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Gabbard has made a huge impression but also has a rival

  • (from left) Shay Chan Hodges, Tulsi Gabbard

    (Photos by Courtesy, Star-Advertiser)

Tulsi Gabbard was a virtual unknown four years ago when she ran for the U.S. House of Representatives. Still, she crushed former Honolulu Mayor Mufi Hannemann in the Democratic primary in a major upset and went on to achieve a landslide victory in the 2012 general election.

Since then Gabbard’s ascent within the national political arena has been nothing short of meteoric.

She’s graced the pages of Vogue, Outside Magazine and People, and been profiled in outlets including The New York Times, the Washington Post, OZY and Yahoo News.

The national media relishes photos and video of the 35-year-old congresswoman paddling out on her surfboard amid sparkling turquoise Hawaii waters or meditating on the beach.

But beyond the mainland novelty of having a congresswoman in Washington, D.C., who surfs and is Hindu, Gabbard’s made her mark going up against powerful party leaders, including President Barack Obama, crossing the political aisle and becoming a leader in the Bernie Sanders movement.

“She is a remarkable political figure, and I really am amazed by her political instincts — which so often seem counterintuitive and so often turn out to be right — and her ability to take risks and win,” Colin Moore, director of the Public Policy Center at the University of Hawaii at Manoa, said last week.

The Democratic Party star is poised and polished, nailing her sound bites on national news shows, such as CNN’s “The Situation Room With Wolf Blitzer” and MSNBC’s “The Rachel Maddow Show.”

Gabbard attributes her cachet to her spirit of bipartisanship and standing up for what’s right.

“Whatever popularity is there, I really believe it comes from the fact that from Day One on the job, I made it a point to put partisan politics aside and focus on fighting for the people of Hawaii and for our country and fighting for what I believe is right,” she told the Honolulu Star-Advertiser in an interview last week. “You know, bringing voice to the 99 percent to really bring our government back to a place where it’s of the people, by the people and for the people.

“And you know, it’s recognizing that people are a lot smarter than they are given credit for,” she continued. “They know when a politician is doing what they are doing just for themselves rather than actually fighting for them.”

But it’s Gabbard’s latter point — that she’s fighting for the people of Hawaii, rather than being out for herself — that her opponent this year in the Democratic primary has, in part, seized upon as the congresswoman campaigns for re-election in the district encompassing Maui County, Kauai, Hawaii island and rural and suburban Oahu.

“What I have heard time and time again is Tulsi is for Tulsi,” said Shay Chan Hodges.

Leaning to the right

This is the first political campaign for Hodges, a grant writer and author who lives in Upcountry Maui. Her husband, Ian Hodges, is a former chairman of the Maui County Democratic Party who has assisted other local congressional campaigns.

Political analysts say they doubt that as a political newcomer Hodges poses a serious threat to Gabbard’s re-election bid. The congresswoman’s approval rating stood at a remarkable 75 percent in a January Star-Advertiser poll.

But Hodges’ campaign has brought heightened attention to simmering critiques of the congresswoman — including concerns that she leans too for to the right on certain issues, doesn’t do a good job of responding to constituents and is self-aggrandizing, possibly angling to unseat U.S. Sen. Mazie Hirono or U.S. Sen. Brian Schatz, or secure a Cabinet-level position.

Hodges has criticized Gabbard as not being tough enough on gun control and at times embracing hawkish views on Middle East foreign policy. She says that Gabbard doesn’t reflect the progressive values of her district. She points to Gabbard’s appearances on Fox News and her speaking engagement last year at the Republican-dominated American Institute World Forum.

Gabbard has also joined Republicans last year in voting for a bill that would drastically tighten screening procedures on Syrian refugees. Supporters of the measure, including Gabbard, argued that the measure was important for protecting Americans from terrorists slipping into the country.

But Obama called the measure untenable, arguing that it was “essentially shutting our doors to these desperate men women and children who are risking their lives to escape death and torture in their homelands.”

“It’s upsetting in so many ways that she has been elected basically based on the aloha of our district, and then she tried to block Syrian refugees from coming into the country,” said Hodges.

Being a ‘good Democrat’

UH Manoa’s Moore said he doesn’t think Gabbard is vulnerable politically this year, but that races like these often tease out issues that can gain traction.

