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Don't let cost deter special House race


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POSTED: Wednesday, January 13, 2010

The notion that Hawaii would go more than six months without representation of urban Honolulu in the U.S. House to avoid spending money on a special election is adding to the islands' condescending regard as a Pacific hickdom. The question should be how—not whether—to come up with less than $1 million to conduct a timely special election to choose a representative from the 1st Congressional District for the remainder of this year.

Democratic Rep. Neil Abercrombie has announced his resignation from Congress at the end of next month so he can devote full time to his candidacy for governor.

Interim Chief Elections Officer Scott Nago says budget cuts have left his office with only $5,000 to last until July, while a vote-by-mail special election would cost $925,000. Federal funding assistance may be available for the asking.

Running for the House this year are former U.S. Rep. Ed Case, state Senate President Colleen Hanabusa—both Democrats—and City Councilman Charles Djou, a Republican. Whoever wins the special election will be able to claim seniority during the general election campaign as a sitting House member.

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The House vacancy is producing what may be one of the hottest elections for the spot since Abercrombie and now-Mayor Mufi Hannemann, Abercrombie's probable rival this year in the gubernatorial race, squared off in a special election in 1986. That special election was conducted in tandem with the primary election to replace Cec Heftel, who had resigned only two months earlier to run for governor.

Abercrombie won the special election but lost the Democratic primary to Hannemann, who would lose to Republican Pat Saiki in the general election. As a result, Abercrombie served in the House for less than four months before Saiki began her term. Saiki would serve two full terms, choosing not to resign from the House as she challenged incumbent Sen. Daniel Akaka in 1990, and lost. Abercrombie won her House seat.

Some state legislators have suggested avoiding the expenditure for a timely special election by combining it with the scheduled primary election in September, replicating the 1986 vote. Senate Ways and Means Committee Chairwoman Donna Mercado Kim says she has seen few one-vote margins in U.S. House, adding, “;I'm not saying we should be without representation but, given everything that's going on, we have to prioritize.”;

A delay of more than six months may be so unthinkable that it is likely to be unprecedented. A timely special election may be required by federal laws and the U.S. Constitution, according to state Attorney General Mark Bennett.

“;I believe there would be a federal obligation to do it,”; he says. “;They don't want the states to go without representation.”;

Nor should voters in the 1st District tolerate losing lengthy representation in Congress, which includes not only votes on close measures but constituent services that go with job.