Congresswoman Tulsi Gabbard, representing Hawaii’s 2nd Congressional District, visited Molokai Middle School today to recognize the success of the eighth grade Vex Robotics team and share her aloha and wisdom with all the students in a schoolwide assembly.
After an unexpected first place finish at the state competition in March, the Menehune Farmers qualified for the Vex Robotics World Championship April 23-26 in Anaheim, Calif. Out of 60 teams worldwide — including teams from Hong Kong, China, Canada, Mexico and Puerto Rico — the Molokai team finished 17th in qualifications and 10th in the teamwork alliance division.
As the only neighbor island school to attend this prestigious competition, the Menehune Farmers proudly represented the school, Molokai and the state of Hawaii. At today’s assembly, Gabbard called all six team members — Tyreen Tengan, Sarah Tancayo, Sherie Kaili. Nainoa Kahale, Kreole Pawn-White and Illima Ka’awa-Richardson — to the front of the school cafeteria to receive their recognition awards.
Earlier in the morning, Rep. Gabbard had the chance to see the students demonstrate their robot driver skills in the classroom of team coach Kumu Kaeo Kawa’a. Students also showed Gabbard how the school has built and landscaped its own halau.
Once the robotics team was recognized, Gabbard spent the next 40 minutes answering questions prepared by students in Mike Kahale and Mike Hino’s social studies classrooms. Questions ranged from the personal (“What does the name Tulsi mean?” and “who taught you how to surf and what is your favorite surf break?”) to the political, asking her position on controversial issues (“Do you support the legalization of marijuana?” and “Should the United States require the labeling of genetically engineered foods?”).
As one of two members of the House of Representatives for Hawaii (Colleen Hanabusa represents the Honolulu area), Rep. Gabbard gave the students an idea of the demands of her schedule. Yesterday she was in Waimanalo, tomorrow she travels to Kauai and later this week she will be on the Big Island.
Across her broad constituency, Gabbard said, “there are a lot of unique needs, voices and concerns that are different. That’s my opportunity, to make sure that the unique voices in Hawaii are heard.” In her first term in Congress, Gabbard serves on the House Armed Services Committee and the House Foreign Affairs Committee.
Seventh grader Crystal Nakihei asked Gabbard if people treat her differently because she is a young female congresswoman. This gave Gabbard the opportunity to tell the story of how she is one of only three new members of Congress elected in 2012 to introduce and pass legislation.
“When I came in, I was told ‘Tulsi, don’t waste your time trying to pass a law, you’re a new member to Congress and you’re a Democrat and the Republicans are in charge and you’ll never be able to pass a law.’ If there is anything that motivates me is somebody telling me I can’t do something. So I worked on introducing a law to help veterans, severely wounded warriors and disabled veterans. I made friends with lots of people, worked with them and passed a law that the President signed.”
Gabbard used this story to help motivate the youth to get involved in changing their world. “That’s the difference from a generational perspective and you guys have it even more than I do, I’m sure, where you’re impatient, you don’t like to take no for an answer, somebody tells you no you cannot, you say alright, I’m going to find a way to get it done. We need more of that for Hawaii, we need more of that for our country.”
On the issue of genetically modified organisms in our food, Gabbard came out strongly in favor of labeling. She said 60 countries now require labeling and she supports legislation for labeling as a matter of allowing citizens to make informed decisions concerning their food. “I believe in freedom of choice,” said Gabbard.
When asked about the hardest decision she has had to make as a congresswoman, Gabbard said it involved opposing President Obama’s request for a military strike against Syria. Gabbard presented the arguments for both sides. Obama wanted a precise military strike to protect innocent people from dying at the hands of the Assad regime but said he would not put boots on the ground.
“After a lot of careful thought and study, nobody could make that promise,” Gabbard concluded. “If we attack another country it is natural to assume they will attack back … I did not think putting our troops in harm’s way would achieve that objective (of protecting innocent civilians) … It was resolved with diplomatic means which is always better than calling for a military strike.”
In closing, Gabbard expressed her appreciation for talking to the middle school students. “Washington can be a frustrating place, sometimes kind of stressful. It’s times like this when I get to hang out with you that keep me inspired and keep me motivated. I think of you when we have those long days and we try to get things done and things aren’t going the way you want. I want you to know how proud I am of all of you. I look forward to seeing the many great things that will come from each of you, I am so happy to be able to work for you in Congress, thank you for letting me hang out with all of you.”