This Democratic Congressman Doesn't Show Up to Work, And He Won't Say Why

Hawaii representative Kai Kahele has voted in person just five times this year

Rep. Kai Kahele (D., Hawaii) tours a marijuana dispensary / Kahele's congressional website
April 11, 2022

Democratic Hawaii congressman Kai Kahele has spent almost no time in Washington, D.C., this year, according to a Honolulu Civil Beat report, and the lawmaker refuses to provide an explanation for his absence.

Many members of Congress have taken advantage of the proxy-voting system in place during the pandemic, which allows them to ask other members to vote on their behalf. But Kahele is unique in voting almost exclusively by proxy. According to Civil Beat, the congressman voted by proxy 120 times in 2022. He has voted in person at the Capitol just five times over the course of three days in January.

Kahele's near-total reliance on proxy voting is a departure from his record in 2021. He voted in person 341 times that year, voting by proxy just 92 times, according to the Ripon Society. But this year, just three members voted by proxy more often, Civil Beat reported.

When the outlet asked Kahele to explain his absence from Washington, the response was unforthcoming, with the lawmaker's communications director replying in an email that Kahele is "not available."

In letters to the House Clerk's Office reviewed by Civil Beat, Kahele has cited the pandemic as reason for his proxy votes. But the lawmaker's social media activity shows he has traveled around Hawaii and held events in person.

It's possible Kahele may be voting exclusively by proxy in order to dedicate more time to his second job, as a commercial pilot for Hawaiian Airlines. His pilot's salary earned him almost $120,000 in 2020, Civil Beat reported.

When Kahele ran to replace former congresswoman Tulsi Gabbard, he accused Gabbard of not "show[ing] up" for the state.

"What Hawaii needs is a full-time representative in Congress who will show up and whose sole focus is fighting on behalf of the people of the Second Congressional District," Kahele said. "That's the message I will be bringing to the people of Hawaii."

The Washington Free Beacon reported last month that many Democratic offices in the House and Senate had not returned to in-person work despite President Joe Biden's declaration that "it's time for Americans to get back to work."