Joe Kent is not exactly a household name, but that may change. He is a Libertarian candidate running against Tulsi Gabbard (D) for the Second Congressional District seat in the U.S. House. While he doesn't expect to win, it would not be too surprising if he gets noticed. Kent, 32, is a teacher, who, until last month, taught music at King Kamehameha III Elementary School in Lahaina.
He, like many others caught in the spiraling rent cycle here on Maui, is a frequent visitor to the housing posts on Craigslist. There, he noted the growing frustration with the kind and cost of rental units here (see "Residential Rentals Scarce, Commercial Space Gluts"). But unlike most, he used his own resources to make an hour-long video explaining the multitude of reasons that affordable housing has all but disappeared from the Valley Isle. That documentary, posted last month to YouTube as part of his "Liberty Network" series (self-produced and self-financed), is starting to generate some local buzz.
Kent is perhaps the only local politician to ever arrive for an interview carrying a copy of "Favorite Finger Style Solos for the 'Ukulele." In conversation, he is funny, smart, curious and well-spoken. Many of the issues that interest him, such as gay rights, feminism and drug freedom, are more commonly associated with liberals. He resents the "tin hat" label pasted on the Libertarians, asking, "When did 'Liberty' get hijacked by crazies?"
Joe Kent, Libertarian candidate for U.S. Congress.
Philosophically, Kent identifies with Ron Paul, the Republican who ran for president in 2012. He saw the former Texas legislator as a fresh voice on the national stage and one of the few "willing to speak truth to power." In 2012, Kent was one of three Hawai'i delegates pledged to Paul who attended the Republican national convention in Tampa. There, Paul received 190 votes out of the 1,144 needed to win the nomination. Unfortunately, Kent and the other Paul supporters didn't see as much of the event as they had hoped because all Paul delegates walked out in protest.
Kent said he came home "depressed by the outcome, but energized by the progress." He realized "it's going to take a lot more than me." He thought the time had come to "become vocal about radical ideas but present them in a calm and appealing manner."
About that time, he also became fascinated with economics. But his twin passions of politics and economics did little for his love life. Though he is presentable, single and straight, the women he dated all headed for the exit when he so much as hinted at his interest in either subject.
Looking on the bright side, those rejections gave him more time for reading. Kent named Ludwig von Mises, an influential 20th century Austrian economist and social philosopher who espoused the value of free markets and private property, as an influence on his thinking. Soon after, he crossed paths with Ken Schoolland, a conservative professor of economics at Hawai'i Pacific University, at a meeting of the Association for Private Enterprise Education (APEE). Kent interviewed Schoolland for what would become part of his "Meet an Economist" series.
Though is interest in politics and economics is ongoing, Kent sees himself primarily as an educator.
"My role is as an explainer and let people make their own decisions," he said.
After growing up in Hilo and attending the University of Hawai'i there, he went on to receive his degree is in music education from Minnesota State University in 2008.
He credits his time in the classroom teaching the very young as helpful in bringing simplicity and straightforward language to subjects that are often considered dense and convoluted.
Kent is also a prolific writer. His blogs are diverse, ranging from his impressions of Ron Paul to a visit with Aaron Anderson, Hawai'i Island's cannabis minister. There are also more personal observations about why women and economics do not mix.
While the distaff side may distain Kent's wonky tilt, his knack for clarity and communication has not gone unnoticed among the older pillars of the free market crowd. This summer, he'll spend a week in Washington, D.C., as a guest of the Hawai'i-based Grass Roots Institute think tank and will later work for them as a paid part-time researcher in Hilo.
Tired of Maui's high rents, he left for Hawai'i Island at the end of May, hoping to find the cost of housing more affordable and the intellectual atmosphere more stimulating.