A handyman and painter who lives out of his car and is a familiar figure on a busy Oahu highway is the first homeless person in Hawaii -- and possibly any state -- to run on a major party ticket for Congress.
Kawika Crowley, 61, earns about $15,000 a year as a self-employed fix-it man, an income that puts him among the ranks of the "working homeless." He's also has had jobs in radio and ad sales and says he received public assistance in the 1980s when he was raising his three children as a single parent. He says he's off the dole now.
While many politicians talk about homelessness in their campaigns, Crowley is living it. Home is a 1995 Plymouth Voyager with 133,000 miles that he often parks on the side of the Kamehameha Highway as he waves to passing drivers. It's also his campaign headquarters
Crowley shocked political pundits when the self-described "college dropout with a degree in common sense" trounced his Republican primary opponent, an Iraq war veteran with a degree in nuclear engineering, with 45 percent of the vote. The son of missionaries, Crowley grew up speaking Japanese before moving to Hilo and didn't learn to read the English alphabet until he was in the 8th grade.
Speaking to Hawaii's KLTV, he said, "What we need now in Washington is not experience. What we need now is common sense."
Until now, Crowley may have been best known by locals for waving an American flag every September 11th but he's spent the past six years as "the smoking guy," lobbying to repeal a smoking ban in bars and other public places. He is never seen without a cigar in his hands.
"My main passion is this. The American people are sick and tired of big fat ass government getting into every single part of our affairs, our personal affairs, our business affairs. The federal government has no business telling a bar owner that he cannot allow smoking in his bar," he told KLTV. "You want to vote for somebody who is not bought and paid for by anybody, I'm your conservative alternative to big fat ass government. That's it. Simple."
Crowley says he has as good a chance to win in November as his Democratic opponent, former Honolulu councilwoman Tulsi Gabbard, a military veteran who also stunned the political establishment with her own come-from-behind primary victory. Still, she is the heavy favorite in the Democratic-leaning district and could become the first Hindu member of Congress if elected.
"I think in any case many people can say any candidate would be better than the person we put up but where the chips fell Kawika is the one who won and worked the hardest to win that seat," said David Chang, chairman of the Hawaii Republican Party. "We accept people from all walks of life and encourage them to go for their dream of running for office."
If Crowley's dream comes true, he says he will donate half his congressional salary to charity.