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  • No Political Pedigree: Can Gabbard’s Top Advisor Succeed in D.C.?

    · By Rui Kaneya Chad Blair and Nick Grube

    Bruce Coppa remembers well the first call he received as former Gov. Neil Abercrombie’s chief of staff. It was about a man who had just threatened to blow up a plane at the Honolulu International Airport. By the time Coppa picked up, the crisis had been averted. But he still needed to brief the governor about what had just happened. It was part of the job.

    “They’re calling you because you’re the guy,” Coppa said. “You don’t get to test the water. Once you jump in — you’re in.”

    It’s the hardest gig Coppa ever had, and that’s saying a lot. He’s now a partner at Capitol Consultants of Hawaii, the most powerful lobbying firm in the state. Prior to becoming Abercrombie’s right-hand man, he held top executive positions in both the business and labor sectors, including with the Pacific Resource Partnership and the large PR firm Communications Pacific.

    U.S. Rep. Tulsi Gabbard has avoided questions about her new chief of staff.

    Cory Lum/Civil Beat

    That’s why he and other political observers find U.S. Rep. Tulsi Gabbard’s latest hire as the chief of staff so perplexing.

    Kainoa Ramananda Penaroza, 30, who is the third person to hold the position in two years, doesn’t have the kind of political experiences found in the resume of a typical high-ranking congressional staffer.

    RelatedEyebrow Raiser: Tulsi Gabbard’s New Chief of Staff Baffles Political InsidersFeb 24

    He’s a former health-food sales manager for Puna Noni Inc., a family owned business based in Kailua, and an owner of

  • Eyebrow Raiser: Tulsi Gabbard’s New Chief of Staff Baffles Political Insiders

    · By Rui Kaneya

    U.S. Rep. Tulsi Gabbard is turning to a political neophyte to lead her operations in Washington, D.C.

    On Tuesday, the Hawaii Democrat announced that she has picked Kainoa Ramananda Penaroza to serve as her chief of staff, making him the third person to hold the top position in the two years she has represented Hawaii’s 2nd Congressional District.

    The announcement of Penaroza’s appointment came in the form of a hastily issued statement, released a few hours after Civil Beat had requested an interview with the new chief of staff. Penaroza didn’t return a call to reporters in Honolulu or meet with a reporter and photographer who visited Gabbard’s Washington, D.C., office on Tuesday in part to ask about the new hire.

    Kainoa Penaroza, third from left, was a sales manager for Puna Noni until December.

    Screenshot: Puna Noni home page

    The press release doesn’t say when Penaroza began his job in Gabbard’s D.C. operation, but a LinkedIn profile has him working as a health-food products sales manager in Hawaii until two months ago. He also lists current ownership of a natural-clothing company that provides products to Whole Foods.

    In the press release, Gabbard describes Penaroza as “an entrepreneur and small business owner” and mentions that he worked for six years as a “national sales manager for a Hawaii company” but leaves out its name.

    Penaroza’s profile lists him as a sales manager at Puna Noni Inc., a broker at Ecoceptional Inc., and the owner of the Kailua-based Tag Aloha Co., “an Eco-friendly

  • Hawaii 2nd Congressional District: Gabbard Cruises to Re-election

    · By Nathan Eagle

    Congresswoman Tulsi Gabbard was sailing smoothly into a second two-year term Tuesday night, leading Republican Kawika Crowley in the race to represent rural Oahu and the neighbor islands in the U.S. House.

    Gabbard had 76 percent of the vote, to 18 percent for Crowley, according to early returns. Libertarian Joe Kent had 2 percent.

    Gabbard, a 33-year-old rising star in the Democratic Party, hardly had to campaign this election after running unopposed in the Aug. 9 primary.

    Tuesday marks the second time Gabbard has defeated Crowley, a 63-year-old professional handyman and advertising consultant.

    U.S. Rep. Tulsi Gabbard and state Rep. Mark Takai, left, are seen in this photo from a 2013 National Guard event.

    Jeff Cox/NGAUS

    In Gabbard’s first shot at a congressional seat in 2012, she blew past former Honolulu Mayor Mufi Hannemann in the Democratic primary and then beat Crowley in the general, winning 77 percent of the vote.

    This election season she’s spent more time helping others and presumably laying the groundwork for future elections, although it’s uncertain what position she might seek. There’s been speculation that Gabbard might run for the Senate.

    Gabbard and her political action committee have spent thousands of dollars helping fellow Democrats in Hawaii and on the mainland.

    The day after state Rep. Mark Takai beat six other candidates in the primary for the 1st Congressional District seat, Gabbard’s PAC gave his campaign $2,600. He was tied in the polls with Republican Charles Djou

  • Tulsi Gabbard Emails Thoughts on D.C. and Why She Wants 2nd Term

    · By Nathan Eagle

    Congresswoman Tulsi Gabbard is many things. A combat veteran. A Hindu. A national media darling.

    She’s also the Democratic candidate running to represent Hawaii’s 2nd Congressional District for another two years.

    The race has received scant attention, though, as less lopsided contests and controversial ballot measures have dominated the political discourse.

    Congresswoman Tulsi Gabbard, seen here at AFGE’s annual legislative conference last year, is seeking election Tuesday to a second term in office.


    In her first shot at a congressional seat in 2012, Gabbard had to get by former Honolulu Mayor Mufi Hannemann in the Democratic primary.

    Hannemann, practically a household name, led in the polls early in the race but Gabbard pulled off a shocking 54 percent to 34 percent victory before cruising to a crushing win in the general election with 77 percent of the vote against Republican Kawika Crowley.

    Gabbard, 33, was unopposed in the primary this year and faces Crowley again in the general. She’s expected to defeat him by a similarly huge margin. Civil Beat’s latest poll had Gabbard 50 percentage points ahead.

