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Ian Lind • Online daily from Kaaawa, Hawaii

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Schatz v Hanabusa replays 2008 presidential politics

May 6th, 2013 · 21 Comments

The potentially bitter Senate primary contest between Brian Schatz and Colleen Hanabusa mirrors the infighting within the Hawaii Democratic Party during the battle for the 2008 presidential nomination, where the two “took leading roles on opposite sides of the primary that pitted Barack Obama versus Hillary Rodham Clinton,” a recent article in Roll Call notes.

Like many other states in 2008, the local party in Hawaii was split into two camps. Schatz, then a former state representative, was the political director and top spokesman for the Obama campaign. Meanwhile, Hanabusa, who was then the state Senate president, served as Clinton’s state spokeswoman.

When Hanabusa officially entered the race last week, she told the Star-Advertiser: ““We need someone there who can hit the ground running, who understands the issues, and understands how critical various types of positions are to Hawaii.”

The only problem is that someone else already hit the ground running, and that was Schatz, who already has taken over as chair of the Senate Subcommittee on Water and Power. That, I think, qualifies as hitting the ground running.

And while Hanabusa points to her political experience as setting her apart from Schatz, it’s the same experience that also counts as political baggage that could weigh her down.

Back in my days at the Star-Bulletin, I reported on strange union contract involving the Laborers Union.

One of the state’s largest refuse disposal firms signed a labor contract making it a “union shop” but didn’t tell its workers for more than 17 years, according to a lawsuit filed in federal court.

The labor contract between Honolulu Disposal Service, Inc. and the Laborers’ International Union Local 368 was renewed and updated five times between 1979 and 1996, but they “failed or refused to inform” most employees of its existence, the suit says.

“It’s mind-boggling,” said Honolulu attorney Jim Bickerton, who filed the suit along with co-counsel Barry Sullivan.

Although the company signed a full contract with the union, they later claimed to have a side deal, an oral agreement that only a handful of workers would receive the union benefits. The deal didn’t become known until another union moved to organize the company’s employees and the company stepped forward to say that they already had a union.

It turned out that Hanabusa represented the Laborers Union and its attempts to defend the secret contract.

It’s just one lesser known example of what’s out there in Hanabusa’s background, along with the funny ties with developer Jeff Stone and the Ko Olina fun and games.

I haven’t seen these kinds of entanglements in Schatz’s background. That’s a meaningful difference, in my view.

Tags: Campaigns · Politics

21 responses so far ↓

  • 1 Old Diver // May 6, 2013 at 8:26 am

    What I find curious is all of a sudden Hanabusa is downplaying Senate seniority. This doesn’t play well with voters who are sensitive to two sides of the mouth arguments. While I supported Clinton over Obama I don’t find it to be a factor in this race.

  • 2 Manoak // May 6, 2013 at 9:40 am

    The arrogance is breathtaking! She’s the female Mufi.

  • 3 Palolololo // May 6, 2013 at 9:52 am

    All the connections to Jeff Stone have been a giant red flag to me. He’s as sleazy as they get And Dickie Wong,of KS/BE fame,used be his brother-in-law.

  • 4 Hugh Clark // May 6, 2013 at 12:08 pm

    I am personally dubious on these “early polls” showing her ahead. Does the survey include N–Isles?

    Of course, we all know the pitfalls of polls that would have made Fasi governor three times but in reality never! This is a state race.

    With recent endorsements, it looks like the “machine” is divided. Don’t bet your last nickel on Colleen.

  • 5 kalaheo1 // May 6, 2013 at 2:58 pm

    Ian,
    Thank you for the principled reporting. This is the sort of story that doesn’t show up in our daily major paper and the part about the “secret, private” union is story I had never heard before.

  • 6 ohiaforest3400 // May 6, 2013 at 3:17 pm

    I’m no fan of the principals in the Hanabusa camp but I’m not sure the “squeaky clean” Brian Schatz you portray will know how to scrap in Washington. What is the saying, “Never bring a knife to a gun fight”?

    Of course, maybe we need to break that cycle of confrontation and Schatz can lead by example. If so, he’ll need all the seniority he can get when he battles those less principled than he.

