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Democratic Rep. Kai Kahele says he’s running for governor of Hawaii

The freshman congressman made the announcement at an event in his hometown of Hilo, Hawaii. Reports that Kahele would be leaving Congress first emerged last week.

“I have dedicated my life to serving the people of Hawaii, and if given the honor to serve as your governor, I will continue the mission,” Kahele said Saturday.

Kahele was elected in 2020 to succeed Democratic Rep. Tulsi Gabbard. He was a pilot and state senator before he ran for the US House.

“Today, I have one clear message for those who think they can buy our government: Hawaii is not for sale,” Kahele said.

Other Democrats running to succeed Ige as governor include Lt. Gov. Josh Green and former first lady Vicky Cayetano.

Kahele recently came under fire for his part-time work as a commercial pilot for Hawaiian Airlines, which raised questions about whether he was breaking any ethics rules for continuing his work with the airline.
Those questions arose after the Honolulu Civil Beat published an in-depth story looking into his attendance record on Capitol Hill this year and his personal income since he entered office. The report found that Kahele has voted by proxy at least 120 times since the start of the year, meaning another lawmaker has cast his votes for him. The House has allowed for proxy voting in the chamber since the early months of the coronavirus pandemic.

Kahele has defended the arrangement, saying it complied with House ethics rules. His office said he has not voted in person since January because he is worried about new coronavirus variants and lives in a multigenerational family home. But his office also added that he remains committed to his work in DC.

Hawaiian Airlines has directly lobbied the federal government on a slew of bills, several of which Kahele is a co-sponsor, and CNN has confirmed that the airline contributed to Kahele’s campaign every year since 2019. While the arrangement is unusual, Kahele’s support for those bills and the donations from Hawaiian Airlines are not illegal.

With his announcement Saturday, Kahele joins more than 40 House members who have announced they’ll be leaving at the end of the term, either to seek other office or due to retirement.

This story has been updated with additional information.

CNN’s Annie Grayer, Alex Rogers and Melanie Zanona contributed to this report.

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