By: Lokelani Wilder
U.S. Representative Kaiali’I (Kai) Kahele is the second Native Hawaiian ever elected to the U.S. Congress since Hawaii became a state in 1959. In November 2020, Kahele won the Hawaii House seat then being vacated by U.S. Representative Tulsi Gabbard. In the election, Kahele defeated Republican businessman and former U.S. Air Force intelligence analyst, Joe Akana, who also happens to be a Native Hawaiian.
Kahele is a 46-year-old Native Hawaiian from Hilo on the Big Island’s east side. He is a pilot for Hawaiian Airlines and the Hawaii Air National Guard. Prior to the 2020 election, Kahele had served in the Hawaii state Senate since 2016 when he was first appointed to fill the remainder of his father’s term after he died. Kahele was elected for the first time later that year in the general election. His most recent 2020 victory obviously comes at a time when the Native Hawaiian and Pacific Islander communities have been hit hard by the Coronavirus pandemic.
The freshman Representative emphasized that at the top of his agenda is ensuring that Hawaii’s four-member Congressional delegation remains unified so that it can navigate the Hawaii through the Coronavirus pandemic and getting the state out of the economic recession. Even before the pandemic began, Hawaii and its counties don’t have the financial resources they need. Kahele campaigned on getting federal support and sustained federal financial resources in order to help Hawaii recover.
In addition to the pandemic, Kahele made Native Hawaiian and indigenous rights a key issue in his campaign, saying that he will advocate for the Hawaiian Homes Commission Act in Congress. The act, passed in 1921, allows Native Hawaiians to return to their lands, but the department in charge of administering transfers has been criticized for its slow progress. A 2017 report by the American Community Survey showed the poverty rate for all Hawaii residents was 9.5 percent, while the rate for Native Hawaiians was 13.5 percent. These figures are likely higher now due to the Coronavirus. Kahele is also an advocate of Medicare for All and supports the idea of a Green New Deal to address climate change and help Hawaii meet its clean energy goals all of which will be dependent on receiving federal financial resources.
Kahele’s 2nd Congressional District has long been represented by politicians from Oahu. His Neighbor Island residency appealed to voters. He was seen by the voters as having a good understanding of the state’s mostly rural islands that are often overshadowed by Oahu, where Honolulu is located. The other islands are each unique and because of the Coronavirus are especially in need of representation at the Congressional level.
Unfortunately, Kai Kahele is a blue-blood Democratic politician who in reality hardly understands rural issues. The right ticket slots in his resume necessary to be wildly appealing to voters have been punched and broadcast – Native Hawaiian, National Guard service, young scion of a prominent state Democrat. He is not unlike any other prominent blue-blood Democrats historically whose name recognition does not tangibly translate to the required political experience needed to achieve complicated political agendas most especially in Washington DC. In the case of Kahele, because of his inexperience and his political views, he fully intends to keep Hawaii firmly attached to and utterly dependent on the receipt of federal government aid. This continued reliance poses not only an existential threat to Hawaii’s future but to the future of the United States.
Hawaii is currently dying a gradual but assured fiscal death because Hawaii’s economy cannot generate the revenue needed to run the state and taxes and costs of living are driving Native Hawaiians out. Hawaii is and has been a fiscal drain on the U.S. federal government and is dependent on our mainland neighbors to continue bailing out Hawaii. Kahele of course can afford to live in Hawaii because his political family became rich through their years of political service. Through Robinhood taxes, taking from the rich and giving to the poor, tenured Democratic political families drain wealthy competitors. Only some of that money they take is used specifically for the poor while the rest is kept for themselves and their wealthy political benefactors through awarded contracts. Kahele is nothing more than a baby wolf in sheep’s clothes whose appetite will grow as he politically matures inside the Democratic wolf pack. Hawaiians are the real prey, the real victims, and are oblivious to the danger inside the flock.