Hawaii Democrat Rep. Kai Kahele votes by proxy yet still pilots for Hawaiian Airlines

Congressman's unique situation is raising ethical questions

Updated: April 12, 2022 - 2:30pm

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Hawaii Democratic Rep. Kai Kahele hasn't cast an in-person vote in Congress since January, yet he still works for Hawaiian Airlines as a commercial pilot.

The situation, reported Monday in the Honolulu Civil Beat is raising questions about whether hold two jobs violates House ethic rules and why he'd can pilot a plane but cannot be a passenger on one to Washington, D.C.

Kahele, who replaced fellow Democrat Rep. Tulsi Gabbard has voted almost entirely by proxy this year.

Members of Congress and senior staff are allowed to make up to $29,595 in income outside their congressional salaries, and Kahele's office says he is earning less than that from the airline.

However, according to reporting done by Punchbowl News, Hawaiian Airlines says its first officers make $81 an hour and are required to fly a minimum of 1,500 hours a year, which would put the salary minimum at $121,500.

Kahale skipped the President Biden's State of the Union in March and did not show up for meetings between the Hawaii federal delegation and Honolulu city officials in town to discuss the future of Honolulu's $10 billion raid project.

He also no-showed for a recent House Armed Services Committee hearing to discuss the Defense Department's annual budget. Only three other House colleagues, in the 429-member chamber, have vote by proxy more than him. 

Kahele's office has reportedly failed to produce documents confirming that congressman's unique arrangement has been approved by the chamber's Ethics Committee.

Other related concerns include Hawaiian Airlines occasionally lobbying the federal government, in particular the Transportation and Infrastructure Committe on which Kahele sits. 

Punchbowl reports Kahele has spoken about Hawaiian Airlines in committee before, and on one occasion discussed dismay about furloughs in the airline industry.

"I not only sit here representing the Second Congressional District in Hawaii, but I also sit here representing 810 Hawaiian Airlines employees who all received warning involuntary furlough notices just a few days ago, of which 647 flight attendants and their families and 99 pilots and their families both received those same involuntary notices," he said during a hearing last February.