By Jim Ellis
May 23, 2016 — Two additional House members announced late last week that they would not file for re-election, both due to health reasons.
Hawaii Rep. Mark Takai (D-Aiea/Honolulu) issued a public statement indicating that his pancreatic cancer is spreading and he is unable to seek re-election to a second term. Takai was diagnosed with the disease last year, had surgery in November, and doctors cleared him to run for another term.
Now, unfortunately, his health has taken a serious turn for the worse and he is forced to retire. Rep. Takai, 48 years of age, won a 51-47 percent victory in 2014 after serving 20 years in the Hawaii legislature.
Florida Rep. Curt Clawson (R-Bonita Springs/Ft. Myers) also announced that he will not seek re-election. He is returning to Florida to care for his ailing father. Clawson won a special election in 2014, and a full term later that year. Rep. Clawson, a multi-millionaire former business owner, is serving in his first elective office and says he doesn’t rule out again running for office in the future.
Adding two more districts to the open seat category brings the grand total to 47, with 30 coming in Republican seats and 17 in Democratic. For the third consecutive election cycle we see an abnormally large number of incumbent-less races. In 2010, 63 seats — a huge quantity — were open. In the last cycle, the total was 48. This means in the past six years, at least 158 districts, or 36.3 percent of the entire House, will have seen an incumbent voluntarily end their US House careers. A more typical number covering three election cycles would be just under 100.
The 1st District of Hawaii is fully contained on the Island of Oahu, and hosts the capital city of Honolulu along with the Pearl Harbor region. It is reliably Democratic, but Hawaii voters have been known to sway toward Republicans in various election years. So, in an open-seat configuration, the GOP could conceivably be in play, though a presidential year turnout model gives the Democrats and even greater edge.
The seat was open in 2014 because then-incumbent Colleen Hanabusa unsuccessfully challenged appointed Sen. Brian Schatz in the Democratic primary. Takai defeated six other Democrats to win the nomination and it is assumed several of the former candidates could potentially return now that the seat is once again open.
Second-place finisher Donna Mercado Kim is thought to be a potential candidate, and speculation will certainly center around whether former Rep. Hanabusa will attempt a political comeback.
For the Republicans, former US representative and ex-Honolulu City Councilman Charles Djou will be the center of attention. He won the seat in a special election when then-Rep. Neil Abercrombie resigned to concentrate on his gubernatorial campaign. In the regular election, however, Rep. Djou was unable to withstand the challenge from Hanabusa. He returned in both 2012 and 2014 as a congressional candidate, losing 53-44 percent and 51-47 percent, respectively.
Almost as fast as Rep. Clawson made his retirement announcement, a former candidate immediately came forward to declare for the seat. Chauncey Goss (R), now a Sanibel Island city councilman who previously ran for Congress, is already in the 2016 race. Goss is the son of former Florida congressman and CIA Director J. Porter Goss (R).
Looking at two of the ’14 losing Republican special election candidates who also could make return are ex-state Rep. Paige Kreegel, who says he “will probably run”, and former state legislative leader Lizbeth Benacquisto.
The 19th District is the fourth most Republican seat in Florida and one of only four left intact by the mid-decade court-mandated redistricting that changed the congressional map for the 2016 election. FL-19 is anchored in Ft. Myers and Cape Coral, annexes the several islands directly off the Gulf Coast, and then travels south to add the cities of Naples and Marco Island. The filing deadline is June 24, with the primary on Aug. 30.
There are now nine open seats in Florida alone, with three additional incumbents running in different districts as a result of the new congressional map.