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In an exclusive interview with KHON Friday morning U.S. Rep. Tulsi Gabbard elaborated on why she announced the night before that she would not seek another term in Congress.
It was not only to focus on her campaign for president, she said — where she says she can best serve Hawaii and the country — but also to let others back home have the opportunity to come forward to vie for her seat.
“Rather than waiting until later so the people of Hawaii will have more choices, they won’t have to wait until the last minute,” Gabbard told KHON via telephone. “I’m sure there are other people who would consider running for this seat in Congress. And I owe it to the people of Hawaii for them to be able to have the opportunity to consider the choices before them.”
Gabbard is correct: There are by my conservative count at least one dozen potential Democratic candidates who could seek the 2nd Congressional District seat next August, and a handful of Republicans too. Some even live in the district.
And Gabbard is correct that she owes it to the people she represents to let them pick someone else to represent them.
But Gabbard should do that immediately: resign her seat now and let the state hold a special election to select her replacement.
That’s what Neil Abercrombie did in January 2010, when he announced he would vacate the 1st Congressional District seat he had held since 1991 to run for governor. By that May, Republican Charles Djou prevailed in a winner-take-all contest that included Democrats Colleen Hanabusa and Ed Case. Hanabusa won the seat outright that November.
Leaving Washington allowed Abercrombie to concentrate on what would be a successful gubernatorial campaign. Four years later, Hanabusa challenged U.S. Sen. Brian Schatz in the Democratic primary. She lost by less than 1 percentage point, or just 1,782 votes. It’s possible that a little more time on the campaign trail might have turned the race in her favor.
If Gabbard steps down now — meaning this week, meaning as early as Monday — a special election could be held just 60 days from now. The 2nd District — Hilo and Kona and Wailuku and Lihue and Kaunakakai and Kaneohe and Waianae and Lanai City and so many more places — could have a new representative in D.C. probably in time to vote on the impeachment of President Trump.
Sure, Gabbard would be giving up the $174,000 salary and congressional perks including travel and office expenses, health and pension benefits. But former members of Congress aren’t exactly roughing it.
“Our nation’s legislators get a slew of lifetime benefits even after leaving office, including a taxpayer-funded gym at the Capitol, access to the House and Senate floors, parking in House lots, and the ability to dine in the House and Senate dining rooms, per The Washington Post,” according to Axios.
After leaving office, Gabbard will have to add the word “former” to her title when she appears on Sean Hannity. Not quite as classy as “Congresswoman Gabbard,” but then, she wouldn’t have to bother showing up in the House chamber to vote, either.
Not that she shows up all that often these days. ProPublica says that as of Oct. 22 Gabbard had missed 28.6% of votes in the 116th Congress (2019-20). “This makes her the 6th most absent member of the House.”
KHON asked Gabbard in its interview what she had to say to residents “who might be questioning your commitment to our state, and how you might be working for Hawaii now while you are focused on your presidential bid.”
Gabbard responded by saying, “My commitment always has and continues to be to the people of Hawaii and to our country.” She said she and her “team” continue to serve the people of Hawaii even as she continues her presidential campaign.
It’s time for Gabbard to truly put “service above self,” as she is fond of saying, and to serve with “aloha,” as she is also fond of saying. Step down now and she will be able to spend all the time she desires in Grinnel, Iowa, and Busby, South Carolina, and Nashua, New Hampshire, and Las Vegas, Nevada.
I am sure many folks who live in her soon-to-be-former district — by which I mean the people in Waimea and Haleiwa and Pepeekeo and Hawi and Hana and Lahaina and Kapaa and Koloa and Kalaupapa and Paia — would be “grateful” for fresh leadership, to use another word she is fond of saying.
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