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Rep. Neil Abercrombie to Resign Next Month

U.S. Rep. Neil Abercrombie announced Monday he will resign from Congress on Feb. 28 to run for Hawaii governor.

The 71-year-old Democrat, who has served in the U.S. House of Representatives for 19 years, said he's resigning so he can devote more time to his campaign and to allow state elections officials to plan for a special election to fill the vacancy in Hawaii's 1st District representing urban Honolulu.

"It was a decision inspired by the thousands of people who are frustrated by a collapse of leadership in our community but are encouraged by the opportunity in this new year for a change in direction," Abercrombie said in a statement.

Abercrombie's opponents in the governor's race could include Honolulu Mayor Mufi Hannemann, a Democrat, and Republican Lt. Gov. James "Duke" Aiona. Republican Gov. Linda Lingle is nearing the end of her second term and can't seek re-election.

"Our residents want leaders who honor their commitments and do what's best for the next generation, not the next election," Aiona said in a statement.

Hannemann's office didn't return a call seeking comment.

In his remaining weeks in office, Abercrombie said he will work on health care reform and legislation that would provide a road map to gradually establish a Native Hawaiian government that would operate in much the same way that hundreds of Native American tribal governments operate.

"Congressman Abercrombie is an extraordinary public figure. He'll be missed in Washington," said Hawaii Democratic Party Chairman Brian Schatz. "He's been a voice on health care through the years, and he's also been an advocate for infrastructure improvements in the state, whether it's the harbors or transportation infrastructure."

A special election to replace Abercrombie would be held at least 60 days after he resigns. But elections officials have said they may not be able to afford a special election due to budget cuts, raising the possibility that one of Hawaii's two House seats representing more than 600,000 people could remain vacant.

A mail-in election would cost about $925,000, and the Elections Office only has about $5,000 in its operating budget through June 30, said interim Chief Elections Officer Scott Nago.

Lingle and the Legislature would have to approve emergency money to run the special election, he told state senators Monday.

About $1.3 million may be available because of a recently discovered accounting error. The money was distributed to Hawaii by the federal government in 2003 to reimburse the state for new voting machines, but it was put into the wrong account, elections officials told the senators.

Likely candidates to replace Abercrombie include Democrats Ed Case, a former congressman, and state Senate President Colleen Hanabusa, as well as Honolulu City Councilman Charles Djou, a Republican.

Abercrombie serves as the chairman of the Subcommittee on Air and Land Forces within the Committee on Armed Services. He is also a member of the Committee on Natural Resources, where he said committee chairman Rep. Nick Rahall, D-W.V., will continue to work to pass the Native Hawaiian recognition legislation.

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