Monday this week marked the end of National Women’s History Month, including International Women’s Day every March 8, and as I salute our women it's fitting to highlight the achievements of a locally born Samoan woman who in just fourteen short months has managed to do great things in Congress for her constituents plus make Samoans and women everywhere so very proud of her. Hawaii Congresswoman Tulsi Gabbard's accomplishments should be taken to heart because this is leadership at its finest.
One of only two female combat veterans in the U.S. House, Tulsi realized that concentrating on military and veterans’ issues would be the best way to attract the attention of national-security-conscious Republicans and it worked. Some members of Congress, particularly those in the Minority, go for years without getting their bills considered, let alone passed but in just these 14 short months in Congress, Tulsi has managed to get through her "Helping Heroes Fly" bill to support our wounded warriors, which passed both houses and was signed into law by President Obama last August. She also voted to restore military COLA benefit cuts to veterans. Also passed by the U.S. House was the bill for Tax Relief for Charitable Giving to the Philippines which she cosponsored in the wake of Typhoon Haiyan. Moreover, she introduced bipartisan legislation to increase access to education for veterans and has called on the House to pass her Hire More Heroes Act.
Observing International Womens Day in Phoenix in celebration of Pacific Women at the Aloha Festival in Phoenix, AZ, where, speaking to a crowd of over 30,000 people, I encouraged not only island women but all Pacific Islanders to empower themselves by taking a more active role in America’s political system regardless of one's political party. There is a huge community of Samoans and other Pacific Islanders in Arizona and political leaders will pay attention to them if they speak with a loud voice.
After Aloha Fest I headed to Washington, D.C. to attend the funeral of former Guam Congressman Ben Blaz, a retired Marine who was the first Pacific Islander ever to reach the rank of general officer in the U.S. Armed Forces, to attend a Congressional Reception honoring the nation's Eagle Scouts and to help the American Samoa delegation at the National Governors’ Conference and associated meetings, including the annual meeting of the all-important Interagency Group on Insular Affairs cochaired by the Secretary of the Interior and the White House.
What a pleasure it was to arrive in Washington from Phoenix also to find that our own rising star, Leloaloa-born Congresswoman Tulsi Gabbard, who represents Hawaii’s second district, had been named by ELLE Magazine as one of the ten most powerful Women in Washington. This recognition is just the latest in a series of tributes to the freshman representative, who has been in Washington now only 14 months. Since her arrival she also has received the coveted John F. Kennedy New Frontier Award at Harvard University, the Major George A. Smith HOOAH Award and Hawaii Pacific University’s Fellow of the Pacific award.
Tulsi is just the latest bright star of the enormously accomplished Gabbard family that has made its mark in American Samoa, Hawaii and on the Mainland. When I placed my father’s ula fala or pandanus lei around her neck at her swearing in reception last year as a symbol of the passing of the torch of servant leadership to a new generation, I sensed that Tulsi was going to make a mark in the Nation's Capitol for herself, for Hawaii and for us but I never dreamed the recognition would come so quickly.
In her campaign for Congress in 2012, she promised to reach across the aisle to the other party to fulfill her pledges and, unlike so many others who say the same thing, she has done exactly that. From her first day in office, she has worked hard to introduce her colleagues to the true meaning of the aloha spirit - what it means to work together about how best to reach a stronger, brighter future for this generation and the next, realizing that our nation is facing many difficult issues that must be resolved.
Since, according to national pundits, Minority Democrats are expected to remain in the House minority until 2022 after the next redistricting, Tulsi realized that as a freshman in the Minority, she would need Republican allies to get any legislation considered and somehow was able to do that even while also serving as Vice Chairman of the Democratic National Committee—an organization dedicated to defeating Republicans.
For Tulsi to be cited as one of Washington’s 10 most powerful women so quickly is a real testament to her and she is already providing broad shoulders on which our Samoan women can stand in the years to come. I salute her appointment to the House Armed Services Committee. That this recognition comes at a time of International Women’s Day and Women’s History Month is fitting. Tulsi will be a force in Congress as long as she wants to stay.