State Sen. Kai Kahele has taken the unusual step of announcing he’s a candidate for the 2nd Congressional District just two and a half months after the last election.

He said there’s no time to waste in beginning his campaign for the seat serving rural Oahu and the neighbor islands currently held by a fellow Democrat, Congresswoman Tulsi Gabbard.

Kahele entered the Mooheau Bandstand in Hilo on Monday morning to the strains of “This is Me” from the movie ‘The Greatest Showman,” and said he’s running for Congress to continue the legacy of his father, the late state Sen. Gil Kahele. The event was broadcast on Olelo Community Media.

Sen Chair Kai Kahele asks State Auditor Les Kondo about a possible Mauna Kea/TMT audit.

Sen. Kai Kahele, seen here at a legislative hearing in February, said Monday he would run for the congressional seat that Tulsi Gabbard was re-elected to in November.

Cory Lum/Civil Beat

“We need elected leaders working together, leaders who put the common interests of Hawaii’s people ahead of their own,” said the Senate majority floor leader.

Kahele said he doesn’t think his announcement is coming too early. He said he needs to balance his responsibilities as a senator, a major in the Hawaii Air National Guard, an airline pilot, and a husband and father while campaigning.

“I need to start getting out to those rural communities to meet with and hear from those families and hear their concerns,” he told Civil Beat after his Hilo speech. “That’s not something I want to do at the last minute.”

Kahele was appointed to represent Senate District 1 (South Hilo) after his father’s death by Gov. David Ige in 2016.

He currently chairs the Senate Water and Land Committee and is vice-chair for Hawaiian Affairs. He previously chaired the Senate Higher Education Committee.

Last year, he introduced a bill to ban smoking campus-wide at the University of Hawaii and tried unsuccessfully to freeze tuition in the university system.

Kahele’s announcement comes just over a week after Gabbard told CNN’s Van Jones that she will run for president in 2020. Hawaii law would allow her to simultaneously run for  re-election to Congress if she chose to.

Gabbard has been scrutinized by the national media in recent days. She released a 4-minute-long video Thursday in which she apologized for speaking out in the past against same-sex marriage, which she attributed to her socially conservative upbringing.

Kahele refrained from taking any direct swipes at Gabbard in his speech Monday. But he did say that her decision to run for president affected his decision to run.

“I need to make sure that the 2nd Congressional District is well represented in the event she is successful,” he said. “I know it’s a big commitment, running for president will take up a lot of time. It will take a lot of energy. Government doesn’t stop for the 2nd Congressional District while our congresswoman is seeking the presidency.”

Kahele said one of his priorities if he is elected to Congress in 2020 would be to ensure that Kauai and Hawaii Island continue receiving federal funds for disaster relief.

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