Kai Kahele

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Kai Kahele
Member of the U.S. House of Representatives
from Hawaii's 2nd district
In office
January 3, 2021 – January 3, 2023
Preceded byTulsi Gabbard
Succeeded byJill Tokuda
Member of the Hawaii Senate
from the 1st district
In office
February 17, 2016 – December 16, 2020
Preceded byGil Kahele
Succeeded byLaura Acasio
Personal details
Born (1974-03-28) March 28, 1974 (age 50)
Miloli'i, Hawai'i, U.S.
Political partyDemocratic
SpouseMaria Fe Day
EducationHawaii Community College
University of Hawaii, Hilo
University of Hawaii, Manoa (BA)
Military service
Allegiance United States
Branch/service United States Air Force
Years of service2001–present
RankLieutenant Colonel
UnitHawaii Air National Guard
Battles/warsIraq War
War in Afghanistan
AwardsAir Medal
Armed Forces Reserve Medal
Combat Readiness Medal
Commendation Medal
Meritorious Service Medal
National Defense Service Medal

Kaialiʻi Kahele (born March 28, 1974) is an American politician, educator, and commercial pilot who served as the U.S. representative for Hawaii's 2nd congressional district from 2021 to 2023. From 2016 to 2020, he served in the Hawaii Senate from the 1st District. Kahele is a member of the Democratic Party[1][2] and the son of the late Hawaii Senate member Gil Kahele.

In January 2019, Kahele announced he would challenge Tulsi Gabbard in Hawaii's 2nd congressional district in 2020, but Gabbard dropped out of the race to focus on her campaign for the Democratic presidential nomination. Kahele won the congressional nomination on August 8, 2020.[3] He won the general election and became the second Native Hawaiian to serve as a member of Congress representing Hawaii since statehood,[4] after Daniel Akaka.[5]

After one term in Congress, Kahele ran for governor in 2022. He was defeated in the Democratic primary by Lieutenant Governor Josh Green.

Early life and education


Kahele is a Native Hawaiian whose family comes from the small fishing village of Miloliʻi in South Kona, where he was born on March 28, 1974.[6][7] He is the son of Linda Haggberg and Gil Kahele. He graduated from Hilo High School and attended Hawaiʻi Community College and the University of Hawaiʻi at Hilo before earning a Bachelor of Arts in education from the University of Hawaiʻi at Mānoa in 1998.[8]



Military service

Kahele in uniform

Kahele is a military and civilian pilot. He is a commissioned officer in the Hawaii Air National Guard, where he continues to serve as a lieutenant colonel with the 201st Air Mobility Operations Squadron at Hickam Air Force Base. Kahele is a decorated combat veteran with multiple deployments to both Iraq and Afghanistan since 2005. He flew 108 combat sorties, logged 3,075 hours of military flight time, and commanded C-17 combat missions. Kahele has received numerous awards, including the Meritorious Service Medal, the Commendation Medal, the Air Medal for combat missions flown in Afghanistan, the National Defense Service Medal, the Global War on Terrorism Service Medal, Armed Forces Reserve Medal, Hawaii State Active Duty Medal and the Combat Readiness Medal.[9] He has been named both Pacific Air Forces Guard Officer of the Year and Hawaiʻi Air National Guard Officer of the Year.

Kahele also flies as a civilian pilot for Hawaiian Airlines,[10] and has served as an adjunct faculty member at the University of Hawaiʻi at Hilo.

Hawaii State Senate


Kahele was appointed to the 1st district of the Hawaii Senate on February 16, 2016, after the death of his father, Gil Kahele. Kahele defeated Dennis "Fresh" Onishi in the August 2016 Democratic primary, 57% to 35%, and Libertarian Kimberly Arianoff in the November general election.[11] He won the 2018 general election by a wide margin.

