About 5 years or so ago, Marti Townsend asked me to represent the Sierra Club at an FAA meeting regarding noise from air tours. The meeting was held in a colorless, bleak room in the federal building, filled with bureaucrats. For the first 45 minutes or so, the FAA droned on and one about how nothing could be done. at all. Then, Kai Kahele and a couple other Big Island legislators showed up. I had never seen him before. Fairly quickly, Kahele started pointing out that the FAA bureaucrats were not telling us the whole story; that their answers were misleading. I used to deal with legislators a lot and I had never seen a legislator speak with such mastery of a subject matter. Usually, legislator’s knowledge is superficial, a recitation of a few talking points. But Kahele had complete command of the subject matter and was not going to let the FAA bully us. It was an impressive performance; so impressive that I sent him an email praising him (something I’ve rarely, if ever, done before).
A few years later, A&B tried to steamroll legislation to legalize its taking of millions of gallons of water from east Maui streams. Kahele was the chair of the committee that dealt with water issues. There was no reason for him to give the matter much attention. He is from the Big Island, not Maui. His allies in the legislature were not progressives. He had nothing to gain by analyzing the details of the proposal. But he studied it with a level of intensity that no one in government has engaged in. He met with folks from the Native Hawaiian Legal Corporation and the Sierra Club to understand the smallest of details. And he went after A&B and BLNR. Successfully.
Trying to get our Congressional delegation to hold the Navy’s feet to the fire had been an exercise in frustration. Ed Case was hostile, wrapping himself in the banner of national security and faith in the Navy. Mazie, a former Vietnam War protestor, was just about as bad, condescendingly shooing us away. And surprisingly, Brian, while sympathetic, refused to do anything, demanding scientific proof that the tanks were a threat. Newly elected Congressman Kahele did not want to step on Case’s toes since Red Hill is in Case’s district. Nevertheless, it was Kahele who aggressively questioned Navy officials, met with poisoned residents, collected water samples, and got the entire Congressional delegation to demand that the tanks be shut down.
These three instances of Kahele in action are why I’m voting for Kahele for governor.
In recent years, my votes were to stop someone awful from being governor. I supported honest, but conservative David Ige because Abercrombie and Hanabusa were dreadful. Although I have some gripes with Josh Green and Vicky Cayetano, I don’t think that they will be awful. But I’ve been so impressed with Kahele — so different from other politicians — that I’m voting for him with enthusiasm.
No one is perfect. Clinton and JFK had their affairs. As did Martin Luther King Jr. Obama was a prisoner to the national security apparatus. So, I’m not going to say Kahele is perfect. But some of the criticism of him is silly.
The media has created an anti-Kahele narrative that will be tough for him to penetrate. But if you really think about, none of it is substantive.
One friend, who shall go nameless, says, “Why can’t he just finish the job he was elected to?” Obama had to resign his job as a U.S. Senator when he was elected President. Joe Biden had to resign as well when he was elected Vice President. Kahele clearly didn’t like DC. This is a petty reason not to vote for Kahele.
Others are critical of his relationship with Hawaiian Airlines. If Kahele was close to a corporation that was adversely affecting society (A&B, HEI, Castle & Cooke etc. etc.) I would be concerned. But Hawaiian Air? Ya, I’m still upset about the 100,000 Aloha miles I lost, but I just cannot get worked up about any nefarious connection between Kahele and Hawaiian Air. (We could point to how close other candidates are to other interests . . . )
Others point to his raising money from special interests and then giving them up. It seems to me that continuing the receive huge amounts of money from special interests is a bigger deal than what some people call hypocrisy. Shouldn’t we be praising him for something we would all like to see rather than find a reason to criticize?
Guest Post – David Kimo Frankel
Former director of the Sierra Club of Hawai’i
Former attorney at Native Hawaiian Legal Corp.