State Sen. Gary Hooser, D-Kaua’i-Ni’ihau, said yesterday he is going to run for the U.S. House seat vacated by Rep. Ed Case, D-Neighbor Islands-rural O’ahu.
Many were stunned by Case’s announcement yesterday that he is going to challenge U.S. Sen. Daniel Akaka, D-Hawai’i, for the Democratic primary berth on Sept. 23.
Hooser did not hesitate long to step into the vacuum created by Case’s challenge of Akaka.
“I have been thinking about the issue, and decided I am going to run for the seat he (Case) sits in right now, covering rural O’ahu and the Neighbor Islands,” Hooser said by phone late yesterday.
“If I am elected to Congress, I will represent the entire district, but Kaua’i will have someone serving in Congress who understands and appreciates the values that are important to the people of Kaua’i, more so than anyone else,” said Hooser.
Hooser said he knows it will be an uphill battle, and he has a lot of work ahead of him.
“Most likely there will be numerous challengers, and most will be from Honolulu,” Hooser said. “Some would say it’s a gamble (for me to run), but if I lose I still keep the same seat I have right now.”
Hooser is in the middle of a four-year state Senate term, and does not have to resign to run for the U.S. House seat.
If Case loses, he will not have his current seat to fall back on.
Hooser feels his chances are as good as anyone’s. “I am sure there will be numerous challengers announced in the days to come,” he said.
Case, in a surprise move that irked fellow Rep. Neil Abercrombie, announced Thursday he will challenge Sen. Daniel Akaka in the September Democratic primary.
Hawai’i’s senior senator, Democrat Daniel Inouye, said he was stunned, and advised Case to reconsider.
Case said neither of Hawai’i’s long-term Democratic senators will be able to serve the state indefinitely. Akaka and Inouye are both 81, and Case is 53.
He said his Senate candidacy, which opens up a race to succeed him in the 2nd District, does not target Akaka’s performance.
“I think it is a matter of transition, and it’s a matter of how Hawai’i can best be represented throughout the next generation,” the two-term congressman said at a news conference.
Case said he wanted to give control over that transition to the state’s voters rather than leave open the possibility that a successor could be chosen by the governor, who would have the responsibility of naming a new senator should either Inouye or Akaka pass away while in office.
Akaka already has indicated he will run for re-election for a fourth term this year, and no Republican challenger has emerged.
Akaka was not immediately available for comment, and his campaign chairman, Wayne Yamasaki, said he had not been able to talk with the senator.
“We welcome challenges, because challenges toughen the candidates,” Yamasaki said shortly after Case’s announcement. He said Akaka is “ready to run on the issues and his accomplishments for the people of Hawai’i and the country.”
Abercrombie, who is expected to seek his ninth consecutive term in Congress, said he did contact Akaka, and immediately endorsed his re-election bid.
Abercrombie, appearing with Yamasaki, was visibly agitated over the development.
“And I’m filled with a lot of emotion right now, I can tell you, because Danny Akaka is the Hawaiian heart of the Hawaiian delegation,” Abercrombie said, his hands and voice quavering.
Abercrombie said the fact that Case has declared when it’s time to make a transition says more about him than it does about Akaka. Abercrombie himself has been considered a possible candidate to succeed either of Hawai’i’s Democratic senators.
If both Case and Akaka stay in the Senate race, they will face off in the state primary election on Sept. 23.
Inouye said in a statement Thursday that he was “rather stunned” by Case’s announcement.
“I hope that Congressman Case will reconsider his decision to challenge Senator Akaka, and will instead seek re-election to the U.S. House of Representatives. Also, I have been advised that Senator Akaka has the full support of the leadership of the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee,” he said.
Case was elected to Congress in a special election in 2002 to fill the seat vacated with the death of Rep. Patsy Mink, D-Hawai’i. He later was elected in a special election to serve a full term when the late congresswoman was re-elected despite her death.
Akaka had served 14 years in the U.S. House before he was appointed to replace U.S. Sen. Spark Matsunaga when he died of cancer in 1990.
A cousin of America Online co-founder Steve Case, the congressman was born in Hilo. He received a degree in psychology from Williams College in 1975 before earning his law degree from Hastings College of the Law in 1981.
After serving as a legislative assistant to Matsunaga, Case was a law clerk to Hawaii Supreme Court Chief Justice William Richardson. He also served in the state House of Representatives from 1994 to 2002.
Case and his wife, Audrey Nakamura, have two children and two stepchildren.
Akaka was the first Native Hawaiian elected a voting member of Congress.
He became a special assistant to then-Gov. George Ariyoshi after losing the Democratic primary for lieutenant governor in 1974.
Two years later, Akaka easily won election from Hawai’i’s 2nd Congressional District, and was re-elected six more times with at least 86 percent of the vote.
Akaka, the youngest of eight children, graduated from Kamehameha Schools before earning his bachelor’s and master’s degrees in education at the University of Hawai’i. He was a public school teacher, principal, and program specialist for 18 years before becoming director of the Hawaii Office of Economic Opportunity in 1971.
- The Associated Press contributed to this report.