Wednesday, March 31, 1999

By Kathryn Bender,Star-Bulletin
State Sen. Colleen Hanabusa (D-Waianae) has made a big
impression on her colleagues and longtime legislators, who
describe her as intelligent, well-organized and
politically courageous.

Leader of
the pack

The freshman state senator
from Waianae had spunk
at an early age

Ecomomy main concern

By Mike Yuen


Some 40 years ago when state Sen. Colleen Hanabusa was about 7 years old and growing up in Waianae, she was already speaking her mind.

One day she was sitting on the front seat of the family Chrysler, between her mother, who was driving, and her maternal grandmother. As they neared Pearl Harbor, Hanabusa, now 47, saw two motorcycle officers traveling side by side. Immediately, young Hanabusa ordered her elders to roll down the window closest to the officers.

1999 Hawaii State Legislature "Mr. Policemen, you're not supposed to be doing that! You're supposed to be one behind the other, not side by side," June Hanabusa remembers her daughter shouting.

"You're right. We're sorry," one of the officers told young Hanabusa, who later explained to her mother that she had learned about that particular police regulation while in school.

That sort of assertiveness - which at an early age was a source of parental pride and exasperation - has stayed with Hanabusa. She, more than anyone else in the Legislature's 13-member freshman class of 1998, which includes six senators and seven representatives, has caught the attention of her colleagues and veteran legislative observers. The Waianae Democrat has the most potential to emerge as a future leader, perhaps even beyond the Legislature, they say.

"She's got that quality about her - that she knows what she wants to accomplish and that she can lead," says Senate Minority Leader Whitney Anderson (R, Kailua).

Anderson and others describe Hanabusa as intelligent, well-organized and politically courageous. The downside, others say, is a brashness that could lead to making more enemies than she might want.

Immediate impact

In his nearly 20 years in the Legislature, Anderson says he can't recall seeing a first-term lawmaker as outspoken and independent as Hanabusa.

In her first few weeks in office, she played a pivotal role in getting an election recount and an apology from Attorney General Margery Bronster for speculating that election problems in Waianae stemmed from residents there not being highly educated.

Hanabusa and four other freshmen senators were not afraid to challenge Senate Majority Leader Les Ihara Jr. (D, Kaimuki) and Senate Ways and Means Co-Chairwoman Carol Fukunaga (D, Makiki), wondering if the veteran lawmakers were more concerned with process than substance.

By George F. Lee, Star-Bulletin
At home, state Sen. Colleen Hanabusa sets the table for a family
meal while her parents, June and Isao Hanabusa,
serve themselves dinner.

"I have a lot of faith in her to chair the Water, Land and Hawaiian Affairs Committee," says Senate President Norman Mizuguchi (D, Aiea). "I talked to her about the consequences of coming from a district with a heavy Hawaiian population and if she was willing to take that chairmanship and not shy away from the political consequences of her actions."

Lobbyist Linda Rosehill says Hanabusa's age and work as an isle labor attorney and adviser to former City Council Chairman Arnold Morgado's unsuccessful 1994 mayoral campaign give her an edge in the Legislature that would be lacking in a twentysomething lawmaker. "She's not going to sit back, watch and follow," Rosehill adds.

Won't back down

In assessing herself, Hanabusa says, "I don't have the kind of personality that's going to fail to take action because I'm afraid that I may make an enemy. If I believe in something enough to take some firm stands, I'm fully aware of the consequences."

For Hanabusa, a personal epiphany occurred when she was was about 8 years old. She believed it was wonderful when Waianae got raised asphalt sidewalks. "I thought it was so neat because you didn't walk on the dirt and it was higher when the rain came," she says.

Then one day, when her parents had brought her into Honolulu to play with her cousins, it struck her that their sidewalks were smooth, unlike the bumpy ones in Waianae. She knew that made a big difference when you were roller-skating. "That disparity has always stuck in my mind," Hanabusa says.

One of the reasons she ran for the Senate - and ultimately unseated veteran lawmaker James Aki - was because she believes the Waianae Coast was being neglected and needed better representation.

Country girl

When Hanabusa was growing up in Waianae, her playmates were usually boys. "We used to play samurai a lot and we used to run around with little sticks," Hanabusa remembers.

She never played with dolls. She was 11, Hanabusa recalls, when she got her first doll. It was a Barbie, which was then being introduced. "My parents thought I should have a Barbie," she explained.