In 2019, Kahele was selected to serve as the Majority Floor Leader in the Senate and as chairman of the Senate Committee on Water and Land. He was a member of the Ways and Means, Hawaiian Affairs and Higher Education committees. During the 19th Annual Western Legislative Academy (WLA), lawmakers from other states elected Kahele as the class president of the Council of State Governments (CSG) West. He represented the WLA and all alumni as an executive committee member of CSG West.[12]

Kahele has vowed to reform the University of Hawaiʻi System, declaring that the "system is broken".[13] He introduced SB 1161 in 2017 to freeze tuition until 2027. The bill did not advance.[14] Kahele introduced SB 2329 in 2018 calling for reduction in tuition at UH campuses.[15] The bill has been criticized for reducing the university's ability to manage its finances.[16]

Kahele backed passage and enactment of a measure establishing the Hilo Community Economic Division to pave the way for County and State investment in Hilo and East Hawaii's economic future. He was a key supporter in developing a bachelor of science in commercial aviation program that will commence in the fall of 2019 at the University of Hawaiʻi at Hilo. Other legislative priorities for Kahele were Banyan Drive redevelopment and funding for rat lungworm disease research.[17] HB 2014 for $1M in research funding related to rat lungworm disease at UH Hilo was introduced in the Hawaii House but has not advanced.[18]

In 2017, Kahele served as Vice Chair of the Education Committee, Chair of the Higher Education Committee, and member of Housing and Ways and Means Committees.

On December 16, 2020, Kahele resigned from the Hawaii Senate in preparation to assume office in the United States House of Representatives.[19]

U.S. House of Representatives






In January 2019, Kahele started his campaign for the House of Representatives from Hawaii's 2nd congressional district. Incumbent Representative Tulsi Gabbard, who had run for president, stated on October 25 that she would not run for another term in Congress.[20][21] Kahele won the primary election on August 8, 2020,[22] and went on to win the general election by over 30 points.[4]



Kahele voted in favor of impeaching Trump for a second time following the 2021 storming of the United States Capitol. In his first floor speech in Congress, he spoke in favor of impeaching Trump, claiming Trump had violated his oath of office by inciting a “deadly insurrection”. He also said, "our sacred oaths are hollow without accountability".[23]

From February 2022 to April 2022, he cast all 120 votes by proxy while working part-time as a commercial pilot for Hawaiian Airlines.[24][25] Two weeks after this was reported, Kahele retired from Congress to run for governor of Hawaii in the 2022 election.

Committee assignments


Caucus memberships


Electoral history

2020 Hawaii 2nd congressional district, Democratic primary
Party Candidate Votes %
Democratic Kai Kahele 98,675 76.50
Democratic Brian Evans 12,061 9.35
Democratic Brenda Lee 10,512 8.15
Democratic Noelle Famera 7,736 6.00
Total votes 128,984 100.0%
Hawaii's 2nd congressional district, 2020[28]
Party Candidate Votes %
Democratic Kai Kahele 171,517 63.01
Republican Joe Akana 84,027 30.87
Libertarian Michelle Rose Tippens 6,785 2.49
Aloha ʻĀina Jonathan Hoomanawanui 6,453 2.37
Nonpartisan Ron Burrus 2,659 0.98
American Shopping John Giuffre 661 0.24
Total votes 272,192 100.0
Democratic hold
2022 Hawaii gubernatorial election, Democratic primary
Party Candidate Votes %
Democratic Josh Green 144,394 63.2
Democratic Vicky Cayetano 47,756 20.9
Democratic Kai Kahele 33,654 14.7
Democratic Van Tanabe 1,096 0.5
Democratic Richard Kim 892 0.4
Democratic David Bourgoin 518 0.2
Democratic Clyde Lewman 206 0.1
Total votes 228,516 100.00

Personal life

Kahele with his family visiting Hawaiian Airlines's Moana airplane, with Auli‘i Cravalho (center) who voiced the titular character in the film

As a member of the University of Hawai‘i at Mānoa's Rainbow Warriors NCAA Division I Men's volleyball team, Kahele was voted "most inspirational teammate" by his team in 1997. He and his wife live with their daughters in Hilo, his lifetime home on Hawai‘i Island.[29]

