Editorial: Tulsi Gabbard shirks her constituents
Tulsi Gabbard needs to find a way so Hawaii can have a representative who is truly “present” for them.
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There’s much that’s unknown about U.S. Rep. Tulsi Gabbard’s future for the next year that’s left in her term in Congress representing Hawaii’s 2nd District. What’s the end game for her long-shot candidacy for the Democratic nomination for president? What will she be doing after all that?
What’s certain at this point: The status quo, a seeming lack of focus on the current job in the pursuit of the next one, is not acceptable. The congresswoman seems disinclined to follow the recommendation of her predecessor, former Gov. and Congressman Neil Abercrombie, to resign if she intends to remain on the presidential campaign trail.
But something has got to give. Hawaii deserves more active representation from Gabbard for the year remaining. Right now, constituent service is not getting due attention. The fact that Gabbard has the worst record in Congress for missed votes is only one metric for judging her performance, but it certainly doesn’t weigh in her favor.
Gabbard has been an unconventional member of the Hawaii delegation from the start, and not altogether in a bad way. She quickly raised her profile nationally through TV appearances, and pressed for improved health care for those who, like Gabbard herself, are military veterans.
Her infamous decision to meet with Syrian leader Bashar al-Assad was a head-scratcher, but on the whole, Gabbard’s advocacy for peace and veterans rights read well as appropriate service to a specific, important part of her constituency.
The congresswoman has garnered the continued support of community groups such as the Sierra Club of Hawai‘i, which in its endorsement for her re-election last year pointed out her votes and support on environmental issues.
In the 2017-18 term she introduced the “Off Fossil Fuels for a Better Future Act,” and favored various bills related to climate change, pesticides regulation and seeking permanent reauthorization of the Land and Water Conservation Fund.
On health care more broadly, she has supported the Medicare for All Act introduced by U.S. Sen. Bernie Sanders, whom she backed as a 2016 primary presidential candidate and whom she joins on the trail now. However her voters come down on health care, that is at least a bread-and-butter issue important to Hawaii residents.
Unfortunately, Gabbard entered the presidential race in January, just as her fourth term began, and that’s when Hawaii concerns, at least rhetorically, receded.
In a Democratic candidate field as crowded as this one has been, some of that was inevitable. Presidential hopefuls all strove to distinguish themselves. Gabbard seemed to settle on her pro-peace niche, opposing U.S. engagement in “regime change” wars.
That hasn’t propelled her to the front of the pack by any means. And although she’s appeared in four of six debates to date, the qualifications bar is being raised again. Gabbard now has rented a house in Manchester, N.H., hoping for a bounce in the New Hampshire primary.
This does not bode well for Hawaii interests rising to the top of the heap.
Gabbard gained some unwelcome notoriety for her quixotic abstention in the presidential impeachment vote — essentially, that’s what voting “present” means. She asserted that a “yes” or “no” vote would be buying into a process that was “too partisan” and “tribal.”
That’s nice. But there are times when a binary choice is required of responsible representation, and this was one of them. Period.
Even setting aside that misstep, Gabbard needs to find a way so Hawaii can have a representative who is truly “present” for them. Either it will be her for the next full year, or someone else. That, too, is a binary choice.