Crowley offers a "conservative alternative" in his U.S. House race
POSTED: 1:30 a.m. HST, Nov 2, 2012
LAST UPDATED: 5:13 p.m. HST, Nov 2, 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."