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Longtime ‘Fighter’ Shay Chan Hodges Takes on Hawaii Rep. Tulsi Gabbard

Shay Chan Hodges, who is running against incumbent Rep. Tulsi Gabbard to represent the 2nd congressional district of Hawaii. Jennifer Hunt

The first campaign Shay Chan Hodges worked on was her father’s, when she was no more than 6 years old. He was the first Chinese man to run for Supervisor in San Francisco, California, where Chan Hodges spent most of her childhood and teenage years.

“I don’t remember it, but apparently I pushed brochures under people’s doors,” Chan Hodges told NBC News, laughing.

An article clipping about Shay Chan Hodges' father's race for supervisor in a Chinese language newspaper. Courtesy Shay Chan Hodges

Nearly five decades later, the campaign Chan Hodges undertakes now is her own as she fights to represent the 2nd congressional district of Hawaii, the place Chan Hodges has called home since 1992. Chan Hodges takes on incumbent Democrat Rep. Tulsi Gabbard, who has been in the position since 2013, and the battle has so far been waged more on Twitter than on doorsteps.

Although Chan Hodges has always been politically active, she is by no means a “career politician,” having never held elected office before.

“My view of politics has to do with empowerment and involvement and activism and representation, and I strongly believe that our representatives should represent us,” Chan Hodges said.

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Chan Hodges contends that Gabbard, who stepped down as vice chair of the Democratic National Committee to endorse Sen. Bernie Sanders’ bid for the presidency, has not demonstrated that her actions are as progressive as those of the presidential candidate with whom she has aligned herself.

Chan Hodges published an article on the Huffington Post on June 16, detailing the gun control bills Gabbard “declined to co-sponsor.” Of the 11 bills Chan Hodges mentioned, Gabbard has since joined three as a co-sponsor on June 22, including H.R. 2380, H.R. 226, and H.R. 1745. Gabbard also gave a phone interview to a CBS-affiliate in Honolulu, KGMB, in light of the House sit-in for common sense gun control laws, which she tweeted during using the hashtag #NoBillNoBreak.

Shay Chan Hodges in Paia, where Congresswoman Patsy Mink, was born. Chan Hodges said Mink, the first woman of color ever to serve in Congress and a co-author of Title IX, is her personal hero. Ian Chan Hodges

After closely examining Gabbard’s co-sponsoring and voting record, and looking beyond the persona cultivated on social media, Chan Hodges felt Gabbard was “out of step with the district” and waited for someone to challenge her in the upcoming election.

But as the deadline to file paperwork for a bid approached and it appeared no Democrat would step forward, it struck Chan Hodges that Gabbard would in all likelihood be reelected.

“The only thing a voter can do is vote, but you have to have somebody else to vote for,” she said.

That’s when Chan Hodges made her move. She said she wouldn’t have gone through with it if the response to her run had been lukewarm, but as she gathered the necessary signatures to file, she said she was met with enthusiasm.

In response to Chan Hodges bid, Gabbard’s office said in a statement to NBC News that Gabbard was continuing to “work with Senator Bernies Sanders to make the Democratic party truly progressive and representative of the American people, not the top 1%.”

"Senator Sanders is strongly supporting Tulsi’s re-election so she can continue working for the people of Hawaii and our country in Congress," the statement said. "The people of the 2nd Congressional District and all of Hawaii know how much aloha Tulsi has for them and the aina (land) and know that she has a servant’s heart. Our campaign has faith that Hawaii’s people will be able to see through the baseless attacks, accusations, and demands of Ms. Chan-Hodges. We have no intention of responding to such attacks."

Shay Chan Hodges and her father in 1968, around the time he ran for supervisor in San Francisco, California. Sandra Bird

Chan Hodges said her life’s work shows she’s a fighter, recently working with nonprofit organizations and families to help pass Act 210 and address zoning laws related to childcare and agricultural land. She said she understands the very real problems Hawaii faces, including a lack of jobs, a housing crisis, and substance abuse.

“I’m here in the day to day, experiencing what my community experiences, and in terms of raising kids and trying to make a living in Hawaii and not as a politician,” Chan Hodges said.

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Chan Hodges said she has always thought of running for office, but now that her two kids are out of high school, she feels the time is right. She has often written about her belief that mothers and parents make some of the strongest legislators because they are the ones to see “the impact of policies on a day-to-day basis.” Still, she said she also recognizes the amount of time it takes to participate in politics, and particularly to run for office, is often prohibitive for young parents.

Shay Chan Hodges and her two kids, Keane (L) and Liam (R). Ian Chan Hodges

Chan Hodges said Gabbard, an Iraq War veteran, has a “rock star” quality with fans across the country and abroad. She was elected to congressional office with 77 percent of the vote in 2012 and over 75 in 2014.

Despite the odds, Chan Hodges said she’s ready to show the country what Hawaii is made of.

“It’s not just about saying ‘aloha’ and wearing a lei,” Chan Hodges said. “We have a lot to offer the rest of the country, and we also have a lot of needs. So I would fight.”

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