Hirono vs. Case: Decision Time

July 31, 2012, 10:51 AM HST · Updated August 6, 10:30 AM
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By Nate Gaddis

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US Senate candidates Ed Case and Mazie Hirono.

On August 11th, nearly 10 years after their gubernatorial contest, Ed Case and Mazie Hirono will once again battle for votes in a Democratic primary.

Case and Hirono are seeking to succeed US senator Daniel Akaka in the first open seat Senate race in Hawaii since the 1970s. Just like in 2002, polls point to a close contest, with the winner set to face Republican Linda Lingle in the general election.

Both candidates were raised in Hawaii, earned degrees in Psychology, and graduated from law school. Each served in the Hawaii State House before being elected to the US House of Representatives (Case from 2002-2006, Hirono from 2007-present).

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Case has billed himself as an independent thinker and political moderate, while attacking Hirono for being a partisan insider. Hirono touts a record of collaboration and results, accusing Case of lining up too often with Republican ideology.

With Hawaii’s next junior senator possibly in line to take over once the mighty and well-connected Daniel Inouye leaves office, the 2012 Senate race may determine the nature of the relationship between Washington, DC and the Aloha State in the decades to come.

Here we take a moment to examine both candidates, and how their election may affect Hawaii residents.

Hirono: Far-Left, But Effective

Two years after earning her law degree, Hirono won her first election to the Hawaii State House in 1980, beginning a lengthy career in political office that would see few interruptions.

Case has cast Hirono’s resume as that of a party loyalist and partisan. A statistical analysis by GovTrack (a legislative tracking service) of US House members confirms that claim, ranking Hirono to the left of both Barney Frank and Charles Rangel in terms of ideology.

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Hirono has successfully fought for federal assistance for Hawaii’s agricultural industry. Image courtesy University of Hawaii.

The accusation by Case that Hirono is an “insider” is a bit more vague, but as Case himself has pointed out, Hirono has benefitted greatly from political action committees (PACs) and donors outside of Hawaii. The Center for Responsive Politics estimates that Hirono received 29% of her campaign funding from PACs while in federal office. Case by comparison, obtained 8% of his campaign funds from political action committees.

While Hirono doesn’t often buck her own party, and may be more deeply connected to special interests than Case, her tenure in political office seems to have been a productive one.

During her time in the Hawaii State House, Hirono served at the head of the Consumer Protection and Commerce Committee, where she helped to reform auto and homeowners insurance. Hirono also played a major role in creating the Hawaii Employers Mutual Insurance Company (HEMIC), which has helped to lower the cost of workers compensation insurance for businesses in the state.

Although the US Chamber of Commerce is busy promoting Republican Linda Lingle as its choice for the US Senate in 2012, Hirono’s actions in office have often been beneficial to Hawaii businesses. She was a vocal supporter of visa-waivers for South Korean citizens, a program that would go on to boost tourist arrivals. In Congress, she successfully fought for agricultural development assistance for Hawaii farmers and ranchers.

Case: Bold and Combative

First elected to state office 14 years after Hirono, case has enjoyed a more robust career in the private sector, and has often been at odds with his own party.

After being elected to the Hawaii State House of Representatives in 1994, Case fought to reform state government. He would go on to lead an effort to replace the leadership of the state house, being elected to the head of that body in 1999. His focus was often on addressing Hawaii’s long term fiscal challenges, earning him a reputation for fiscal conservatism that would continue into his congressional career.

Not afraid to buck the Democratic Party, Case famously cast the lone dissenting vote in the Hawaii House Judiciary Committee’s effort to constitutionally ban gay marriage in 1997. He would go on to co-sponsor an unsuccessful civil union bill in 2001.

Case’s reputation for independent thought would follow him to the nation’s capital, where he sometimes sided with Republicans on major tax legislation. He was one of only 34 Democrats to vote in favor of reducing the estate tax in 2006, and also opposed his party to support lower taxes on investment income.

Controversially, Case was a supporter of the 2003 invasion of Iraq by US forces (a move that Hirono and many other Democratic politicians voiced opposition to). He was famously, once again, the sole Democratic representative to vote in favor of eliminating funding for PBS, NPR, and Title X family planning in 2005.

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Ed Case authored legislation that would become the basis for protecting the Northwestern Hawaiian Islands. Image courtesy National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.

Of his legislative accomplishments, Case often touts the Northwestern Hawaiian Islands National Marine Refuge Act (H.R. 2376) as one of his most important. The bill would provide much of the basis for George W. Bush’s 2006 public proclamation creating the Papahanaumokuakea Marine National Monument.

Hard Times, Tough Choices

With a more consistent record of securing benefits for Hawaii, and deeper relationships within both Washington, DC and the Democratic Party, Mazie Hirono may prove to be the more reliable candidate to fetch funds for Hawaii residents. With Daniel Inouye’s long career bound to end in the next decade, Hawaii will be in deep need of someone capable of securing federal dollars once our senior senator leaves office.

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When Senator Daniel Inouye finally leaves office, Hawaii will face an uncertain future. File photo.

At odds with Hawaii’s own near-term needs is the increasingly difficult fiscal situation facing our federal government. Medicare and Social Security make up the majority of our budget shortfalls, and their role in our national debt is bound to only get worse without serious reform. While Hirono advocates saving entitlement programs mainly via tax increases, Case has acknowledged the need to raise the age of enrollment and reform both programs (Hirono opposes cuts to either). Case previously voted against expanding prescription drug coverage for seniors, a measure that has added significantly to the federal budget deficit in the last few years.

While Mazie Hirono may prove highly effective at bringing benefits to the Aloha State, Ed Case’s independent voting record points to an ability to make bold, principled decisions, regardless of popular sentiment.

On August 11th, Democrat voters must weigh the advantages of both candidates and decide who can best navigate an uncertain future.

 

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