HONOLULU — U.S. Rep. Colleen Hanabusa of Hawaii says the way her competitor’s allies have made age an issue in her run for U.S. Senate is insulting to voters.
Hanabusa is running against Sen. Brian Schatz for the seat that opened when Sen. Daniel Inouye died in 2012. Schatz was appointed to the seat by Gov. Neil Abercrombie, and the Democrats will face off in a primary in August. The election will likely be decided then in the heavily Democratic state.
In appointing Schatz, Abercrombie said that Schatz, 41, would have the chance to build seniority over decades in the U.S. Senate. He has said Hanabusa, 62, wouldn’t because she’s too old.
“What you’re saying is, their vote doesn’t matter,” Hanabusa said in an interview with The Associated Press. “It’s almost like saying that somebody would be anointed for 40 years.”
“I don’t know of any elected official who can guarantee that they’ll be in office for 40 years, which is, I think, the number that Abercrombie has used in the process,” Hanabusa said.
Abercrombie, who is running for re-election as governor this year, did not respond to a request for comment.
Schatz’s campaign, which has raised the issue of Schatz’s ability to develop seniority, declined to comment.
Until two years ago, voters in Hawaii were used to seniority, with Inouye serving since 1963 and Sen. Daniel Akaka serving multiple terms before he retired in 2012. In campaigning to serve the rest of Inouye’s term, Hanabusa and Schatz are both looking to distinguish themselves from one another after emerging as rivals in the same party.
The age comments are especially insulting toward women, Hanabusa said, because women often make choices to delay portions of their careers as they balance other demands in life.
“Imagine if you had children, on top of everything else, and you’re trying to establish a profession, plus do well in politics and so forth,” Hanabusa said. “Something gives, you know? I’d love to think that I’m a super human being, but I’m not. We make choices, and those are the choices that we make.”
Hanabusa does not have children. She chose to establish herself as an attorney before running for political office, she said.
Schatz has raised twice as much in campaign funds as Hanabusa. He had received $3.4 million at the end of 2013 and had spent about $996,000, according to the Federal Election Commission. Hanabusa had raised about $1.6 million and spent about $812,000 as of Dec. 31.
Even so, Hanabusa and her campaign staff are encouraged by the state of the race and believe it will be decided by the “ground game,” she said. As long as they can afford to compete for television air time before the election, they will be fine, she said.
“What concerns me is whether we have enough funds to be on the air, and we do,” Hanabusa said.
Hanabusa said plans to distinguish herself from Schatz based on her record as a strong advocate for the military and for refocusing the country’s military and economic interests on the Asia-Pacific region.
Hanabusa plans to fight for more than $200 million in military funds to Hawaii that were slashed from the federal budget, she said. She also would say no to any proposed closure of military bases on Hawaii, she said.
“The president’s budget for the Department of Defense is not what we want for Hawaii,” Hanabusa said.
Bussewitz can be reached on Twitter at http://twitter.com/cbussewitz