PUHI — U.S. Congressman-elect Kai Kahele wants to bring more aloha to a divided country.
“You will be proud to know that ‘olelo Hawai’i has already resonated in the United States Capitol just last week, and that’s something that I take deeply personally,” Kahele said during his first trip to Kaua‘i since the November election.
Kahele was elected to Hawai‘i’s 2nd Congressional District, representing rural Hawai‘i and O‘ahu in the seat being vacated by Rep. Tulsi Gabbard. A Hilo resident and Hawaiian Airlines pilot, Hawai‘i Air National Guard lieutenant colonel, Kahele currently serves in the Hawai‘i State Senate.
He’ll take his oath of office to join the 117th Congress in early January.
Kahele vowed to separate from O‘ahu-centric politics, focusing on the importance of economic diversification and investing in rural neighbor islands. He is vying for spots on committees focusing on transportation and infrastructure, armed services and agriculture.
Kahele returned to Hawai‘i on Saturday post-freshman orientation and will return to Washington, D.C. at the end of the week.
At times sobering, Kahele spoke of the dynamics of the pandemic. In January, he’s hoping to focus on getting an additional stimulus package through.
“Millions are going to lose unemployment insurance and eviction protections at the end of this year if additional funding package is not allocated,” he said, noting the “devastation” small businesses have faced, too.
After hearing Kahele’s speech and dedication to the work at Pacific Missile Range Facility, Commanding Officer Tim Young is excited to have an official
“It’s amazing to have an elected official who understands the mission of PMRF,” Young said. “We’re looking forward to showing him the latest and greatest.”
State Senate President Ron Kouchi introduced the Hilo resident to the newly constructed Kaua‘i Philippine Cultural Center in Puhi. The small, socially distanced gathering took place as the first event the center’s been able to hold since the March blessing was canceled due to the pandemic.
Kahele thanked Kochi for taking him under his wing those first few months in the legislature.
“He guided me and mentored me, especially in those early weeks and months after my dad passed away when I was dealing with my own internal grief, trying to hold my family together, figure out how life goes on without my dad,” Kahele said, also thanking Rep. Jimmy Tokioka.
Kahele was appointed to the Hawai‘i State Senate by Gov. David Ige in 2016, following the death of his father, Sen. Gil Kahele, and was reelected in the years to follow.
In the five years since then, Kahele has been on an upward trajectory that led him to become the second Native Hawaiian elected to Congress since statehood, following Daniel Akaka.
Kahele currently serves as the Majority Floor Leader of the Hawai‘i State Senate and Chairman of the Senate Committee on Water and Land, as well as serving as the vice-chair of Hawaiian Affairs and a member of the Committees on Ways and Means, and Higher Education.
On Wednesday, he plans to introduce two new members of his senior leadership team and the location of his district office. Kahele selected Hilo-native Christy Wagner as his chief of staff. Kahele plans to move his family to Washington, D.C., and return to the district to keep in touch, visiting when possible.
He garnered 19,880 votes on Kaua‘i, according to General Election results.
Earlier this month, Kahele seconded the nomination of Nancy Pelosi to Speaker of the House position, incorporating ‘olelo Hawai‘i into his speech.
Kamaha‘o Haumea-Thronas kicked off the morning, presenting Kahele with a lei. Following the program, Kahele and Kamaha‘o met again, playing ‘ukulele and singing for the small crowd.
In 1984, when Kahele was 10, he met Akaka in Washington, D.C. and took a simple picture, one that has sat in his family hall and in his office. During his speech, Kahele spoke directly to Kamaha‘o.
“I can’t wait to welcome you to the United States Congress and then take a picture with you and all the keiki across Hawai‘i who may one day, maybe the next member of Congress representing the 2nd Congressional District.”