In 2014 Hawaii Senate Race, Taranis Drone Favors Hanabusa Over Schatz


The year 2013 hasn’t even ended yet and The Maui News is already piling on the tired old political cliches for the upcoming 2014 election. “Hanabusa says she has ‘good ground game’ in Senate race” stated that paper’s Dec. 29 front page story (subscription required) on current Democratic Congressional Representative Colleen Hanabusa’s bid to unseat incumbent Democratic U.S. Senator Brian Schatz.

In the story Hanabusa told the paper (who referred to Hanabusa as an “underdog”) that even though Schatz has raised over a million dollars more than her so far she’s got a “good ground game” of “grass roots” who won’t vote “in lock step” with Governor Neil Abercrombie, who decided last year to appoint Schatz to the late Senator Daniel Inouye’s seat instead of Hanabusa. Besides, she said, she has a better “skill set” at “tackling” issues than Schatz.

Can you tell both Schatz and Hanabusa are in the same political party? (Hanabusa also reminded The Maui News of the very old cliche that the Democratic Party “is a big tent,” though she needlessly added that it also has “little pup tents.”)

Once we dispense with the tired old sports euphemisms (which we’ll continue to see throughout the coming year), it becomes clear that the Hanabusa-Schatz race is actually quite fascinating. Not so much for how it shows differences between the two Democrats, but for the way it shows their similarities.

While researching the race’s financial aspects at the Center for Responsive Politics website (, I found a curious series of contributions from BAE Systems. Based in London, BAE is a multinational defense contractor that builds all sorts of aviation and naval weapons, but is right now focused on a little project called Taranis.

Currently undergoing secret flight tests, Taranis is a new and scary unmanned drone that’s both invisible to radar and capable of fighting adversaries in the air and on the ground. It’s also designed to take on missions thousands of miles away from its base.

Oh, and it’s also what BAE refers to as “semi-autonomous”–meaning it’s not actually controlled from home base by some guy behind a desk (though BAE helpfully insists that a pilot will be “in the loop”). A commander plugs in a given target list into Taranis, and then it takes off and undergoes the mission pretty much the best way it sees fit.

Not only is Taranis perilously close to Skynet/Terminator predictions of the future, but it’s also a perfect opportunity for “progressives” like Colleen Hanabusa and Brian Schatz to show voters how they believe that it’s not necessary for America’s national defense to fill the skies with “semi-autonomous” drones that attack targets (ie., people) at will. Drones are big news these days, and rightly so: they’re novel, sophisticated and play an ever-increasing role in America’s foreign policy, which is basically to have them kill alleged bad guys (even American citizens) as often as we can.

Except railing against drones isn’t how Hanabusa and Schatz (or at least their respective campaigns) think. See, in the 2014 election cycle so far, CRP data shows that Hanabusa has accepted $8,000 from BAE Systems–$3,000 from individuals connected to the firm and another $5,000 from the company’s political action committee (PAC).

In fact, though BAE’s PAC gives 69 percent of its money to Republicans, that $5,000 contribution to Hanabusa is currently the PAC’s largest donation to any Senate candidate running in 2014. According to CRP, James Inhofe, R–Oklahoma–perhaps the most reactionary incumbent running for reelection this year, has so far only gotten $4,500 from BAE’s PAC.

Now given that the media and pundits typically label Schatz as the more liberal of the two candidates running for the seat (indeed, he’s considered one of the most liberal U.S. Senators today), you’d probably think that BAE’s initials would be the last you’d find in Schatz’s campaign finance reports. But that’s wrong: CRP says that so far in the 2014 race Schatz has taken $500 from BAE individuals and another $1,000 from the BAE PAC.

Granted, that’s a lot lower than the contribution figure for Hanabusa, who’s generally far more publicly positive on the use of drones than Schatz has been (it’s also lower than the $3,500 the BAE PAC has so far given to U.S. Representative Tulsi Gabbard, D–2nd District; perhaps because she’s not running for reelection this year, U.S. Senator Mazie Hirono, D–Hawaii, has accepted no money from BAE).

Of course, these numbers will only get larger as the campaign really starts to take shape. In the election so far, BAE’s PAC has given more than half a million dollars to various candidates. Since 2000, CRP notes that the company (individuals and the PAC) have contributed well over $6 million to various campaign committees.

As for Taranis’ views on the Hawaii Senate race, the drone was unavailable for comment for this story.

Photo of Taranis: Mike Young/Wikimedia Commons