Not long after taking my seat in the Maui Arts and Cultural Center’s Castle Theater a little while before the start of Rep. Tulsi Gabbard‘s April 20 Town Hall meeting, I noticed a couple guys standing against the far wall. They wore civilian clothes, but something about the way they were standing just screamed cop to me. Though there were still some seats available on the Orchestra Level, and tons more empty seats on the mezzanine levels, they just stood with their backs to the walls. In fact, they stood there for the entire hour-and-half town hall meeting.
I don’t know if they were, in fact, police officers in plain clothes. There certainly wasn’t what I would consider tight security at the MACC that night–no metal detectors, and though everyone theoretically had to fill out an online form to RSVP for the town hall, no one actually asked for my name when I arrived (an aide asked me if I RSVP’d, and when I said yes he waved me through).
But the Maui Police Department did deploy four officers to provide security at the MACC night.
“Rep. Gabbard’s office contacted us and asked for assistance with security,” MPD Lt. Gregg Okamoto told me in an April 25 email. “Our Criminal Intelligence Unit is responsible for that kind of detail and was assigned to assist as well as monitor the event to ensure the safety of the public as well.”
Those officers must have been really bored. Absolutely nothing unusual or even remotely scary occurred during the Maui town hall, despite about a thousand residents showing up (of note is that the MACC was also the only private venue Gabbard used for a town hall–all her other 2nd District town halls during April were held at public locations).
What’s more, it appears that during her April series of town halls throughout the 2nd District, Gabbard only requested police security assistance at the Maui event. Okamoto said MPD sent no officers to either her Lanai or Molokai town halls, and officials with the Honolulu PD and Hawaii Island PD told me that they didn’t provide any officers to Gabbard’s town hall in Kailua or those in Hilo and Kona (Kauai PD didn’t respond to my inquiry). Also, Toni Schwartz, the Hawaii Department of Public Safety’s Public Information Officer, told me that Hawaii Sheriffs didn’t provide security at any of Gabbard’s April town hall meetings.
When I asked Okamoto if Gabbard’s office had mentioned any sort of threat involving the Maui town hall, Okamoto said, “Don’t know. You’d have to ask her office.” I did, but Rep. Gabbard’s office didn’t respond to my inquiry.
Of course, it would have perfectly understandable had Gabbard asked for security at all her town halls. After all, in late 2014 a man was sentenced to 33 months in prison on two counts of sending her horrible death threats.
Then again, it’s possible Gabbard’s office got nervous over the considerable public interest in her Maui town hall. In fact, her office received so many RSVPs that they scrapped initial plans to hold the town at the Maui Tropical Plantation (another private venue) and instead chose the much larger MACC. In the end, the thousand or so people who showed up at the MACC made it by far her most popular town hall–the next biggest turnout was Hilo, where about 600 people showed up.
In any case, it’s clear that Gabbard thinks her Maui constituents are special. We just aren’t really sure why.
Photo of Rep. Gabbard at her April 17 town hall on Molokai courtesy Rep. Gabbard’s office