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Report: Hawaii’s Kahele to run for governor instead of reelection

Democrat serving his first term voted mainly by proxy this year

Freshman Rep. Kai Kahele, D-Hawaii, will reportedly run for governor instead of seeking a second term.
Freshman Rep. Kai Kahele, D-Hawaii, will reportedly run for governor instead of seeking a second term. (Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call file photo)

First-term Rep. Kai Kahele will run for governor of Hawaii instead of seeking reelection, according to a report by Punchbowl News.

Kahele’s office did not respond to a request for comment, and he did not mention the switch in a video he posted to Twitter on Thursday in which he spoke from the Capitol Rotunda about voting for a bill giving the Biden administration authority to lend or lease military equipment to Ukraine. 

The news comes weeks after reports that Kahele had voted in person only five times this year, using the proxy voting system that House leaders enacted at the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic. He was spotted by reporters on Capitol Hill this week as the House returned from a two-week recess.

The Democrat is the second native Hawaiian to represent the state in Congress, following in the footsteps of the late Sen. Daniel K. Akaka, a family friend. He previously served in the state Senate, after he was appointed to fill the seat of his late father and then elected to a full term.

A commercial airline pilot, Kahele has maintained a relationship with Hawaiian Airlines while serving in Congress and serving on the Transportation and Infrastructure Committee. Also a member of the Armed Services Committee, he previously served tours in Afghanistan and Iraq as a member of the Hawaii National Guard. 

Kahele considers himself a progressive and supports the Green New Deal and “Medicare for All.” He told CQ Roll Call in January 2021 that the COVID-19 pandemic had underlined his positions on health care: “COVID-19 has really exposed the major faults we already knew were there in our health care system,” he said. “It has reaffirmed my belief that health care’s got to be available and accessible to everyone.”

Earlier this week, former state Sen. Jill Tokuda dropped a bid for lieutenant governor and filed to run in the House race. She previously lost a race for lieutenant governor in 2018. 

Tommy Waters, the chair of the Honolulu City Council, and state Rep. Patrick Branco are considered other potential candidates for the 2nd District, Honolulu Civil Beat reported. 

In 2020, Kahele easily won the Democratic primary before winning the general election to fill the vacancy left by Rep. Tulsi Gabbard’s decision to run for president.

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