Islands' 'Mr. Smith' wants to go to D.C.
By Lee Cataluna
Kalaeloa Strode calls himself the undermost of underdogs. "If I win this thing, it'll be a miracle," he says.
His name is in the pack of "other candidates" running in the special election for Congress while Case, Hanabusa and Djou get all the attention. Strode hasn't been invited to any of the major debates or public forums, though if he were there, he'd probably steal the show. He is thoughtful, charming and grounded — a hard-working truck driver with a master's degree. Plus, he has an irresistibly glamorous life story. The combination makes for a fascinating character. If only people knew his name, he might be the front-runner.
"I'm the working man's candidate," he says. "I'm not a millionaire. I'm not a professional politician. My work gloves have holes in them. I'm Jimmy Stewart in 'Mr. Smith Goes to Washington.' "
The movie reference is apt. Strode, 63, has been in the film and television business since the 1970s. His father was famous actor Woody Strode, known for his roles in "Spartacus," "The Professionals" and "The Quick and the Dead." Woody Strode has been called one of the most influential African-American actors of his time. Kalaeloa's mother, Luana Kalaeloa, was a pure-Hawaiian dancer and actress who worked as a swim double for Dorothy Lamour.
Strode was born in Hollywood. He entered the movie business when he was chosen for a UCLA film director's training program in which his first job as a trainee was on the acclaimed miniseries "Roots." His career as an assistant director spanned 25 years and included such shows as "Lou Grant," "Fantasy Island" and years of "Diagnosis Murder."
Before that, he had planned a career in academics. Strode got a bachelor's degree in Japanese with a minor in Mandarin at UCLA, studying in Japan for a year and doing field work at the Kyoto Language Institute. He was at the East-West Center in Honolulu from 1969 to 1971 for his master's in Asian studies.
These days, he's with Teamsters Local 996, driving an electrical rigging truck on the production of the George Clooney movie "The Descendants." The "working man's candidate" is indeed working, often 12 to 16 hours a day and taking an interview call on his Bluetooth while driving a movie truck to a set on Kaua'i, talking politics while going in and out of wireless coverage zones.
"This special election with the mail-in ballots could be decided by just a few hundred votes," Strode said. He thinks Ed Case and Colleen Hanabusa will split the Democrats' vote, allowing Republican Charles Djou to take the seat by default. "That would be played up as a defeat of Obama. It would be taken as a signal — a false signal — that Hawai'i is no longer supporting the party of its native son, Obama."
Strode's proposal is to serve as a "bookmark" for the seat, to go to Congress for six months as a neutral placeholder so that a proper primary election can be held for the office in the fall. "That would ensure a level playing field," he said. "And I would put my name in as well. I would work very hard in those six months, and if I do a good job, I would hope I would be chosen again."
He is running as an independent because he says he likes ideas from both the Republican and Democratic parties. "For instance, I agree with Republicans on 'states rights,' but like the Democrats, I feel sometimes state laws need to be rectified by federal law, as in the case of slavery. The federal government had to create citizenship for slaves."
Strode says he supports the Akaka bill, but believes it is different from the issue of Hawaiian sovereignty. "The Akaka bill would establish a peer-to-peer relationship between Hawaiians and the Department of the Interior, but that's not the same as a sovereign transfer," he said.
He also takes exception to definitions of Native Hawaiians by blood quantum. "I am 50 percent Hawaiian, but my next generation won't be," he said. "The implication of a blood quantum is that people begin to lose standing if they are mixed race."
Strode has lots of ideas to share, if only he were asked. He isn't running campaign commercials because he just can't afford them. He hasn't asked for donations. He's been busy working on "Lost" and now the George Clooney film. But he's happy to talk story with anyone and dutifully answers e-mail when he can get to his hotel room at night to plug in to Internet service (the shoot on Kaua'i goes through next week). His website is www.kalae loa2010.com, where he has posted his 15-point platform. His e-mail is firstname.lastname@example.org
"I get no publicity at all, and neither do the other 10 (lesser-known) candidates. But by ignoring me, it's like ignoring the average man, ignoring the average American. It's like saying, 'Look, you can't play this game,' " he said.
Calling again on the Jimmy Stewart movie, Strode describes the scene where Mr. Smith goes to the Lincoln Memorial and gets re-inspired by the basic tenets of American democracy.
"I have a fresh outlook. I am a fresh start. I'm not against anybody, and I would not be governed by a political machine that dictates my decisions," Strode said.
And then his cell phone battery starts to die, and he's driving into a zone with spotty coverage, and it's time for the working-man's candidate to put on his puka gloves and work.
Here are the 14 candidates running in the special election for the 1st Congressional District:
C. Kaui Amsterdam (R)
Jim Brewer (nonpart.)
Vinny Browne (D)
Ed Case (D)
Charles Collins (R)
Douglas Crum (R)
Rafael Del Castillo (D)
Charles Djou (R)
John Giuffre (R)
Colleen Hanabusa (D)
Philmund Lee (D)
Karl Moseley (nonpart.)
Kalaeloa Strode (nonpart.)
Steve Tataii (nonpart.)
Source: Office of Elections