Colleen Hanabusa ended two weeks of speculation Thursday by officially filing to run for Congress.
She was the early favorite to replace U.S. Rep. Mark Takai, a first-term Democrat who announced May 19 that he would not be seeking another two years representing urban Oahu because his pancreatic cancer had spread.
Hanabusa told reporters at the state elections office in Honolulu that she wants to return to Washington, D.C., to fight for Native Hawaiians and help define Hawaii’s role in the Asia-Pacific region, among other reasons.
“I am a legislator at heart,” she said. “Legislating is something that I understand, something that I feel that I can do better than most.”
Hanabusa added that the decision to run was about having the right skills and encouragement from the right people, including Takai.
She spoke for roughly 10 minutes as several dozen supporters — deliberately arranged to have both young and old faces standing behind her for the TV news background she wanted — listened and occasionally applauded.
Many in the room wore matching union T-shirts, some screenprinted with “Carpenters In Action” and others with “Local 293,” representing Hawaii Sheet Metal Workers. Labor unions have routinely thrown their support behind Hanabusa.
Hanaubusa previously held the 1st Congressional District seat from January 2011 to January 2015. She ran for U.S. Senate in 2014 but lost that fall to Sen. Brian Schatz.
She currently chairs the Honolulu Authority for Rapid Transportation board, which oversees construction of the 20-mile rail project. She said she expects the beleaguered project, which is billions of dollars over budget, will soon be set on a right course so it won’t matter who chairs the HART board.
Hanabusa said the board position is unpaid, and there’s no requirement to resign to run for Congress. She said she would stay on through June but that it depends on the competition in the campaign. If elected, she said she’d resign.
“I have no idea what the opposition will be and what the campaign schedule will be like so I have to get a better feel for that before I would know,” Hanabusa said in an interview later Thursday. “If I feel that I cannot do justice to both then of course I am going to step down from the HART board.”
She said at the election-filing event that trust in those managing the project is being rebuilt and that going forward it will be more transparent.
“And at that point, I’m hopeful that it wouldn’t matter who chairs it because the information will be there,” she said.
Hanbusa’s presumed candidacy caused many top Democratic contenders to stay out of the race — including former state Senate President Donna Mercado Kim, who finished runner-up to Takai in the 2014 Democratic primary — but not all.
Lei Ahu Isa, a former state legislator and current trustee with the Office of Hawaiian Affairs, filed to run Wednesday.
Charles Djou’s name has continued to surface as a top Republican candidate, but it’s a race he’s lost three times.
Djou, then a member of the Honolulu City Council, won a three-way special election in May 2010 to serve the remaining seven months left on Neil Abercrombie’s term. Hanabusa and Ed Case split the Democratic vote.
When Hanabusa faced Djou one-on-one in the general election that November, Hanabusa won with 53 percent of the vote. She beat him again two years later with 55 percent.
Djou went for the seat a third time in 2014, but lost to Takai by a 4-percent margin.
Another Republican challenger could be former Lt. Gov. Duke Aiona. He pulled nomination papers Wednesday to run for Congress, Honolulu mayor and state Senate, but has not decided which office, if any, he’ll ultimately seek.
Candidates have until Tuesday to file to run for office this fall. The primary election is Aug. 13. The general is Nov. 8.
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