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Hawaii Sends Charles Djou to Congress, First Republican in 20 Years

5 years ago
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Honolulu city councilman Charles Djou won a special election to fill a vacant seat in Congress, becoming only the second Republican in Hawaii's history to represent the Aloha state in the House of Representatives.
"I think we sent a clear message to Washington, D.C., that we are spending too much money and that we need more fiscal responsibility," Djou said Saturday night while standing outside Hawaii's Republican Party headquarters. "I look forward to going to Washington, D.C., and Congress to do exactly that."
Djou (pronounced duh-JOO) ran in a crowded field attempting to succeed liberal Democratic Rep. Neil Abercrombie, who stepped down after ten terms to run for governor. Djou campaigned as a traditional fiscal conservative who decried the Democrats' new health care legislation, the 2009 Obama administration stimulus package, and the very idea of new taxes to pay for any of it.
He won decisively, garnering 39.4 percent of the vote in a winner-take-all special election, but how "clear" a message voters in Hawaii's first congressional district sent to the mainland remains to be seen. Djou will be on the ballot again in November and this time he is likely to face a single Democrat, instead of a dozen. The two Democrats combined for about 58 percent of the vote.
Charles DjouThere is a word in the Hawaiian language, kuleana, that roughly translates to turf – as in "keep off my turf." To Democrats, the first congressional district is their turf. No Republican has represented the district since 1990, when Pat Saiki resigned, like Abercrombie, to run statewide. And in the wake of Abercrombie's abdication, the exigencies of kuleana suggested that the question wasn't which party, but which Democrat, would inherit the seat.
This is where things got interesting. Two distinct factions emerged within the Democratic Party over the question of Abercrombie's replacement. One was led by state Senate President Colleen Hanabusa and the other by former Rep. Ed Case (whose cousin is AOL founder Steve Case).

Neither of the two leading Democratic contenders would defer to the other; moreover, they clearly do not like one another personally. Case, who challenged Sen. Daniel Akaka in 2006 in the Democratic primary, upped the ante by making an issue out of the fact that both Hawaii's senators, Akaka and Daniel Inouye, are more than 80 years old.
Djou realized early on that he was the most likely beneficiary of this bad blood within the Democratic firmament. "Ed Case has not been respecting Senator Inouye's kuleana," Djou told Politics' Daily's Matt Lewis. "That's a concept people within the Beltway don't understand -- and that's why the division in this race is so sharp. Both (Hanabusa and Case) dislike me, but they really hate each other."
Hanabusa received 30.8 percent of the vote Saturday, while Case came in third with 27.6 percent. They, with help from Honolulu's electorate, can sort their differences out in a September primary that will select a single Democratic Party standard bearer for a November rematch with Djou. Meanwhile, Djou is coming to Washington, at the very least, to serve out a term in Congress.

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