Kahele seeks Gabbard’s seat in Congress

  • HOLLYN JOHNSON/Tribune-Herald State Sen. Kai Kahele announces his bid for Congress on Monday at Mooheau Bandstand in Hilo.

  • HOLLYN JOHNSON/Tribune-Herald State Sen. Kai Kahele shakes hands with a supporter Monday at Mooheau Bandstand in Hilo after announcing his bid for Congress, challenging U.S. Rep. Tulsi Gabbard.

With about 200 supporters cheering him on, state Sen. Kai Kahele on Monday announced he’s running for the 2nd Congressional District seat currently occupied by fellow Democrat, Rep. Tulsi Gabbard.

Speaking at Mooheau Bandstand in Hilo, Kahele drew upon the words of the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr., former President Barack Obama and his own late father, former state Sen. Gil Kahele, to rally the mostly Democratic crowd.


“Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. inspired generations with the simple idea that one person can make a difference, one person can change the world,” Kahele said in a short speech frequently punctuated with cheers and applause.

“We are going to build the Hawaii that we have talked about but have never been able to fully achieve,” he said.

Gabbard, who won re-election to her fourth two-year term in November, filed a bid for the Democratic nomination for president on Jan. 11. Her District 2 seat covers rural Oahu and all of the neighbor islands.

Gabbard can, under federal campaign laws, run for both offices simultaneously, allowing her to return to her 2020 congressional campaign if she doesn’t get the nomination in what is shaping up to be a crowded field of Democratic presidential hopefuls.

Kahele, for his part, isn’t risking his state Senate seat because he was just elected in November to a four-year term. He said Monday he plans to continue serving in that seat while campaigning.

Gabbard, 37, and Kahele, 44, are both combat veterans serving in the Hawaii National Guard. Kahele also is a commercial airline pilot.

Among those in the crowd was fellow state Sen. Lorraine Inouye, D-North Hawaii. She noted the 2nd Congressional District has never been represented by a neighbor island representative, even though the district includes all of the islands.

“It’s about time that the congressional seat has a candidate from the neighbor islands,” Inouye said. “We need to stop being stepchildren. It’s long overdue.”

Among the well-wishers were state GOP House District 4 Chairwoman Lorraine Shin, and Marlene Hapai, a former GOP committee member.

“We strongly support Kai,” Hapai said. “It isn’t about the party. It’s always been about supporting the person.”

Kahele was appointed in early 2016 to the state Senate District 1 seat that was occupied by his father after the elder Kahele died in office. He was elected to finish the term in 2016 and won re-election in 2018 with no Democratic opposition, beating Libertarian candidate Kimberly Arianoff in the general election. He currently is the majority floor leader and chairs the Senate Committee on Water and Land.

Gabbard served in the Hawaii House from 2002-04 and was on the Honolulu City Council from 2010-12, when she resigned to run for Congress. Gabbard made national news in 2016 when she resigned from her position as a vice chairwoman for the Democratic National Committee in order to endorse presidential candidate Bernie Sanders for the party nomination.

She’s currently on the Committee on Armed Services Subcommittee on Readiness and Subcommittee on Emerging Threats and Capabilities and Committee on Foreign Affairs Subcommittee on Asia and the Pacific and Subcommittee on the Middle East and North Africa.


Calls to Gabbard’s campaign office were not immediately returned.

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

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