U.S. Congressman Ed Case and Congressman-Elect Kai Kahele on Monday morning vowed to work together to help Hawaii receive the federal funding it critically needs in the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic.
Kahele, 46, a Native Hawaiian who serves as a lieutenant colonel in the Hawaii Air National Guard, beat his Republican competitor to take the 2nd Congressional District seat held by Tulsi Gabbard. He heads to Washington, D.C. tonight, and is currently assembling his team.
“Across our country, voters chose, and democracy has prevailed,” said Case in his introduction. “This election could not come at a more critical time for our country and for our Hawaii. COVID is getting worse across our country. Division and polarization is just as extreme as it was, today, in our country. Unfortunately the results of that polarization are that many folks feel like winners, but many folks feel like losers, and that’s not the way it should be, but it is the way it is. We have to be honest about that.”
Both said they shared many values in common, including being “Hilo boys,” and looked forward to working together in Congress, alongside U.S. Sens. Brian Schatz and Mazie Hirono.
“For a small state like Hawaii, we only have four members of our delegation – just four – two senators and two representatives,” said Case, “and if that delegation is not pulling on all cylinders all together, our state will suffer.”
Kahele, too, emphasized teamwork and remembers how important it was during his time on the University of Hawaii’s men’s volleyball team.
“We need the best team in Washington, D.C. right now to help Hawaii, and help navigate Hawaii though the economic and health crisis that the coronavirus has laid bare here in Hawaii,” said Kahele. “So I’m looking forward to serving with you.”
Among their priorities, besides getting the coronavirus pandemic under control, are getting economic aid for the people and businesses of Hawaii, and ensuring that those federal funds are distributed to all counties in the state and reaching those who need it.
Kahele also said, in response to questions, that he strongly supported keeping Dillingham Airfield open for small businesses, and to promote general aviation in Hawaii, particularly for young pilots learning to fly. He said he has voiced his concerns to the Department of Transportation.
“There’s only a very few places where you can do skydiving tours and you can do unique things that they do at Dillingham,” said Kahele, who represents Oahu’s North Shore as part of the 2nd congressional district. “Closing Dillingham will result in the closure of many small businesses and people that lose their jobs, and the lack of opportunity to pursue and promote general aviation in Hawaii.”
He added that it is complex, given that the state leases the land from the U.S. Army, but that they need to bring all the various parties together and talk about needed infrastructure improvements, as well as how the military can continue using the airfield for training.
For both, COVID-19 and its impacts on Hawaii remain a top priority.
Case said he did not believe a new COVID-19 relief package as needed would likely be passed before the next presidential inauguration. His priorities for the package would include assistance for businesses, particularly for small businesses, along with state and local governments, needy families, the unemployed, and health care systems.
Kahele said he had the same priorities for the relief package, but would also support giving the federal funds directly to counties, particularly those of neighbor islands instead of waiting for Gov. David Ige’s appropriation. He also hopes to serve on the agriculture committee, and believes it is a key piece in diversifying Hawaii’s economy.
“I’m looking forward to a Biden administration that starts at the top that has a consistent voice for the country in how to deal with the coronavirus,” said Kahele, “and a CDC and a Department of Health that can provide clear guidance to the states and what we need to do to make sure the health, safety and welfare of the people of Hawaii and our country are first and foremost. It’s obvious that that hasn’t happened, and we have a surge in coronavirus cases happening all across the country, even in Hawaii.”
Both Case and Kahele also said they would continue to support Nancy Pelosi in her current role as Speaker of the House.
Case said the two U.S. Reps. plan to hold more joint news conferences in months ahead.