An issue of congressional residency

I got a note from a supporter of U.S. Rep. Colleen Hanabusa asking why her fellow Rep. Mazie Hirono hasn’t gotten as much scrutiny as Hanabusa over whether she moved into the district she represents.

The main reason is that, unlike Hanabusa, Hirono never promised she’d move if elected.

Last year’s election put Hawai‘i in a bizarre situation in which neither of our congresswomen could vote for themselves. Federal law requires only that representatives live in the state, not the district.

Hirono lived in East Honolulu in the 1st Congressional District when she was elected in 2006 to represent rural Oahu and the neighbor islands in the 2nd Congressional District. She never moved into the district she represents and is now running for the U.S. Senate.

Hanabusa lived in Ko Olina in the 2nd Congressional District when she was elected last year to represent urban Honolulu in the 1st Congressional District. Under heavy pressure on the residency issue from her opponent, Charles Djou, she pledged to move into the district if elected and kept the promise by renting a Kakaako apartment.

Hanabusa still hasn’t sold her Ko Olina home and it could be moved into the 1st District for the next election if the state Reapportionment Commission has its way, but a Hanabusa spokesman said she plans to sell the Ko Olina property and buy closer to town either way.

The residency issue came up in the 2006 Democratic primary in the 2nd District, but Hirono’s opponents, who included Hanabusa, never put enough pressure on her to elicit a clear promise to move. Here’s how I reported her position in a column before that year’s primary:

Hirono, the former lieutenant governor who lives in Honolulu, says she would like to move to the 2nd District, but stopped short of saying she actually will do so if her campaign succeeds.

At candidate forums, Hirono has expressed concerns about uprooting her 82-year-old mother, who lives with her, from her familiar surroundings.

“I’d love to live in the 2nd District, especially on one of the Neighbor Islands,” Hirono said. “My biggest challenge will be making a decision about where to live, because I enjoy each island for many different reasons.

“Of course, the reality is that if elected I would be living the bulk of the time in Washington, D.C., as that is where the job is.”

Hirono argued that “what matters more than where the member of Congress lives is that the representative is attentive to the people of the district, responsive to their needs.”

She was keeping to the same line in a recent statement to AP: ”As many know, my 86-year-old mother lives with my husband and me. Uprooting her from familiar surroundings to a new home would be too disruptive for our family.”

Hirono can be fairly criticized for choosing not to live among the constituents she represents, but it wouldn’t be fair to accuse her of breaking a campaign promise.

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5 Comments on “An issue of congressional residency”

  1. Richard Gozinya Says:

    I mean, really, isn’t this residency issue about as stupid as we can get? Like someone living a few miles down the road is somehow more in touch with the issues of the constituency.

    Having said that, rules are rules and non-compliance with the rules suggests that a legislator feels he/she is above the law.

    End of day, I guess the residency rules can be looked on as a stimulus program generating additional rental revenues and GET.

  2. Kolea Says:


    I agree fully with your first paragraph.

    Your second paragraph appears to be based upon a misunderstanding. While state legislators and county council members ARE required to live within their district, members of congress are not.

    As you say, Hanabusa lives a few miles from the boundary between the two districts. But prior to her election, she spent her days immersed in the political and economic center of the First CD to an extent few people could match.

    Where Hanabusa made her mistake was in agreeing to move into the First CD. I do not know Hanabusa’s personal finances, but I suspect this is not a good time to try to sell a house on the Ewa plain and I doubt she can comfortably absorb a financial loss on the order this might entail. As a practical matter, I do not want a congress member to make themselves financially vulnerable for foolish reasons. It makes them even more dependent upon the financial support of special interests.

    The alleged concern of First CD residents that someone who lives on Oahu in the Second CD may thereby not fairly represent their interests strikes me as extremely stretched. And can only be maintained through personal bias.

    But the reverse, concern of 2nd CD residents about Honolulu-based politicians presuming to understand their issues strikes me as much more valid. But ultimately, it is up to the voters to decide whether, on balance, one candidate will better serve their interest than another, regardless of their actual residence. With both Hanabusa and Hirono, that’s how the voters decided.

  3. yobo Says:

    Don’t feel sorry for Hanabusa. If she wanted to sell her
    Ko Olina house, she would’ve instead of pretending to
    by asking for a high unrealistic price for show. If she
    really wanted to sell it she would’ve already since most
    bina fide house sales are done in 30 days.

    Offering ain’t selling.

  4. el guapo Says:

    Why does it matter if they couldn’t vote for themselves? They voted for each other instead, same outcome.

    It also makes me wonder about a daughter concerned with her mother’s well-being, yet choosing to work 5,000 miles away. It’s none of our business, but it does make me wonder.

  5. Capitol -ist/WassupDoc Says:

    I first challenged Patsy Mink in 1990 concerning her living in St. Louis Heights. She went ballistic and told her staff not to help me out with any constituency requests for help.

    Fortunately, Rep. Abercrombie did not turn me away.

    Ed Case moved into the Second Congressional District – mauka Kane`ohe – by March, 2003.

    Of the ten Dems running in 2006, Mazie sat in Seat #9 on my voting list. Since then, I’ve voted NOTA.

    As for wassup in 2012 – frankly, I don’t really care because I will no longer be around. However, I assumne that Tulsi Gabbard will be the front-runner amongst the mainstream Dems.

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