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Why would anyone want to run for Congress — especially the House of Representatives, which has 435 members who must vie for re-election every other year?
It’s certainly not a popular institution. The current average of various approval ratings for Congress is a mere 13 percent, while 73 percent disapprove.
Still, people keep running. Here’s the reasoning of two people who want Hawaii Congresswoman Colleen Hanabusa’s job (she’s leaving the House for the second time in four years to seek higher office):
“I am running a grassroots campaign to put people before profits, keep Hawaii Hawaii and offer a new generation of progressive leadership,” said state Rep. Kaniela Ing, a Democrat from Maui.
“These are challenging times for our nation and state,” said state Sen. Donna Mercado Kim, an Oahu Democrat who is making her second attempt to join the Congress. “The people of our district need a congresswoman who will stand up to powerful entrenched interests and always protect Hawaii.”
Kim and Ing announced their candidacies for the 1st Congressional District seat last week, and more are expected follow. For example, state Rep. Beth Fukumoto, the Republican-turned-Democrat from Mililani, is exploring a run.
I’ve previously written about other potential candidates (see “Doug Chin Sure Sounds Like He Might Run For Congress” and “My Akamai Guide To The 2018 Elections”). Over the past several days, I’ve heard the names of more possible candidates, too — like Ernie Martin, who will be term-limited on the Honolulu City Council, and Ed Case, the former congressman now working for Outrigger.
There are other reasons to run for the House, especially in a blue state like Hawaii. For one, Democrats might actually have a chance to flip control in 2018.
Last Thursday, Virginia Republican Rep. Bob Goodlatte said he won’t run for re-election. As CNN reported, this came just two days after Republicans’ “stunning defeat” in political contests in his home state.
Goodlatte’s departure brings to 35 the number of House representatives retiring, resigning or running for another office. Most are Republicans, which is odd, given that the GOP controls the White House and both chambers of Congress and, effectively, the Supreme Court.
It’s too soon to write off Trump and Co., but last Tuesday’s elections were remarkable. This all comes exactly one year after Donald Trump pulled of his shocking Electoral College victory.
And there are still other reasons to run for Congress.
It pays well ($174,000), the benefits are generous, people give you lots of money to vote their way and there is a lot of time off, including from late July until early September.
Technically, much of that time is referred to as “district work week,” and many members of Congress do return home for business. But many also travel for other purposes, such as fundraising and junkets.
It’s an awfully long flight from Daniel K. Inouye International to Ronald Reagan International, but it’s paid for. (Campaign-related trips are often paid for with campaign money.)
Congresswoman Tulsi Gabbard, who represents Hawaii’s 2nd Congressional District, began Veterans Day weekend at “Sunset on the Beach” in Waikiki as part of a “Hawaii Five-0” special screening and tribute to veterans.
That’s swell, and everyone knows that Gabbard is a veteran who supports veterans. Hanging out with McGarrett and Danno doesn’t amount to heavy lifting. But it keeps Gabbard, who is running for re-election, in the public eye.
Veterans are also on the mind of Hanabusa, who last Wednesday joined Congressman Rob Bishop, a Utah Republican, to introduce a bill to establish a memorial at Pearl Harbor to honor the U.S. service members who were in the Pacific Theater during World War II.
(On Thursday, meanwhile, Gabbard introduced bipartisan legislation to rehabilitate World War I memorials in Hawaii and across the country.)
That’s swell, too, but not controversial or pressing.
More weighty was Gabbard urging colleagues last week to improve access and quality of care at the Department of Veterans Affairs for female veterans.
Same goes for Hanabusa pointing out late last month that under the GOP tax plan, 80 percent of the tax benefits would go to the wealthiest 1 percent while “123,000 hard-working Hawaii families would pay higher taxes.”
So, in spite of its reputation for gridlock, Congress still manages to speak out and maybe even get some work done.
Hanabusa, of course, is now challenging incumbent Democratic Gov. David Ige. On Sept. 26 while Congress was still in session, Hanabusa held a campaign fundraiser at the Waialae Country Club for $1,000 a head.
It seems that that meant Hanabusa missed a couple of votes that week, including one for the Increasing Opportunity and Success for Children and Parents Through Evidence-Based Home Visiting Act, which passed.
The legislation came from Rep. Adrian Smith, a Republican from Nebraska. Smith said the bill, which he claimed has bipartisan support, helps “low-income children and families escape the cycle of poverty and climb the economic ladder.”
That may be, but only two Democrats voted for it and 20 Republicans voted against it. Many House votes are not close, but this one was: 214-209, with Gabbard voting in the minority.
So that’s another reason to run for the House: It can be a springboard to senator, governor or a Cabinet position … even if that sometimes means missing a couple of votes.
I think many of the people who run for Congress do so for noble reasons. They want to take care of the folks back home, and the country in general.
The late Mark Takai, I remember, was thrilled to get elected to the U.S. House in 2014. He talked about how honored he felt to walk through the Capitol halls at night, where so many others had walked before. When visitors came to his office, he delighted in posing for photos. He clearly loved his job.
Hawaii has thus far been well represented in the House of Representatives — Hanabusa, Takai, Gabbard, Case, Charles Djou, Mazie Hirono, Neal Abercrombie, Patsy Mink, Pat Saiki, Dan Akaka, Spark Matsunaga, Cec Heftel, Tom Gill and Dan Inouye, to name a few.
And soon we shall add a new name to the list.