Colleen Hanabusa

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Colleen Hanabusa
Colleen Hanabusa Official Photo.jpg
Member of the U.S. House of Representatives
from Hawaii's 1st district
In office
January 3, 2011 – January 3, 2015
Preceded by Charles Djou
Succeeded by Mark Takai
Member of the Hawaii Senate
from the 21st district
In office
January 20, 1999 – November 6, 2010
Preceded by James Aki
Succeeded by Maile Shimabukuro
11th President of the Hawaii Senate
In office
January 2, 2009 – November 6, 2010
Preceded by Robert Bunda
Succeeded by Shan Tsutsui
Personal details
Born Colleen Wakako Hanabusa
(1951-05-04) May 4, 1951 (age 65)
Waianae, Territory of Hawaii, U.S.
Political party Democratic
Spouse(s) John Souza
Alma mater University of Hawaii, Manoa
Religion Buddhism
Website House website

Colleen Wakako Hanabusa (Japanese: 花房コリーン若子 Hepburn: Hanabusa Korīn Wakako?, born May 4, 1951) is an American politician who served as the U.S. Representative for Hawaii's 1st congressional district from January 2011 to January 2015. She is a member of the Democratic Party. Before her election to the U.S. House of Representatives, Hanabusa was a member of the Hawaii Senate, representing the 21st District beginning in 1998.[1] She served as the Senate Majority Leader before being elected Hawaii's first woman President of the Senate in 2007.[2][3] On August 24, 2011, she announced her intention to run for reelection to Congress.[4]

On December 17, 2012, after the death of Senator Daniel Inouye of Hawaii, it was announced that Inouye had sent a letter shortly before his death to the Governor of Hawaii, Neil Abercrombie, stating his desire that Hanabusa be appointed to his seat. Abercrombie decided against appointing Hanabusa and chose Lieutenant Governor of Hawaii Brian Schatz instead.[5][6][7] Hanabusa announced a Democratic primary challenge to the incumbent Schatz in the 2014 special election, but lost the close primary contest.[8] Hanabusa announced her intention to run in the 1st congressional district special election to fill the remaining term of Rep. Mark Takai, and won the Democratic primary for the race on 13 August 2016.[9]

Early life and education[edit]

A fourth-generation American of Japanese ancestry, Colleen Hanabusa grew up in Waiʻanae with her two younger brothers, her parents, and her grandparents. In 1969 she graduated from St. Andrew's Priory. She received a B.A. in economics and sociology in 1973 and an M.A. in sociology in 1975 from the University of Hawai'i and in 1977 received a J.D. from the University of Hawai'i's William S. Richardson School of Law.[10]

Law career[edit]

Hanabusa is a labor lawyer with almost 30 years of experience, and a corporate officer in a family-run corporation. She has been recognized in The Best Lawyers in America, Woodward and White, Inc., served as a delegate to the Hawai`i State Judicial Conference, and was noted in Honolulu Magazine as one of Hawai`i's A+ Attorneys in 1993 and subsequent years.

Hawaii Senate[edit]

In November 1998, Hanabusa was elected as the state senator from the 21st District. The 21st District includes Wai'anae, where her family has resided for four generations, as well as Ko Olina, Kahe Point, Nanakuli, Ma'ili, Makaha, Makua and Ka'ena Point.

One of Hanabusa's first acts upon being elected was to organize senators to vote against the second-term confirmation of Hawaii Attorney General Margery Bronster.[10]

Hanabusa served as Senate Majority Leader before being elected the first woman President of the Senate in 2006 – making her the first Asian American woman to preside over a state legislative chamber in the United States.[2] In 2003 she was named one of Hawaii’s “top ten political power brokers”, along with the state’s governor and two U.S. senators, by Hawaii Business Magazine.[11]

Hanabusa previously ran unsuccessfully in a special election held in January 2003 to replace the late Patsy T. Mink as U.S. Representative from Hawai'i's 2nd congressional district, losing to Ed Case, a Blue Dog Democrat.[12] In 2006 she ran for the same seat after Case retired to unsuccessfully challenge Senator Daniel Akaka in the Democratic primary. Hanabusa was again unsuccessful, losing in the Democratic primary to former Lieutenant Governor Mazie Hirono by 844 votes.[13]

