Hawaii Republican Djou Heads for Congress: 67% Reject Inouye Machine

It's "Hawaii Republican Congressman Charles Djou" now, and Hawaii Democrats can barely contain their bitterness -- towards each other.

Democrats are portraying the result in the May 22 special election as a fluke resulting from a split Democrat vote in the three-way contest. They add the vote totals for defeated Democrats Ed Case and Colleen Hanabusa and argue that the result shows a 60-40 vote in favor of Democrats. But two-thirds of the vote went to anti-Inouye-machine candidates Djou and Case. It is Hanabusa -- who will likely win the Democrats' September primary to face off against Djou in November -- who stands isolated.  

The urban Honolulu seat vacated by the resignation of Democrat Neil Abercrombie -- who quit to run for governor -- has not elected a Republican to Congress since Rep Pat Saiki (R-HI) quit to run for Senate in 1990. But in a three-way race, Honolulu voters last night gave Republican County Councilman Charles Djou an 8.7% margin of victory with 171,417 votes cast -- a 54% turnout.


  • (R) DJOU, Charles 67,610 39.4%
  • (D) HANABUSA, Colleen 52,802 30.8%
  • (D) CASE, Ed 47,391 27.6%
Djou will fill the remaining seven months of Abercrombie's term. 

An election for a full congressional term will be held November 2. In that race, Djou's reelection campaign will face off against the winner of a September 18 Democrat primary in which both Case and Hanabusa have announced their candidacies. 

Between Djou and Case, 67% of the vote went to candidates styling themselves as business- and taxpayer-friendly opponents of the Inouye machine. Both Djou and Case openly oppose the current version of the Akaka Bill. Only 30.8% voted for the openly tax-and-spend Hanabusa with her union and underworld ties. Hanabusa began her State Senate career working in 1998 with a reputed Hawaii mafia godfather to oust Democrat then-Governor Ben Cayetano's attorney general in order to protect the corrupt Broken Trust trustees of Bishop Estate -- the state's largest landowner.   

National Democrat strategists are still counting on Case and Hanabusa voters to unite behind the Democrat nominee after the September primary. But many local observers doubt that theory. Instead, they point to the outcome of the 1986 First District congressional election (see below) in which Republican Pat Saiki swept into office after a bruising Democratic primary fight between Neil Abercrombie and Mufi Hannemann. 

The Democrat contest is not about ideology or personality. Hawaii is a corporatist entity, and elections are about control over billions of dollars in land, cash, contracts, and assets. In their arrogance, the competing Democrat factions believe it is better to allow a Republican to get elected than to give an inch to the opposing faction. The theory is a variation on the "adult supervision" theme, which has swept Republicans into the governor's chair in several Democrat-controlled states. Lacking an entrenched machine, Democrats believe a lone Republican or two cannot wrest away the levers of power and wealth, and so they do not affect the competing Democrat power interests.

Ed Case walked away from his Hawaii Second Congressional District seat in 2006 to challenge Sen. Dan Akaka (D-HI) in the Democrat Primary. The rivalry between Obama-backer Ed Case and the Clinton-oriented, Inouye-faction-backing Colleen Hanabusa is every bit as intense as 1986, and the effect is magnified by the fact that after 24 years, Abercrombie and Hannemann, who is now Mayor of Honolulu, will once again face off in the Democratic gubernatorial primary race this September. Case and Abercrombie are both backed by former Gov. Cayetano. Hanabusa and Hannemann are both backed by Sen. Inouye.    

Indicating the direction the gubernatorial primary contest is likely to take, a website with ties to Honolulu City Hall has already begun portraying Abercrombie as a "flailing gasbag" and his wife "a witch." The survivor of this grudge match will face Republican Lt. Governor Duke Aiona for the seat being vacated by Hawaii Republican Governor Linda Lingle due to term limits.   

In Hawaii, Clinton vs. Obama, Hanabusa vs. Case, Akaka vs. Case, and Hannemann vs. Abercrombie all represent the same fundamental split among Hawaii Democrats. Old-boy Democrats derived from the Stalinist ILWU face off against Social Democrats, whose origins lie in 1960s campus protest at UH Manoa. The split first emerged with Lt. Gov. Tom Gill's 1970 challenge to the reelection of Gov. Jack Burns, and it has existed continuously ever since. At the time, the young Barack Obama returned to Honolulu from Indonesia and attended Sunday school at Honolulu Unitarian Church, a sanctuary for Vietnam deserters closely tied to Tom Gill in 1970, whose members are even more closely tied to Abercrombie in the current race. 

