Under the Radar: GOP House Candidate Hopes Bird Is the Word

Posted September 30, 2008 at 5:45pm

In the Aloha State, Republican Congressional candidates are for the birds this year.

[IMGCAP(1)]With two Democratic Members safely holding onto the state’s two House seats, the state GOP says it is focusing on legislative races this cycle.

Enter author Steve Tataii (R), who is waging an uphill battle against Rep. Neil Abercrombie (D) this year.

A veteran of almost a dozen bids for the state House or Congress, Tataii also has a history with Abercrombie: He named the Congressman when he asked the House to investigate when he accused state Democratic officials of tampering with a 2003 special Congressional election. The House Administration Committee dismissed the complaint as frivolous.

More recently, however, Tataii has shown up with his pet bird on his shoulder at a Republican news conference. In a phone interview from his Honolulu home, Tataii said he named his pet cockatiel Kori Ala, which means “son of the flag” in a combination of Hawaiian and his native Kurdish language. He said the bird is a frequent companion.

“This bird is just so intelligent, so cute, so lovely,” Tataii said. “I call him the little language professor because he’s teaching me his little language of whistles.”

Tataii mounted his first bid for Congress in 2002: a Democratic primary challenge in the 2nd district to longtime Rep. Patsy Mink. He received 17 percent — or about 14,200 votes — of the vote to Mink’s 83 percent. A week later, on Sept. 28, 2002, Mink died from pneumonia.

Tataii would run a second time in January 2003 in the 44-candidate winner-take-all special election to replace Mink. This time, however, Tataii only received nine votes.

In a formal election complaint to the House Administration Committee, Tataii alleged Mink should not have been on the September primary ballot because she was not a “qualified candidate” because of her poor health. According to his complaint, he said it was difficult to believe he only received nine votes after his strong primary showing against Mink.

In his case, Tataii also alleged that Mink died before the primary, but her staff and family kept it a secret. He accused Abercrombie and others of plotting and manufacturing the special election.

The House Administration Committee dismissed the case. Then-Chairman Bob Ney (R-Ohio) called the case “frivolous” at that time.

But to this day, Tataii calls the incident “the biggest lie of the century” for Hawaii. He called Abercrombie a “long-haired hippie, illegal drug user which many people have accused him of, 72-year-old crook.”

A spokesman for Abercrombie, who is actually 70, had no comment in response to Tataii’s remarks about the Congressman.

Tataii, 59, also called Abercrombie a “coward” for not debating him.

“He has dodged the candidate forums and the debates, and it appears that he’s too afraid to come to debate with me,” Tataii said. “It has to be done. If not, people of Hawaii need to know that he’s a coward. He can’t face me.”

A spokesman for Abercrombie’s campaign called the notion that the Congressman would ever turn down a fight “laughable,” saying if he missed any debates it was only because he was doing his job in Washington, D.C.

Born in the region formerly known as Eastern Kurdistan, Tataii said he arrived in the United States in 1971 with $100 in his pocket. Since arriving in Hawaii in 1976, Tataii said he earned a degree in math and political science, worked a side business as a taxi driver and penned three books about Middle East politics and Kurdistan.

And almost every two years, he’s launched a bid for office. Tataii ran for the Hawaii state House from 1988 to 1998, switching back and forth from Democrat to Republican to nonpartisan.

Some Republicans, however, were not as welcoming of his return to the party. Running as a Democrat, Tataii challenged longtime state Rep. Barbara Marumoto (R) in 1998.

Marumoto said she did not engage Tataii in 1998, except for a single candidate forum. Marumoto recalled Tataii was not a crowd-pleaser.

“He was so off mark that people were just sort of laughing,” Marumoto recalled.

Since that 1998 challenge, Tataii has switched back to billing himself as a Republican, a change that draws the ire of some party members.

“Since he’s been switching back and forth, it’s hard to determine which party he really belongs to,” Marumoto said.

As for the state party, Hawaii Republican Party Chairman Willes Lee said that while his organization did not recruit Tataii for the race, GOP officials appreciate his enthusiasm.

“Steve has run for office many times,” Lee said. “He’s determined to give the voters a say in their selection of officeholders. So in the past, he has run for Senate and Congress. He’s also run several times for state House. And we appreciate his involvement in the political process.”