By TOM CALLIS
Tribune-Herald staff writer
Kawika Crowley, the Republican nominee for Hawaii’s 2nd Congressional seat, pledged Wednesday to put up a strong fight against Democrat Tulsi Gabbard despite being homeless and receiving no financial support from his party.
The 61-year-old Oahu resident, while speaking to reporters on Wednesday, called himself the “conservative alternative to big fat-ass government” and said he plans to soon request a debate with Gabbard, a Honolulu City Councilwoman.
“I don’t think she has the guts to debate me,” he added with asmile.
Crowley spoke in front of the statebuilding in Hilo, his former hometown, with a few supporters, including mixed-martial arts fighter BJ Penn.
Penn said he is a family friend and came to backup the upstart candidate, who beat U.S. Navy veteran Matthew DiGeronimo by 3,213 votes in the primary despite raising no campaign cash and living in a van.
“We are all family,” Penn said. “I grew up with his kids.”
Crowley, a 1969 Hilo High School grad, was also in Hilo to announce the start of his “Walk the Islands” campaign, which he his kicking off on the Big Island.
He said he will spend the next several days standing with a campaign sign along roadsides and giving a thumbs up to drivers.
It appears to be a tried and true method.
He did the same in Oahu leading up to the primary with little to no other campaigning.
Crowley acknowledged that he thought he had little chance on winning the primary.
“I was supposed to be smashed,” he said. “I was the underdog.”
Hawaii GOP Chairman David Chang called his victory a “perfect example of the American dream.”
“If you work hard you can do it,” he said.
Describing himself as “working homeless,” Crowley gets by as a handyman for hire. He has also worked in ad sales and radio, among other jobs.
Crowley has not held office before, though he ran for Hawaii County mayor in 1991.
But what he lacks in political prowess, he makes up for with an average Joe appeal, accentuated by a no-nonsense approach to issues and and the ever present cigar.
He’s also not a total stranger to the public.
Crowley has been in the media spotlight before for his fight to overturn the state’s indoor smoking ban, and he can also be seen regularly along roadsides on Oahu holding “Remember 9/11” signs.
He is also a co-writer of the Hawaiian sovereignty song, “Hawaii 78.”
Crowley said he hasn’t received any financial support from the state party.
“I ain’t got nothing,” he said Wednesday. “All I got is my friends, family and signs.”
Though he faces another uphill battle, Crowley said he thinks his stances on the issues will set himself apart from Gabbard, who is also a former state legislator and Iraq War vet.
He follows many positions of the Tea Party movement, including deep cuts to government agencies to eliminate the deficit while preserving the military.
“What we have to do is like going on a diet,” he said in an interview earlier this week. “In a long-range plan we will cut the size of government. That’s what we have to do.”
He said government can do with a lot less spending and proposes a 25 percent cut to most agencies over a five-year span.
Crowley said he also wants to lead by example, and would donate half his salary to the Wounded Warriors Project if elected.
“I don’t need $179,000 to represent my district,” he said.
Crowley said he also opposes gay marriage, would vote to repeal health care reform and supports Hawaiian sovereignty,
On welfare, he said government should encourage people to get back to work and more aid should come from churches and family.
Crowley noted he was on welfare for a few years while raising his three children by himself but strove to get off government assistance.
He called Medicare a “Ponzi scheme” and said he supports tort reform to lower medical costs.
Overall, Crowley said his own life experiences of raising a family and living on meager means gives him a perspective on spending needed in Congress.
“I know what it’s like to live without electricity,” he said. “I’ve done it all,” he later added, “and I’ve lived it all.”
Email Tom Callis at firstname.lastname@example.org.