“The kinds of things that Shay is criticizing her for could eventually become more serious political liabilities,” he said. “People find her grandstanding troubling.”

Traditionally, Hawaii voters look to their congressional delegation to bring back federal funds for the state, he said, not develop a national profile — a strain in Hawaii politics that he traces back to the days of Prince Kuhio.

“I think the fear is that she is not developing the relationships and rising through the party and being a good Democrat who will eventually (secure) a committee chairmanship,” said Moore.

“And I also think that it gets at why some of the older members of the party find her such a frustrating figure because she isn’t willing to play the role that our delegation has historically been supposed to play,” he said.

The race has also kicked up increased chatter in the blogosphere about Gabbard’s religious ties to a local splinter group of Hare Krishnas that some say seems cultish. (Gabbard acknowledged in a video made last year to celebrate the legacy of A.C. Bhaktivedanta Swami Prabhupada that Chris Butler, founder of the Science of Identity Foundation, was her guru.)

Moore said that if Gabbard does seek higher office, the issue could become a “very big liability.”

“Her challengers in the media here have not pushed that story as aggressively as the national media would,” he said.


While Gabbard has proved remarkably nimble politically, there are signs of frustration among some constituents at home, as well as members of the local Democratic Party.

State Rep. Angus McKelvey, who for a decade has represented West Maui, has publicly endorsed Hodges, and he’s not shy about his criticism of Gabbard.

“She’s too busy running around the country doing a rock star act,” said McKelvey, who argues that Gabbard has shown a “complete disregard” for critical issues facing her district.

Gabbard also lost the endorsement of the local LGBT Democratic Caucus this year, which has lingering concerns about her personal views on gay rights. The caucus has endorsed Hodges.

Gabbard was a staunch opponent of gay marriage before running for Congress in 2012. The combat veteran and major in the Army National Guard said her time deployed in the Middle East had changed her views.

Michael Golojuch, the party’s LGBT caucus chairman, said last month he was particularly troubled by an article published in OZY last year. In regard to homosexuality, the reporter wrote that Gabbard “tells me that, no, her personal views haven’t changed, but she doesn’t figure it’s her job to do as the Iraqis did and force her own beliefs on others.”

Asked whether this was an accurate reflection of her views, Gabbard told the Star-Advertiser on July 29 that she wasn’t “going to go there and start commenting on second-, third- and fourth-hand what other people are saying. and I don’t have that piece in front of me.”

Gabbard told the Star-Advertiser in a follow-up email that where she was on the issue “a decade ago was wrong.”

“Two people who love each other have the right to celebrate that love in marriage,” she said, comparing the cause to women’s fight for the right to vote.

Gabbard also listed a litany of legislation that she has supported in Congress relating to LGBT rights, including the Respect for Marriage Act and the Equality Act.

Unconventional politician

Gabbard brushes off much of the criticism. Rather than catering to party politics or toeing the line on a progressive agenda, she says she looks at each issue on its merits rather than through a partisan lens.

“I really believe that my colleagues view me as someone who is committed to doing the right thing over and above what may be politically beneficial or convenient,” she said. “I see that colleagues on both sides of the aisle on different issues will come and have a conversation with me, they will seek and ask my opinion on different issues because of that recognition of aloha, of respect and my focus on building those relationships.”

Indeed, she’s accomplished the remarkable task of often pleasing both Republicans and progressives.

A champion of veterans’ issues, she points to two bills in particular that are examples of her success in working across the aisle.

Just months into her first term in Congress, she successfully pushed through legislation aimed at making it easier for disabled members of the military, including those with prosthetics, to pass through security with as much ease and privacy as possible. The Helping Heroes Fly Act was signed into law by the president in August 2013.

More recently she sponsored legislation aimed at protecting children from abuse on military bases. The proposed measure is named after Talia Williams, a 5-year-old who a decade ago was beaten to death by her father, an infantryman who was stationed at Schofield Barracks in Hawaii.

The bill was passed by the House, and Gabbard said she’s working to get it passed by the Senate.

Both measures had bipartisan support.

“It’s a Republican-controlled Congress,” she noted. “You can’t get anything passed if you aren’t working in a bipartisan way. That is the reality of the situation we are in.”

