A former Democratic governor of Hawaii on Monday called on presidential hopeful Tulsi Gabbard to immediately resign from her seat in Congress so the state can hold a special election to replace her.
Neil Abercrombie, who led the state from 2010 to 2014, personally phoned Gabbard, who isn’t seeking reelection, before he went public with his call for her resignation at a news conference in Hawaii. His biggest complaint is that as she runs for president, she’s been largely absent from Congress.
“I’ve left a detailed message for her as to what I was thinking, what I was doing and what I hoped she would do,” Abercrombie told POLITICO in a phone interview following his announcement. “I’m sure she pays attention to her voicemail.”
Abercrombie, a former longtime House member, said his decision comes from his experience as an ex-special election candidate and a gubernatorial candidate who himself resigned from Congress.
“Trying to do my job in Washington and run for office, another office, in Hawaii was just too difficult. I couldn’t do it,” he recalled. “I had hoped maybe I could do it, and it became obvious that I couldn’t. So I resigned my seat.”
Abercrombie serves as co-chair of state Sen. Kai Kahele’s congressional campaign to succeed Gabbard. But the former governor stressed that he concluded that Gabbard should resign on his own.
“He didn’t ask me to do it. I didn’t ask him whether he thought it was OK for me to do it,” Abercrombie said of Kahele. “Whether it’s good for him or not good for him, I don’t know. I think what’s good for the people of the 2nd District should be the primary question, and I’m sure he agrees with that.”
Abercrombie acknowledged, however, that he gave Kahele a heads-up and said he would support him if Gabbard were to resign and Kahele were to run in the special election.
“We have a new mail-in ballot system now in Hawaii so I think we can hold a special election pretty conveniently and at reasonable cost,” Abercrombie said. “The cost by not having representation … severely outweighs any logistical or mechanical problems associated with running a special election.”
Gabbard’s congressional office indicated she would continue to serve in Congress, crediting her for securing “major legislative wins for Hawai‘I” this session, such as improving reporting on Red Hill aquifer protection and helping veterans impacted by toxic burn pits.
“Hawaiʻi is Congresswoman Tulsi Gabbard’s home and her heart,” said T. Ilihia Gionson, Gabbard’s Hawaii communications director. “Her pursuit of the highest office in the land has not compromised her and her team’s commitment to serving the people of Hawaiʻi in her fourth term in Congress.”
Abercrombie said he backed Gabbard’s first run for Congress in 2012. But he wouldn’t have advised her to pursue the presidency because he believes she’s more effective on foreign policy issues as a member of Congress.
He said he thought it would be difficult for Gabbard to represent her district once she announced her campaign for president. Abercrombie noted that she has rented a home in New Hampshire and missed more than 85 percent of votes since October, despite voting “present” on President Donald Trump’s impeachment last week.
“Then she didn’t vote on the budget for next year,” Abercrombie said. “I thought, ‘That’s it.’ Regardless of what her intentions were or what her motivations are, she’s not able to do the job for the 2nd District.”
“The bottom line for me is simple,” he added. “I believe that the only really honorable thing to do and sensible thing to do and politically forthright thing to do is to resign the seat, let us have a special election and then see whoever wins that seat whether they can do a good enough job to win a primary in August and a general election next November.”