Leadership positions[edit]

  • Serving the Leeward Coast as State Senator since 1998
  • State Senate President since 2007
  • State Senate Majority Leader since 2007
  • Chair, Judiciary and Hawaiian Affairs Committee
  • Co-chair, Joint Senate House Task Force on Ice and Drug Abatement
  • Senate's first statewide hearings on Rice v. Cayetano
  • United States Supreme Court decision Co-Chair, Joint Senate House Investigative Committee: Felix Consent Decree
  • 2001 Vice Chair, Senate Ways and Means Committee
  • Vice President, State Senate
  • Chair, Senate Committee on Water, Land, and Hawaiian Affairs[3]

Key legislation introduced[edit]

  • 3 R's program for repair and maintenance of schools
  • Repeal of the Van Cam Law
  • Tax credit to enable construction and jobs at Ko Olina
  • Bill to reform election contributions
  • Bill to pay the awards of the Individual Rights Panel-DHHL
  • Bill to require community notice prior to establishing a halfway house
  • Bill for a ceded land inventory Education Initiatives[3]


In 2002, when in the State Legislature, Hanabusa emerged as the leading advocate for legislation authorizing $75 million in tax credits for Ko Olina Resort, a move she declared necessary to spur development for the Leeward area, but which others saw as a reward for a close associate and political backer, Ko Olina developer Jeff Stone. When Governor Ben Cayetano vetoed the tax credit bill, Hanabusa took the unprecedented step of suing to overturn the veto.[14][15]

Within months, Hanabusa's then-fiancé John Souza received a preferential deal in purchasing one of Stone's homes in Ko Olina. In February 2005, less than two years after Souza bought the home, he sold it for a $421,000 profit, according to real estate records. Souza and Hanabusa, who were engaged at the time and married in 2008, then bought a $1-million home in another Ko Olina subdivision developed by Centex Homes of Texas.[16]

The Ko Olina tax-credit legislation, intended to promote development of a “world-class” aquarium at the resort, expired after plans for the aquarium were abandoned. Ko Olina Resort eventually returned the tax credit, but the Lingle Administration and Hanabusa disagreed on how to use the returned funds.[17]

While in Congress, Hanabusa was called a "loan shark" by the Center for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington for abusing her position to pay herself excessive interest payments to settling her campaign debt. Hanabusa's spokesperson stated these interest payments were merely repayment of a bank loan.[18]

In January 2013, Hanabusa appeared on The O'Reilly Factor, where she criticized a derogatory comment O'Reilly made toward Asians. O'Reilly condemned her for not watching the very program in which he made his statement, even though his comment was still widely considered as offensive. O'Reilly had previously commented on various social issues in Hawaii.[19]

When State Rep. Glenn Wakai introduced legislation to prevent the eating of dogs and cats, Hanabusa refused to hold hearings on it in the State Senate Judiciary Committee, preventing it from passing.[20]

U.S. House of Representatives[edit]


Hanabusa at the Aloha Floral Parade in 2010


Hanabusa ran unsuccessfully in the May 22, 2010, special election to serve out the remaining months of former Representative Neil Abercrombie's term; then-City Councilman Charles Djou was able to defeat her without winning a majority of the votes under the rules of the winner-take-all election that split the Democratic vote between Hanabusa and rival Ed Case, a moderate Democrat.[21][22]

U.S. Senators Daniel Inouye and Daniel Akaka supported Hanabusa's special election campaign and backed her again in the September Democratic primary. Some in the national Democratic Party indicated a preference for Case, who previously served in the U.S. House of Representatives before an unsuccessful U.S. Senate primary challenge to Akaka in 2006. The national Democratic leadership remained officially neutral.[23][24]

On May 30, 2010, Case, citing his third-place showing in the special election and to avoid a rift among Democrats that could lead to Djou's winning the November election, announced his withdrawal from the race and gave his support to Hanabusa.[25] That placed Hanabusa as the top Democratic candidate in the September party primary, which she then won.[26] Hanabusa subsequently challenged Djou for the same seat and on November 2 won the general election by a 53.2% to 46.8% margin.[1][27][28]


Although there was some speculation that she would run to succeed retiring Senator Daniel Akaka, Hanabusa opted to run for reelection to Congress.[4] She faced Djou again, and defeated him with 54.6 percent of the vote.


