Democrat Kai Kahele Wins Hawaii Primary: 5 Fast Facts You Need To Know

kai kahele

Hawaii State Legislature State Senator Kai Kahele.

Kai Kahele, whose full name is Kaiali‘i Kahele, will be the new Democratic candidate for the 2nd Congressional district of Hawaii, the seat vacated by former presidential candidate Tulsi Gabbard, who vacated the seat to focus on her presidential campaign, the Hawaii Tribune-Herald reported.

If he wins the general election in November, he will become the second Native Hawaiian (the first was Senator Daniel Akaka) to be elected to Congress, according to the Associated Press.

Here’s what you need to know:


1. Kahele Is A State Senator Who Originally Filled His Father’s Seat

According to Kahele’s state legislature profile, Kahele’s family came from a fishing village of Miloli’i in South Kona and became a graduate of Hawaii’s public school and the University of Hawaii at Manoa.

His father, State Senator Gil Kawaii, died unexpectedly in 2016, leaving Kai Kahele to fill his role, according to an Action Network endorsement, which wrote, “State Sen. Gil Kahele dreamed of a truly great Hawai‘i, one where justice and prosperity are enjoyed equally by all … Like his father Gil Kahele, Kai will stand for everything that is good and right about our Hawaiʻi.”

As a state senator, Kahele was the chair of the Senate Water and Land Committee, vice-chair for Hawaiian Affairs and previous chair of the Senate Higher Education Committee.

Kahele is married to a Hawaiian Airlines flight attendant, Maria, and the couple have three daughters.

Along with his role as state senator, husband and father, Kahele is also a major in the Hawaii Air National Guard and an airline pilot, the Honolulu Civil Beat reported. According to his campaign website, Kahele flew over 100 combat “sorties” (attack mission from a place of defense) in Iraq and Afghanistan.

The Associated Press reported that Kahele was a Hawaiian Airlines pilot and a lieutenant colonel in the National Guard. The paper said that Kahele took several months off from campaigning and went on active duty at the National Guard to help the state control the coronavirus pandemic.


2. Kahele Had An Advantage Going Into the Primary

Kahele first got into the race on January 21, 2019, a week after Gabbard announced her presidential run to CNN’s Van Jones. Although he and Gabbard agreed on some issues, he distanced himself from several of her policy positions, including her refusal to vote “yes” on impeachment and condemn Syrian President Bashar Assad, Roll Call reported.

He was endorsed by Hawaii Fire Fighters Association’s Local 1463. He also received an endorsement from U.S. House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer, who said that Kahele was “a strong leader who will bring innovative and creative approaches to solving our nation’s problems and will work to bring stability back to our country.”

Alan Tang, a campaign spokesman, said that Kahele partially rode a wave of support on the back of an “Anybody But Tulsi” movement. “That gave him a lot of momentum, not just in the campaign but in the fundraising,” Tang said, according to the Civil Beat.


3. Kahele Supports Native Hawaiian & Indigenous rights, Medicare for All and the Green New Deal, Among Other Policies

According to his campaign website, Kahele supports many democratic platforms.

On social issues, he supports pay equity, upholding the Roe v. Wade decision on abortion, the repeal of the Hyde Amendment; the passage of the “Equity Act” to include the LGBTQ+ community in nondiscrimination laws, reducing bullying and suicide rates among LGBTQ+ youth and eliminating conversion therapy; and supporting Native Hawaiian housing and homeland protection programs and the U.S.’s ratification of the United Nations Declaration of Rights on Indigenous Peoples (UNDRIP).

On healthcare, Kahele has thrown his support not only behind refilling personnel vacancies and funding shortages at the Veterans Affairs’ health system but also behind “Medicare-for-all”:

Kai supports a single-payer, “Medicare-for-all” system that prioritizes quality holistic care, reduces the cost of prescription medication, does not deny access based on age, race, gender, income or any pre-existing condition and eliminates all co-pays and deductibles. Kai believes healthcare should be a right not a privilege and that every American from the moment they are born until the day that they die should have access to quality, free healthcare.

He also supports universal background checks and banning commercially sold “military-style assault weapon,” strengthening labor unions and getting Hawaii to produce 100% renewable energy by 2045 by supporting “the concept of a ‘Green New Deal.’


4. Kahele Is Favored To Win The General Election, The Associated Press Reports

According to the Associated Press, “Kahele is the overwhelming favorite to win the seat in November in heavily Democratic Hawaii.”

The Honolulu Civil Beat reported that Kahele, despite having little competition, raised nearly $940,000 since January 1. Those funds, the paper reported, came from local businesses (such as Pacific Marine & Supply, Navatek and Nan, Inc.), investment firms and political action committees.

He will face Republican Joe Akana, a business development consultant, during the general election. Akana also spent time as a U.S. Air Force intelligence analyst and project manager, according to his campaign website.


5. Hawaii’s Primary Was Held Entirely By Mail

In 2019, Hawaii passed a law making Hawaii elections entirely by mail; this made it the fifth state behind Colorado, Oregon, Washington and Utah to conduct elections entirely by mail.

According to the Associated Press, election officials said they received a record number of 380,000 ballots, which were tallied Saturday, August 8.

Honolulu Mayor Kirk Caldwell expressed that he was pleased about the evidence of high voter enthusiasm: “Seeing so many people wanting to express their basic right to vote for the next mayor, next council member, many others … I think this is very exciting,” Caldwell said, according to Hawaii News Now.

READ NEXT: Here’s What Tulsi Gabbard’s Been Doing In Her Last Months In Congress