Politics: Fifteen years later, Ed Case is challenged by developing youth Sergio Alcubilla as a political controversy.

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Politics: Fifteen years later, Ed Case is challenged by developing youth Sergio Alcubilla as a political controversy.

Nothing so defined Case in 2006 as being the brash, political challenger. Back then, with little foreshadowing, Case ran against incumbent U.S. Sen. Daniel K. Akaka, a touchstone of beloved Democratic liberalism.

Admitting he expected criticism, Case repeatedly said: “I get the common refrain all the time — time for a change, time for a change in the U.S. Senate; we need to make that transition.”

But Hawaii’s senior senator, U.S. Sen. Daniel K. Inouye, said he hoped Case would take back his campaign announcement against Akaka and a furious then-U.S. Rep. Neil Abercrombie predicted that both locally and nationally, Democrats “are galvanized around Sen. Akaka’s reelection … “

The fear, according to Case, was that with both Hawaii senators in their 80s, if something happened to both of them it would take years to reclaim Hawaii’s lost seniority in the Senate.

Story Highlights

  • The upcoming Democratic primary election campaign between incumbent U.S. Rep. Ed Case and progressive newcomer Sergio Alcubilla opens up the sort of political tension that 15 years ago Case would both relish and help create.

  • Case ran, saying, “My Democratic Party has a very, very hard time with change. I think we all know that at this point.”

“They love him, you have to understand that. Akaka’s support among colleagues is universal,” Abercrombie said.

Akaka went on to triumph over Case by a margin of 54% to 45%.

While saying in a news conference that he could do the job of U.S. senator “better than anyone else,” Case said he had “a more moderate independent voting pattern.” Case was first elected to the U.S. House in 2002, but gave up his seat to unsuccessfully challenge Akaka in the 2006 Democratic primary.

Case had gone to Congress when he filled a 2002 special election, held due to the death of U.S. Rep. Patsy Mink in 2002. After losing, Case again ran for the Senate in 2012 after Akaka announced his retirement, but lost to Mazie Hirono. Although saying then that his campaign days “were likely over,” and he would join the Outrigger Enterprises Group, Case in 2018 joined a packed primary race. He won with 40% of the primary vote, beating Doug Chin, Donna Kim, Kaniela Ing, Beth Fukumoto and Ernie Martin.

This year Case has been a somewhat outspoken moderate Democrat in Congress, urging caution about the more expensive versions of both the construction and social service bills moving through Congress. Case’s opponent, Sergio Alcubilla, has been endorsed by the former Hawaii Democratic Party chairman, Tim Vandeveer; University of Hawaii law professor Kenneth Lawson; and veteran labor organizer John Witeck. He is the former director of external relations at the Legal Aid Society of Hawaii.

How the two one-time outside voices campaign to represent Hawaii’s 1st Congressional District will be steeped in political irony — with Case enjoying the ability to campaign on incumbency and campaign funds, and Alcubilla able to wave the “time for a change” banner high. Richard Borreca writes on politics on Sundays. Reach him at 808onpolitics@gmail.com.

Alcubilla, 42, born in Iloilo City, Philippines, immigrated to the United States when he was 7 years old after his father, a military police officer, was assassinated by a communist hit squad during the tumultuous times of the People Power Revolution during the Marcos dictatorship, according to his biography. The two Democrats’ personal stories could not be more different. Case, 69, has a kamaaina background: his great-grandparents on his father’s side immigrated to Hawaii in 1896. He has served as managing partner or managing attorney with two major Honolulu law firms besides serving as senior vice president and chief legal officer of Outrigger Enterprises Group.