    But the lack of competition doesn’t mean Gabbard deserves a free pass. Her record the past two years and plans for her next term are undeniably important, especially to her roughly 700,000 constituents on the neighbor islands and rural Oahu.

    Freed from having to campaign hard for her own re-election, Gabbard has been busy helping other candidates, making a litany of public appearances

  • Tulsi Gabbard Wants U.S. to Suspend Visa Waivers for European Countries

    · By Nathan Eagle

    U.S. Rep. Tulsi Gabbard is calling on the Obama Administration to immediately suspend the Visa Waiver Program for countries that have thousands of citizens fighting alongside Islamic extremists in the Middle East or elsewhere.

    In a statement, she names three European countries as examples of nations with people who have left to fight with the Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant, or ISIL (also referred to as the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria, or ISIS).

    “As things presently stand, Islamic extremists holding British, German, French or other European passports can simply get on a plane and fly to America without a visa. The safety and security of Americans should be of the highest priority, and this Visa Waiver Program puts the American people in great danger,” Gabbard, an Army National Guard captain who has served two tours of duty in the Middle East, said in a statement on her House website.

    U.S. Rep. Tulsi Gabbard at the Democratic Party of Hawaii convention, May 24, 2014.

    PF Bentley/Civil Beat

    “By suspending the Visa Waiver Program, all visitors from these countries will have to go through a visa application process before they are allowed to step on U.S. soil.  Simultaneously, I will work with my colleagues to take action in Congress to address this issue and plug this gaping hole in our national security.”

    Thirty-eight countries participate in the waiver program, which lets eligible citizens visit the U.S. for up to 90 days without a visa.

    The CIA told CNN on Thursday that the Islamic State may

  • An Open Letter to Tulsi Gabbard

    · By Dave Pellegrin

    The Civil Beat staff has voiced frustration over its inability to get timely responses from you or your staff. Here’s my own recent experience:

    As one of your constituents — and an Army veteran — I submitted a question to your website several weeks ago. After getting no response, I followed up on Aug. 14 with a phone call to your Washington, D.C., office.

    An apologetic aide told me I’d be hearing back within a day or so. So far, nothing. I’m now asking more openly.

    In July, as reported by Associated Press: “A bitterly divided House panel has voted to condemn President Obama for the May swap of five Taliban leaders for Army Sgt. Bowe Bergdahl, who was held prisoner in Afghanistan for five years.”

    U.S. Rep. Tulsi Gabbard was sworn into Congress at the start of 2013 by the body’s top Republican, John Boehner.

    It was a party-line vote, with only you and one other Democrat, Mike McIntyre of  North Carolina, voting with 32 Republicans.

    I wrote, and then phoned, to ask why you had voted that way.

    In 2011 Israel released 1,027 Palestinian prisoners in exchange for a single Israeli soldier, Gilad Shalit. It sent a powerful message about how much Israel valued its men and women in uniform.

    Your House vote violated the Soldier’s Creed — all the more remarkable given your own military service and admirable track record on behalf of our veterans.

    Did you think swapping, say, two Taliban for Bergdahl — but not five — would have

  • Sen. Mazie Hirono Takes on VA Over Hawaii Vet Problems

    · By Nick Grube

    Hawaii veterans complained to U.S. Sen. Mazie Hirono on Tuesday about the reams of bureaucracy that often prevent them from getting timely access to health care and other services.

    Among their concerns were the long waits to be seen by Veterans Affairs doctors, troubles traveling from the neighbor islands and an overall sense that their needs are being ignored by those whose job it is to serve them.

    “The core issue may be one of attitude,” said Victor Craft, a Vietnam War veteran from Oahu. “The veteran is not a piece of paper to be shuffled through a never-ending corridor of administration. They are people.”

    A wheelchair-bound veteran in the audience at the Senate Veteran’s Affairs Committee Field Hearing at the Oahu Veterans Center on Tuesday.

    PF Bentley/Civil Beat

    Hirono held a field hearing of the U.S. Senate Committee on Veterans’ Affairs in Honolulu to address the concerns of Hawaii residents who served in the armed forces.

    Attendees included Craft and several other veterans, including Hawaii Army National Guard Capt. Elisa Smithers, who said she was a combat veteran who has struggled with alcoholism, nightmares and violent outbursts ever since serving tours of duty in Iraq and Kuwait.

    VA officials and others involved in providing medical services to the military also testified during the hearing to explain what they’re doing to help ease the burden on veterans, particularly those living in Hawaii.

    In June, the VA released an internal audit showing average wait times for incoming patients. Hawaii’s VA system was the

  • Chad Blair: Is Tulsi Gabbard Hawaii’s Invincible Rep?

    · By Chad Blair

    The first-term congresswoman from Hawaii has $800,000 in campaign cash with no credible challenger in sight.

  • Ad Watch: Rep. Tulsi Gabbard’s Re-election Video

    · By Adrienne LaFrance

    Digging beneath the surface of Rep. Tulsi Gabbard’s new campaign ad.

  • Report Cards for Hawaii’s D.C. Delegates: How’d They Do?

    · By Chad Blair

    Schatz and Gabbard each got a bill passed, Hanabusa co-sponsored a lot of bipartisan measures and Hirono missed only one vote.

  • Hawaii’s Hanging Chad: Tweets from the Holy Land

    · By Chad Blair

    Nice photos, but was the trip by Hawaii reps Hanabusa and Gabbard really worth it?

  • Gabbard’s Limited Fundraising Signals Senate Run Unlikely

    · By Kery Murakami

    Congresswoman’s new campaign report shows a sizable campaign war chest for re-election, but suggests no Senate run.