by that?
Well, for example, if you watch how it is done up there, we all get five minutes to ask questions — we have timers. On Armed Services, members tend to offer soliloquies for two-and-a-half minutes and then ask questions. But, I asked questions right away. I know the ones I am going to ask because I read the materials the night before and I prepare it. So, this is how I am different.
We were talking about a readiness situation in the Pacific, and no one asked the question about the impact of (the Japan disaster). So I asked that question, even though I am at the bottom of the totem pole. How can you not talk about Japan? They are the cornerstone of the Pacific defense. So, that kind of interaction I enjoy. I don’t have people telling me, “Don’t ask questions, you’re out of line.” In fact, I get a lot of encouragement.
Still, it must be challenging as a minority party member to work with the GOP on such issues like the Patriot Act extension, cutting Medicare and so forth.
I do not believe that the level of bipartisanship on Armed Services transfers to other committees. I have heard that from people on House Budget, for example, where they have the (Paul) Ryan budget, or on Natural Resources. An exception is the subcommittee on Indian Affairs and Native Alaskans. I have an interest in indigenous peoples, and there is room for bipartisanship. But (Natural Resources) itself, where you are dealing with the Gulf, oil, drilling — our votes tend to be completely along party lines.
I don’t mean to be disrespectful, but I have to ask you this: I understand that there is no restroom for women near the House chamber.
That’s absolutely right! It’s true! And that is one of the things people have raised about Nancy Pelosi, the first woman speaker and she did not give us a bathroom. But, Speaker Boehner says he is trying to build one off the House floor. Right now, (women) have to walk through Statuary Hall. It’s a hike.
How closely did you follow what happened at the Hawaii Legislature this past session?
I received a lot of calls, with the time difference — 12 my time at 6 their time — and some were lawmakers. Some were really cute to say they missed me. But, basically, I take the position that it is growing pains, and a lot of times it is unfortunate, and I recall the days when I became Senate president, and people probably said things would fall apart at the seams then.
I do know things this time were left on table, and that was a point being made by the Senate. I think it was a statement about the Senate establishing an identity versus the House, where Speaker Say was also there when I came in. I think it was a statement that we are going to do things differently. Speaker and I went through it as well, but we were able to work things out. We had a good understanding: When it would come to legal matters he would defer to me, and I would defer to his years on the budget and understanding the process. And there were times we had to disagree, but we did so with out being disagreeable. And that is want they are going to get to. You’ve just got to give it time.