In May 2016, Hanabusa's successor in the House, Mark Takai, announced he was not running for reelection that year due to pancreatic cancer. Hanabusa subsequently announced that she would once again run for the seat.[29] Prior to his July 20, 2016 death, Takai had endorsed Hanabusa to succeed him.[30] Two weeks after his death, on August 3, Hanabusa announced that she would also run in the special election that is set for November 8, 2016, the same date as the regularly-scheduled election, to finish Takai's term in the 114th United States Congress.[31] On August 13, she easily won the Democratic primary for the general election.[32]


After House GOP leader John Boehner (R-OH) pledged to give incumbent Congressman Charles Djou a seat on the Appropriations Committee, Senator Daniel Inouye (D-HI) stated that Democrats would also name Hanabusa to Appropriations.[33] However, House Democratic leadership instead appointed her to the Armed Services and Natural Resources committees.[34]

Hanabusa was the third Buddhist to join the United States Congress, the previous ones being Hank Johnson of Georgia and Mazie Hirono of Hawaii.[35] Hanabusa's election makes Hawaii the only state with a majority non-Christian House delegation. She is a member of the New Democrat Coalition.


As a Representative, Hanabusa has sponsored 14 bills, including:[36]

112th Congress (2011-2012)[edit]

  • H.R. 3320, a bill to increase funds for grants to U.S. owned Pacific islands to offset costs resulting from the residency of people from a Compact of Free Association (COFA) member-state, introduced November 2, 2011. Hanabusa introduced a similar bill, H.R. 1222, in the 113th Congress.

113th Congress (2013-2014)[edit]

  • H.R. 912, a bill to allow for Medicaid to provide care to people lawfully residing in a U.S. owned Pacific island who are from a COFA member-state, introduced February 28, 2013
  • H.R. 2225, a bill to change Memorial Day from the last Monday in May to its previous date of May 30, introduced June 3, 2013

In addition to the bills listed above, Hanabusa has sponsored several bills relating to Filipino World War II veterans that would, among other things, recognize their efforts in World War II and provide veteran benefits to them.

Committee assignments[edit]

2014 U.S. Senate election[edit]

On December 17, 2012, the second-longest serving U.S. Senator in history, Daniel Inouye, who had represented the state of Hawaii since it became a state in 1959, died of respiratory complications.[37] Shortly before his passing, Inouye sent a letter to Hawaii Governor Neil Abercrombie requesting that Hanabusa be appointed to his seat for the remainder of his term. Hanabusa submitted her name for consideration to the Democratic Party of Hawaii,[38] which then included her on a list of three candidates for Abercrombie's consideration.[5][6][39] Abercrombie then chose to appoint Lieutenant Governor of Hawaii Brian Schatz to the seat.[7][40] On December 26, 2012 Schatz was sworn in by Vice President Joe Biden. On May 2, 2013, Hanabusa announced she would challenge Schatz in the 2014 Democratic primary. She said "Brian was not elected. He was appointed, and I don't think the people have really had an opportunity to weigh in on who they want to represent them in the United States Senate."[41]

In May, Inouye's widow, Irene, endorsed Hanabusa saying “Shortly after she was elected president of the Hawaii State Senate, Dan recognized that Colleen was more than capable of succeeding him and he began to mentor her. His last wish was that Colleen serve out his term because he was confident in her ability to step into the Senate and immediately help Hawaii."[42] Hanabusa's campaign hired many of Inouye's staffers.[43] Polling throughout the campaign was controversially mixed, with each campaign releasing different poll results.[44] In the end, Schatz won a narrow victory (115,401 to 113,632).

