New Senate leader brings high regard
Observers believe Colleen Hanabusa's efficiency will serve her well in her post
Among her first acts in her new job as Senate president, Sen. Colleen Hanabusa led the Senate through the creation of a code of ethics and an administrative manual that includes a first-ever ban on hiring relatives.
"The major issue that we believe that we have addressed is the whole concept of making things transparent to everyone as well as giving people a mechanism by which to, you know, complain about us," she said with a laugh.
Hopes are high that Hanabusa (D, Nanakuli-Makua) will usher in a new era for the state Senate. And chances seem good that she will, given the reformational inclinations she has displayed since her school days.
In her opening day speech Wednesday, Hanabusa focused on the need to help residents share the benefits of the state's thriving economy into the future.
She said in an interview later that day that funds to repair and maintain schools and initiatives to help residents with housing are at the top of Democrats' to-do lists this session, along with the imperative to provide a rebate to taxpayers. There will also be an effort to help create a more diverse economy in the state.
Dan Boylan, a political analyst and history professor at the University of Hawaii, said he believes Hanabusa will be a much stronger leader of the Senate.
"Colleen is the real deal," he said. "She is very, very smart. She is very articulate, and she is willing to go for it."
About four decades ago, Hanabusa, 55, traveled 60 miles round trip each day from Waianae to attend St. Andrew's Priory School, just across the street from the Capitol. Now, she makes the same trip from her Waianae district holding one of the most powerful positions in the state.
It's clear her methods developed early.
Hanabusa published a handbook for her fellow students before her senior year at St. Andrew's, including information on what type of behavior would lead to demerits. And a uniform rule change she pushed for while at the school allowing muumuus to be worn on Fridays is still in place.
As chairwoman of the Senate Judiciary and Hawaiian Affairs Committee for the past four years, Hanabusa was known for her efficiency and clarity, posting notices of hearings a week in advance and expressing her inclinations for a bill to committee members several days beforehand so they could be better prepared for the day's discussion and vote.
She is also well known for her willingness to fight for what she feels is right, which she attributes to "drinking the water in Waianae" and working as an attorney in the male-dominated field of labor law.
Hanabusa and Gov. Linda Lingle could end up competing to get the most work done this session, said Ira Rohter, a University of Hawaii political science professor.
"I think there's going to be an interesting competition between her and Linda Lingle to come up with a track record," Rohter said.
Both women have either shown or are rumored to have aspirations for higher office, so instead of sniping at one another, they will need to work on coming out of the two-year legislative cycle with a list of accomplishments, he said.
Rohter said he did not know whether Hanabusa would be able to wrangle the Senate's factions to stop feuding and maintain focus on lawmaking. There are generally thought to be five groups of alliances in the Senate, which is split 20-5 between Democrats and Republicans.
But Senate Minority Leader Fred Hemmings (R, Lanikai-Waimanalo), in discussing Hanabusa's impact on the Senate, said the political divisions are important.
"There is an opportunity to explore and travel down different paths," he said, "and I think that she will allow that to happen, which I think is more important than just building a political consensus and circling the wagons."