U.S. Rep. Mazie Hirono’s decision to seek the vacancy left by U.S. Sen. Daniel Akaka’s retirement has created active campaigns by qualified candidates to replace her in representation of outer Oahu and the neighbor islands. Mufi Hannemann’s background of accomplishment at all levels of government, most recently as Honolulu mayor, is most likely to provide effective representation of the 2nd Congressional District in the U.S. House.
Hannemann has sought a seat in the House twice, losing to Republican Pat Saiki in 1986 and to Patsy Mink in the Democratic primary in 1990. He acknowledged at that point — and concurs today — that he had yet to pay his dues, and proceeded to win a seat in the Honolulu City Council in 1994, becoming the Council’s chairman. He was elected mayor in 2005 and stepped down from his second term, which he had won handily, to run for governor two years ago, losing to Neil Abercrombie.
Hannemann’s intelligence is reflected by his diploma from Harvard — he was freshman class president — and a Fulbright scholarship to New Zealand. After teaching history at ‘Iolani School, his alma mater, he embarked upon a series of positions that produced unmatched understanding of how government works from throughout the political spectrum.
Hannemann has a broad background in championing Hawaii’s tourism, supporting expansion of the visa waiver program to increase visitors from China and growing various forms of tourism. He supports increasing clean and renewable energy, strengthening education by improving Head Start and fixing No Child Left Behind, and supporting Hawaii’s role as a strategic base for the military.
In those and other fiscal issues, Hannemann is likely to reflect Hawaii’s Democratic Party. While he has followed social conservatism reflected in his Mormon faith, he said he will have an open mind in facing those issues, such as same-sex marriage, in Congress.
He has earned support from top business leaders and labor unions, having learned the needs of business as a vice president for C. Brewer & Co. early in his career and recently as CEO of the Hawaii Lodging & Tourism Association. Over the decades, he served as special assistant to President Jimmy Carter; assistant to Gov. George Ariyoshi; staff assistant to then-Vice President George H.W. Bush; as Gov. John Waihee’s director of Department of Business, Economic Development and Tourism; President Bill Clinton’s representative to the South Pacific Commission; and as a member of President George W. Bush’s Council on the 21st Century Workforce. This bipartisan background is an asset.
With his 6-foot-7 frame and determination to get the results he seeks, Hannemann has developed a leadership style that’s impatient with resistance. While that may irritate some, members of Congress are apt to appreciate his bold charisma and understanding of how goals can be achieved inside the Beltway, crossing party lines.
His period as mayor provides a telling indication of how he goes about achieving goals. After initial hesitation, he launched curbside recycling, made Internet services of the city easier, settled a multibillion-dollar federally required upgrades to wastewater treatment, and, most impressive of all, convinced voters and the City Council to adopt a rail transit system between Kapolei and Ala Moana.
He faces credible opposition by City Councilwoman Tulsi Gabbard, whose bright political future began as a state legislator in 2002 — which was abbreviated by a 12-month combat tour with her National Guard unit in Iraq — and was followed as an aide to Sen. Daniel Akaka.
Another bright light is Esther Puakela Kia‘aina, who developed thorough knowledge of how the nation’s capital works during more than 20 years as chief advocate of the Office of Hawaiian Affairs and chief of staff for Ed Case during his time in Congress, for House Delegate Robert Underwood of Guam and for Sen. Akaka.
Others on the Democratic primary ballot are Bob Marx, Rafael Del Castillo and Miles Shiratori; vying on the Republican ballot are Kawika Crowley and Matthew DiGeronimo.
While their credentials differ, none can match the enormously broad background of Mufi Hannemann, who is likely to best serve the needs of Hawaii in Congress in the years ahead.