Newcomer Tokuda joins Hawaii’s congressional team

Gun Rights

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U.S. Sen. Brian Schatz and U.S. Rep. Ed Case kept their seats Tuesday and will be joined by newcomer Jill Tokuda, who prevailed in the race for Hawaii’s 2nd Congressional District.

Tokuda will take over the seat of one-term U.S. Rep. Kai Kahele, who gave up his position in Washington to pursue a failed gubernatorial bid in Hawaii’s summer primary election.

Tokuda previously served in the state Senate, representing the 24th District from 2006 to 2018. In 2018 she unsuccessfully ran in the Democratic primary for lieutenant governor, in which Josh Green ultimately prevailed. Most recently she has served as co-director of Cyber Hawaii and as external affairs director for the Nisei Veterans Center.

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In her congressional race for the 2nd District, which includes rural Oahu and the neighbor islands, Tokuda faced off against Republican Joe Akana and Libertarian Michelle Tippens. Tokuda ran as a progressive supporting Medicare for all, tightening gun restrictions and vowing action on climate change and high housing costs.

“We’re going into a very divided time, a divided country and divided Congress,” Tokuda told supporters at the Democrats’ election night party at the Hawai‘i Convention Center. “If you ask me, now more than ever, this nation, this Congress, needs Hawaii. Hawaii is all about the aloha spirit. It’s all about making sure that people at the end of the day, no matter what side of the aisle they’re on, treat each other with respect, civility … but most importantly, they remember that it’s always about the people.”

Tokuda’s bid for the Democratic nomination found her embroiled in an unusually bitter campaign against state Rep. Patrick Branco. Over the summer as mail-in ballots were sent out across Hawaii, Tokuda was targeted in an ad funded by the political action committee Vote Vets that suggested she had ties to the National Rifle Association along with video of the Uvalde, Texas, school massacre.

Schatz ran for reelection against Republican state Rep. Bob McDermott.
McDermott’s campaign centered mostly around criticizing Hawaii’s Democratic congressional delegation for waiting until the November 2021 contamination of the Navy’s water system by fuel from the underground Red Hill fuel facility to take serious action on long-running concerns about the aging World War II-era fuel farm.

In media interviews McDermott acknowledged that he was unlikely to win but said he wanted to highlight issues around Red Hill and give Hawaii residents an alternative option.

Schatz, Case and Kahele put forth legislation that would force the Navy, which took the state to court over an emergency order to defuel the Red Hill tanks, to permanently shut down the facility. U.S. Sen. Mazie Hirono, who will be up for reelection in 2024, declined to back the legislation and insisted that it would be more effective to resolve the issue through the state permitting process.

Ultimately, Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin in March ordered the Navy
to permanently defuel the tanks. This summer the military stood up Joint Task Force Red Hill to oversee the effort. The task force recently completed emptying fuel out of the 3.5-mile-long pipelines that connect Red Hill to fueling facilities at Joint Base Pearl Harbor-Hickam.

Case, a moderate Democrat, will continue representing urban Honolulu as the representative for Hawaii’s 1st Congressional District after a run against against Republican challenger Conrad Kress, a former Navy SEAL who served as command surgeon for Special Operations Command Pacific.

Tokuda told the Honolulu Star-Advertiser that she’s seeking to potentially seek congressional committee appointments on
agriculture, education and labor.

“Hunger is not a partisan issue. Growing food is not a partisan issue; it should not be,” she said. “These are bipartisan areas where I think if we can really focus in on finding those common areas where we agree, that’s the steppingstone.”

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