For the first time since state Rep. John Mizuno originally ran for the Legislature 10 years ago, he faces a Democratic primary opponent in the race for House District 28, which encompasses Kalihi Valley, Kamehameha Heights and part of Kalihi.
Mizuno has had at least one general election opponent in four of the five state races he’s run and has always won by at least 30 percentage points.
So he’s used to focusing his campaign resources on the November vote, but this year he’s going door to door and sending out mailers earlier thanks to the primary challenge from Ikaika Hussey.
Hussey is an entrepreneur and publisher of the Hawaii Independent, a website dealing with state issues — especially Native Hawaiian rights and the environment — and Summit magazine, a publication about Hawaiian culture.
He said he decided to mount a primary challenge after others in the community suggested he run.
A third candidate, Republican Carole Kaapu, has run for the seat the past three election cycles but told Civil Beat she does not plan to actively campaign. She said she only filed to run because she feared Mizuno would otherwise be unopposed.
Hussey, who moved into District 28 earlier this year, wants to funnel more state money to the area in hopes of addressing infrastructure problems such as dangerous roads and torn-up sidewalks. He also wants to encourage residents to participate more in local government.
Six months ago, Hussey and his family moved to Kalihi Valley. Hussey said he was already familiar with the area because his parents and grandparents lived in the community.
In 2000, a 22-year-old Hussey challenged incumbent Republican David Pendleton for the District 50 seat serving Kailua and Kaneohe. Hussey lost by 18 percent.
After that, Hussey said he decided to spend time working in the community and building a grassroots movement before running for office again.
“The same things that drove me then are the same things that drive me now,” Hussey said.
Infrastructure concerns used to be the chief of concern of Mizuno as well. Now, the incumbent said, it’s public safety.
Mizuno pointed to gang rivalries in the Kuhio Park Terrace (often called “KPT”) and Kalihi Valley Homes public housing projects as a major problem in his district. He said he secured a $200,000 grant-in-aid for the Adult Friends for Youth program, which has worked with Kalihi schools to deter gang violence and theft.
Recently, Mizuno said there was an influx of new residents — he described them as Pacific Islanders — who illegally dumped trash, vandalized property, spread graffiti, drank and did drugs outside in residential neighborhoods.
It’s no secret that Kalihi has a rough reputation.
Graffiti blemishes neighborhood fences, signs and sidewalks throughout the area. While violent crimes in Kalihi have grabbed headlines in 2016, crime rates are on par with last year, the Honolulu Star-Advertiser reported.
In 2015, 4,283 crimes were reported in the Kalihi area — the second-highest of all Honolulu Police Department districts behind Central Honolulu, according to HPD statistics. Sixty-four percent of those crimes were larceny.
Perhaps because of the crime problem, Kalihi is a place where neighbors looks out for one another, locals say.
The community embodies the “spirit of aloha” and “everybody is treated like family,” said resident Ellie-Louise Levin on Wednesday morning while she was visiting Kalihi Valley District Park.
Parts of Kalihi appear more neglected than others, and the area’s socio-economic divide is stark.
Some homes are colossal with lush gardens, looming trees and well-kept lawns. Others are far smaller with decrepit roofs and lie behind walls marred by graffiti or chain-link fences with heavy locks.
Campaign signs are all over fences throughout the district, but residents who were asked Wednesday morning didn’t seem to know much about the legislative election — though most had heard of Mizuno.
About half of the Kalihi population is Filipino, 2010 census data shows. Nearly 75 percent of District 28 is Asian, 28 percent Native Hawaiian or Pacific Islander, and 17.5 percent white, according to the 2014 census. The U.S. Census Bureau classifies Filipinos under the “Asian” category on reports.
Waikiki homeless sweeps have increased the homelessness problem in Kalihi, Mizuno said.
He pointed to the work of Hawaii Cedar Church, a Korean church in District 28, as a possible model for efforts elsewhere in the state.
The church transports some homeless people to a shelter on a 4-acre parcel it owns in Waianae, Mizuno said. Food drives help to feed the homeless there.
