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Underdog fights on

Crowley offers a "conservative alternative" in his U.S. House race

By Sarah Zoellick

LAST UPDATED: 05:13 p.m. HST, Nov 02, 2012

Kawika Crowley is quick to acknowledge that he's crazy for running against Demo­crat Tulsi Gabbard as the Republican nominee for the 2nd Congressional District.

"Of course, I thought I was nuts," said the 61-year-old homeless handyman, who lives out of his van in Windward Oahu.

But Crowley, who has been lobbying at the state Capitol on behalf of the Hawaii Bar Owners Association for the past six years, is no stranger to the role of underdog.

He said he moved to Hilo as a kid with his missionary parents after being raised in Japan for nine years; he was the only white boy in the state doing amateur boxing in the '60s; he became a single parent after winning custody of his three young children in the late '70s.

"I'm not worried because I've been the underdog all my life," he said.

As a seventh-grader at Hilo Intermediate School, Crowley had to take physical education with a group of mostly tough local boys.

"Me, the haole kid, in one big PE class," he said. "Fat and chubby."

Each day, the teacher chose team captains.

"So they jan-ken-pon from across maybe 20 feet," Crowley said. "Jan-ken-pon, saka-saka-po. Boom. … Whoever wins picks the first then starts picking, the other one picks, pretty soon (it) slowly starts to dwindle and dwindle and dwindle, and who's the last one? Me and another Japa­nese kid."

"But the most degrading part was this," Crowley continued. "They would Jan-ken-pon again, loser takes Crowley. So I mean, you know, from young I've always been the underdog, you know? I had to fight my way."

The unlikely candidate calls himself "your conservative alternative" to big government and has promised to work toward debt reduction and donate half of the $179,000 salary — if he wins — to the Wounded Warrior Project.

"I didn't do that for marketing purposes," he said. "When I'm looking through the stuff, I get tears in my eyes just thinking. I mean, here we've got faceless people coming from war, no legs, no arms, and you're paying me $179,000 to represent people? … And then, on top of that, my staff budget is over $1 million."

Crowley drafts news releases in his "back office" — a wooden top from a school desk with a thin ledge on the bottom that fits snugly into a groove on the top of his van's bumper — and types them up on a notebook laptop in his "front office" — a small removable desk he fashioned with two pieces of wood and a metal hook that clips onto his steering wheel.

He said he didn't expect to win the primary election in August against U.S. Navy veteran Matthew DiGeronimo — especially 9,053 votes to DiGeronimo's 5,842 — but he thinks his "9/11 Never Forget" rallies on Kamehameha Highway in Kaneohe each month, his lobbying for the Hawaii Bar Owners Association, pledge to donate half of his representative's salary, notoriety in the music business in Hilo — he said he co-wrote and recorded the classic song "Hawai‘i 78" — and unique campaign style helped get his name out there.

When Crowley is at his usual sign-waving post on Kamehameha Highway, not five minutes will go by without a wave or a honk, or several of both. He estimates his daily honks are in the thousands.

"I'm the only candidate in Hawaii that doesn't do this: the big stupid-ass smile with the shaka sign," he said with his characteristic cigar in hand. "You know why? This is serious business. I'm running for a serious … I'm applying for a serious job."

Hawaii GOP Chairman David Chang said the party backs Crowley even though it hasn't been able to support him financially. Crowley estimates he's raised roughly $2,000 in small donations over the past few months.

"Financially we're not in a position to help any of the candidates," said Chang, who took over the party roughly a year ago. "We featured him in our newsletters. … He's got backing all the way."

Chang said Crowley's platform is in line with party values, and his life experiences could allow him to offer a different perspective on how to help those in need.

"He's a single father, so he told me he's had a heart for helping single parents raise their children," Chang said. "I would imagine that through his experiences of running businesses, he would want to help small businesses (too)."

Crowley said he began living out of his van five years ago to save money. He occasionally lives in the homes he fixes as a handyman but recently had to start living in his van again because the house he was staying in had to be put up for sale.

"It's not something I'm particularly proud of," he added. "I wish it wasn't that way, but that's just the way it happened, you know?"

Crowley said he stands in complete opposition to his opponent because he is against rail, same-sex marriage and abortion, and he will do everything in his power to overturn the Affordable Health Care Act, or Obamacare.

He said his views are more in line with constituents' values even though they historically vote for Demo­crats.

"The Democrat of the '40s and '50s and '60s is not the Demo­crat of today," Crowley said. "The neighbor islanders, the people in the 2nd District — rural Oahu, Kauai, Big Island, Maui — they've all voted Demo­crat all these years … but ask them what their traditional values are. (They're) very conservative. Very. So they have voted Demo­crat, but only because of the old union mentality."