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    • Yet another SA piece trashing Tulsi. Not a surprise at this point. Tulsi has done so much for Hawaii and has such a heart of aloha it’s amazing how she perseveres and focuses on moving forward to serve the people of Hawaii in a positive way, despite people like SA and Hodges trying to sling mud at her any chance they get. There are so many things wrong with this article it’s hard to know where to begin. Tulsi is an overwhelmingly popular Congressional incumbent, who has widespread grassroots support and Hodges is…someone who has virtually no support and doesn’t even have a platform to run on. (Her idea of running for office is to try to spitefully trash the other person and gain free publicity with malicious slams, rather than create a positive platform based on the issues and then garner support for her ideas.) On Tulsi’s record, she’s a strong, progressive Democrat with the votes and background to prove it. A quick look at her website,, refutes any suggestion otherwise. On LGBT issues, again Tulsi’s record is impeccable, which is why she is endorsed by the Human Rights Campaign. Like Star Advertiser and Hodges, LGBT caucus leader Michael Golojuch harbors a deep personal hatred for Tulsi. I personally know many local members of the LGBT who are very upset and frustrated with Golojuch and who have come out to say they support Tulsi and that Golojuch does not represent the LGBT community in Hawaii. And finally, the dig at Tulsi’s Hindu religion shows such a level of ignorance and bigotry it’s just unbelievable that a “mainstream” paper would print this trash in today’s day and age.

      • Last time State Rep. Angus McKelvey was in the news, it was for pleading no contest to campaign reporting violations. What a great endorsement for Shay, whose only qualification cited in the article is that she’s a grant writer – I guess she thinks it’s plenty of qualification for being a Congresswoman. I know who I’m voting for.

      • No, the SA article seems fair. Any political figure is subject to criticism and skepticism. Some of Gabby’s frantic, extreme supporters are a bit bizarre themselves. Look, I think she has done a more or less decent job for being a powerless Congressman among hundreds. Many criticize her lack of education, her shallowness, her odd background and lack of loyalty to her party. I really do not. I think she has done an ok job and should be considered for re-election. But a miracle worker? Not at all that.

        • 1-State Department releases emails tying Clinton to Foundation while Secretary of State. Pay for Play.
          2-Iran Scientist executed. Clinton implicated
          3-No comment on $400 million ransom payment.
          4-Siddique Mateen endorses Crooked Hilliary Clinton.
          5-Mayor of Fairfax, VA accused of meth for sex endorses Crooked Hilliary.
          6-Parents of Benghazi killed file suit against Clinton for defamation,

      • Comments of those critical of Tulsi Gabbard are very revealing. In essence, Tulsi doesn’t play partisan politics like she is supposed to. What the political “insiders” don’t understand is that people love Tulsi because they know her loyalty is to the people rather than any political structure. Star Advertiser has become Hawaii’s chief mud slinger.

        • This article is so transparent. It’s less than 4 days before the primary, Tulsi’s opponent is so unviable she’s only managed to raise $3000–but the Star Advertiser has such a bias against Tulsi (remember they wanted their boy Mufi in Congress and Tulsi soundly beat him) they use the bully pulpit of their paper to smear Tulsi on behalf of her opponent.

        • Exactly. At a time when Americans are furious about bickering and extreme partisanship in Congress, it’s astounding the Advertiser would actively seek out people to criticize Tulsi for her bipartisan approach to getting things done in Congress.  We need more elected officials like Tulsi who place the people they serve above partisan politics.

    • Tulsi has a progressive Democrat ‘lifetime’ rating of over 90% and votes with Democrats 90% of the time. She has been endorsed and/or supported by progressive people and organizations such as Progressive Democrats of America, Bernie Sanders, Human Rights Campaign, PlannedParenthood, Emily’s List, Sierra Club, EqualityHawaii, VoteVets, Ocean Champions, etc. According to her votes and public positions, Tulsi is: Working hard to end interventionist regime-change wars, such as the ones in Iraq, Libya, and now in Syria., An advocate for Equality and LGBT issues, women’s rights, early education, and STEM education, fighting to break up Wall Street’s big banks, and co-sponsor of a bill reinstating Glass-Steagall, working to end warrantless spying by the NSA, voted against Patriot Act, and for protecting net neutrality, an advocate for criminal justice system reform and decriminalizing marijuana, fighting against the disastrous trade bill, TPP and the DARK Act, and for simple and straight-forward GMO labeling, against cuts to Medicare & Social Security, an advocate for commonsense Gun Control, backs banning clips higher than 10 rounds, and reinstating the ban on military-style assault weapons, a strong environmentalist, combatting climate change, an advocate for ending America’s reckless nuclear energy program, supporting clean energy.

