BY MALIA ZIMMERMAN – HONOLULU — Running for Congress as a Republican in Blue Hawaii — and winning — is an extremely rare occurrence.
However, Charles Djou, a former Hawaii Republican congressman who served six months in the U.S. House in 2010 after winning a special three-way election, has done just that. Now he wants a second chance in Congress.
Djou has launched a campaign to reclaim the 1st Congressional District seat.
While Democrats have several well-funded politicians vying for the seat, Djou is the only Republican who has entered the race.
“Charles Djou is the most experienced candidate Republicans could hope to have,” said Willes Lee, the Hawaii Republican Assembly national director who also serves on the American Conservative Union Board of Directors. “With seven months until the election, Charles Djou changes the dynamics of the Hawaii District 1 race.”
Democrats, with just three exceptions in the state’s history, have held a lock on Hawaii’s representation in Congress.
However, Djou, a judge advocate officer in the Army Reserve who also served on the Honolulu City Council and in the state House of Representatives, was elected in May 2010 in a race that included then Senate President Colleen Hanabusa, D-Hawaii, and former U.S. Rep. Ed Case, D-Hawaii, who served from 2002-2007.
Hanabusa beat Djou about six months later in the general election, in part because of backing from U.S. Sen. Daniel Inouye, often referred to as the “godfather of Hawaii politics.” Inouye died in December 2012 after serving in the U.S. Senate since 1963.
“After the last campaign in 2010, I was content to be a husband, dad, soldier and lawyer, and that’s it. The passing of U.S. senator Daniel Inouye, a towering figure in Hawaii politics for decades, created the chain of events that opened the seat. If he had not died, I doubt I would be in the race,” Djou said.
“This will be the very first election in the history of the state of Hawaii where there is no Daniel Inouye either running for office or helping someone get elected to office. This has never happened before,” Djou said. “Sen. Inouye was a good man. I had enormous respect for him. But it is time to move on and put machine politics that so long dominated Hawaii politics into the trash can.”
Neal Milner, professor emeritus of political science at the University of Hawaii at Manoa and a well-known political analyst, said Djou has one advantage — there is no incumbent in the race. And, he has name recognition.
The downside is that Djou is running as a Republican in a strong Democratic district, Milner said.
Djou, 43, has branded himself as a moderate Republican. An analysis of the 111th Congress by National Journal that looked at votes on fiscal, social and foreign policy issues, showed Djou was the second most moderate member of Congress, ranking 253rd most liberal and 175th most conservative.
In 2010, when Djou lost his seat, he said government operations seemed dysfunctional and partisan. In the years since, he said, “it has gone from bad to worse.”
“Those in government are not listening to the people and not caring about them. I see all incumbents are far more interested in political partisanship than they are about taking care of real people. On a federal, state and county level, things have gotten much worse and that falls squarely on the people in office,” Djou said. “I was waiting for someone to run in this race to challenge the way things are, but I did not see anyone stepping up. I decided I had to step up and confront political machine in Hawaii.”
If he wins, Djou said he will focus “jobs, jobs, jobs,” and any impediments to business and the economy that allow job creation.
“With the ever-increasing cost of living in Hawaii coupled with increasing taxes and regulatory burdens, it is hard to survive,” Djou said. “
He said will he work to break down barriers for travel and trade, to balance the budget and to eliminate the deficit. Hawaii should also be exempted from the Jones Act, a 1920s law that requires American crews to transport all goods between states on American built and American-owned ships. The law, critics say, increases the cost of living in the state by at least 30 percent. Djou said he will work to secure an exemption.
Obamacare should also be dismantled, or at the very least, Hawaii should obtain an exemption from Obamacare requirements, he said. The state already has the Hawaii Prepaid Healthcare Act of 1974, with stricter requirements for health care coverage than Obamacare.
“Government should work to make the lives of people better. Obamacare fails that very basic standard,” Djou said.
While Djou may not have a well-known Republican challenger in the 2014 primary, the general election could launch him into his toughest campaign yet.
Several well-known Democrats are vying for the seat, including Senate President Donna Mercado Kim, Sen. Will Espero, Rep. Mark Takai, Honolulu City Council Members Ikaika Anderson, Stanley Chang and Joey Manahan, and human trafficking advocate Kathryn Xian.
Among Democrats, Kim appears to be in the lead because of name recognition, Milner said.
Even though Djou is well-known in Hawaii, and has run for the seat four times previously, GOP analysts estimate he must raise $1 million for the general election challenge, which may be more difficult because Djou’s moderate stance on many issues won’t interest political action committees or special interest groups.
The incumbent, Hanabusa, is running for the U.S. Senate against incumbent U.S. Sen. Brian Schatz.
Schatz, the former lieutenant governor, was appointed to the seat by Gov. Neil Abercrombie to fill the vacancy left by Inouye’s death.