HONOLULU (HawaiiNewsNow) - U.S. Rep. Tulsi Gabbard will face a Democratic challenger in the primary election on Aug. 13.
Challenger Shay Chan Hodges has never held a publicly elected position, but has been active in the Democratic Party for the last 20 years. She says she's entered the race because Gabbard isn't the progressive candidate she claims to be.
"I've had some concerns and I kept watching to see if someone else would run and nobody did so I just thought, 'Okay, well, we need someone to represent us. So I'm going to step up and do it'," Chan Hodges said. "At the very least she's just out of touch with the needs of our communities, but I think its more dangerous than that, to be perfectly honest."
Gabbard has represented Hawaii's 2nd Congressional District since 2013, winning both elections with more than 78 percent of the vote. Prior to campaigning for Democratic underdog Bernie Sanders in his presidential bid, she made a name for herself by not being afraid to challenge her party.
"Rather than looking at it based purely on a blind partisan perspective, I look at each issue based on its merit," she said. "And look at each issue saying, 'How does this best serve the people of Hawaii? How will this impact them in their everyday lives?' And do my best to make the right decision based on that."
But Chan Hodges cites Gabbard's record on gun reform legislation and her repeated appearances on Fox News slamming President Barack Obama as proof she isn't Democratic enough to represent Hawaii.
"She's criticizing from the exact same perspective, using the exact same words that Donald Trump is using," Chan Hodges said. "She's criticizing him about the Syrian refugees. She's criticizing him that he isn't using the term 'radical Islam.'"
For her part, Gabbard says she'll keep questioning attempts to wage what she calls "counter-productive" illegal wars that put American lives at risk. The veteran says the trillions of dollars being spent overseas should be used instead on local infrastructure, job creation and affordable housing.
"As I have been, I'm going to continue to push for change -- to push to end these interventionist wars so that we can focus on rebuilding our communities here at home," Gabbard said.
Meanwhile, Chan Hodges says should Hillary Clinton win in November, it's unlikely that Gabbard can succeed under her administration, citing her strong support for Sanders, Clinton's Democratic rival in the primaries.
But Gabbard said while she's still disappointed Sanders didn't secure the Democratic presidential nomination, she'll be voting for Hillary Clinton come November.
She added she'll keep fighting hard for what she believes in.
"Where am I most aligned? I'm most aligned with what best serves the people of Hawaii," Gabbard said. "Whatever the issue is -- I'm looking at how does this best serve our community? Is this an effective piece of legislation that will take care of our families, our keiki and our kupuna?"
So what's the top concern for Chan Hodges and Gabbard.
If elected, Chan Hodges says she will work to pass paid family leave. She adds that gender pay equity is not a woman's issue but a family issue. "If a woman is getting paid less than she should be, she's not the only one who is suffering. Every one is suffering, and that impacts the economy as a whole," Chan Hodges said.
Meanwhile, Gabbard says if she's re-elected she'll build on legislation and reforms she has already implemented, with a focus on finding ways to address Hawaii's high cost of living.
Over her last term, Gabbard eliminated the red tape that was preventing veterans on Hawaii Island from using the Department of Veterans Affairs home loan benefits they earned because of restrictions on homes that use water catchment systems. "I will continue to make sure that their interests and their voice are best heard -- whether it's in Washington or dealing with issues right here at home," she said.
Since the 2nd Congressional District seat was created through re-districting in 1971, it has always been held by a Democrat, including the first woman elected to Congress from Hawaii. Both Gabbard and Chan Hodges are now fighting for the opportunity to carry on Patsy Mink's legacy.