U.S. House of Representatives candidate Tulsi Gabbard is running to become the first Hindu legislator in Congress. Opposing Gabbard is former Honolulu mayor Mufi Hannemann during a two-month voting period ending Aug. 11. Because registration in Hawaii is heavily Democratic, the winner would be the favorite in the November general election.
Although she would be the first Hindu in the House of Representatives, there have been other members of Indian origin and of South Asian religious backgrounds in Congress. In 1957, Dalip Singh Saund became the first Asian American, Indian American, and Sikh to serve in the House. In 2005, Louisiana Governor Bobby Jindal became the second Indian American elected to Congress. While Jindal was born Hindu, he converted to Christianity in high school and became Catholic in college.
Gabbard currently is a Honolulu City Council member, and serves as chair of the safety, economic development, and government affairs committee, as vice chair of the budget committee. She is also a part of the zoning and public works committee.
The latest poll conducted by Gabbard’s office and released July 29 shows she has a slim lead over her opponent.
Although Gabbard is Caucasian and has never been to India, she is a practicing Hindu and a Vaishnava disciple of Jagad Guru Siddhaswarupananda Paramahamsa. The 31-year-old was born in Leloaloa, American Samoa, to a Hindu mother and a Catholic father. She moved to Hawaii when she was two years old.
Gabbard has been endorsed by members of prominent South Asian groups, including those in the U.S. India Political Action Committee and the Hindu American Foundation.
In a statement, Gabbard said her campaign is going well. “I expect to win, but it’s going to be close,” she said. If elected, she said her focus would be on the economy and the environment. Additionally, she said she would also like to make tourist visas easier to obtain for visitors from Asia.
When she was 21, Gabbard was elected to the Hawaii state legislature, where she was the youngest legislator in the state’s history. As a state representative, she served on the education, tourism, and economic development committees.
Gabbard left government to volunteer for the medical operations unit of the U.S. National Guard and was deployed to Iraq for a year. She was the first public official from Hawaii to resign from office to voluntarily go to a war zone.
In 2008, she was deployed to train the Kuwait National Guard’s counter-terrorism unit. There, she became the first woman to be presented with an award by the Kuwaiti Guards. After returning home from her second deployment in 2009, Gabbard began her job as a city council member.