PHOTO: Rep. Charles Djou (R-HI) is shown addressing the House of Representatives for the first time immediately after being sworn into office. Djou was given a standing ovation by members of his party.
Rep. Charles Djou (R-HI) is now experiencing his first full day as a Member of Congress. The newest Congressman was introduced yesterday by Speaker Pelosi and it was noted that President Obama and Djou are both graduates of the Punahou School.
Djou said he was the “exact opposite” of Obama. At the swearing-in ceremony a jesting Rep. Barney Frank (D-MA), the Chairman of the Banking Committee, asked to see Djou’s birth certificate. Frank told reporters “Do your job, demand to see his papers!”
On Saturday, Djou broke the string of seven Democratic victories in special elections, and many liberal activists are now predicting his tenure on Capitol Hill will be brief. In an interview with Fox News, Djou said:
Back in January when this seat became an open, I was polling in the teens. Everybody told me the district was purchased and the wholly-owned property of the Democratic Party, but voters voiced their concern that Washington is taking America in the wrong direction.” He later told reporters his message of “too much debt, too much taxes, too much wasteful spending” resonated with Honolulu residents. He said there is a “mentality in Congress to tax and spend the country to recovery. I have far more faith in hundreds of millions of Americans spending a few hundred dollars, than a few hundred bureaucrats spending hundreds of billions of dollars.
Djou will have a difficult time holding this seat in November, but the task is not impossible even though Obama received 70% of the vote in this district in 2008. In 2004, John Kerry defeated George Bush by only a 53% to 47% margin, and Gore won with 55% in 2000.
Democrats will be preoccupied with a bitter primary which will not be held until September 18th. Djou, 39, is hoping his opponent will be Colleen Hanabusa, the liberal President of the State Senate who does not live in the district.
Her primary opponent is former Rep. Ed Case, a self described moderate. Case served from 2002 until being defeated by a 55% to 45% margin in his 2006 Senate primary challenge against incumbent Senator Daniel Akaka. Case was officially endorsed by the House Blue Dog Democrats.
In the special election, Djou received 39% to 31% for Hanabusa and 28% for Case. 54% of eligible voters participated which is a significant increase from the 13% who went to the polls in the last special election in 2002.
Hanabusa has solid support from organized labor, both U.S. Senators and the party establishment. She says higher taxes are the cost of living in Hawaii. One of her ads claimed Hanabusa worked to cut legislative salaries when in fact she supported raising them 36% which gave Hawaii the most highly paid part-time legislators in the nation. Now Hanabusa says if she had known how bad the economy would become, she would not have supported the salary increases.
Teachers were one of many unions endorsing Hanabusa. Djou said it was not a surprise since Hanabusa always supported higher taxes and increased union control by public employees. He said the result of labor control was that Hawaii had the third worst public schools in the nation.
Survey data for the September Democratic primary continues to show a close race. Case supported the U.S. mission in Iraq and during his tenure on Capitol Hill broke with other Democrats by saying it would have been irresponsible to establish a time table for troop withdrawals. Foreign policy was a significant issue during Case’s 2006 Senate campaign, but it was not prominent during the special election where all three candidates were in support of the U.S. missions in Iraq and Afghanistan.
Case, 57, is a former state House majority leader who ran unsuccessfully in the Democratic primary for governor in 2002. During his four years on Capitol Hill, Case’s voting record was significantly more conservative than the three other Hawaii Democrats. However, ads during the special election sponsored by Independent Women’s Voice said Case had voted 72 times for higher taxes and received an “F” from the National Taxpayers Union.
While Djou received far less than the 50% necessary to win a majority, he could easily be the second choice of Case supporters. This will be especially true if they are annoyed by tactics used in the September primary. If Case is the nominee, he will have the disadvantage of high negative ratings. Hawaii also has a record not matched by any other state. It has never voted to defeat an incumbent Member of Congress.
Case has withdrawn and that substantially adds to Djou’s challenge. The Republicans chances would have been greatly aided by a late, divisive Case-Hanabusa primary which would have drained Democrat coffers while offering only a few weeks to heal wounds in time for the general. When Case lost a gubernatorial primary, some 40% of his voters crossed over to the Republican in the general.