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Ed Case: Extremes are clogging Capitol

By Derrick DePledge

LAST UPDATED: 11:59 a.m. HST, Jul 16, 2012

For former Congressman Ed Case, being a moderate is not only a political philosophy, it is about effective leadership.

The remedy for a Washington, D.C., often paralyzed by partisan gridlock, he maintains, is more problem-solvers and fewer extremists. In the Demo­cratic primary against U.S. Rep. Mazie Hirono for U.S. Senate, he contends that he has the ability and knowledge to deliver for Hawaii while also steering national politics closer to the center.

Voters have heard Case make this pitch before — and lose. But he hopes that voters understand that their choice to replace retiring U.S. Sen. Daniel Akaka will likely serve for a generation and succeed U.S. Sen. Daniel Ino­uye, who is 87, as the leader of the state’s congressional delegation.

“This is a crucial election for our country because, although I believe deeply in our democracy and I don’t doubt the strength of our democracy, Washington is definitely broken and is not getting the job done. We are not confronting our challenges, working them out and getting them solved,” Case, an attorney, said in an interview at his law office downtown.



>> Background: Born Sept. 27, 1952, in Hilo; graduated from Hawaii Preparatory Academy, 1970; psychology degree, Williams College in Massachusetts, 1975; law degree, University of California Hastings College of Law, 1981
>> Religion:
>> Family:
Married to the former Audrey Nakamura. Two sons, James, 23, and David, 22, from a previous marriage. Audrey Case has two children, David, 28, and Megan, 26, from a previous marriage.
>> Experience: Legislative aide to U.S. Rep. and U.S. Sen. Spark Matsunaga, 1975-78; law clerk for state Department of Labor, 1979; law clerk for Chief Justice William Richardson, 1981-82; attorney, Carlsmith Ball, 1983-2002; attorney, Bays Lung Rose and Holma, 2007-present
>> Politics: State House of Representatives, Manoa, 1994-2002; U.S. House of Representatives, 2nd Congressional District, 2002-2007


This is the first of three stories profiling the candidates running to fill the U.S. Senate seat being vacated by Daniel Akaka, who is retiring.


>> Mazie Hirono


>> Linda Lingle

“And I believe what we need is more problem-solvers in Washington, fewer people that are part of the problem and more people that are part of the solution.”

Case, 59, said he doubts the liberal Hirono or other Washington insiders really want change.

“Take a look at who we are, the sum total of what we’ve done. Not only our few years in the United States House of Representatives — that’s part of it, but a relatively small part of it. You have to judge the big picture and ask yourself, Who can function in the United States Senate, which is a different level altogether? And who can do it over a generation? Who has the diversity of experience, the level of commitment and the demonstrated ability to get things done in difficult situations?”

But Case appears caught in the same current he struggled against in his admittedly regrettable primary challenge to Akaka six years ago. Ino­uye and most of the party’s establishment, labor, environmental and progressive voices are with Hirono. He has lagged in fundraising. His depiction of Hirono as an ineffective foot soldier of the far left has alienated some of the very Demo­crats most likely to vote in a primary.

The good will that Case earned within the party two years ago when he skipped a primary against now-U.S. Rep. Colleen Hana­busa after finishing third in a special election for Congress barely gets mentioned in Demo­cratic circles. Instead, many Demo­crats still see his confidence as arrogance, his independence as disloyalty.

Crystal Rose, a partner in the law firm Bays Lung Rose and Holma, where Case specializes in real property transactions and development, said she gets frustrated when she hears critics say Case does not work well with others.

Rose, who has known Case since law school three decades ago, said he has shown the courage and intellectual ability to lead as a politician and as a manager at law firms.

She said Case shares core Demo­cratic values, such as being inclusive and providing a safety net for the less fortunate, yet is fiscally responsible.

“I really think that’s where most of the people are,” she said. “We all want to be fiscally conservative. We have to live that way. Everybody has to balance their checkbook. And secondly, we want to care. We want to care about people that need help.”

Rose said Case, while collaborative, is also strong enough to stand on his own when necessary.

“I do think that leadership is also demonstrated in courage and being willing to make hard decisions and to stand by them. And he’s done that on numerous occasions,” she said. “It’s not just going along to get along.”

Case’s primary campaign theme is that his moderate politics reflect the mainstream in Hawaii and that his record as a state legislator, congressman and attorney show he is capable of effective leadership.

