Gabbard Pays A Visit To The Garden Isle

Kauai’s congresswoman helps spread holiday cheer and sits down to talk story with Kaua’i Midweek

Surfing, feasting on vegetarian grinds and spending time with family are just a few of the ways U.S. Rep. Tulsi Gabbard spent her Thanksgiving in the Islands. Prior to the holiday, she made a quick visit to Kauai, paying tribute to various people within the community who are making a positive difference. She had time to sit down with Kaua’i Midweek for a short but sweet interview between appointments.

“I’m saying thank you to the warriors and the people who are in the trenches and on the front line serving our community in so many different ways,” she says during one of her stops at Kauai War Memorial Convention Hall during the Salvation Army’s annual Thanksgiving luncheon.

Gabbard not only is thankful to those who selflessly serve the community, but also is grateful for the experiences she has been granted in life, including spending some of her childhood in the Philippines, where the country’s extreme poverty was eye-opening: “Where literally it is random tin scraps that make up their home,” she says. Yet, the people were so gracious.

“If you asked they would give you, literally, the shirt off their backs. They appreciate the blessings that they have and don’t whine about the things they don’t.”

Gabbard also is grateful for her experiences serving in the U.S. military.

“I was able to stand shoulder to shoulder and serve alongside some of the most incredible human beings that I’ve ever met,” she says.

Gabbard was the platoon leader of 45 troops and says her greatest achievement was safely bringing everyone home. Protecting people who put their lives on the line is a task Gabbard faces as one of the few members of Congress who has a firsthand understanding of the armed forces.

Since she believes the strength of the military is in its people, she is working hard to tackle one of its prevailing issues: sexual assault. It is a problem that plagues the U.S. military, and it is exacerbated by the fact that many incidents are left unreported because of the lack of follow-through and fear of retaliation.

A survey taken among those in active duty reports that some 19,000 men and women were sexually assaulted in 2010 and about 26,000 in 2011, numbers that are much higher than assault claims made to the Department of Defense Sexual Assault Prevention and Response Office, according to a June 2013 New York Times article.

Gabbard is determined to bring about justice.

“We need to create a culture that lets these violent perpetrators know that their behavior is not acceptable,” she says.

Although Gabbard was not victim to this kind of horrific attack, she had a friend who was. At that time, she says, it was difficult to understand why her friend did not want to report the incident.

“In hindsight, I’m learning more and understanding more,” she says.

While she continues to work on the problem, she is proud to have taken on another. This year, she introduced the Helping Heroes Fly Act that will ease travel for injured and disabled service members and veterans by improving and expediting the screening process at airport security checkpoints. The bill passed with unanimous support, and in August it was signed into law by President Obama.

“It’s something I’m very proud of, both in the community it serves, but also because it symbolizes what is possible when you find areas of common ground when you bring people together and actually get things done,” she says.

Gabbard believes it is a matter of effective communication between parties that will build this kind of relationship and encourage the united resolution of more issues.

“This is why we’re seeing the dysfunction that we’re seeing – an unwillingness of people to have these conversations that allow us to work together,” she says. “You can’t have that if you’re constantly lobbing bombs at each other.”

Case in point is the Affordable Care Act. Though Gabbard can’t foresee its future, she hopes that a collective acknowledgement of its obstacles will be achieved, and that Congress will join together to achieve the bill’s original goal of providing affordable health care to everyone. There are still several faults she finds within the legislation. She believes that not only are the costs of prescription drugs too high, which is negatively impacting kupuna, but also the effect of the legislation on small businesses is detrimental. Enterprises with fewer than 50 employees are eligible for subsidies, but those with 60 or more are not. Coming from a small-business environment and growing up working in her parents’ restaurant and candy trade, she understands the difficulty in making ends meet.

“It’s a very real thing when you have legitimate small businesses that don’t somehow become multi-million-dollar corporations when they go from 50 to 60 employees,” she says.

Another controversial debate Gabbard has been involved in concerns genetically modified organisms (GMO). She recently cosponsored legislation that the FDA should mandate labeling GMO foods.

“It’s a matter of transparency and informing people so that they can make choices about the food that they eat and the food they feed their families,” she says.

She also has openly stated her opinion on gay marriage.

“The government should not be in a position to dictate who’s allowed to get married and who’s not,” she says.

Though some may not agree with her opinions, there is no doubt that Gabbard is making her own difference in the community and is determined to do what she feels is best for the people she represents, carrying the aloha spirit