Djou explained in January that he is "eagerly looking forward to the Democrats in the race tearing themselves to pieces. And I'll be right there to pick up the pieces."  

As expected, Case and Hanabusa spent the entire special election campaign arguing over which of them should drop out of the race -- with Case calling Hanabusa "clueless," Hanabusa calling Case "not forgiven," and Senators Inouye and Akaka openly endorsing Hanabusa, making the "untrustworthy and disloyal" Case's 2006 challenge to Akaka a key issue, and lining up their machine supporters to defeat Case. In the midst of his congressional campaign, Case even hinted at a future run for Senate. The fight continued as the results came in Saturday with a series of barbs tossed back and forth between the Case and Hanabusa camps, each of which continues to demand that the other drop out.   

Interestingly, the second-place finisher was not Ed Case, as had been predicted by every public poll for months, but rather Colleen Hanabusa, whose chances had been discounted by the Case campaign, its allies in Obama's National Democratic organization, and the Star-Bulletin and Advertiser -- now partly owned by Ed Case's uncle Dan H. Case. Case received only 27.6% of the vote, while Hanabusa received 30.8%.

"Whatever" is the response from both Abercrombie and Ed Case. Case said, "This was not our night. I congratulate Charles Djou ... the people of this district, for whatever reason, have selected him to serve the next seven months. I'm going to offer whatever support I can, for the job that he is undertaking, a very serious and significant job."

Abercrombie issued a similar statement: "I congratulate Mr. Djou. Serving in the United States House of Representatives, for whatever period of time, is a great honor and an even greater responsibility."

Hanabusa did not congratulate Djou. In her "concession speech," she instead said only, "As tonight's election results have shown, Charles Djou will serve the remainder of the First Congressional Seat vacated by Neil Abercrombie."

Hanabusa apparently believes that she owns 60% of the voters. The Honolulu Advertiser reports:

As for losing the seat to Republicans, Hanabusa said "if you're going to lose a seat, it's for a very short period of time. Not to take anything away from Charles, but he's going to have to come back and fight very hard for this seat.

"Let's not forget, 60 percent of the vote is still Democrat and it's going to be a Democrat facing off against a Republican in November."

Senator Dan Inouye said,

I wish to congratulate Congressman Djou on his victory and will welcome him to Washington. I would also like to congratulate Colleen on her strong showing and look forward to supporting her as she prepares for the September primary. I commend her for working hard and hanging tough and refusing to believe the national polls because we know our Hawaii Democrats best. This race is not over until November.

Djou responded to this kind of reasoning in a May 17 statement:

Contrary to the opinion of the old guard, this congressional seat is not owned by the Democrat Party. It isn't owned by any union or special interest group. This seat is owned by the people. At its core, this belief separates me from my opponents.

Even local political analyst Dan Boylan, whose son Peter is Dan Inouye's press spokesperson, doubts Hanabusa's claim. The Advertiser reports: 

Dan Boylan, a University of Hawai'i-West O'ahu history professor and political analyst, said he does not know if unity is possible given the personalities involved.

"It's going to be tough. I think it's going to be much tougher than they realize," he said. "It seems to me that there is no love lost, obviously, between Ed Case and Colleen Hanabusa."

Hawaii's First Congressional District voted 72% for Barack Obama in November, 2008. In the February 2008 Hawaii Democratic caucuses, Hanabusa, Inouye, and the Hawaii Government Employees Association campaigned for Clinton. They lost 3-1. 

Andrew Walden edits hawaiifreepress.com. 

RESULTS Special Election 2010: 

  • (R) DJOU, Charles 67,610 39.4%
  • (D) HANABUSA, Colleen 52,802 30.8%
  • (D) CASE, Ed 47,391 27.6%
LINK: Special Election 2010 precinct Results  

September 20, 1986 special election results:

  • 29.88% N Abercrombie (D)
  • 29.20% P Saiki (R)
  • 28.30% M Hannemann (D)
September 20, 1986 Democrat primary:

  • 40.22% M Hannemann (D)
  • 39.21% N Abercrombie (D)
November 4, 1986 election results:

  • 59.20% P Saiki (R)
  • 37.45% M Hannemann (D)