His history, though, reflects more of a change agent unafraid to take unpopular positions yet impatient with a legislative process by which progress is often incremental.

In the state House, where he represented Manoa, he was an early crusader against the financial excesses of Bishop Estate and demanded civil service reform that angered public-sector labor unions. He was one of the few who publicly opposed a constitutional amendment defining marriage as between a man and a woman. He voted in favor of physician-assisted suicide.

Case helped engineer a leadership takeover that brought House Speaker Calvin Say to power, but his own tour as majority leader ended after two sessions with lectures to his colleagues about their lack of commitment to change.

In the U.S. House, where Case was in the minority for four years, the prospects for individual accomplishment were limited. His most significant success was his behind-the-scenes legwork, along with that of many others, in urging President George W. Bush to establish the Papahanaumokuakea National Marine Monument, one of the world’s largest marine conservation initiatives.

Case — whom friends like Rose describe as “an open book — what you see is what you get” — held 172 “talk story” sessions with constituents in rural Oahu and the neighbor islands. The sessions, Case says, helped him stay connected to the everyday concerns people have with federal programs such as Social Security and Medicare. Even when some of the sessions turned into testy debates with critics on issues such as his support for the Iraq War, he refused to pull the plug.

Case chose to align with the Blue Dogs, a coalition of moderate and conservative Demo­crats who work with both parties on federal budget and national security issues.

THE National Journal, which publishes annual ratings of federal lawmakers, gave Case a 59.8 liberal rating in 2006, which placed him near the ideological middle of the House. Hirono’s latest liberal rating was 90.7, putting her among the most liberal.

Case said both political parties now seem to insist on “a purity of thought and action.”

“If you live at the partisan extremes, the philosophical extremes, you can stand up and give great speeches, but at the end of the day, you’re not going to be part of the solution,” he said. “You cannot simply ram a distinctly minority viewpoint down the throats of the rest of the country and expect to solve our country’s problems.

“And that’s exactly what’s going on. And that’s what’s wrong with Washington.”

But despite Case’s description of Hirono as part of the extreme fringe of the party’s Progressive Caucus, he acknowledges that on “a range of Demo­cratic litmus test issues, we’re pretty close.” The two Demo­crats agree on abortion rights, equality for same-sex couples and environmental protection.

Their differences, however, are magnified when it comes to fiscal policy. Case wants a balanced-budget amendment to the U.S. Constitution. He supports raising the retirement age for younger workers to help stabilize Social Security. He opposes President Barack Obama’s jobs initiative as an unnecessary third federal stimulus package.

Hirono has skillfully used their primary debates to plant doubts with voters about whether Case would sacrifice core Demo­cratic values for national Republican budget principles.

Case said the federal government’s financial turmoil “scares me greatly today.”

“You can’t reduce taxes or increase spending and simply borrow that money from the future,” he said. “You’ve got to get it paid for.”

As a Blue Dog — or, as he says, “the minority of the minority” — he called for a return to pay-as-you-go budget rules that require that new federal tax and spending programs do not increase the federal deficit. Obama and Congress adopted those rules two years ago.

“It’s one of those mechanisms that is not sexy, doesn’t get the headlines, but it means everything,” he said. “And everything else has to be founded on that.”

The Blue Dog Coalition, which numbered more than 50 when Case was in the House, has been sliced in half and has lost relevance as moderates from both parties have been driven from office over the past few years.

“Moderate Republicans are being defeated by extreme Republicans, and moderate Demo­crats are being wiped out by Republicans,” said Patrick Griffin, a professor at American University in Washington who served as a White House assistant on legislative affairs under President Bill Clinton.

Case does not believe that national Blue Dog defeats mean the middle path has been rejected.

“That’s a condemnation of Congress as it exists today, where it’s simply two extremes yelling at each other across this gulf that includes the vast majority of the American people,” he said.

Case also does not think his own election losses to more liberal Demo­crats mean that “moderate” is not a compelling brand in Hawaii. He narrowly lost to Hirono in the primary for governor in 2002, fell to Akaka in the primary for Senate in 2006 and was third behind Charles Djou — a Republican — and Hana­busa in a special election for Congress in 2010.

“Washington is not doing well,” he said. “Mazie is part of Washington and I’m not. I believe that she is basically part of the problem. And I believe we can offer a solution.”

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