    • Tulsi serves in the aloha spirit – unlike the Star Advertiser whose main mission seems to be to tear Tulsi down and distort her record. Tulsi knows that the spirit of aloha is what is needed in Congress and she treats all people with respect. Tulsi always speaks up for what is right and even when she disagrees on an issue, she does so with respect and sticks to the issue on hand. For example, there are issues that she disagrees with President Obama on, but when he came to Hawaii, in the spirit of aloha they both gave each other a warm hug. Tulsi has formed many positive relationships both within the Democratic party and across the political aisle in the spirit of working together to get things done.

      • It always amuses me to see the Advertiser parade local political pundits out to pontificate about someone like congresswoman Tulsi Gabbard. They don’t get it. Tulsi is immensely popular because people know she is a public servant at heart. It’s the same  thing millions see in Bernie Sanders. Tulsi genuinely cares about people, and it shows.

    • It’s outrageous that SA prints the negative claims of a Maui State Legislator who endorsed Tulsi’s opponent, with no proof to back up what he’s saying–and without interviewing one of the many lawmakers who support Tulsi to provide a balanced view. Tulsi does more outreach on Oahu and neighbor islands than all the other congressional delegation combined. She does regular talk stories–in fact I read on her facebook the other day she’s conducted more than 700 events on every island to connect with her constituents, and her office has replied to like hundreds of thousands of constituent letters.

    • Brian Schatz and Tulsi Gabbard will be the most dynamic team in the US Senate, as soon as Ms Hirono vacates, which can’t come soon enough for me and for Hawaii’s best interests. Tulsi Gabbard has a golden resume of qualifications to be great while Mrs Hodges’ resume is solely that she is married to a Maui Democratic Party official who should be telling her to sit down and shut up. The fact that Mrs Hodges is running for national office against one of the best politicians in Hawaii’s history with the puniest credentials imaginable tells me that she is not fit to run for dog catcher!

  • You guys REALLY don’t like Tulsi Gabbard, do you?

    Fortunately, the voters of this state who care more about the individual than the party affiliation and recognize an ethical and thoughtful representative adore her.

    In the future, you should make her low-polling opponent pay for her own advertisements.

    • Here is what the Star Advertiser led out with in this article: “She’s graced the pages of Vogue, Outside Magazine and People, and been profiled in outlets including The New York Times, the Washington Post, OZY and Yahoo News.

      The national media relishes photos and video of the 35-year-old congresswoman paddling out on her surfboard amid sparkling turquoise Hawaii waters or meditating on the beach.

      This is why she has gotten as far as she has. Our voting public is so superficial!

      • I anyone thinks that she was elected because she is uniquely qualified and not party affiliation–let her run as a Republican and see what happens. We’ve lost lots of potential Congressional clout for voting the D’s rather than the individual.

      • Actually, Tulsi has become so popular because she is one of the few courageous and independent enough to speak truth to power. Tulsi’s primary opponent, and Hillary Clinton, want to escalate the war against the Syrian government, creating millions more refugees and hundreds and thousands of deaths, are the neocons. We need Democrats in Congress who will have the guts to stand up against Hillary Clinton when she starts to escalate that war or tries to get us involved in more regime change wars around the world. That’s why we need Tulsi, a real Democrat, in Congress.

      • Tulsi has more substance than most politicians have in their little finger. Sign up for her Facebook page and you can see for yourself how hardworking she is and how much she accomplishes for Hawaii.

    • Like TheDonald says, there’s Democrats out there willing to play with US Citizens lives by allowing hundreds of thousands Syrian refugees into the US let alone Hawaii. These Democrats are willing to play Russian roulette with our lives to show Hawaii’s Aloha! Crazy!

      • Something I read the other day hit the nail on the head for me: the conservatives say keep the refugees out, the liberals say, let all the refugees in. Tulsi is the only honest progressive politician that says: End this war to overthrow the government of Syria that’s creating all the refugees in the first place!

