Op-Ed: Bring spirit of aloha to halls of Congress

January 6, 2014
In The News

Jan 6, 2014 
By Congresswoman Tulsi Gabbard
Honolulu Star-Advertiser

It has been just over a year since we lost one of Hawaii's greatest servant leaders and an iconic American hero, U.S. Sen. Daniel Inouye. His passing, and the retirement of Hawaii's Ambassador of Aloha, U.S. Sen. Daniel Akaka, left us bringing in a new generation of leaders to stand up and serve in the same spirit of aloha.

From my first day in Congress, I've worked hard to introduce my colleagues to the true meaning of the aloha spirit — what it means to work together, especially in the midst of frustration, partisanship and mistrust. Our country is facing many difficult issues that must be resolved. A divided country needs to have substantive conversations about how best to reach our shared objective — a stronger, brighter future, for this generation and the next. The only way this can occur is if these conversations actually happen, and are based on a sincere desire to respectfully work together.

As a country, it's critical that we remember who our friends and enemies are, and stay focused not on our differences, but on our common mission as we tackle the serious challenges of ensuring our keiki are prepared for a 21st century economy, keeping our promise to our selfless servicemembers and veterans, and caring for our kupuna.

In Hawaii and across the country, we stand to benefit greatly from our returning veterans, as they bring with them unique skills, experienced leadership, and most importantly, an innate sense of selfless service and purpose.

I worked hard in 2013 to ensure that our servicemembers receive the honor they have earned. I was proud of the unanimous, bipartisan passage of the first bill I introduced in Congress, the Helping Heroes Fly Act. This law ensures our disabled and severely wounded warriors receive dignified treatment and privacy while going through what could sometimes be painful or embarrassing airport security checkpoints.

This past year, we learned of the sweeping collection of innocent Americans' personal data by the National Security Agency. This blatant disregard for the protection of our civil liberties flies in the face of those from generations past who have given their lives to protect the freedoms that are at the foundation of our country. It's my love for our country, and my understanding of the need to keep our country safe, that motivates me to work to ensure the balance is struck properly between our nation's responsibilities to its citizens to keep them safe while also upholding the civil liberties and freedoms rooted in the Constitution.

In 2014, I look forward to sponsoring legislation and working towards reforms and changes, such as the USA Freedom Act, that will better meet the balanced need to protect our civil liberties, while maintaining a strong national defense.

Finally, without a strong economy, we as a country don't have the resources to meet our most basic responsibilities, whether it be national security, a strong military, a first-class education, or appropriate infrastructure.

By promoting innovation and entrepreneurship here at home, we can create a 21st century workforce and economy that will set us up for success now and into the future. Across Hawaii, I have seen firsthand the progress we are making toward increasing STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Math) education opportunities. Our keiki are gaining critical skills that will equip them for tomorrow's opportunities while also diversifying our economy.

As I continue to serve you, please know my door is always open. I welcome your questions, concerns and ideas, and look forward to visiting your community soon. Together, hiki no! We can. Hauoli makahiki hou!

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U.S. Rep. Tulsi Gabbard represents Hawaii's 2nd Congressional District (rural Oahu, neighbor islands).

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