  • 7 R Ferdun // May 6, 2013 at 5:20 pm

    In my opinion Hanabusa is as dirty as they get but “we” keep electing her. This is the sad paradox of Hawaii politics; we keep electing the knowns who have failed us in the past giving them another chance while rejecting the unknowns who may be better. Look at the big Q in the SA this morning. Seventy three percent of respondents gave this year’s state legislature a failing grade of D or F while only six percent gave an A or B. In spite of that what odds will you give that most of these folks will be back after the next election. And after the next session they will pat themselves on the back and congratulate themselves on what a great job they did.

  • 8 Richard Gozinya // May 6, 2013 at 6:52 pm

    I don’t know. I really don’t think a knight is shining armor, pure as the driven snow, of high and lofty demeanor, etc. etc., has a tinker’s chance of getting anything done in the snake pit that is modern politics. I might just opt for another snake as being the pragmatic choice.

  • 9 Chris // May 6, 2013 at 7:52 pm

    Agreed . Is it too much to ask for our politicians not to favor crooked developers over everyone else?

  • 10 KateInHawaii // May 6, 2013 at 8:36 pm

    Hanabusa’s last campaign ads were very indicative of her ties to the lousy under-belly running politics ’round here. As others have said, we the voters only have ourselves to blame by voting by name recognition and ethnicity. Schatz is certainly a chance at having some kind of citizen voice in Wash.

  • 11 sy // May 6, 2013 at 9:01 pm

    All I know about Hanabusa is she toes the party line… to a T. Of the 2 as US Reps, Hirono would dare to vote for “bring our troops home now” — but not Hanabusa, supporting Nobel Peace prize winner Obama’s troop surge. She called that “supporting the troops”… I called that wasting more lives & money.

  • 12 aikea808 // May 6, 2013 at 9:04 pm

    Honestly, I know Hanabusa has ‘baggage’ but Schatz…? Well, right now he’s little more than a water boy for Reid, ‘senior’ senator or not.

    I’m still waiting to see who jumps in the race & how it plays out over the next year or so before actually committing my vote. But if PRP or some-such Union PAC gets entangled in the election, it’s definitely going to be ugly.

  • 13 Karen Chun // May 7, 2013 at 6:40 am

    This is a quintessential battle between good ol’ boy (girl) politics, back room deals, and corporatism and someone who is in politics because he really DOES care about the issues.

    In Senator Schatz’s case, those issues include climate change. I trust Schatz not to sell out the environment to the corporations.

    I don’t trust Hanabusa AT ALL, having experienced first hand her lack of truthfulness when she’s standing up for her pals in the corporations.

  • 14 Gary // May 7, 2013 at 7:19 am

    Why do we need to demonize one candidate because one favors the other candidate?

    Both Schatz and Hanabusa are viable and qualified candidates. I have not decided who to vote for at this point. I simply want the best one to represent Hawaii. This does not mean I have to say negative things about the opponent of the one I eventually choose.

  • 15 Kolea // May 7, 2013 at 8:08 am

    Hi Ohia!,

    I wonder what the “don’t bring a knife to a gun fight” metaphor tells us about Hanabusa, Schatz and the political process. You know how legislation passes much better than I do, so I am asking more than telling.

    Heck, I am not even sure I want a legislator who is likely to pull a knife. That does not mean I think politics is all sweetness, light and reason. BUT I am a bit sick of dirty politics and I do not think it is necessary. What you APPEAR to be saying is Colleen is better at engaging in dirty politics.

    So, as someone who has read only a bit of Machiavelli– but found it to be very intelligent and worthwhile– I hope I do not sound too naive when I suggest I would rather have a senator who is reluctant to pull a knife rather than one eager to do so.

    I think our evaluation of the two candidates would benefit from a discussion of what we want from a senator. What the people of Hawaii wants from Washington, D.C.. I have VERY mixed feelings about “pork” and negative feelings about our grossly inflated military budget. (I REFUSE to call it our “defense budget” when the clear goal is to dominate ALL theaters of potential warfare).

