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Crowley vs. Gabbard: Can Conservatism Cause an Upset?

September 21, 2012, 1:09 PM HST
* Updated September 21, 6:02 PM
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In this year’s race for Hawaii’s Second Congressional District, the “status quo” is missing-in-action.

Representing Democrats is Tulsi Gabbard, a young military veteran and Honolulu City Council representative who managed to snatch the party’s nomination from longtime politician Mufi Hanneman.

Facing off against Gabbard on the Republican side is a cigar-toting, expletive-wielding handyman attempting to fire up conservatives. David “Kawika” Crowley is waging a one man battle against negative expectations.

Given Hawaii’s Democratic tendencies, and Gabbard’s rising popularity within her party, it’s easy to write off Crowley’s chances. But taking into account the over 9,000 votes Crowley managed to pull in during a relatively small Republican primary, coupled with his ability to draw media coverage, he is worth paying attention to.

Here’s a quick glance at both candidates.

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Crowley: Bluntly Conservative

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According to Crowley, his background involves a broad list of ventures, ranging from songwriting and television production to real estate and stand-up comedy. More recently, he served as a lobbyist for the Hawaii Bar Owners Association, advocating exemptions for bars from Hawaii’s no-smoking laws. He lists his current profession as that of a handyman and painter.

Image courtesy Kawika for Congress

Like filmmaker John Woo’s ever-present doves, it’s seemingly impossible to find footage involving Crowley that doesn’t feature a cigar somewhere in the frame.

Crowley certainly loves his stogies. But between puffing on a King Edwards, he has a lot to say on much broader issues.

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The Republican candidate is firmly against planned cuts in military spending, and takes a stand against any cuts to federal dollars meant to assist fire and police personnel.

On the federal budget, Crowley describes a “Fat-ass government drunk with power” and promises if elected, to introduce legislation that shrinks agencies such as the Departments of Energy and Education. He also promises to trim the budget for the Department of Agriculture, a move that may raise eyebrows among farmers and ranchers in Hawaii.

Crowley has also proposed a plan to bring down the federal deficit that includes 5% yearly spending cuts for five consecutive years. If elected, he now claims he will donate one-fourth of his own salary — a month ago it was one-half — to charity. He knows something about austerity, as he has freely acknowledged that he lives in a van parked in Kaneohe, Oahu.

On social issues, the Republican candidate sits firmly to the right politically, being against gay marriage. Crowley is also “pro-life,” but would allow abortions for women in the case of rape and incest.

Crowley’s website provides a peek into his colorful personality, featuring quotes from Aristotle and Jefferson mixed randomly with his own quips, one of which neatly sums up his world-view:

“We are now suffering from a catastrophic national epidemic that will doom our nation… it is called the epidemic of Big Government.”

Gabbard: An Evolved Democrat

Tulsi Gabbard is the youngest woman in America to become a state representative, winning the race for Oahu’s 42nd district at the age of 21. She now serves on the Honolulu City Council, representing District 6.

Gabbard is also a company commander at the Hawaii National Guard, and served two volunteer tours of duty (one in Iraq, and one in Kuwait). She was honored with meritorious service both in training and while on duty overseas.

The military veteran is a major proponent of ending the war in Afghanistan, proposing that the funds saved be used for domestic infrastructure investment. She has also issued a proposal to end oil speculation.

When it comes to resolving fiscal issues at the federal level, Gabbard opposes cuts to Medicare and Social Security, and instead offers proposals like ending “billions of dollars in tax breaks and subsidies for huge corporations” and vaguely states that she would eliminate “waste, abuse, and fraud.”

On social issues, the Democratic candidate sits far to the left of the positions she held as a 21-year-old state representative, a time when she espoused social conservatism. She cites her experiences serving in Iraq and Afghanistan as the catalysts for her move to liberalism, and describes witnessing gender discrimination against women as being a catalyst for her change of heart.

Gabbard, who was formerly opposed to abortion, is now strongly against overturning Roe vs. Wade. She has garnered the support of the women’s advocacy group “Emily’s List,” and supports efforts to expand women’s access to contraceptives.

On gay marriage, the Democrat has proposed changing all types of legally binding romantic relationships to “civil unions.”

Stark Contrasts

Although both Crowley and Gabbard are supporters of the Akaka Bill, their areas of agreement seemingly end there. Despite her early conservatism, Gabbard has moved far to the left from where she began her career, receiving endorsements from the Sierra Club and Emily’s List.

Crowley on the other hand, is nothing if not candid about his rightward political leanings. A member of the Hawaii Tea Party, he can frequently be found speaking about what he views as a dangerously large government. Crowley has challenged Gabbard to a series of debates, but it is yet unclear whether she will agree to any.

It’s a clear choice between two diametrically opposed candidates, and despite Gabbard having an enormous fundraising advantage over Crowley, the race could conceivably come down to turnout among would-be constituents. If Crowley can get out the vote for his fellow conservatives, and continue to be in the media spotlight, he may have a decent showing. But in a state that is overwhelmingly Democrat, his chances of actually winning seem hopelessly slim.

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