Matt DiGeronimo embodies some of the basic tenets of today’s traditional Republican. He’s a retired Navy officer, devout Christian and small business owner.

But the 2nd Congressional District candidate also loves Pink Floyd, worries about sustainability and has his own thoughts on gay marriage.

He doesn’t see why he can’t have these multiple dimensions and win the open seat in November to represent rural Oahu and the Neighbor Islands. So despite being drafted by state GOP leaders, DiGeronimo is running a “stealthy campaign” that may buck their playbook a bit.

“I’ll likely get myself into trouble, but I’m not just going to follow talking points,” he said in an interview Monday at the liberally minded Coffee Talk, his “second office,” in Kaimuki.

“I understand they think I can win if I do X, Y, Z, but I’m not going to do that,” DiGeronimo said.

The 38-year-old Hawaii Kai resident moved to the Isles from Connecticut with his wife, Aimee, in 2006. He currently works as a senior consultant for Smith Floyd, a small mergers and acquisitions company. (The business’ name comes from his fondness for Pink Floyd and his wife’s favorite band, Aerosmith.)

Despite his energy and optimism, the race will undoubtedly be an uphill one for DiGeronimo.

He will battle his inexperience in elected office, lack of name recognition and GOP party affiliation in Hawaii. Plus, national Republican leaders have essentially written off this contest and are throwing their weight behind Linda Lingle’s campaign for Senate, according to University of Hawaii professor and political analyst Neal Milner.

“This makes him an extraordinary underdog, but gives him some campaigning freedom,” he said. “He’s stumbled onto something. There’s no way that a rigid, right-wing, conservative person is going to win in that district.”

Let’s Talk Issues

One way DiGeronimo may distinguish himself is by openly discussing issues.

“I’ve been told by Republican leadership in Hawaii, who will stay nameless, ‘When you run, don’t worry about issues at all. People in Hawaii don’t care about issues. Be as general as you can. You’ll probably get 30 percent of the vote just by being Republican. Let’s just focus on how we can convince another 20 percent to vote for you and we’ll do it through your background and your likability,'” he said. “And to that, I say, ‘B.S.’ America needs an open and honest dialog.”

In no way did he suggest this means there is some type of animosity between himself and party leaders. It’s just that he’ll take their advice on his terms to a certain degree.

Hawaii Republican Party Chair David Chang was “really excited” when he announced in April that DiGeronimo would seeking election. The GOP had been struggling to field a candidate in the race up until that point. Chang did not respond to a message seeking comment for this story.

DiGeronimo didn’t balk when asked about the Honolulu rail project and gay marriage, two controversial issues in Hawaii and nationally. President Obama recharged the debate over the latter when he endorsed same-sex marriage earlier this month.

The candidate said if a measure to legalize gay marriage came before him in Congress, he would call a timeout.

“You are voting on one of two things,” he said. “You don’t want the word marriage or you don’t want them to have the tax benefits and the legal protection given to this group.”

While most of the time marriage has a religious context, DiGeronimo said, it doesn’t always.

“Really, the only thing that’s happening is they’re two people saying I want to spend the rest of my life with you,” he said. “I could care less if that’s done between a man and a woman, a man and a man, a woman and a woman, or a man and a chair. What the hell do I care? Nobody should have a problem with that.”

But DiGeronimo said he doesn’t believe married people, gay or straight, should have tax benefits.

“When we give them tax benefits, we’re basically saying the government wants you to live a certain way and we will reward you monetarily for doing that,” he said. “The federal government has no right at all telling anyone what they should do regarding marriage.”

Ultimately, he said the issue of gay marriage should be left to the states to decide. While his views on this issue may be more open-minded than many in his party, their roots are founded in Republican principles of government staying out of individuals’ lives and giving the states more authority.

On the issue of rail, DiGeronimo has made halting Honolulu’s $5.2 billion project one of five promises he demands voters hold him accountable for in two years if they elect him this fall.

“It’s the engineering equivalent of an elevator to the moon,” he said.

DiGeronimo, who did engineering work in various capacities as a submarine officer, said the rail project should not be done without studying the impacts to areas outside Honolulu, such as Kaneohe and the North Shore.

He said the project will encourage development in vacant areas, resulting in worse traffic problems.

“Don’t pave over paradise,” DiGeronimo said. He added that his wife graduated from Hawaii Pacific University with a degree in sustainable development, opening his eyes to the concept.

A Lesson From Lingle

The UH political analyst said DiGeronimo faces the issue of running a campaign that is candidate-centered or party-centered.

“It’s a real dilemma,” Milner said. “It’s not that the candidates are callous, it’s just hard to do both of those things in the short run.”

DiGeronimo said he had no interest in running for Congress if the mission wasn’t to win. Just shooting for a strong second-place showing at the polls to help build an ailing Hawaii Republican Party is not worth the effort.

Milner likened DiGeronimo’s “bridge-builder” approach to that of Lingle.

“He’s saying, ‘I can work with people on both sides,'” Milner said. “Her strategy is you can’t possibly win as a Republican in this state unless you can do that, particularly because you have such a large number of Democratic Party identifiers. So you move toward the center.”

The difference, he said, is the former governor has a household name and strong national support whereas DiGeronimo is unknown.

“It’s hard to tell if it’s calculated or not,” Milner said.

The other approach new candidates can take is to plan on losing the first time, run again, build a name and hope national campaign money follows suit, he said.

If it is calculated, DiGeronimo has certainly gone all out.

He uses a cane and walks with a limp, but he only mentioned his disability once in the interview. Rather than portray himself as a wounded war veteran, he says that he doesn’t want to politicize the injury he sustained in 2003 while serving in Operation Iraqi Freedom.

And whereas many candidates on both sides of the ticket are ever-so image conscious, he did not hesitate to lift a pant leg to point out with a chuckle that he apparently put on mismatched socks that morning.

In explaining his strategy, DiGeronimo referred to a George Washington quote that urges caution against “the baneful effects of the spirit of party.”

“It should be like the strangest coincidence if all of your views line up to one party or one person,” he said.

But for all his efforts to bring something different to D.C., DiGeronimo said he would not compromise some of the basic principles that put him on the right side of the aisle.

For starters, he said he would never vote for a tax increase on Hawaii residents.

Government services can improve by eliminating inefficiencies, DiGeronimo said, which could be accomplished in part by covert check-ups at various agencies.

“I don’t care if it makes me unpopular, I’m happy to do District 2 secret shoppers,” he said. “We need to do a lot more with a lot less.”

DiGeronimo is expected to coast through the Aug. 11 primary election. Republicans David Crowley of Hilo and Mark Terry of Wahiawa pulled papers to run in the race, but only DiGeronimo and Crowley have filed.

But the presumptive GOP nominee will have his work cut out for him in the Nov. 6 general election. DiGeronimo will likely face off against Democratic heavyweight Mufi Hannemann or Tulsi Gabbard.

About the Author