    • marcus says: “Here is what the Star Advertiser led out with in this article: “She’s graced the pages of Vogue…”

      Yeah, I saw that. It’s an obvious effort to undermine Tulsi Gabbard.

      The Star Advertiser COULD have led out with “Her service has included working with at-risk youth, joining the Hawai`i National Guard and deploying twice to the Middle East, being elected to the Hawai`i State Legislature and the Honolulu City Council,” but in their effort to undermine her in the most sexist way possible, they began by listing magazine appearances and referencing the time she went surfing and missed a VA hearing because of heavy traffic that Mazie Hirono was holding.

      These past couple of articles are nothing but attempts to punish and discredit and honorable and ethical representative in the most sexist and heavy handed way imaginable. I don’t know who is pulling their strings, but I think it’s the same people who told them to look the other way on Mufi Hanneman’s shenanigans.

      Oh no! Is Mufi planning another run?! Is that what this is about?

      You should simply report on Tulsi Gabbard not try to undermine and smear her.

      Are you going to be running similar “articles” about the rest of our congressional delegation?

      • It would be hard, as they don’t get into reputable newspapers or high gloss weekly publications.

        And they certainly haven’t accomplished anything of note.

  • This article fairly highlights growing concerns that Tulsi Gabbard is too for to the right for her district, does a poor job responding to her constituents, is self-aggrandizing and always seems to be angling for higher office. The national media has raised additional areas of concern. For example, last month The Daily Beast — a news website with 20 million monthly readers — published a story detailing some of the ways that Gabbard is aligned with Donald Trump. Here’s the lede paragraph:

    “She’s a lawmaker who has a soft spot for dictatorial regimes. She pals around with Sheldon Adelson. She’s declined to sign onto an assault weapons ban. She opposes admitting refugees. She is a frequent fixture on Fox News, where she has slammed the president over his refusal to use the term “Islamic extremism” to refer to terror attacks.”

    • Thank you for expressing this concern so well. I was a supporter in her past elections. I was always concerned about her views on many issues. I now find her self-serving and putting herself first, before the people she was elected to serve. I am sure she will win this election but the voters should watch her actions and hold her feet to the fire. It is her right to choose her religion but be honest about it.

      • You think people should hold her feet to the fire over her religion – and I suppose you also believe people should burn her at the stake for being a Hindu. Please go back to the mainland. Hawaii is a place for people with aloha – love and tolerance for all – regardless of faith, race, gender, LGBT, etc. And in case you didn’t know, the United States was founded on religious freedom – “there shall be no religious test” to hold office.

      • It’s one thing (and completely ethical and honorable) to be a follower of Hinduism. It’s quite another to be a life-long devotee of an off-shoot of the Hare Krishna cult movement.

        • And what are your religious credentials to declare who is a bona fide Hindu and who is not? Gaudiya Vaishnavism (often referred to as Krishnaism), the branch of Hinduism Tulsi reportedly follows, is the oldest and largest branch of Hinduism. Please educate yourself lest you sound like an ignorant Hinduphobic fool

        • What does it matter if she is Hindu? Are they supposed to be bad people? Are they strapping bombs to their bodies and attacking innocent people that don’t subscribe to their religion.
          Apart from the appearance of “self aggrandizing”, I disagree with all the criticism expressed about Tulsi. I agree with virtually all of her positions on the issues, including strict standards for Muslim immigration. Apparently common sense is not politically correct anymore.
          Clearly she is ambitious, sooner or later she will seek higher office. Shatz and Hirono should be concerned, they don’t have anything close to a 75% approval rating. Inouye and Fasi had that kind of support in their day, no other local politician has been able to do the same until Tulsi. I wish her well.

    • Kuleana your statements are so far from fact. First of all, Tulsi has a servant’s heart and works harder than any of our other reps in Congress, which is why she has been so effective. The Daily Beast article that you cite was a hit piece written by Tim Mak, who is a strong Hillary Clinton supporter who purposely distorted Tulsi’s record as retaliation for Tulsi’s endorsement of Bernie Sanders and also for Tulsi’s questioning Wasserman Schultz’s obvious bias for Hillary Clinton. Tulsi’s had an “x” on her back from the powerful Democratic machine ever since. Which is why they are just flat out lying about her record. She strongly supports an assault weapons ban, has never received a single penny from Adelson, is a strong progressive who appears on MSNBC and CNN 10 times as often as Fox, and has always treated the president with aloha and respect, even when she disagrees on an issue. She’s not afraid to go anywhere and everywhere to speak truth. She goes on CNN, MSNBC, FOX, KGMB, KITV, KHON, everywhere. Not only that, she does it all with great aloha.

