(BIVN) – State Senator Kai Kahele addressed supporters live over social media on Sunday from his Hilo campaign headquarters, hours after officially securing the Democratic party nomination for Hawaiʻi’s 2nd Congressional District seat at the U.S. House of Representatives.
“This has been a long journey,” Kahele said from the podium, surrounded by only a handful of supporters in an attempt to observe social distancing in the time of the COVID-19 pandemic. “One that began almost two years ago with a conversation in a living room, late into the night, about the direction of Hawaiʻi and our country. In the end we decided to step up during this critical juncture to serve the people of Hawaiʻi.”
Kahale won the nomination handily, receiving 100,735 votes, or 65.9%. Other Democratic candidates Brian Evans, Brenda Lee, and Noelle Farmera each received less than 10% of the vote.
Hawaiʻi’s 2nd Congressional District House seat is currently held by outgoing Rep. Tulsi Gabbard. Gabbard did not seek reelection due to her White House ambitions. Kahele will next face Republican nominee Joe Akana in the November general election.
Kahele made his remarks following the Hawaiʻi County Democratic Party Unity Breakfast, held online due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
“Over the past 4 months, while I have been on active duty with the Hawaiʻi National Guard in response to COVID-19, I’ve seen and heard firsthand from the many families and businesses across our state who are struggling during this pandemic,” Kahele said. “They are concerned about their future, their jobs, and the health and safety of their families. Many – including myself – are disappointed that the coronavirus cases have risen to record levels. Now more than ever, we need clear, strong, cohesive leadership in Washington and Hawaiʻi to make the necessary resources available to contain and recover from the pandemic.”
“The reality is that the coronavirus pandemic has laid bare the deep set insecurities that have existed in our country and our state for far too long,” Kahele continued. “We must have an economy that works for everyone, not just those at the top. Homelessness, substance abuse and food insecurity are all the products of an economic system that have left many, many behind. As a result, our middle class is more fragile, less secure, and unable to work their way out of the financial burdens than ever before. I believe one job should be enough, no matter the job, to pay for basic needs like food, housing and health care and still have enough to put a little bit left into the bank, to put a child through school, to buy a house, to save for retirement. We need to return to the American values that reward hard work, not exploit it.”
Kahale also talked about addressing the climate crisis, and universal health care.
“COVID-19 has, now more than ever, reaffirmed my belief that universal health care should be available to every citizen in this country,” Kahele said. “Health care is a right, not a privilege. And a robust and accessible health care system is imperative for the overall well-being and security of our country and its families.”
After his speech, Kahele took a few questions, and talked about campaigning in the time of the pandemic. “It’s probably the most difficult time to campaign,” he said. “Normally, things that we are used to doing here in Hawaiʻi – sign waving, chili rice events, going door-to-door meeting people, making that personal connection, is almost impossible to do. None of us anticipated the coronavirus pandemic. That took us all by surprise in the spring of this year, and it has changed the way that we’ve had to campaign.”
“Campaigns have had to change their strategies, change how they reach out to voters, how they connect with them, and it’s made it that much more difficult to campaign.”
Kahele also recalled years ago, before he held any elected office, around the time he began to increase his role as a community leader during the dengue fever crisis on Hawaiʻi island. It was in 2015, months before the sudden death of his father, State Senator Gilbert Kahele, that he brought needed supplies to Miloliʻi in South Kona in order to help the Hawaiian fishing village fight the diseased mosquito bites. Big Island Video News documented his efforts.
“I was working together with the community, running a small community non-profit, and we all came together to help the village during that time,” Kahele said. “We raised money, we got resources, and a month later my dad passed away. And within a few weeks of that, I was in the Hawaiʻi State Senate,” after he was appointed by Governor David Ige to fill the seat on a temporary basis. He later went on to win his state senate seat at the ballot box.
Kahele said he “would have never imagined… that less than five years later we would be standing here right now on the verge of winning a seat in the United States Congress, and representing the 2nd Congressional District.”
“Life comes at you when you least expect it,” Kahele said. “I’m just super honored to be given this opportunity.”