What Kai Kahele's Bid for Congress Means for the Neighbor Islands?

Jan 23, 2019

Hawaiʻi Island Senator Kai Kahele announces his bid for Hawaiʻi's second congressional seat earlier this week at Moʻoheau Bandstand in Hilo.
Credit Kai Kahele

Hawaiʻi State Senator Kai Kahele recently announced his bid to run for U.S. Congress. If elected, Kahele would be the first neighbor island resident to represent the second congressional district, which is made up primarily of the neighbor islands.HPR’s Kuʻuwehi Hiraishi has this story.

After only three years in the Hawaiʻi State Senate, Hilo senator Kai Kaheleannounced that he is running for Congress. 

“I have been thinking about this for some time. I like many people are just frustrated with the dysfunction of Washington D.C. and our federal government,” says Kahele, “And I just think it needs a little bit of Hawaiʻi, it needs a little bit of aloha.”

On Monday, Kahele his bid for Hawaiʻi’s second congressional district seat currently occupied by Congresswoman Tulsi Gabbard. Gabbard’s decision last week to run for President in 2020 compelled Kahele to action. 

“As Congresswoman Gabbard has been you know contemplating running for President, I felt this sense of urgency and this sense of obligation you could say,” says Kahele.

Hawaiʻi’s second congressional district encompasses all areas outside of urban Honolulu, including all neighbor islands and rural and suburban areas on Oʻahu. But the district has never been represented by someone who lives on the neighbor islands.

“Oh, I think it’s quite significant,” says Colin Moore, a UH Mānoa Political Science Professor and Director of the Public Policy Center. 

Under the law, a candidate for this district is not required to live in the district itself. 

“I mean some of the former representatives of that district Patsy Mink for example were born on neighbor islands but they represented it from Oʻahu,” says Moore, “There’s always been a criticism and a fair one in my view that everything happens on Oʻahu – the state government or the congressional delegation are primarily about Oʻahu, and I think having someone who is from, who represents, and who runs from a neighbor island I think would mean that the neighbor island issues get more attention at the federal level.”

Moore saysrunning two campaigns will be a tremendously difficult balancing act for Gabbard. One that is made more difficult he says by the fact that Senator Kahele is a good candidate who is probably going to run a strong campaign.

“You know again though Tulsi Gabbard has tremendous name recognition. She’s still very popular in the second congressional district and so I still expect her to win but this could be a tough challenge for her,” says Moore, “And it depends on how may supporters Kai Kahele can mobilize and I think this message of you know I’m based on the neighbor islands, I’m a senator from the neighbor islands really will mobilize the voters on the neighbor islands.”