    If Hanabusa is more willing to fight dirty than to bring federal military dollars into Hawaii, is that a good thing? What would she trade away, unseen to Hawaii voters, things we cannot write down in our Cost-Benefit Analysis? Even wonderful Danny Akaka was sucked along by Senator Inouye’s horse-trading with Ted Stevens. I don’t want to drill in ANWR, I don’t want the Keystone XL pipeline delivering high-carbon tar sands oil to a Koch Brothers refinery in Texas.

    Schatz has ties to corporate sponsors as is undoubtedly strengthening those ties every day in D.C.. And he has ties with corporate allies here.

    BUT, and I think this is directly related to your question, “which do I want by my side in a scrap?” I have worked with Brian and have seen him aim maintain a balancing act between competing interests, retain maximum independence.

    In my dealings with Hanabusa, I have never been convinced she has been “on my side” even while she professes to be fighting for the same cause. And, on the civil unions struggle, when I relied upon and vouched for her reliability, she betrayed my side and did so in a sneaky, dishonest fashion, hiding away and refusing to speak to the civil union advocates.

  • 16 Russel Yamashita // May 7, 2013 at 9:10 am

    For all those who venom is aimed at Rep. Hanabusa, you all appear to have a case of Mufi-itis. As the campaign season gets going next year, it appears that your poison pens will get sharper as this disease takes ahold of your systems.

    The only one happy seems to be Governor Abercrombie, who appears to be so glad that Hanabusa is taking on Schatz that he looks like he is already doing a victory lap around the state for next year’s election.

  • 17 ohiaforest3400 // May 7, 2013 at 12:14 pm

    I wasn’t necessarily suggesting that Hanabusa is better at dirty politics (altho’ that would surprise neither me nor many of Ian’s readers) but perhaps that she is more street smart in the political sense. By that I mean keeping one’s eye on the ball long term, focusing on prioroties without compromising them, compromising on lesser priorities to build political capital, and having a very thick skin.

    I have personal experience with both, one more than the other, and would not care to spend social time with either. That being said, I am willing to — and must — put aside my personal views to figure out who would be best for Hawaii. I don’t presently know and have a year to figure it out.

    As for Hanabusa’s handling of the civil unions bill, she was totally disingenuous when she used the red herring of the CT case (on civil unions v. marriage as a form of discrimination) to stall/delay/obfuscate, and have no doubt she did it to avoid having that “weight” around her neck as she prepared for her next political endeavour: Congress. Shameless, for sure, but we did get civil unions and will, eventually, get marriage equality.

    This conversation will go on and on and . . . .

  • 18 Much ado // May 7, 2013 at 1:07 pm

    As an attorney, I am going to cry foul over the “she represented someone that did something bad, therefore she is bad” argument. I don’t know anything about the labor dispute, but Ian should know better than to slam a lawyer for representing someone.

    Lawyers represent people, helping them defend themselves in a really complicated legal system. Sometimes those people did stupid or immoral or illegal things that get them in hot water and require them to consult with the lawyer. That doesn’t mean that the lawyer was complicit in the client’s activities. For example, a lawyer representing a rapist isn’t responsible for the rape. Insinuating otherwise just makes it harder for people who need legal help to get it. The legal system is based on an adversarial model. Each party is represented by an advocate, who does his or her best for the respective client. If a lawyer could only represent people who were entirely blameless and had completely clean hands, that would mean that at least one of the parties (and oftentimes both) could never have an advocate, and our system would fall apart.

    Also, lawyers provide legal advice to clients. Clients don’t always take it. That’s not the lawyer’s fault.

    So if you are going to tar her, tar her with something *she did*, not something that her client (purportedly) did.

    (I will step off my soapbox now.)

  • 19 Anonymous // May 9, 2013 at 5:11 pm

    I am supporting Colleen.

  • 20 Tom // May 11, 2013 at 4:11 am

    Rep. Hanabusa was the state Senate President when she worked behind the scenes to kill the civil unions bill. Then when she ran against a slightly more conservative democrat (Ed Case) who supported LGBT rights she flipped her position. Senator Schatz, on the other hand, has been a steadfast and longtime supporter of full marriage equality. If this is an important issue to you, there’s only one choice.

  • 21 jonthebru // May 14, 2013 at 12:32 pm

    I am not a fan of Hanabusa and will work to re-elect Brian Schatz to his seat.

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