U.S. Rep. Tulsi Gabbard came to Kealakehe High School Monday afternoon prepared to talk about how the federal government works, from how the three branches balance each other to how she got her first piece of legislation passed as a freshman legislator.
Students in Rebecca Marsh’s U.S. History class listened to Gabbard’s comments, then pressed her on political news of the day, from the Patriot Act to reports of the Department of Homeland Security buying large quantities of ammunition.
One student, asking about the controversial Patriot Act, wondered why Congress had not impeached President Barack Obama for violating the U.S. Constitution.
Gabbard, a Democrat representing Hawaii’s 2nd Congressional District, first noted that Congress had enacted the act, not Obama, following the 9/11 terrorist attacks, then talked about some of the problems people have with the law.
“In my view, the execution of this law is violating civil liberties, the Fourth Amendment,” Gabbard said. “There is a compromise, a balance that has to be struck (between dealing with security threats and protecting civil liberties).”
Congress and the American public need to be involved in discussing and creating that compromise, she added.
Another student asked about FEMA camps and Homeland Security purchasing ammunition. Gabbard said she wasn’t sure of any FEMA camps, but said she was tracking reports about Homeland Security and ammunition, and added she is concerned about the potential for militarization within the United States.
Gabbard recently spoke with a group of Pakistani journalists about the respect Americans have for the military, but the need to make sure the military is run by a civilian commander. One journalist, asking about the low ratings Americans give Congress, suggested the U.S. put a military general in charge of the country, because the military garners such respect and support across the country, Gabbard told the high schoolers.
She visited the class, which was filled with high school juniors, as the first of several planned “Undercover Congresswoman” events, in which Gabbard plans to take over a constituent’s job and experience the job’s challenges. She said she has been invited to try her hand as a refuse worker for the City and County of Honolulu, as a Transportation Security Administration employee and as a parks and recreation employee.
“It gives me an opportunity to step in the shoes of people who are working hard every day,” Gabbard said, adding some of those employees may not get the recognition they deserve for the hard work they put in each day.
The representative was impressed with the students’ questions, which also touched on her experiences with the Hawaii National Guard in Iraq and Kuwait.
Working with a medical unit in Iraq changed her life in some unexpected ways, she said. Part of her duties included reading a daily list of American deaths and injuries that occurred there, looking for anyone from Hawaii.
“Behind every one of those names were parents, kids, husbands, wives, friends, family,” Gabbard said. “You understand the cost of war and how fragile life is. In a medical unit, you really get to understand how precious life is.”
The experience left her wanting to make the most of every single day. Her parents, she said, instilled a strong sense of civil service, working to better her community. That was one of the reasons she ended up running for political office, first as a 21-year-old elected to the state Legislature and now as a U.S. representative, she said.
“I started to see what a great reward there was in helping others,” she said.