The Maui Chamber of Commerce's political action committee recently endorsed Crowley, as did the group Veterans in Politics, and he said the support — and thumbs-up signs — he has received statewide have been overwhelming.

"I'm true, blue, average Joe campaigning for the people," he said. "Here I am standing yesterday, paint all over my pants, shirt. I had a whole bunch of paint on my hands, and I'm going like this (he emphatically thrusts his thumb out). People see that and they go, ‘Hey, you know, he's not into this phony politician crap.'"

Crowley said he might be David fighting Goliath, but just a few months ago, Gabbard was also a David up against Goliath.

"Seven months ago there was this lady who pulled the papers to run for the 2nd Congressional District," he said. "What was her name? Tulsi Gabbard. Nobody ever heard of her, and she was supposed to lose by a landslide against Mufi Hannemann.

"I'm in the same boat."

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false wrote:
It's frightening to think that if Gabbard gets elected she will spend the next 2 years selling out to every special interest in order to raise money to run again in 2014. We have to reject this type of politics. Our Country is Broke from the same old , same old politicians. Crowley represents a break from failed political approaches. My support is firmly with Crowley. PS to all the commenters: save it. Do you really think Inouye who represents the polished Same old, same old have really delivered a better Hawaii, or USA. Our Standard of living has gone way down because of conventional politicians.
on November 2,2012 | 02:28AM
Anonymous wrote:
Hmmm...Not sure how you can want to not have special interests in Congress but you do want a guy - Kawika - in Congress who's been lobbying for the Hawaii Bar Association for the past 6 years? A major part of his platform is to get smoking back in public places. No thanks.
on November 2,2012 | 08:22AM
twk123 wrote:
I met Tulsi recently and it's clear to me that she is the best candidate for Congress. She is intelligent and truthful and will bring the spirit of aloha to Washington. She's for getting rid of the corruption that is killing our economy and I have no doubt she will be successful.
on November 2,2012 | 09:48AM
allie wrote:
true...I admire Tulsi
on November 2,2012 | 11:13AM
Ken_Conklin wrote:
"Chang said Crowley's platform is in line with party values." I guess Chang is doing the best he can with a lousy candidate; but Chang is lying. Both the national Republican Party platform and the state Republican platform strongly oppose the Akaka bill. But Crowley not only favors the Akaka bill, he also wants to rip the 50th star off the flag and make Hawaii an independent nation. Gabbard also favors the Akaka bill. But having a Republican in Congress who favors the Akaka bill would be a lot more dangerous than having a Democrat who favors it, because it's the Republicans who have blocked the bill for 12 years. Crowley might get the sympathy vote (homeless, living in a van), but he will not get mine.
on November 2,2012 | 05:18AM
Riverwalk wrote:
CNN also did a feature on Crowley. The reporter said, "At one point during our conversation, he made a bigoted remark about Gabbard's Hindu religion, saying it doesn't align with the constitutional foundation of the U.S. government." Considering Mr. Crowley's extremely anti-American attitude toward people who are not Christian, it is extremely hypocritical of him to claim that he feels sadness for our men and women in uniform who have given life and limb to protect our country's freedom. Either Mr. Crowley has never read the Bill of Rights and therefore knows nothing about our country's commitment to freedom of religion, or he considers it the work of the devil. Now I have two questions, the first for Hawai’i’s Republican Party. Since you are 100% percept behind Mr. Crowley, can the people of Hawai‘i presume that you agree with his position that non-Christians have no right to serve in Congress? My second question’s for Mr. Crowley. Since you believe that non-Christians have no right to be serving in Congress, then we presume that you consider Mazie Hirono and Colleen Hanabusa (both Buddhists) to be illegitimate representatives. And finally, Mr. Crowley, do you support the Republican Party’s candidate for Senate, Linda Lingle? If so, how come? Don't you know Mrs. Lingle is Jewish—not Christian? Do you not know that Jews do not accept Jesus Christ as the Messiah?
on November 2,2012 | 05:06PM
Jsato wrote:
Wow. I wonder what Kawika would say to wounded heroes who happened to be Hindu, Sikhs, Buddhists, Muslims, Jews, or atheists? What would he say to the families of non-Christian troops who gave their lives for our country? It's disgraceful for him to so casually disregard citizens' basic rights.