Even though Kalihi residents are upset about the ever-climbing cost of rail, Mizuno is a proponent of the project. While he has called for transparency and accountability regarding the project’s budget, he sees rail as an opportunity for Kalihi.
Current plans to stop rail at Middle Street would locate the route’s eastern terminus near the east end of Kalihi.
And if the Oahu Community Correctional Center is moved out of Kalihi, where it sits just across the street from Puuhale Elementary, the community would have a chance to attract new businesses or housing to the site.
Economic opportunities aside, Mizuno said he is concerned about the current cost of living in his district. He noted a study that showed Hawaii had more citizens living paycheck-to-paycheck than any other state.
By expanding local food production, Mizuno said, Hawaii may be able to lower prices.
Unlicensed care homes in District 28 have been a problem and potentially a public safety issue, Mizuno said.
District 28 is home to many of the state’s care homes and financial disclosure forms show Mizuno has received contributions from care home and medical industry representatives throughout his legislative career.
As of June 30, Mizuno had received $2,350 in donations from the home and health care industry this year — 20 percent of his total donations received during that period ($11,595).
Mizuno had about $9,900 on hand as of June 30 and had outspent Hussey by about $5,100.
Hussey’s first run for office was “three lifetimes ago,” he said, referencing the three children he’s had with his wife, Marti Townsend, director of Sierra Club of Hawaii.
Hussey has filled leadership roles at the Democratic Party’s Native Hawaiian Caucus and also at the Domestic Violence Action Center and Hawaii Alliance for Progressive Action. He’s also a former House Education Committee clerk and former education budget analyst for the House Finance Committee.
Infrastructure problems are among Kalihi’s biggest issues, he said. Covering bus stops, repaving streets and redesigning dangerous turns are among the needed projects, he said.
Kalihi is a family-oriented area, Hussey said, noting that many of the district’s homes are multigenerational.
“My sense is that Kalihi has often been forgotten,” he said. “It’s sort of been a neglected community in terms of public investment.”
Hussey, who’s Filipino, Hawaiian and Caucasian, said he reflects the diversity of the district. His campaign logo features a miniature version of the eight-ray sun on the Filipino flag and campaign handouts use the sun as bullet points.
Although he said residents have been hospitable to him when walking door to door, he’s noticed many houses have intimidating gates or dogs that discourage neighbors from interacting with each other.
To encourage more dialogue among area residents, Hussey plans to hold community rallies before the primary, inviting prominent local figures. None have been scheduled yet.
A self-described progressive Democrat, Hussey said his top priorities are education, universal health care and lowering the cost of living. He suggested the establishment of a universal basic income — a standard payment to every citizen regardless of income — as a way to ease the burden of costly housing.
The state budget should be reprioritized to include additional resources for children and the elderly, Hussey said. He supports an increase in teachers’ wages and state exportation of goods to the mainland.
To combat homelessness, another big issue in District 28, Hussey wants the state to spend more on mental health services and affordable housing projects.
The recent Public Utilities Commission decision to halt the proposed Hawaiian Electric and NextEra merger serves as an opportunity for the public to determine the future of their electric company, he said.
Asked if he believed it was a conflict of interest to engage in politics while publishing the Hawaii Independent, described as a “digital newsmagazine” on its site, Hussey said he would re-evaluate his responsibilities if elected.
If Mizuno holds on to his seat this election, Hussey said he’s unsure if he’d run for the Legislature again.
“I think what I can say most honestly is I will always be devoted to civic service,” he said. “That could take the form of elected office or a myriad of other things.”
Hussey is listed on a Crowdpac page touting seven legislative candidates that the page founder, identified as Ted Fredricks, says will “break that corporate lock on Hawaii’s state government” and rid the House of “conservative” DINOs — Democrats In Name Only. To date, the page has raised $1,080 — about $13,000 short of its Aug. 1 goal.
Financial disclosures show Hussey had raised $3,500 as of June 30. Donor Randy Ching (no relation to Civil Beat’s co-founder of the same name) contributed $2,000 and Gerard Lardizabal gave $1,000.
Hussey has just over $2,000 on hand.