LIHUE — Colleen Hanabusa said she is tired of the Hawaii government’s same old song and dance.
It’s time for her to step up and offer new ideas, she said, and that’s why the political veteran wants to be the state’s next governor.
“We need someone who understands how it can be changed and what needs to be done,” Hanabusa said. “(The question is) how to efficiently run government.”
Hanabusa, currently serving as member of the U.S. House of Representatives for Hawaii’s 1st District, announced her candidacy Monday to a crowd of 300 supporters in Honolulu.
She says Hawaii is at a crossroads, “drifting and rudderless, without direction, lacking in leadership,” and the state needs strong direction.
“I am running for governor because I believe the people of Hawaii deserve better,” she said.
And while Hanabusa called for a change, Gov. David Ige released a statement Monday that touted the need for “less politics and more hard work.”
“The people of Hawaii are always served by choices in leadership,” Ige said. “I welcome Colleen’s entrance in the race. It’s one thing to criticize, and it’s another to get the people’s business done.”
Ige cited improvements in the state’s financial standing, the boost in infrastructure projects, and projects like cooling the schools as symbols of the success of his administration.
“The historic firsts coming out of my administration and the things I have done since taking office reflects this effort,” he said. “That is the kind of leadership I believe Hawaii deserves.”
Hanabusa said she thinks the government needs to take an even more innovative approach, though, to solve the recurring problems of things like homelessness, education and infrastructure.
“We have the same issues time and time again,” she said. “We need to understand the processes and someone who will help define where we are headed. I believe we need to take a hands-on role, within our lanes.”
Hanabusa’s tenure with the state Legislature began in 1998 as a member of the Senate, representing the District 21. She served as Senate majority leader and was elected as Hawaii’s first woman Senate president in 2007. She was the first Asian-American woman to lead either chamber of any state legislature in the United States.
Her current term in the U.S. House of Representatives began in 2016.
During her time in the political arena, Hanabusa said she’s received two valuable things: support from the people and ideas.
“The knowledge you gain is the best part of Congress and the greatest honor we have is people believing in us,” she said. “I feel it is now my time to be the governor, so I can implement these ideas.”
Building relationships with legislators throughout the process is one of Hanabusa’s goals, should she be elected, “recognizing that (legislation) has to be made operational for it to be successful.”
A truly sustainable Hawaii is one of Hanabusa’s goals, and that means finding ways to keep the younger generation in the archipelago instead of moving to the Mainland.
That requires two things, she said: housing they can afford, and jobs.
“Because of that, they don’t see a path,” she said. “(You have to) infuse a sense of pride and a sense of hope. We have to provide higher-paying jobs.”
A fourth-generation American of Japanese ancestry, Hanabusa was born in Honolulu and raised in Waianae.
An attorney by profession, Hanabusa is a graduate of St. Andrew’s Priory School in Honolulu, was awarded bachelor’s and master’s degrees from the University of Hawaii at Manoa, and earned a doctorate of law degree from the UH William S. Richardson School of Law.
Tourism will always play a part in Hawaii, she said, and her idea is to move Hawaii’s kids into mid-management and higher-level jobs so they can provide that quality of lives for themselves.
“What do we have that makes us unique, and what is it people want to invest in in Hawaii?” she said. “What is our unique situation?”
Hawaii’s growing season is an example, she said, pointing out Kauai has the seed-corn industry, which translates to an exportable product.
Hawaii’s international role is also critical, Hanabusa said, especially since President Barack Obama’s pivot to Asia/Pacific.
“Hawaii is the gateway to the Asia/Pacific,” she said. “We haven’t used that to our advantage, and we need to develop it.”
While she admits she doesn’t have all of the answers, Hanabusa’s philosophy on leadership is to be someone who learns from the past and moves forward with that knowledge.
“I think I know how to ask the right questions,” she said.