Chad Blair: What’s Next For Kai Kahele? - Honolulu Civil Beat


About the Author

Chad Blair

Chad Blair is the politics and opinion editor for Civil Beat. You can reach him by email at cblair@civilbeat.org or follow him on Twitter at @chadblairCB.

The old proverb that “a week is a long time in politics” has never been truer than in this past week.

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Just ask Donald Trump, whose chance of reelection in 2024 seems far slimmer today than it did before the $99 NFT rollout, the Jan. 6 committee’s criminal referrals and the public release of his taxes.

Or the 80-year-old Joe Biden, who is now being hailed in some quarters as having the best first two years of any president since LBJ.

In another week, of course, everything that’s topsy could be turvey again when it comes to politics. Which has got me thinking: Is there a political future for Kai Kahele?

I raise this now because Hawaii’s representative for the 2nd Congressional District sure seems federally engaged these days, judging from his office Twitter account (“From Niʻihau to Miloliʻi, mauka to makai, proudly representing #HI02 with aloha”) and Instagram feeds and press releases. He even appears to be enjoying his last month in office, even though he declined on running for a sure-thing second term in favor of a disastrous bid for governor.

And yes, he’s in Washington, D.C., this week, in anticipation of votes on a $1.7 trillion omnibus spending bill in the days ahead. On Tuesday Kahele retweeted a tweet that said he led the House in the Pledge of Allegiance.

And he tweeted a picture of himself in the U.S. House introducing the Find it Early Act of 2022 that would ensure all health insurance plans cover screening and diagnostic mammograms and breast ultrasounds and MRIs “with no cost-sharing.” The Dec. 13 press release from his office shows Kahele and several of his colleagues championing the legislation with journalist Katie Couric.

That is commendable. But why introduce the bill on your way out the door? A new Congress will be sworn in Jan. 3.

No Official Word

Let’s just get this out right now: Kahele did not respond to a text and phone inquiry from me this week asking about his plans. His official Facebook campaign page has not been updated since Aug. 12, the day before the Hawaii primary. And I don’t subscribe to his campaign Instagram account.

But Kahele and his wife did post a nearly 8-minute video online in September, a couple of weeks after the primary.

“Although it was not the result we would have wanted, change rarely happens overnight,” he says in the clip. “Our motto, ‘Hawaii not for sale,’ grew into a movement which was embraced by other candidates and will serve as a model for others in the future who stand for our communities first.”

He also quotes his late father, state Sen. Gil Kahele, in saying, “It is better to lose the right way than win the wrong way.”

Kahele then adds, “I’m not sure what the future may hold for me and my family, but rest assured that whatever it is we do, or wherever it is we may go, I will always be there ready to fight for the Hawaii we all deserve.”

That was three months ago. But the website was still up as of Tuesday and includes a piece he penned for the Honolulu Star-Advertiser on July 31 that imagines what Hawaii would be like in 2026 — “after four years of the Kahele administration, the State of Hawaii has made tangible steps towards solving its biggest challenges.”

Oddly enough, at the bottom of the homepage a counter actively ticks off the days, hours, minutes and seconds until the 2026 Hawaii state primary election. The official date for the 2026 primary has not yet been posted by the Office of Elections, and the date Kahele identifies — Aug. 15, 2026 — is actually the third Saturday in August and not the second Saturday, which is what state law calls for.

But it sure seems to be (or have been?) a clue toward electoral intentions four years hence.

Busy Month

It’s obvious that that’s not much to go on in terms of trying to suss out Kahele’s plans. And social media and press releases are not a solid indicator of what a member of Congress is actually doing.

Still, Kahele’s many social media posts in December illustrate a congressman active on Capitol Hill. To list just a few:

  • Dec. 1 — Kahele spoke on the House floor to honor his late friend, Dr. Noa Emmett Aluli.
  • Dec. 1 — Kahele and Rep. Ed Case sent a letter to President Joe Biden to update and prepare the administration as the lava from Mauna Loa threatened the Daniel K. Inouye Highway.
  • Dec. 2 — Kahele posted a photo from the same day in 2021 in which he “first raised the unfolding crisis at Red Hill” in a hearing with the U.S. Navy. “Exactly 270 days later the @SecDef announced the permanent closure of #RedHill.”
  • Dec. 5 — Kahele said “mahalo” to @POTUS and @FLOTUS for hosting Congress at the White House, which was glittering for the holidays.
  • Dec. 6 — Kahele, his wife and two of his daughters were pictured beneath a painting of Patsy Mink, “the first AAPI woman and first woman of color elected to the U.S. House.”

That’s just one week, but you get the idea.

Other Twitter pics on Kahele’s official feed show he and the family with Nancy Pelosi on the occasion of a new documentary on the outgoing speaker, a trip to Hawaii to visit Naalehu Elementary School in Kau (“every student received a personalized letter, pocket constitution & U.S. swag!”), a walk in Honolulu to support Ernie Lau and the Board of Water Supply (#ShutDownRedHill), wishing a happy 386th birthday to the U.S. National Guard on the steps of the Capitol, playing the ukulele at the bipartisan U.S. House prayer breakfast (“always bring with me the Akaka Bible”) and chilling in the Speaker’s Lobby as members returned to the House to vote on a continuing resolution to keep the government funded for another week.

As recently as Monday Kahele joined his three Hawaii colleagues to call for a federal investigation into a chemical spill at Red Hill. And on Tuesday he posted Pelosi’s letter to members encouraging in-person attendance Wednesday night “to resume session to complete our business for the year.”

This is nothing terribly remarkable for a typical member of Congress. That’s the job. It is also happening as the lame-duck Congress controlled by Democrats is ramming through landmark work in its waning days before the GOP takes over the House.

On Dec. 8, for instance, Kahele and Case voted to approve the Respect for Marriage Act, which enshrines same-sex and interracial marriage in federal law. Tending to more business at home, Kahele also called for a probe of federal lobbying involving a lease extension for a Hilo shopping mall on Hawaiian homelands.

All of this is remarkable for a guy who just 10 months ago said he would not stay in D.C. after the Jan. 6 insurrection and instead looked to return home to run for governor.

I don’t know if Kahele is done with politics. But he’s only 48 and my guess is that he’s not content to just keep flying for Hawaiian Airlines.


Read this next:

Lee Cataluna: It's An Emergency! How Proclamations Cut Through Hawaii Bureaucracy


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About the Author

Chad Blair

Chad Blair is the politics and opinion editor for Civil Beat. You can reach him by email at cblair@civilbeat.org or follow him on Twitter at @chadblairCB.


Latest Comments (0)

He is there for the Hawaiian people! Thats good! They deserve more! However he was elected to serve the State of Hawaii, thats all of us. This guy is sharp and I like him, but He needs to find a balance where the whole community can live together. Yes, get the Hawaiian people what they need! Yes, take care of the people who are doing their best to raise families within their economic means. If he can do that, I'm behind him! He's a soldier " no man left behind"

Richard · 1 month ago

I’m sure he’s a very good pilot.

manetta48 · 1 month ago

Let's go one step further, Biden's infrastructure bill will be regarded as a turning point in the fight against climate change. Right up there with JFK's space program and LBJ's Medicare.

TannedTom · 1 month ago

Join the conversation

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