Honolulu Star-Bulletin Local News
Election may bring
dramatic changes

Various scenarios are playing out
in advance of Republican or Democratic
wins in Hawaii

By Pete Pichaske
Phillips News Service

WASHINGTON - Election day is still a couple of weeks away, but early jockeying for choice committee seats in Congress has already begun.

And speculation about the next crop of House and Senate leaders is rife.

For Hawaii, the election could bring dramatic changes. The state could have its first Republican in Congress in a half-dozen years, one with long-standing, perhaps useful ties to GOP leaders.

Or, if the Democrats retake Congress, the state's all-Democratic delegation, if re-elected, could be in charge of an unprecedented and impressive slew of Senate and House subcommittees.

Or, the election could bring more of the same: an all-Democratic, mostly liberal delegation scrapping for power and leverage in a Congress controlled by mostly conservative Republicans.

"It's all speculation right now," said one House committee staffer, noting the huge number of variables involved.

Here are some scenarios:

If Republicans retain control of the Senate and the House, which seems likely although hardly assured, and Hawaii's two House members retain their poll leads and win re-election, Hawaii again will have a delegation of Democrats in a GOP-controlled Congress.

In the past two years, that's closed some doors for the state and often reduced the delegation's role, particularly in the House, to that of nay-saying back-benchers whose priorities are largely ignored.

"Historically, any state with a delegation of only one party is very limited in access," said Jane Tatibouet, chairwoman of Hawaii's Republican Party. "And it's particularly detrimental when the entire delegation is in the minority in Congress." Still, Hawaii lawmakers point out that the islands fared remarkably well in the last Congress, which funded a long list of projects in Hawaii. "I had no problems with the Republican majority," said Sen. Daniel Inouye, whose seniority and popularity on both sides of the Senate aisle would again be crucial in another GOP Congress.

If the GOP retains control of the House (or even if it does not) and Orson Swindle ousts incumbent Democrat Neil Abercrombie, Republicans say the state would have a pipeline to GOP power brokers.

Swindle, although a prominent Ross Perot supporter in 1992, lived and worked in Washington for years, including a stint in the Reagan administration as assistant secretary of commerce and another working for Empower America, operated by Jack Kemp, the GOP vice presidential nominee.

"The key players know me well," insisted Swindle. "I think they'd serve me in good stead." Among the "players" cited by Swindle is House Speaker Newt Gingrich, a fellow Georgian.

Swindle said he has not talked to GOP leaders about committee assignments. But he said he would want a seat on a "money committee," such as budget or appropriations, as well as either defense or commerce.

If Democrats retake control of both the Senate and the House and Hawaii's all-Democratic delegation is returned, all four would climb the seniority ladder.

In the House, two dozen Democrats are retiring or running for the Senate, almost all with more seniority than Abercrombie and Rep. Patsy Mink. Add the inevitable losses of other Democrats, and both Hawaii representatives might advance to within the top third of House Democrats in seniority.

A Democratic majority could mean subcommittee chairmanships for Abercrombie and Mink, since those posts are handed out largely on the basis of seniority.

In an interview with the Star-Bulletin editorial board last week, Abercrombie said there was "a distinct possibility" he would head subcommittees of both the National Security and Resources committees.

But he also said Democratic leaders have talked to him about a seat on the powerful Ways and Means Committee. Such a seat, he said, "would put Hawaii in an enormously advantageous position."

Mink, meanwhile, is considered likely to chair a subcommittee on the House Economic and Educational Opportunities Committee. "She's obviously a member in very high standing," said a committee source.

Democrats say Hawaii benefits from a united Democratic delegation no matter who runs Congress. "A Republican would just mean one more obstructionist voice that would hurt Hawaii," argued state Democratic Party Chairwoman Marilyn Bornhorst.

In the Senate, neither Inouye nor Daniel Akaka are up for re-election this year, and Akaka will gain a fair amount of seniority with the departure of a handful of Democrats. If Democrats win a majority in the Senate, he is expected to be chairman of a couple of subcommittees.

As for Inouye, after the election, only one senator in either party (West Virginia's Robert Byrd) will have more seniority.

And if the Democrats return to power, Inouye would reclaim his powerful perch atop the defense appropriations subcommittee.

Even without his party in power, Inouye proved over the past two years that he is adept at bringing federal money into Hawaii, a skill even Republicans concede.

"Sen. Inouye has an excellent record," said Tatibouet. "But without both parties represented, it's still more difficult to bring home the bacon."

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