The problem in the race between Hanabusa and Case was that when Case was in the U.S. House between 2002 and 2007, he cultivated the Hill papers and the media. And Ed Case is a Caucasian fella who talks real well and is media friendly and he’s smart. So the DNC says, ‘Smart guy!’ Colleen Hanabusa is a local girl, a local born-and-reared Japanese American, smart as hell, but she’s not a media hound and the DNC doesn’t know her. But Danny Inouye is for her. She ran second four years ago in our Second District race, and I think if she had have had a couple more weeks she would have won that one and she’d be representing our Second District. It’s more confusing than it appears.
Was Djou’s win in that district a sign of the GOP gaining ground in Hawaii?
Well we’re going to see here in the fall. That race had two Democrats and one Republican. This is a heavily Democratic state. The two Democrats outpolled Djou considerably when combined. Consequently, we will see what it all means. I think Hanabusa is going to run very strongly against Djou this time [Case dropped out of the new race in May] by arguing that he’s been opposed to things that Obama has been doing.
So no questions in Hawaii about whether Obama is an asset to use in your campaign?
Obama is still very popular in the state. A state this size doesn’t get its own president. We’re still very proud of the guy. The first non-Caucasian to be president of the United States originally learned something about how to live with other people in a state that’s very diverse, where people live together very well.
Has Obama’s popularity slipped in Hawaii at all in line with the rest of the country?
Yes, it’s slipped, but it has to when it’s at seventy-four percent when you’re elected. I think the last thing I saw was sixty-three percent, which is very high.
They’re socially very conservative. They have no chance. You can take that to the bank.
How liberal is Hawaii?
It’s growing in terms of social conservativism. We have more big box churches, and like the rest of the country, we have a strong Mormon community. There’s a small Mormon college on the windward side of Oahu, part of Brigham Young. We also have a large Filipino and Portuguese population, the majority of whom are Catholic, and the Catholic Church under the new pope has become more conservative. I would say we’re socially significantly more liberal than any other state in the country. It’s changed since the ’70s and ’80s, but does it make the Republican Party viable with socially conservative candidates? I think that’s yet to be seen. I doubt they’re going to pick up much.
Do you foresee a time when that might change?
No, I don’t because the feelings about tolerance in a society this diverse, which also has at its base a host culture, in the Hawaiians, who are an extraordinarily tolerant people, are strong. I don’t see it happening, but I could be wrong.
That depends whom you’re talking to. Social conservatives got big crowds to go after the legislature. Our governor has long said she is against same-sex marriage; this civil unions bill did not use the word marriage at all and it passed the state House and Senate with healthy majorities but not quite enough to override her veto. Lingle is retiring from office after November and my guess is if Neil Abercrombie wins the Democratic primary for governor and then the general election, that same bill will be introduced in the coming sessions. He has said he will fight for it.