WASHINGTON — Brian Evans is a gay, anti-Trump, pro-abortion rights Republican who’s running for Congress against U.S. Rep. Tulsi Gabbard.
And that might be the least interesting thing about him.
Evans, 48, is an entertainer. He’s a Las Vegas crooner who did a stint on the sitcom “Full House,” opened for talk show legend Jay Leno and filmed a Halloween music video with prop comedian Carrot Top.
Evans even performed in Las Vegas in front of Donald Trump and his wife, Melania, although the couple was still many years removed from the White House.
Although he didn’t get a picture, he said Trump did ask him for a copy of his album. The future president responded with a personalized thank you note with his name “TRUMP” embossed in gold across the top.
“I’m supposed to be pro-Trump but I’m not,” Evans said. “I believe in the principles that John McCain held where you work with both sides of the aisle.”
Evans has taken a break from his singing career to run for Congress. He acknowledges he’s a long shot and hasn’t raised the money needed to take out an established and popular incumbent.
He said he’s running mostly just to raise awareness about an issue that’s personally important to him — death by medical error. Both his mother and his mentor died after routine visits to the hospital, he said.
“My campaign is about making people feel better, literally, by making hospitals safer,” Evans said.
Evans lives on Maui, where he heads the annual Maui Celebrity Series, which brought big-name performers to the island, including Jeff Bridges, William Shatner, David Spade and Bob Saget.
Evans said he supports gay rights and a woman’s right to choose. He’s also a supporter of the Second Amendment because “if somebody comes at you with a gun a slingshot isn’t going to be any good.”
He wants to repeal the Jones Act, the federal law that requires goods shipped between U.S. ports to be carried on American-made and crewed vessels. Critics, including Evans, say that the Jones Act contributes to the high cost of living in the islands.
“We’re looked at as this place where people come to enjoy our beaches,” Evans said. “But people who are local are wondering whether they’re going to have to live on one.”
Evans faces a steep challenge, and not just because he’s running as a Republican in deep-blue Hawaii. He is taking on one of the most popular elected officials in the state.
He says Gabbard has lost touch with her constituents and is more concerned with signing book deals and running for president than she is with the people she represents.
“She has a job to do,” Evans said. “Instead of being out there paddling surfboards and playing ukulele she should be out there busting her ass to make sure people have food on the table.”
As a gay man, he’s particularly concerned with her views on gay rights.
Gabbard’s father, state Sen. Mike Gabbard was a virulent anti-gay activist in Hawaii. The congresswoman held similar views during her early political career. Evans said it was only when she decided to seek federal office that she said she evolved. Gabbard is now a supporter of same-sex marriage.
“I was gay before I ran for Congress,” Evans said. “She only did it because she wanted to win the votes of LGBT community.”
Gabbard has said her views have evolved in large part because of the years she has spent overseas — especially in the Middle East — on deployments for the National Guard.
Evans is similarly irked by Gabbard’s unwillingness to debate her opponents. She dodged debates against her Democratic primary opponent Sherry Campagna, and has not agreed to participate in any forums with Evans.
“People have a right to hear everybody’s viewpoint, that’s why you run for office,” Evans said. “To refuse because you think you’ve got it in the bag is pompous and arrogant.”
He thinks voters deserve to hear where Gabbard stands on certain issues, especially those that don’t always jive with her progressive persona.
Gabbard draws lots of national support from the party’s progressive wing. But she’s often described as a darling of conservatives, including former Trump advisor Steve Bannon, who helped set up a meeting between the two at Trump Tower in New York.
“She’s more of a Republican than I am and I’m running as one,” Evans said.
Gabbard and her campaign have refused to participate in any pre-election interviews with Civil Beat. Erika Tsuji, a campaign spokesperson for Gabbard, instead directed the news organization to the candidate’s responses to a Civil Beat questionnaire.
Evans also responded to the questionnaire.
Evans is motivated by the death of his mother, Helen Bousquet, and comedienne Joan Rivers, someone who he says gave him his first break in show business.
Bousquet died six years ago in a Massachusetts hospital after what he described as routine knee surgery. He said the hospital failed to account for Bousquet’s sleep apnea after the procedure. The staff dosed her with morphine, he said, and left her in an unmonitored recovery room where she died. Evans would eventually file a medical malpractice and wrongful death lawsuit.
Bousquet’s death drove Evans to run for U.S. Senate in 2014 to raise awareness for sleep apnea. He became increasingly upset after Rivers’ death, which occurred during a routine medical procedure, and shifted his focus to the many people who die each year a a result of medical errors.
Evans said this would be a top priority for him should he get elected to Congress. “It’s a national crisis,” he said.
He actually ran in the Democratic primaries for U.S. Senate in 2004 and 2014. The first time was against the late Sen. Dan Inouye, a heavyweight in Hawaii politics.
In 2014. Evans was part of a three-way race that included U.S. Sen. Brian Schatz and then-U.S. Rep. Colleen Hanabusa.
Schatz and Hanabusa squared off in a special election to serve the remaining two years of Inouye’s six-year Senate term. It was a tight race complicated by a tropical storm that delayed some Big Island precincts from voting.
By the time the the ballots were counted Schatz held a narrow 1,782-vote lead over Hanabusa, which was less than 1 percent of the total votes cast. Evans received nearly 5,000 votes, which he says could have made a difference, although there’s no way of knowing which direction his supporters would break.
“I’m the one who screwed up the election in 2014,” Evans said. “I’m proud of that.”
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