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On Politics: Political reemergence, and choices, of Kai Kahele

                                U.S. Rep. Kai Kahele speaks during a news conference at Thomas Square on March 17, 2022.
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U.S. Rep. Kai Kahele speaks during a news conference at Thomas Square on March 17, 2022.

Granted the salary hasn’t risen since 2009, but it is $174,000 a year with a lot of perks, so why do Hawaii politicians leave Congress?

Some die, some go for bigger jobs, others try and miss. Maybe the question is not why did you leave, it is why don’t you just stay put?

The question should be bouncing around for former U.S. Rep. Kai Kahele, who quit Congress after his one term (2021-2023), to run unsuccessfully for governor.

John Burns, founder of the modern Hawaii Democratic Party, did essentially the same thing, with the same result: defeat. But Burns then came back to win the governorship three times and set Hawaii on the path to become one of the strongest Democratic states in the union.

Back to Kahele. He is a military and civilian pilot, and a lieutenant colonel in the National Guard and a decorated combat veteran. In college he was on the University of Hawaii men’s volleyball team, so his name gets several mentions in the history books.

In the latest flurry of political announcements, Kahele is included because he wants to run again.

It makes some sense, but he certainly isn’t going for the top of the Hawaii political food chain in one gulp.

Kahele filed to run for the Office of Hawaiian Affairs.

This is one of those good move/bad move decisions.

With his name recognition and strong public perception, he should win and become a prominent member of the board.

The political risk is that OHA can be a controversial place with passionate folks staking everything on a single political issue such as land control, water rights or political self-determination.

I remember a pilot telling me that while flying he would always mentally ask himself the question, that if need be right now, “Where can I land?”

In his announcement, Kahele highlighted his extensive experience and relationships at both state and federal levels, which he believes uniquely qualify him to serve as an OHA trustee.

“OHA has never fully realized its potential as a Hawaiian institution with the constitutional autonomy to truly serve our people,” Kahele said in a news release.

He was endorsed by OHA Trustee Mililani Trask, who urged voters to support him.

“Kai is committed to transforming OHA into a catalyst for positive change, ensuring it reaches new heights in serving and uplifting Native Hawaiians,” she said.

Still, Kahele may not be universally supported among fellow Democrats. There are those who will remember that he did not attend the Hawaii Democratic Party’s unity breakfast after losing in the Democratic primary to then-Lt. Gov. Josh Green.

The political question for Kahele to answer is whether there will be political life even after an OHA victory.

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