  • Can we also look forward to “news” stories from the Star-Advertiser that undermines Colleen Hannabusa, Mazie Hirono, and Brian Schatz and lays out the talking points of their low-polling rivals as well?

  • Too bad she never voted for any gun control. Despite her Bernie endorsement she is really much more a republikan than she lets on and yes, she sure does love the cameras… maybe even more than her constituents…

  • I looked into it and the Human Rights Campaign has endorsed Tulsi for her LGBT support
    “With the many challenges facing the LGBT community, we’re honored to count Tulsi as an ally in standing up for issues of fairness. From her cosponsorship of the Equality Act to supporting marriage equality for same-sex couples and fighting for persons with HIV/AIDS, we applaud Tulsi’s commitment to fundamental equal rights for all.” – Mike Mings, Director Human Rights Campaign PAC

    Michael Golojuch is just looking for an excuse not to support Tulsi–despite her 100% track record with issues concerning marriage equality and LGBTQ rights. He hates the entire Gabbard family. Remember when his father ran for State Senate against Senator Mike Gabbard in 2010 and he got trounced? Of course he has a chip on his shoulder.

  • Another ridiculous article. I really don’t understand how local media can be so critical of Tulsi being on national media or being popular nationally. I thought we always rooted for the local boy/girl done good on the mainland?

    This author is awful too, it’s tabloid style. I’m convinced this woman is just using Tulsi as a way to move her career forward. She gave so much attention to Chan Hodges, who is only running a negative campaign vs Tulsi, minus her wanting to help “working families”. Again, no mention of how she would fix things in congress, just negativity. Staradvertiser needs to rethink it’s mission statement, trash like this doesn’t belong in a “major” newspaper.

  • Very good article. I always had my doubts about her. I remember her father, who although is now a democrat, is a wolf in sheep’s clothing. Never understood why she supported Bernie! Change is good in politicians. They stay in too long and they become godfathers!

    • That funny, I’m amazed that HART pays 1.5 million dollars in every year for luxury high rise office you rail shill.

      You don’t care about right or wrong, you just want the old boys and the status quo to stay where they are.

  • The Gabbards represent hatred and intolerance here in Honolulu. Do any of you remember? She calls herself a Democrat but “performs” like a republican. I don’t know how life is in Samoa where they hail from but I do not tolerate her family

  • Another garbage piece by SA , putting Tulsi in a less than favorable light. Wondering if Hirano knows someone at the paper. Can’t wait to see Tulsi beat Maizie in two years.

  • Hit piece or not, Tulsi should welcome the opportunity to confront these predictable lines of criticism. For each of them, she and her team need to figure out how to respond going forward (deny, counter attack, explain, apologize, ignore?). This is the unavoidable price of having a high-profile political career. I’m sure she will be able to figure this out as well as she has so many other parts of her job. Go Tulsi.

  • Tulsi Gabbard is nothing but a superficial, self-indulgent beauty queen that uses her time in Afghanistan and all that B.S. as her poster ad in getting voters to sympathize with her…please don’t give me this nonsense that she is for the people of Hawaii….she is for herself in garnering publicity for herself, only for herself, so she can gain local and national recognition..all this talk about what she believes in….yeah, give me a break…….all she wants is to run for higher office….she has no regard for Hawaii as Hawaii is just a stepping stone for her….look at her track record and people are gullible in voting for her….nothing more and nothing less…….

  • People shouldn’t forget that Gabbard got in not because we liked her but more because we didn’t like Mufi. Similarly, Ige got in because most people wanted Abercrombie out. Gabbard “appears” to be getting a little more for herself than the people she represents and that may bite her in the end when a more notable candidate runs against her. Speaking for myself, I don’t know much about Hodges. By Gabbard refusing to debate her kept this relatively unknown…well, unknown, especially for those not from Maui. Caldwell may be facing this same dilemma. Djou or Carlisle may not be better choices but some may just want Caldwell out.

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