Gabbard’s Democratic challenger pushes for debate

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A Maui mom thinks U.S. Rep. Tulsi Gabbard has lost touch with her district, and she’s challenging her in the Aug. 13 Democratic primary.

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A Maui mom thinks U.S. Rep. Tulsi Gabbard has lost touch with her district, and she’s challenging her in the Aug. 13 Democratic primary.

“Obviously, it’s a long shot for me,” Shay Chan Hodges said Wednesday during an interview at a Hilo coffee shop.

It’s a long shot both in name recognition and in campaign fundraising. Gabbard had a $1.9 million war chest, compared to Chan Hodges’ $3,104, according to federal campaign finance reports.

She felt compelled to run, Chan Hodges said, because everyday life, especially for working parents, is a day of practical obstacles that for many elected officials is merely theoretical. She wants to bring that life experience to government.

“When you’re a working parent, nothing is theoretical,” Chan Hodges said. “Real life is not theoretical.”

The 2nd Congressional District includes all the Neighbor Islands and rural Oahu.

Gabbard, 35, was elected to Congress in 2012 after serving two years on the Honolulu City Council and a prior stint in the state House. She’s a member of the Hawaii National Guard and has deployed twice.

Chan Hodges, 53, is the author of a book, “Lean On and Lead: Mothering and Work in the 21st Century Economy.” She is currently a freelance technical and grant writer and has two college-age children. A 20-year Democratic Party member, she’s served on the Maui County Water Board and a host of community volunteer boards.

Chan Hodges said Gabbard’s recent trip to India, her association with politically powerful billionaires and her campaign trips to mainland states to raise funds for other candidates is taking away from her representation of her Hawaii district.

“What does it have to do with us, what does it have to do with serving her district?” Chan Hodges asked. “As far as people can tell, it’s about her career. It’s not about us.”

The Gabbard campaign takes exception to Chan Hodges’ assertions that she’s neglecting her district as she gains increasing prominence as a rising star in the Democratic National Committee.

Emergency roads for Puna during the 2014 lava flow emergency, working to reopen direct international flights into Kona International Airport, passing legislation to fight the coffee berry borer and other invasive species, passing reauthorization to the Native Hawaiian Education Act, and ensuring veterans have timely access to care are among issues that directly affect constituents, campaign staff said in an email.

“The district I represent includes every island in the state of Hawaii,” Gabbard said in a telephone interview Friday.

“My top priority is to listen and find ways to help the communities in my district. Whether I’m in Hawaii or in Washington, that listening and that work always continues. I’m proud of the work that we’ve done.”

Both candidates favor stricter gun control laws, although Gabbard’s stance is tempered with a focus on “building bipartisan solutions that can actually be passed into law,” rather than the stricter controls favored by Chan Hodges. Both candidates support withdrawing troops from the Middle East, although they disagree on the timetables and how to go about it.

When looking at the greatest threats to the district, Chan Hodges focuses on internal issues such as stabilizing the economy by providing more education, health care, housing, substance abuse prevention and keeping families safe.

Gabbard has been looking outward, naming external military threats as of top concern.

A member of the Armed Services and Foreign Affairs committees, and a former member of the Homeland Security Committee, Gabbard said she’s been working to increase Hawaii’s missile defense technology.

“As the United States’ most forward position in the Asia-Pacific, Hawaii lies within the cross hairs of North Korea, Russia, and China,” Gabbard said in an email Friday. “I am not saying, however, that a nuclear attack is imminent or even likely. What I am saying is that it’s a real threat that needs to be taken very seriously because of the disastrous potential of the consequences.”

Chan Hodges raised her statewide profile when she repeatedly challenged Gabbard to a debate. Gabbard, who was a super delegate for Bernie Sanders, has so far declined debating Chan Hodges, even though she pushed repeatedly for Hillary Clinton to debate her candidate, saying the public is calling for more debates and “are wanting to have this transparency and this greater engagement in our democratic process.”

The Democratic primary winner will face the winner of a two-candidate Republican contest and a nonpartisan candidate in the Nov. 8 general election.

Republicans are Eric Hafner of Mountain View and Angela Aulani Kaaihue of Aiea, Oahu. Richard Turner of Keaau is the nonpartisan candidate on the November ballot.

Hafner, 25, describes himself as an ordained minister, diplomatic adviser and Hawaiian nationalist. His top issues are ending what he calls the “U.S. occupation of Hawaii,” cutting defense spending, free college for all and the legalization of cannabis.

“I am currently on Big Island assisting pro bono on a precedent setting medical cannabis case where the defendant (a very ill man himself) is facing three life sentences for helping other sick people with medical cannabis cards,” Hafner said this week.

“As clergy, I live in poverty at times because I am helping others.”

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Kaaihue did not return a telephone message for more information. Her campaign website lists priorities as: homelessness, expand armed forces, advance a plan for Hawaiian sovereignty and re-evaluate foreign policies.

Email Nancy Cook Lauer at ncook-lauer@westhawaiitoday.com.

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