Kawika Crowley said Thursday that he may live in a van and do catch-as-catch-can work, but he definitely deserves to be the U.S. 2nd District Republican nominee and spoiler against Democrat Tulsi Gabbard.
Crowley calls the politically adept and well-funded Gabbard, 32, "the gorgeous Goliath" to his David.
U.S. House of Representatives 2nd District Republican candidate Kawika Crowley sits outside the State Building in Wailuku on Thursday for an interview as he hosted a press conference attended by one member of the Maui media.
The Maui News / CHRIS HAMILTON photo
Crowley, 61, has achieved a degree of national notoriety as the handyman House candidate. He's running for the district that includes Maui County on a shoestring budget while based out of windward Oahu and calling himself "one of uncounted thousands of working homeless in Hawaii."
"There are so many like me, but people don't know about us," he said, because they work all day instead of lining the streets. "So many people have come up to me now and said, 'I don't care where you live, brah, I'll vote for you.' ''
Crowley was able to fly to Maui and stay with friends whom he said will help him sign wave and talk story for the next two days on the Valley Isle.
"Everything I have was donated by my friends and family, from letting me use their car or stay on their couch," Crowley said. "They have stepped up to the plate for me.
"There's never been a more grass-roots campaign in America than mine."
The latest poll this month showed Crowley trailing Gabbard by more than 50 percentage points; but the cigar-toting Crowley remained optimistic.
"I could pull off a pretty major upset," he said. "If I didn't think so, I wouldn't be wasting my time. . . . Once people look at my website (kawika4congress.com), they'll see I'm the conservative alternative to big-a- government."
Crowley's become known on Oahu over the years for lobbying against anti-smoking laws and for being the "9/11 guy" who holds a sign up once a month along the highway to commemorate the terrorist attacks.
He's running since this is "America's Waterloo," and Crowley said he wants to be part of the party power shift he predicts.
Crowley also said he's the candidate in line with traditional Neighbor Island values, even if they traditionally vote Democrat. He's anti-abortion, anti-regulation and against gay marriage, rail and Obamacare.
"I know the issues," said Crowley, who had to fight to be taken seriously in his own party. "I'm no flake. I'm an Average Joe. Just because I'm living out a van doesn't mean I'm stupid."
Set aside any preconceptions and Crowley is a true fiscal conservative concerned primarily with lowering the federal deficit and taxes to promote economic growth, said Maui Chamber of Commerce Executive Director Pam Tumpap. The chamber's political action committee recently endorsed Crowley.
"He is a business-friendly candidate with a strong understanding of the issues and what's at stake," Tumpap said. "He's also willing to work with both sides of the aisle and make the tough calls needed to make sure government works within its means. This is a candidate who is aligned with our views."
Tumpap knows some are surprised by the support. Obviously, Crowley is the underdog, both she and the candidate said.
Still, he really cares and will champion their causes, Tumpap said.
"He has common sense," she added.
However, he is facing off against the establishment candidate, Crowley said. Gabbard has raised hundreds of thousands of dollars compared to about two grand for him, he said.
Gabbard, a state lawmaker, defeated former Honolulu Mayor Mufi Hannemann and others in the Democratic primary in August. She is a Hawaii National Guard captain twice deployed to the Middle East and most recently served on the Honolulu City Council.
Furthermore, she is a former U.S. Senate aide and the daughter of state Sen. Mike Gabbard. The Gabbard campaign declined to comment about Crowley on Thursday.
Crowley may be a college dropout, but he said he has vast life experience and business management skills, having started several small companies over the years in advertising, music and TV.
"The gamut," he said.
He also has Big Island roots, and survived being a single father of three in the '80s, even writing a parenting book. During that period, Crowley acknowledged he received public assistance.
So why has he been homeless the last four months and without a typical full-time job since 1974?
For a couple years, he'd been living in the homes he repaired, Crowley said, until he suddenly found himself on the streets when his landlord put the home up for sale.
"I'm addicted to freedom," he said about choosing self-employment over the 9-to-5 grind.
"Hey, stranger things have happened," Crowley said of the race. "Stranger things have happened to me. I've been the underdog my whole life."
* Chris Hamilton can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.