The only Republican woman who Hawaii voters have ever sent to represent them in Washington, D.C., believes she has found the right candidate to follow in her stead.

On Tuesday at GOP headquarters in Honolulu, Pat Saiki announced her pick: Shirlene Ostrov, a retired U.S. Air Force colonel.

“I want to introduce to you my candidate for the United States Congress, because I am sure that one day — if not this time, the next time or the next time, whenever it’s going to be — eventually she is going to be there to take over my seat,” said Saiki, with Ostrov at her side.

It was a bold prediction from Saiki, given that Hawaii’s Democrats have controlled the 1st Congressional District seat for 52 of the 57 years since statehood.

Shirlene Ostrov seeks to follow in the footsteps of Pat Saiki, who served in Congress for two terms.
Shirlene Ostrov, left, seeks to follow in the footsteps of Pat Saiki, who served in Congress for two terms. Chad Blair/Civil Beat

And the odds are heavily in favor of former Congresswoman Colleen Hanabusa to win back the seat she gave up just two years ago. This is a state dominated by one party: Democrats.

But if anyone has an instinct for how the local GOP might win federal office, it is Saiki, 86, who served in the House for two terms (1987-1991).

In fact, Saiki is the only Republican, male or female, to have been elected in a regular election cycle in Hawaii to either the 1st or 2nd Congressional District. Republican Charles Djou served for seven months in 2010-2011, but he won a winner-take-all special election to replace Neil Abercrombie.

(Hawaii has also sent only one Republican to the U.S. Senate: the late Hiram Fong, who left office in 1977.)

Saiki, who was also administrator of the Small Business Administration under President George H.W. Bush, said that Hawaii needs to have balanced representation in Washington, unlike the current situation, in which both representatives and both senators are from the same party.

“We have a candidate who can win,” she said.

Bronze Star Awardee

Ostrov, 47, was born and raised in Honolulu and now resides in Mililani. Her military awards, according to her biography, include a Bronze Star and a Legion of Merit.

Ostrov holds two master’s degrees, one of them an MS in organizational leadership from George Washington University. Her bachelor’s degree was in political science at the University of Florida. She has worked at the State Department, the Pentagon and as a liaison on Capitol Hill.

Ostrov currently is president and CEO of a logistics-consulting firm. And, as she put it, she is also a Filipino Catholic (her full name is Shirlene Dela Cruz Santiago Ostrov) married to a Ukrainian Jew with two Samoan-Tongan daughters.

Campaign treasurer Amy Shiroma, candidate Shirlene Ostrov, former U.S. Rep. Pat Saiki and campaign manager Mele Songsong.
From left, campaign treasurer Amy Shiroma, candidate Shirlene Ostrov, former U.S. Rep. Pat Saiki and campaign manager Mele Songsong. Chad Blair/Civil Beat

“At heart I am an island girl,” she said, expressing pride in her diversity and roots

Ostrov is also serious about her campaign.

“I’m running for Congress because I know I can bring my leadership skills to the table that will help the people of Hawaii and our nation,” she said. “The current administration is marked by a knee-jerk partisanship, massive debts and unfunded liabilities. It’s a sad situation. I believe I have the skill-set that might be able to take on these complex challenges.”

Ostrov’s priorities are national security and a U.S. pivot to the Asia-Pacific region, the maintaining of military force levels in Hawaii, fiscal responsibility and an end to wasteful spending, and care for U.S. veterans.

Ostrov began the press conference offering “warmest aloha” to Rep. Mark Takai, the incumbent who is not seeking re-election due to health problems. She also praised Hanabusa for her public service.

Hawaii Elections Guide 2016

Asked about the GOP’s presumptive presidential nominee, Donald Trump, Ostrov said she supports him “fully” but declined to comment on the many concerns that continue to be raised about his candidacy. On Tuesday, for example, President Obama lashed out at Trump’s views on restricting Muslim immigration to the U.S.

She also said she was not in favor of greater gun control laws but did express support in closing “loopholes” that allow for mentally ill people to obtain weapons. Calls for gun control are being heard in the wake of the mass shooting Sunday in Orlando.

As for the perennial Hawaii GOP bugaboo, the Jones Act on maritime shipping laws, Ostrov supports the provisions of the act that protect national security but said the law should be amended so that people in Hawaii, Alaska and Puerto Rico can enjoy financial relief that comes from lack of competition for imported goods.

Ostrov is the only Republican in the primary field, so is certain to advance to the general. Hanabusa must defeat six Democrats to advance. There is also a Libertarian and a nonpartisan candidate in the running.

Should Ostrov fail to win, she might take solace in the fact that Hanabusa did not win in her first two tries for Congress.

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