See also



  1. ^ "Kaiali'i Kahele". Hawaii Legislature. Retrieved February 28, 2017.
  2. ^ "Kaiali'i Kahele". Ballotpedia. Retrieved February 28, 2017.
  3. ^ "Democrats Kai Kahele and Ed Case cruising to general election for Congress". Star Advertiser. 9 August 2020. Retrieved August 9, 2020.
  4. ^ a b "Kai Kahele wins Hawaii House seat vacated by Tulsi Gabbard". NBC News. 5 November 2020. Retrieved 2020-11-06.
  5. ^ "Native Hawaiian heads to Congress". Te Ao Māori News. 6 November 2020. Retrieved September 25, 2021.
  6. ^ "Confident Kahele faces experienced, novice challengers in District 1". Hawaii Tribune-Herald. July 25, 2016.
  7. ^ O'Kane, Caitlin (6 November 2020). "A record-breaking 6 Native Americans were elected to Congress on Tuesday". WINK NEWS. CBS News. Retrieved 15 December 2020. Kahele, who served as a state senator in Hawaii, is of Native Hawaiian ancestry and his family comes from the small fishing village of Miloli'i in South Kona.
  8. ^ "Meet Kai". Kai Kahele. Archived from the original on 2020-06-21. Retrieved 2020-07-09.
  9. ^ "Awards & Decorations". Kai Kahele. 2019-03-26. Retrieved 2020-07-09.
  10. ^ "In His Father's Footsteps". MidWeek. 2019-06-04. Retrieved 2020-07-09.
  11. ^ "Kaiali'i Kahele – Ballotpedia". Retrieved 2018-04-16.
  12. ^ Senate, Hawaiʻi State (December 5, 2018). "Senator Kaiali'i Kahele Elected Class President of the 2018 Western Legislative Academy". hawaiistatesenate. Retrieved 2020-07-09.
  13. ^ "System Is Broken". hilo.hawaii.edu. Retrieved 2018-04-16.
  14. ^ "SB 1161 - Hawaii 2017 Regular Session". Open States. Retrieved 2018-04-16.
  15. ^ "Measure Status". www.capitol.hawaii.gov. Retrieved 2018-04-16.
  16. ^ Mendoza, Jim. "Lawmakers take up proposal to put UH tuition hikes on ice". Retrieved 2018-04-16.
  17. ^ "East Hawaii lawmakers outline legislative priorities - West Hawaii Today". West Hawaii Today. 17 January 2018. Retrieved 2018-04-16.
  18. ^ "HB 2104 - Hawaii 2018 Regular Session". Open States. Retrieved 2018-04-16.
  19. ^ "Kai Kahele Resigns From Hawaii State Senate". Honolulu Civil Beat. 16 December 2020. Retrieved 2020-12-16.
  20. ^ Cocke, Sophie (January 21, 2019). "Hawaii state Sen. Kai Kahele officially announces 2020 bid for Congress". Honolulu Star-Advertiser.
  21. ^ Tulsi Gabbard [@TulsiGabbard] (October 24, 2019). "I'm fully committed to my offer to serve you, the people of Hawaii & America, as your President & Commander-in-Chief. So I will not be seeking reelection to Congress in 2020. I humbly ask for your support for my candidacy for President of the United States http://tulsi.to/mahalo" (Tweet). Retrieved October 28, 2019 – via Twitter.
  22. ^ Nam, Rafael (August 9, 2020). "Democrat Kai Kahele wins Hawaii primary to replace Tulsi Gabbard". The Hill.
  23. ^ "Both of Hawaii's US representatives voted in favor of Trump's impeachment". Hawaii News Now. January 13, 2021. Retrieved January 22, 2021.
  24. ^ Grube, Nick. "Has US Rep. Kai Kahele Given Up On Washington?". Honolulu Civil Beat. Honolulu Civil Beat. Retrieved April 11, 2022.
  25. ^ Melanie Zanona and Daniella Diaz (April 13, 2022). "Kahele defends dual role as member of Congress and Hawaiian Airlines pilot, along with proxy voting record". CNN. Retrieved April 28, 2022.
  26. ^ "Caucus Membrs". US House of Representatives. Retrieved January 3, 2021.
  27. ^ Steinmetz, Juergen (August 15, 2020). "LGBT Caucus Hawaii endorses Kai Kahele for US Congress".
  28. ^ "General Election 2020 - State of Hawaii – Statewide November 3, 2020 **Final Summary Report**" (PDF). Hawaii Board of Elections. 2020-11-19. Retrieved 2020-11-22.
  29. ^ "Legislative Members". www.capitol.hawaii.gov. Retrieved 2018-04-16.
Hawaii Senate
Preceded by Member of the Hawaii Senate
from the 1st district

Succeeded by
U.S. House of Representatives
Preceded by Member of the U.S. House of Representatives
from Hawaii's 2nd congressional district

Succeeded by
U.S. order of precedence (ceremonial)
Preceded byas Former US Representative Order of precedence of the United States
as Former US Representative
Succeeded byas Former US Representative