In the low-key race to represent rural Hawaii, Democratic U.S. Rep. Mazie Hirono is seeking re-election against a tea party candidate who describes himself as her complete opposite.
Republican John Willoughby, an airline pilot making his first run for political office, says he would slash taxes, reduce government waste and be more independent than Hirono, who is seeking her third two-year term representing Hawaii’s 2nd Congressional District.
But Hirono argues that Willoughby is missing the point, that Hawaii’s representatives need to secure as much federal money as possible to create jobs, improve education and fund transportation projects.
"This so-called criticism is very superficial," said Hirono, 62. "I’m interested in actually getting something done. If the agenda and the bills we’re pushing are good for Hawaii and the rest of the country, of course I’m going to vote for them."
Willoughby, 52, counters that Hirono is a "rubber stamp" for Democrats.
"She’s been a go-along-to-get-along politician," Willoughby said. "I don’t have any alliances to anyone other than the people of Hawaii."
But the little-known Willoughby will likely have a difficult time unseating the incumbent Hirono.
Willoughby lacks political experience, and his campaign had raised only $16,081, compared to Hirono’s $817,915, through Aug. 29, according to Federal Election Commission filings.
He won a three-person Republican primary Sept. 18 by 211 votes based in large part on support from tea party groups on Maui and the Big Island.
He decided to run for Congress shortly after President Barack Obama was elected because he said the Democrats’ free-spending, big government policies put the country on the wrong track.
"I just thought I have to do something," Willoughby said. "I can’t just sit here on the sidelines. To sit over here and shake by fist in the air isn’t going to be enough."
Hirono touts her accomplishments in obtaining $2 million to clean up a former military dump site and $500,000 for a preschool program for homeless children.
She’s currently seeking money for Honolulu’s rail project, neighbor islands buses and interactive whiteboards for school classrooms.
"All of these came about because of listening and talking to my constituents," she said. "That’s the kind of representative I am."
If elected, Willoughby said he would seek a law making primary housing rent payments in Hawaii tax deductible. He said this would help the state’s transient military families, and the 40 percent of residents who rent their housing. The plan would save renters an average of $4,700 a year.
He also would work to stop unfunded stimulus programs and cut waste, which he said was one of his duties when he served in the Navy.