Following her Democratic congressional primary victory over former Honolulu Mayor Mufi Hanneman, Tulsi Gabbard went on to win the November general election in a landslide victory, garnering 80.54 percent of the votes cast.
Gabbard now represents Hawai'i's Second Congressional District comprised of Kaua'i, Maui, the Hawai'i Island, Lana'i, Molokai, Kaho'olawe, the Northwestern Hawaiian Islands and the north and west regions of O'ahu. The district contains 679,805 people.
A Republican has never represented the district.
U.S. Rep. Tulsi Gabbard smiles as she responds to a question about her future political plans, including being the first woman president. “How can I best serve Hawai‘i is the question I ask myself every day. I’m telling you how I think and how I make decisions in my life. It’s the truth. It’s the truth,” she told the questioner.
On Monday, March 25, at an "Evening with Tulsi Gabbard" sponsored by the Maui Native Hawaiian Chamber of Commerce (MNHCC) and held at the Maui Tropical Plantation, Rep. Gabbard could be found in the thick of her constituents, working the crowd like the political pro she is at only 32 years of age.
"I was the most shy and introverted in our family," she would tell a questioner later in the evening's program. "I was afraid of talking to people."
Now, from all appearances, those days are far behind.
Gabbard is one of the first two female combat veterans, the first Hindu and the first female of Samoan ancestry to serve as a member of Congress.
Gabbard sits on the Foreign Affairs Subcommittee on Asia and the Pacific, and on the Homeland Security Subcommittee on Borders and Maritime Security. She is also vice chair of the Democratic National Committee. She is a member of the Safe Climate Caucus.
In his introduction, MNHCC President Kai Pelayo said of Gabbard, "In 2004, during Operation Iraqi Freedom, Tulsi voluntarily deployed to Camp Anaconda Iraq with the Hawai'i Army National Guard 29th Brigade, where she earned the Meritorious Service Medal."
Pelayo also noted that she was the first woman to receive an award of appreciation from the Kuwaiti military.
Gabbard's message to the friendly crowd of almost 100 at the gathering was that Congress must work together, across the aisle, if the nation is to solve the problems it faces.
"It's a crazy place," Gabbard said. "A lot is going on. It is an interesting process to remember what is important and who sent me there and who I am to there to serve."
She also addressed the loss of Senators Daniel Inouye and Daniel Akaka from the Hawai'i congressional delegation.
Even with that loss, Gabbard said that there are opportunities to be leaders like they were.
"They set a very strong basis for us," she said. "They provided an opportunity to show how important relationships are able to get things done for Hawai'i."
Gabbard pointed out that 84 new members were elected to the House of Representatives with her--50 Democrats and 84 Republicans.
She spoke to potential areas of agreement between her and her Republican colleagues, including small business support, veterans' care and keeping the environment safe.
Areas where she thought agreement would be more challenging include Medicare and Social Security.
Even with those challenges, however, she told her audience, "Reform is not a bad word. We want to improve our programs."
Turning to her election victory, she spoke about what she saw as her mandate from the voters.
"I have heard the mandate from you," she said. "People care less about the letter 'D' or 'R' by your name and more about 'How can I care for my family and for my children.'"
Using a metaphor that recalls her days in military service, Gabbard said, "It is about staking out common sense ideas and not about who has the most ammunition at the end of the day."
Among Gabbard's concerns is the rising cost of healthcare. She wants Medicare to be able to negotiate with drug companies for cheaper prices--just as the Veterans Administration can do now--with saving of up to 40 percent over Medicare costs.
She also wants to "close tax loopholes that exist and that are treating some unfairly."
On the issue of immigration reform--one of President Barack Obama's top legislative goals--Gabbard said in response to a question that she supports comprehensive immigration reform.
"The challenges we face here in Hawai'i are very unique as opposed to along the southwest borders," she said.
"We have issues with families who immigrated here," Gabbard said. "Some of them came to work many years ago on the plantations. I am working on improving family reunification. There is great opportunity here if we realize it."
Gabbard is a local girl in the halls of Congress. She is teaching the other 434 members about Hawai'i, and doing so by expressing the spirit of aloha.
Of course, one way to do this is with food and goodies from back home.
"I asked my mom if she would make me toffee that I could give to every member of Congress and a separate box for their staff," Gabbard said. "You would be amazed at the personal notes that I got, and how many representatives from the Republican side came all the way over and thanked us. Something so small can get lost in the hustle and bustle, and yet is so important."
That long and impressive shadow of power and influence that stretches from Washington, D.C., to one's home district becomes much shorter in the nation's capitol, where the competition for favors and legislation can be fierce and unforgiving.
Gaining respect as a freshman member of Congress means returning over many years and numerous elections.
Gabbard is in a safe district. Now, the question is, what will she do in the years ahead?
She gave the audience an indication of how she intends to serve the people of the Second Congressional District.
"Being able to communicate on the federal front our cultural and community values is important," Gabbard said. "I want to bring the members out here before rules are made that can have unintended consequences. I hope to communicate that we have unique differences in Hawai'i."
She just may do it. After all, it's hard to be disagreeable when you're asking for a second piece of toffee.
For more information on Rep. Gabbard, visit Gabbard.house.gov.