The Democratic Party of Hawaii followed through on Wednesday on its promise to sue a bigoted politician who is attempting to run for Congress as a Democrat in one race and as a Republican in a separate race.
Angela Aulani Kaaihue won the Republican nomination for the 2nd Congressional District in August and is set to face Rep. Tulsi Gabbard, a Democrat, in the general election. After winning the GOP nomination, Kaaihue also filed to run as a Democrat in the 1st Congressional District special election to replace the late Rep. Mark Takai, who died in July after a battle with pancreatic cancer. Both elections are scheduled for Nov. 8.
Kaaihue, who describes herself as a Christian, is known for promoting racist and religious bigotry as part of her campaign. She regularly attacks Japanese-Americans, Buddhists and others. A headline on one of Kaaihue’s campaign emails earlier this week described Hindus as cannibals. (Her opponent in one of the races, Gabbard, was the first Hindu elected to Congress.)
The Democratic Party sought to block her candidacy in a letter to the Hawaii Office of Elections on Sept. 9, but the party said the office refused to receive it and told the party its only recourse was in Circuit Court. The party sent the letter to the court that same day.
In its lawsuit, the Democratic Party said Kaaihue was expelled from the party on Aug. 16 over her Republican nomination. But nine days later, she filed to run as a Democrat anyway in the other congressional race.
The Democrats said Kaaihue fraudulently represented herself as a Democrat in her candidacy and that the Office of Elections had both the authority and a duty to investigate her affiliation, given that she was already a candidate from another party in another race.
The party has asked the court to rule that Kaaihue is not a Democrat and, should it be necessary, issue an injunction to prevent her from appearing on the November ballot as a Democrat for the 1st District race.
The suit also seeks a ruling that the elections office has the authority to investigate such matters and can’t certify a candidate to run in separate races as a member of opposing parties. The suit seeks court costs and legal fees as well.
Kaaihue is one of 10 candidates who have filed to run in the special election. Others include all three party nominees for the regular two-year term in the 1st District, Democrat Colleen Hanabusa, Republican Shirlene Ostrov and Libertarian Alan Yim.
Both the Republican and Democratic parties have been critical of Kaaihue. The chairman of the state GOP, Fritz Rohlfing, attempted last month to distance the party from her candidacy despite her nomination, saying in a statement she did “not represent the views, values, or the sentiments of our Party and its members.”
But in filing the lawsuit, Democrats took it a step further, looking for a legal remedy to keep Kaaihue away from the party.
Reached by Civil Beat by phone on Friday, Kaaihue said she was unaware of the lawsuit and that she hadn’t been served with it yet. (An attorney for the Democratic Party told Civil Beat they were still trying to find her to serve her.) Despite not having seen the suit, she called it “very unconstitutional” and launched into a religious conspiracy theory.
“Whoever is behind it is probably Buddhist or Hindu,” she said. “We’re so unconstitutional, we’d rather be represented by Buddhists and Hindus in Washington. That’s why I came out as a Christian – I don’t like Buddhists and Hindus.”
Kaaihue has not held elected office, but for at least the past two years has been circulating claims on social media to be running for Honolulu mayor, Congress and perhaps other offices.
Over the summer, shortly after Takai’s death from cancer, she also circulated press releases and social media posts with banners proclaiming, “I’m Healthy, I’m Cancer Free!”
Though her candidacies are not thought to be competitive, her success in the 2nd District Republican primary was unexpected. She received nearly 7,500 votes — about 38 percent of those cast — in winning that contest against one other challenger, who received about 30 percent of the vote. Another 32 percent of primary voters left the contest blank.