From kindergarten to seventh grade, Hanabusa attended Waianae public schools. Then she began attending the all-girls St. Andrew's Priory, from which she graduated in 1969 after serving as Student Council president her senior year. Her classmates, judging from their handwritten comments in Hanabusa's senior yearbook, saw her as an outspoken student leader. At the Priory, Hanabusa was also a member of the National Honor Society.

"I was as country as you can get, coming into a town school where a lot of my classmates were townies. That, to me, epitomizes what I've always had to do throughout my life. A country girl thrust into a different situation. 'OK, we're here. Let's make the best of it.' That's what it has been all about," Hanabusa says.

Asked to name a hero or someone she admires, Hanabusa doesn't cite national or international figures. Instead, she names people who had an impact on her or from whom she's learned something directly:

James Cowen, president and general manager of Oahu Transit Services, the private, nonprofit company that runs TheBus, which is considered to be one of the nation's best transit operations.

In Hanabusa's eyes, Cowen is the embodiment of a good manager and leader.

Charlene Kubo, who preceded Hanabusa as the Priory's Student Council president.

"The one thing I learned from her was that you can still be different and still achieve what you want to achieve. But you have to maintain your independence and what you are and still be able to play the game, to play by the various rules that you're required to do so, and yet try to redefine and make your own game in the end," Hanabusa says.

Hanabusa laughs when told that a Capitol observer, using the local term for a tough woman, described her as a tita with brains.

"I'll take it as a compliment as long as they take me seriously and they're taking what I'm doing seriously. And as long as they realize that it is not going to be an easy battle if we're going to fight," she says, chuckling.


St. Andrew's Priory
Class of 1969

State Sen. Colleen Hanabusa

Bullet Age: 47.
Bullet Personal: Born in Honolulu and raised in Waianae, where she still lives with her parents and both her grandfathers. Divorced with no children.
Bullet Employment: Labor attorney, Honolulu, 1978-present. Legal researcher, Madison, Wis., 1978.
Bullet Political experience: State senator, 1998-present; Arnold Morgado for mayor campaign, adviser, 1994.
Bullet Education: Richardson School of Law, J.D., 1977. University of Hawaii, M.A. (sociology), 1975, and B.A. (economics and sociology), 1973. Colorado College, Colorado Springs, 1971. University of the Pacific, Stockton, Calif., 1969-70. St. Andrew's Priory, diploma, 1969.
Bullet Honors: Woodward/White Inc., The Best Lawyers in America, 1995-99. National Registry of Who's Who, lifetime member.
Bullet Relaxes by: Reading murder mysteries and trying to solve the crime before she finishes the book.
Bullet Interesting fact: Second runner-up, Hawaii Junior Miss Pageant, 1969. Was forced to run, she says, by one of Priory's then-principals, Sister Lucy Caritas. "Do you think I'm a Junior Miss type?"

Economy senator’s
primary concern

By Mike Yuen


When this year's legislative session concludes, lawmakers will be judged primarily on what they've done to spur the revitalization of the isle economy, says Sen. Colleen Hanabusa.

"Whether it happens or not will be a reflection on the ability of the (Democratic) majority to pull together behind a particular program," says the Waianae Democrat. "I still believe that is the most critical issue facing us."

Asked her stand on the proposal by Sens. Bob Nakata (D, Kaneohe) and Brian Taniguchi (D, Manoa) to raise the 4.0 percent general excise tax to 5.35 percent to aid education, Hanabusa replies that she is in favor of the discussion the initiative has engendered.

She says her constituents would be hurt by an excise tax increase, but they would be helped if grocery-bought food were exempted from the tax, as also suggested by Nakata and Taniguchi.

"For something like that to work, you need to see what the trade-offs will be, what the sacrifices will be," Hanabusa adds.

Hanabusa, a labor attorney, says she is in favor of the Legislature funding retroactive pay raises for state workers. The state created "an obligation" with its bargaining units that gave up its right to strike and agreed to binding arbitration, she says.

All of the units with the Hawaii Government Employees Association and some with the United Public Workers, along with police officers and firefighters, have given up the right to strike, in favor of binding arbitration.

Only the Hawaii State Teachers Association, the University of Hawaii Professional Assembly, or faculty union, and UPW's janitors and refuse workers have retained the right to strike.

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