Brian Schatz and Colleen Hanabusa may feel it’s necessary to be on the ground in Puna this week, but the other two members of Hawaii’s congressional delegation have no immediate plans to visit the disaster area.
“In preparation of hurricanes Iselle and Julio, Senator Hirono and her office remained in regular communication with the state and counties that led the planning effort as the storms tracked towards Hawaii,” a spokesman for U.S. Sen. Mazie Hirono’s Honolulu office told Civil Beat on Tuesday morning. “In the aftermath, Senator Hirono continues to work with the state and mayors Kenoi and Arakawa as we move into recovery for hardest hit areas.”
Billy Kenoi is mayor of Hawaii County and Alan Arakawa is mayor of Maui County.
Hirono’s spokesman added, “While there are no immediate plans for Senator Hirono to travel to Hawaii Island, she remains in close coordination with the state and Hawaii County in the recovery efforts, particularly as it relates to federal assistance.”
A spokeswoman for U.S. Rep. Tulsi Gabbard had a similar comment for Civil Beat late Monday.
“So far the congresswoman has spoken with Mayor Billy Kenoi and officials at FEMA and Civil Defense and the National Guard and other military personnel,” she said. “She has offered to help in any way that she can, but at this time we do not have her on the schedule to visit Puna.”
FEMA is the Federal Emergency Management Agency.
Gabbard’s spokeswoman added, “If it ends up being helpful in some way, she’ll definitely go to Puna. Right now we are working with our constituents’ representative on the Big Island who is assisting people there. … For now we are working with leaders of the different agencies to see what we can do that is helpful.”
Sen. Schatz and Rep. Hanabusa are on the Big Island working to ensure that residents have food, water and power. They say that takes priority over the too-close-to-call U.S. Senate race.
But the two are also separated by just 1,635 votes in the Democratic primary, and both candidates said as recently as Sunday that they’ll be campaigning in Puna.
The State Elections Office has scheduled an election Friday for residents who were not able to vote in the two District 4 precincts that were closed for last Saturday’s primary due to damage from Tropical Storm Iselle. There are 8,255 registered voters in the area, although it is not clear how many may have voted early by absentee ballot or walk-in voting before the storm hit last Thursday.
Hirono is not up for re-election this year and Gabbard easily won her Democratic primary Saturday and faces the same Republican in the general election that she demolished two years ago. Gabbard’s 2nd Congressional District includes the Big Island.
Meanwhile, another candidate for the U.S. Senate is also in Puna. Republican Cam Cavasso flew to the Big Island on Monday night.
“I am concerned because these residents have been without power for 4-5 days now,” Cavasso said in a press release late Monday. “I am also concerned that our people and families of the island of Hawaii may not have sufficient supplies. I want to view the status of the situation myself and help in any way I can. I am going to start by taking some water and other fluids into the area during my visit for the people clearing debris in Puna and other affected areas.”
Cavasso added, “I know the people of Puna are frustrated by the slow progress in returning power to their homes. I call on the Hawaii governor to redouble all efforts to get this moving faster. In the meantime I encourage calm and patience.”
Traveling with Cavasso is the GOP state Senate candidate for the Puna District, Gary Thomas.