Post-Congressional career[edit]

Since leaving Congress, Hanabusa has continued with her labor law practice. In June 2015, Hanabusa was appointed by Honolulu mayor Kirk Caldwell to the board of directors of the Honolulu Authority for Rapid Transportation (HART), the operator of Honolulu Rail Transit,[45] to replace Carrie Okinaga. She also serves on the board of directors for Hawaii Gas.[46]


  1. ^ a b Goodin, Emily (November 3, 2010). "Dems pick up Hawaii seat". The Hill. Retrieved 2013-10-27. 
  2. ^ a b EMILY's List (2013), "Colleen Hanabusa",, retrieved 2013-10-27 
  3. ^ a b c "About Colleen", Hanbusa for Hawaii, 2013, retrieved 2013-10-27 
  4. ^ a b Blair, Chad (August 24, 2011), "No Senate Run for Hanabusa", Honolulu Civil Beat, Peer News, retrieved 2011-08-25 
  5. ^ a b Isenstadt, Alex (December 17, 2012), "Colleen Hanabusa favorite for Daniel Inouye seat",, retrieved 2013-10-27 
  6. ^ a b "Inouye gave preference for successor before he died", CNN PoliticalTicker, December 18, 2012, retrieved 2013-10-27 
  7. ^ a b Glueck, Katie (December 27, 2012), "Brian Schatz chosen to replace Daniel Inouye",, retrieved 2013-10-27 
  8. ^ Cheney, Kyle; Dovere, Edward-Isaac (16 August 2014). "Brian Schatz edges Colleen Hanabusa in Hawaii primary". Politico. Retrieved 22 November 2014. 
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  10. ^ a b Rees, Robert M. (June 12, 2002), "Queen of the Senate", Honolulu Weekly, archived from the original on 2011-09-27 
  11. ^ "Hawaii's Powerbrokers (List)", Honolulu Business Magazine, October 2003, retrieved 2010-05-14 
  12. ^ Gima, Craig (January 6, 2003), "Victorious Case sees end of old-style politics", Honolulu Star-Bulletin, retrieved 2011-01-07 
  13. ^ Reyes, B.J. (September 25, 2006), "Statewide name recognition gives Hirono the advantage", Honolulu Star-Bulletin, retrieved 2011-01-07 
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  16. ^ Dooley, Jim (October 28, 2010), "Exclusive Report: Close Ties Between Congressional Candidate Colleen Hanabusa and Ko Olina Developer Rake in Funds", Hawaii Reporter, retrieved 2011-02-07 
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  20. ^ "Honolulu Star-Bulletin News /2005/03/05/". Retrieved 2014-08-12. 
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  22. ^ DePledge, Derrick (May 24, 2010), "Election results show Djou's appeal outside East Honolulu", Honolulu Advertiser, retrieved 2011-01-07 
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  25. ^ DePledge, Derrick (May 31, 2010), "Case stuns with withdrawal from Hawaii congressional primary", Honolulu Advertiser, retrieved 2011-02-07 
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  30. ^ Daysog, Rick (May 29, 2016). "Takai endorses Hanabusa in congressional race". Hawaii News Now. 
  31. ^ Dayton, Kevin (August 3, 2016). "Special-election winner will finish Takai's term". Honolulu Star-Advertiser. Retrieved August 5, 2016. 
  32. ^ Cole, William (August 13, 2016). "Schatz, Hanabusa, Gabbard cruise to victory in congressional races". Honolulu Star-Advertiser. Retrieved August 15, 2016. 
  33. ^ Associated Press (October 20, 2010), "Inouye: Hanabusa would win appropriations spot", Honolulu Star-Advertiser, retrieved 2011-02-07 
  34. ^ Associated Press (January 19, 2011), "Hanabusa appointed to armed services and natural resources committees", Honolulu Star-Advertiser, retrieved 2011-02-07 
  35. ^ "Faith on the Hill: The Religious Composition of the 114th Congress". Pew Research Center. January 5, 2015. Retrieved September 13, 2016. The number of Buddhists in Congress fell from three to two, as Rep. Colleen Hanabusa, D-Hawaii, lost her bid for a Senate seat. 
  36. ^ "Representative Hanabusa's Legislation". Library of Congress. Retrieved December 16, 2014. 
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  45. ^ [2]
  46. ^ "Hawaii Gas names Colleen Hanabusa, Colbert Matsumoto, Catherine Ngo to board of directors – Pacific Business News". Pacific Business News. Retrieved 2016-02-27. 

External links[edit]

United States House of Representatives
Preceded by
Charles Djou
Member of the U.S. House of Representatives
from Hawaii's 1st congressional district

Succeeded by
Mark Takai