Isle women in the spotlight
One of three such speakers, candidate Tulsi Gabbard highlights military issues during her time at the podium
Hawaii congressional candidate Tulsi Gabbard had a brief but noteworthy moment in the national spotlight Tuesday, one of three women with Hawaii ties to address the opening day of the Democratic National Convention.
Gabbard began her roughly 90-second turn at the microphone with a hearty “aloha” and spoke of the contributions of service members and their families.
“The sacrifices made by our troops and military families are immeasurable,” said Gabbard, a cap- tain in the Hawaii Army National Guard and veteran of two deployments to the Middle East. “These days, it’s often women in uniform — moms, wives, even grandmothers — who deploy and leave their families behind.
“Such heroes and patriots need and deserve leaders who truly understand and care about their hardships, and will fight for them. Leaders like President and Michelle Obama, and Vice President (Joe) Biden and Dr. (Jill) Biden — the strongest advocates our military families could ever have.”
Gabbard, the Democratic candidate for Hawaii’s 2nd Congressional District, was the first of three women from Hawaii who took the stage Tuesday evening.
Also addressing the crowd in Charlotte, N.C., was McKinley High School and University of Hawaii graduate Tammy Duckworth, a decorated Iraq War veteran and former assistant secretary of Veterans Affairs, and the president’s half sister, Maya Soetoro-Ng of Hawaii.
Gabbard’s appearance at the convention caught the attention of Politico, the national political news agency. The website in a piece published Tuesday named her one of five “Democratic politicians to watch in Charlotte,” along with Duckworth.
“Gabbard has a background Democrats love: a 31-year-old female Iraq War veteran who’s on course to become the first Hindu-American in Congress,” Politico wrote. “The Honolulu city councilwoman’s speech is a national coming-out party of sorts for the Hawaii congressional candidate.”
Gabbard was the seventh of eight speakers in a segment Tuesday night highlighting the women of the U.S. House of Representatives.
“It was an incredible experience,” Gabbard said afterward in a phone interview. “The energy in the room was electric and the Hawaii contingent was loud and proud.”
Speakers each highlighted a different issue supported by the women’s House caucus, including equal pay and women’s health.
“It was suggested that I could talk about my military background and experience because each of us was going to represent a different issue,” said Gabbard, who served with the National Guard in Iraq in 2006 and Kuwait in 2008, according to her website. “For me to have the opportunity to share my own personal experience and to pay tribute to all of our service members and military families was an honor.”
Excitement ran high on the outdoor lanai at Big City Diner in Kailua, where more than 40 Gabbard supporters sipped ice tea and lemonade while awaiting their candidate’s speech. They burst into loud cheers and applause at the first glimpse of Gabbard and each time she appeared.
The group included Gabbard’s parents Mike, a state senator from West Oahu, and Carol, a former state school board member.
Mike Gabbard’s eyes welled up as he watched his daughter take the stage and address the convention. He gave a little wave with his fingers toward the TV.
“It’s just totally exciting, and we’re so proud of her,” Carol Gabbard said. “When she’s speaking, she speaks from the heart.”
Her daughter was “very humble and very self-assured,” Carol Gabbard said. “She sees herself as that servant leader.”
John Rogers, 54, of Kailua said: “I wish she had more time to speak, but it was good. She looked good amongst all the other women.”
Avid campaigner Linda Tibby, 56, of Kailua, said she felt excited as she watched. “Oh, there goes our work, our door-to-door (canvassing). She’s there. That’s the result.”
The convention appearance highlighted a busy trip to Charlotte for Tulsi Gabbard, who is not a voting member of Hawaii’s convention delegation, nor has she been elected to Congress. She is heavily favored to beat Republican activist Kawika Crowley in the general election for Hawaii’s 2nd Congressional District (rural Oahu-neighbor islands).
Gabbard was invited to speak at the convention by U.S. Rep. Nancy Pelosi, DCalif., the House minority leader.
“Congresswoman Nancy Pelosi called me and she told me about the ‘women of the House’ presentation that she was putting together,” Gabbard said. “She asked me if I would like to participate to speak about my experience in the military and to speak about women in the military.”
Gabbard said her time in Charlotte has given her a chance to meet personally with U.S. House leadership and other members of Congress as well as constituency groups such as the Asian-American Pacific Islander Caucus.
“I’ve been able to talk about and discuss the issues and challenges that are important and the work that needs to be done at the national level,” she said.
In an emotional highlight, Iraq War veteran Tammy Duckworth brought the convention to its feet with a graphic description of the rocket-propelled grenade that struck the Black Hawk helicopter she was co-piloting in 2004, exploding in her lap and costing her both legs and partial use of one arm.
“Last week, Mitt Romney had a chance to show his support for the brave men and women he is seeking to command. But he chose to criticize President Obama instead of even uttering the word Afghanistan. Barack Obama will never ignore our troops. He will fight for them,” said Duckworth, whose remarks prompted chants of “USA, USA.”
Duckworth is making a second bid for the northern Illinois seat in Congress held by Republican Rep. Joe Walsh.
Soetoro-Ng introduced herself as “an educator, mother of two and proud to be Barack Obama’s little sister.” She shared the lectern with Craig Robinson, Michelle Obama’s brother, and they praised their respective siblings.
Soetoro-Ng spoke of how their mother, Stanley Ann Dunham, instilled such values as education, inclusiveness and respect for women — values the president has tried to promote through his support for childhood learning, affordable higher education and allowing gay citizens to serve openly in the military, Soetoro-Ng said.
Tulsi Gabbard, above left; Maya Soetoro-Ng, pictured with first lady Michelle Obama’s brother Craig Robinson; and Tammy Duckworth all spoke Tuesday at the Democratic National Convention in Charlotte, N.C.
Mike and Carol Gabbard watched Tuesday along with supporters gathered at Big City Diner in Kailua as their daughter Tulsi Gabbard spoke at the Democratic National Convention in Charlotte, N.C. “When she’s speaking, she speaks from the heart,” Carol Gabbard said.