Hawaii state Rep. Patrick Branco announced his candidacy to replace first-term Congressman Kai Kahele, who has told supporters he’s planning to run for governor.

Branco, 35, is a Democrat from Kailua who worked as a diplomat for the U.S. State Department before being elected to the Legislature in November 2020.

While other prominent Democrats have pulled papers to run in CD2 — including Honolulu City Council Chairman Tommy Waters and former state senator Jill Tokuda — Branco is the first candidate to officially commit to the race.

Patrick Branco Submitted

Branco said his work as a diplomat combined with his knowledge of the district make him a good candidate for the job. Like those before him, Branco promised not to use CD2 as a stepping stone for higher office and pledged to rack up seniority in Washington so that he can better serve his constituents.

He described CD2 as a rotating door, one that has seen three different representatives in the past 10 years.

“Hawaii succeeds when we have seniority in Washington,” Branco said.

“Sen. Dan Inouye went when he was 35, a similar age to me. Patsy Mink went when she was 37. And Sen. Schatz went when he was 38. We need someone who understands the ability to go there and build seniority. Hawaii only has four congressional members. We need to work in unison because our delegation is so small.”

Branco highlighted a handful of policy priorities, including those that would create more jobs in renewable energy and cybersecurity. Veterans issues are also a priority, he said.

If elected, Branco would be the third Native Hawaiian since statehood to serve in Congress behind Kahele and the late U.S. Sen. Dan Akaka.

As such, Native Hawaiian issues, from health care and education to federal recognition, would also be focal points.

“I think it’s very important to have a Native Hawaiian in the delegation in Congress,” he said, “because we are the host culture.”

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