on November 2,2012 | 05:50PM
Bdpapa wrote:
He got my vote!
on November 2,2012 | 05:45AM
Larry01 wrote:
The guy doesn't have a chance, but I've actually met with him on a few occasions, and he's a genuinely nice guy.
on November 2,2012 | 08:18AM
Kaleo744 wrote:
Sorry guys I voted for bradda...just because Tulsi is a rubba stampa...puppet on a string...and by the way conklin where do you come off labeling Mr. Crowley a "LOUSY "candidate..I dont see you running for ANY OFFICE but you you always got a lot say!!! seems to me youre just a lousy and unhappy person...
on November 2,2012 | 08:57AM
MakaniKai wrote:
Way to go Kaleo744! I would vote for him if I could, but I get Hanabata daze! Give da braddah a chance. This is how our elections were intended, citizens serving. Not self serving careers. May God be with Kawika. Mahalo for your courage to face the critics. Aloha. P.S. Mr. Conklin your one trick pony seems to be the Akaka bill – let it go.
on November 2,2012 | 09:44AM
allie wrote:
Tulsi wins in a landslide. Republicans should have run Berg for this post
on November 2,2012 | 11:14AM
DAGR81 wrote:
Kawika Crowley is still trying to get our votes. Unlike Gabbard, he has not taken the people of Hawaii for granted. Kawika will represent the people with his heart. Vote for Kawika Crowley and teach gabbard a lesson that will serve her well in the future...;DO NOT TAKE THE PEOPLE OF HAWAII FOR GRANTED. REMEMBER WHAT HAPPENED TO DANTE CARPENTER.
on November 2,2012 | 12:09PM
LanaAloha wrote:
Tulsi has said throughout the general election she's not taking a single vote for granted. From everything I've seen, she's working and campaigning as hard as ever.
on November 2,2012 | 12:43PM
allie wrote:
on November 2,2012 | 01:53PM
DAGR81 wrote:
other than photo opts, I have not seen anythng from gabbard since the primary election.
on November 2,2012 | 02:05PM
Jsato wrote:
Maybe you weren't looking?
on November 2,2012 | 05:43PM
BigIsandLava wrote:
Braddah Crowley your song "Changes" that you wrote tells it all. Mahalo for caring. Just one noddah Big Island Braddah.
on November 2,2012 | 12:34PM
Tahitigirl55 wrote:
I know Kawika. He is a very smart man. He helped my son out with basketball and he did it from his heart. Never charged us a penny for his teaching. We can't help what happens in our life as far as being homeless but educated. He is very honest. The people we sometimes put in office have many faces and we bite to their lies. I will be voting for Kawika he is the best choise. We need honest people to help our State.
on November 2,2012 | 01:33PM
sweetness613 wrote:
i going vote just to vote for Mr. Crowley, he sure got my vote.
on November 2,2012 | 01:36PM
DAGR81 wrote:
A vote for gabbard is a vote for the status quo. If that's what you want, then vote for gabbard and if that's what you get, don't complain.
on November 2,2012 | 02:08PM
loquaciousone wrote:
You think some super pac might be bankrolling him?
on November 2,2012 | 02:16PM
Bdpapa wrote:
Yeah they just sent him a can of bundo to patch the crack on his roof.
on November 2,2012 | 03:48PM
Graham wrote:
More like a Zip-pac..I did vote for him...
on November 2,2012 | 04:45PM
saywhatyouthink wrote:
What the public Doesnt know is gabbard is really a republican cut from the same cloth as her father Mike Gabbard, who was a republican but switched to democrat when he realized that was the only way he would ever get elected in Hawaii. Gabbard is well known to have anti gay views and started a support group for anti gay proponents. Tulsi followed his lead and joined the democratic party but up until she decided to run for congress, she was anti gay, anti abortion and supported just about every republican position on social issues. She now says that going to afganistan changed her religious views she grew up with and lead to her changing position on all the big social issues. Do you believe that? I personally think she's saying what she has to in order to get elected in a heavily democratic state. Highly unlikely that she has changed her moral principles. She is very well spoken and good looking too, that goes a long way sometimes.
on November 2,2012 | 05:08PM
Jsato wrote:
I think you're confused on your timeline. Tulsi has always been a Democrat and her father later joined the Democratic party. As far as Tulsi's transformation on social issues, I think she should be applauded for her courage and humility to admit that she was wrong and to take a strong stand for equal rights despite her upbringing, etc. No doubt that was not an easy thing to do and I think the world would be a much better place if more people had that kind of humility.
on November 2,2012 | 09:43PM
HD36 wrote:
Finally, someone real.
on November 2,2012 | 09:33PM
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