Hawaii's Republican congressman Charles Djou has had a whirlwind first three weeks in office.
After winning the election on May 22, Djou spent the next day, Sunday, thanking his supporters. On Monday, “I got up at one in the morning to start doing TV interviews” for the East Coast stations, Djou said in an interview yesterday with THE WEEKLY STANDARD. After going to wave a big "thank you" sign on the highway—a Hawaiian tradition—Djou drove into Honolulu to resign from the city council before lunchtime. A 12-hour plane ride from Honolulu (plus the six-hour time change) put him in Washington on Tuesday afternoon. “As soon as I got off the airplane,” Djou says, “I only had enough time to brush my teeth, have a shave, put on a suit, walk down the House floor, took the oath of office, and gave my first speech as a member, then immediately started voting, and it hasn’t slowed down since.”
Nor will it be slowing down anytime soon. Djou is up for reelection this November, less than six months after his first win. And once his office is completely set up—there are still empty shelves, and a meeting room doubles as Djou’s children’s playroom—the new congressman and still candidate plans to return home to Hawaii every weekend. Most members of Hawaii’s small congressional delegation have historically not attempted the 24-hour round trip with such regularity, but Djou says connecting with his constituents is important, even with the time crunch.
“Mathematically, I figured out that I can spend 72 hours a week in Honolulu, 72 hours a week in Washington, D.C., and 24 hours a week on an airplane,” Djou says.
Much of that time in Honolulu will be necessarily spent campaigning for the seat he’s just won. Djou will run against state senator Colleen Hanabusa, one of the two Democrats who lost in May’s open special election. (Djou captured 39.4% of the vote; Hanabusa got 30.8%; and moderate former Blue Dog Ed Case got 27.6%.) With Case out of the running for November, Djou believes he has the advantage against the more liberal Hanabusa. “She’s a much sharper contrast, between myself and her, on the issues,” Djou says, citing his record on fiscal discipline. “There’s a very clear contrast between which of the two of us believes in fiscal responsibility and which of the two of us believes in an expansionist government.”
Djou believes this will make it easier for him to win over enough of Case's voters this November. He's confident the Democrats won't be able to simply add Case's votes to Hanabusa's and beat him in November. "I hope the DCCC thinks that, and I hope my opponent thinks that," Djou says.
History may be on his side, too. “While I understand that the state of Hawaii as a whole may be blue,” Djou says. “I think Hawaii’s First Congressional District isn’t as deep blue as people perhaps think it is.” His constituents, for instance, have voted Republican in the gubernatorial race for the last four elections. George W. Bush only lost the district by six percentage points in 2004, though Honolulu-born Barack Obama won the district by 42 percentage points. Plus, no incumbent member of Congress from Hawaii running for reelection has lost. “Past is not always necessarily prologue, but it helps,” Djou admits.
The 39-year-old (he’ll be 40 in August) has found some of his colleagues very helpful during this rapid transition. Djou says he has new friends in the Republican leadership among others in the GOP caucus.
But the unlikeliest new friend for this unlikely congressman has been Dennis Kucinich, the far-left Democratic congressman from Ohio. “I found him very pleasant,” Djou says, “Kucinich came right up and chatted with me for a few minutes.”