Many independent-minded voters turned to U.S. Sen. Bernie Sanders during the 2016 presidential election for his populist, anti-establishment message. To them, he represented the kind of statesman who was willing to put people over party interests.
Now, these same voters may have a new politician to get behind, one that doesn't always toe the party line, and is willing to challenge the partisan elite that is out of touch with the American people: U.S. Rep. Tulsi Gabbard (D-Hawaii).
Gabbard (D), a United States representative for Hawaii's 2nd congressional district, is also a former vice chair of the Democratic National Committee. She spoke out against actions taken by the DNC during the 2016 presidential primary that favored Clinton over Sanders, was silenced for it, and then resigned her post and endorsed Sanders for president.
Her willingness to stand up for what she believes in, regardless of what the partisan establishment thinks or says or does has not only garnered the interest of Sanders supporters, but Trump supporters and members of both parties. This puts Gabbard in a unique position and points to a potentially promising political future. She could perhaps bridge the partisan divide in a way few politicians can.
Gabbard’s unique past adds to her broad appeal, as she represents groups often championed by both Democrats and Republicans -- she is a minority as well as a veteran. She is the first American Samoan, as well as the first Hindu to serve in the United States Congress. Additionally, she is one of the first female veterans to serve in this role.
Gabbard’s military and political careers have been somewhat intertwined. She first showed up on the political scene at the age of 21, when she was the elected to the Hawaii state legislature as the youngest female state representative ever elected in the U.S.
Her military career began in 2003 at age 22, when she enlisted in the Hawaii Army National Guard. The next year, she volunteered for a 12-month tour in Iraq with the 29th Brigade Combat team. Gabbard eventually returned from Iraq in 2006, when she began serving as a legislative aid for U.S. Senator Daniel Akaka in Washington, D.C.
The following year, she attended the Accelerated Officer Candidate School in Alabama, where she was the first woman to graduate at the top of her class in the Academy's 50-year history. She returned from a second deployment in the Middle East in 2009, and was elected to a seat on the Honolulu City Council.
In 2012, largely due to grassroots support, Gabbard was elected to represent Hawaii's 2nd congressional district, and has held that position since 2013.
Congresswoman Gabbard has introduced multiple successful bills throughout her tenure and has largely concentrated on issues affecting the military and veterans. Most recently, in January, Gabbard -- along with a bipartisan group of lawmakers -- introduced H.R. 258, “To prohibit the use of United States Government funds to provide assistance to Al Qaeda, Jabhat Fateh al-Sham, and the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL)...”
Gabbard argues that our limited resources should not be spent on overseas intervention, but on fixing crumbling infrastructure here at home, a message likely to resonate with Trump and Sanders supporters alike.
Gabbard visited Syria and Lebanon in January to get a first-hand account of the situation in both countries, and returned emboldened in her stance that America's foreign policy needs to change.
She was rebuked by members of both political parties for her trip, as the current approach to foreign intervention has been upheld by leaders in the Republican and Democratic parties. Some news outlets even went so far as to call her a "stooge" for Syrian President Bashar al-Assad.
The mistake both parties would make in future elections is to think the populist, grassroots revolution that was spearheaded by Sanders and Trump in 2016 will extinguish in the years to come. Millions of voters remain frustrated with the status quo, and they feel disenchanted and disenfranchised by a system that caters to the political elite.
Many of these voters are still looking for the politician that will break down the partisan walls that have been erected over Washington, and they may have found their next politician to support.