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If your job isn’t going well, befallen with bad luck and repeated fumbles, the nice way to put it is “inauspicious.”
Bad luck and repeatedly failing to do the job, however, are different.
History and Hawaii’s voters will judge if Hawaii’s most controversial politician currently is just flamboyant or a flameout.
The political career of 2nd Congressional District Rep. Kaiali‘i Kahele, 48, was shaped by the sudden death of his father, the amiable state Sen. Gil Kahele, who died in 2016. Gov. David Ige appointed Kahele, a civil and military pilot, to the seat. In 2019 Kahele said he would run for the congressional seat then occupied by U.S. Rep. Tulsi Gabbard. She didn’t run for reelection, so Kahele won his ensuing election easily — and then the trouble started.
By April of this year, Kahele had cast only five congressional votes in person. The press had taken to labeling the progressive Democrat the “no-show congressman” as 120 times Kahele voted by proxy, meaning, he was not actually present to vote and asked a colleague to formally cast his vote. The New York Post has taken to issuing special reports if Kahele was spotted in Washington
The move from the state Senate to Congress was not forced on Kahele. There was no “draft Kai” movement springing up; it was Kahele’s idea. His political ambition ratcheted up several notches when Kahele abandoned what could have been the start of a long congressional career by announcing he was running for governor.
Again, this career jump appeared more impetuous than planned.
Just like when Gabbard pledged via Twitter that she was “fully committed to my offer to serve you, the people of Hawaii and America, as your President & Commander-in-Chief,” Kahele’s run-for-governor announcement didn’t come because crowds of passionate supporters were trampling the hibiscus bushes in his Hilo frontyard demanding Kahele leave Congress for the Hawaii’s state Capitol. This was just a fast grab for a promotion.
Because Kahele’s run for governor was so late in the season and wasn’t being described by any political pundits as “smoothly coordinated” or “well planned,” it is no wonder that Kahele repeatedly declined interviews.
Disdain for the press, and by extension the public, is one thing, but failing to plan and execute is something different.
Kahele’s last-minute gubernatorial campaign was predicated on getting public funds to run and publicize a statewide political effort.
To qualify for public funding, a candidate must prove some basic viability, including showing that you can raise a certain amount of campaign funds, you must agree to stay within specific campaign limits, and you must agree to be audited. In all, there are 10 specific rules candidates wishing public funding must follow.
Kahele displayed good showmanship is announcing he was embarking on completing the list and raising the needed matching money — but neglected to follow through on, as the Honolulu Star-Advertiser reported, “a mandatory signed and notarized affidavit promising to abide by campaign spending limits of $2.1 million for the Aug. 13 primary in order to receive as much as $208,000 in public funds.”
By fumbling the application for public funding, Kahele is now stymied. His fundraising was already self-limited because he campaigned by saying political fundraising has gotten out of hand and is too influenced by special interests. There is a lot of validity to that claim, but Kahele is new to the cleanup campaigning cause, and is open to questions of, why now? Critics can and have said Kahele, who used to welcome big donations from political action committees and other special interests, got religion when he entered a campaign that usually takes many months of advance planning.
The real disappointment is not to an individual politician’s career — but to see one of Hawaii’s two congressional seats treated by first Gabbard and now Kahele as just a stepping stone to be disrespected at their convenience.
Richard Borreca writes on politics on Sundays. Reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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