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Maybe money isn’t everything — at least that’s what a first-time challenger is banking on in Hawaii’s state Senate District 14 Democratic primary.
Incumbent Donna Mercado Kim closed out June with almost $278,000 in cash on hand, the third-highest amount in the Senate.
Challenger Carl Campagna had $930.
As a longtime legislator, former Senate president and congressional candidate, Kim is known by name throughout Oahu, not just in her district that covers Moanalua, Aiea, Fort Shafter, Kalihi Valley and Halawa Valley.
District 14 spans mountains and quiet neighborhoods rife with dense greenery and towering banyan trees. With their long driveways and expansive lawns, many residences bear little resemblance to the claustrophobic streets of urban Honolulu.
Nestled into steep hillsides, other communities are more cramped but still kempt and full of character.
Campagna knows he doesn’t have the name recognition that 30 years in Hawaii politics afford, but he has been knocking on doors — 8,000 of them, he estimated.
He’s participated in a variety of community groups and Democratic Party committees, has a background in environmentalism and has worked on legislative bills behind the scenes for years. He said he plans to make a career out of politics.
In the first six months of this year, Kim raised nearly $60,000. She has so much campaign money that she’s sharing some of it.
Kim shelled out $1,150 – 4 percent of her total expenses in the last six months – to buy tickets to fundraisers for the campaigns of Sens. Kai Kahele and Les Ihara and Reps. Linda Ichiyama, Gregg Takayama and Aaron Ling Johanson.
Her priciest fundraiser purchase of two tickets totaled $500 for House District 29 candidate Daniel Holt. Holt first ran for the seat in 2012 and lost to incumbent Rep. Karl Rhoads, but Rhoads is now running for Senate District 13 so the House seat is vacant.
Candidates can’t give their own campaign funds directly to another, but state law does allow them to purchase up to two tickets to another’s campaign event.
Kim also contributed $425 to the state Democratic Party.
She said it’s important to have a good relationship with colleagues and that maintaining those relationships allows her to get things done for her district.
Kim has spent about $26,600 on her own campaign, most of which has gone toward standard purchases like T-shirts, signs and food for fundraisers.
Kim said traffic, especially westbound on weekday afternoons, is one of the major concern in District 14.
Though she said her district hasn’t been impacted as much as surrounding areas, homelessness is becoming a bigger issue. The high cost of living prevents young people from being able to move out on their own and makes property upkeep difficult, she said.
The district has good schools, Kim said, and education is important to residents.
Drinking water quality has also become a community concern following the 2014 Red Hill fuel tank spill. Tests have indicated drinking water is safe so far, according to the Honolulu Board of Water Supply.
The commercialization of Moanalua Gardens, a popular private park, has upset residents, Kim said. A bill she and Sen. Glenn Wakai introduced this year aimed to appropriate $7 million to purchase the park and make capital improvements. It died less than a month after its introduction.
Efficient spending of taxpayer dollars is another important issue, Kim said, pointing to the rail project’s ballooning budget.
Though she’s held onto her Senate seat, Kim was defeated when she ran for Congress in 2014, and an 11th-hour coup took away her Senate presidency at the end of the 2015 session.
Kim decided to run again this year because she said her constituents told her there was more work to be done. But she’s taking things “one election at a time” and isn’t sure if she’ll run again in 2020.
Noting Campagna’s statement that he’d knocked on thousands of doors, she said that throughout her 32 year-long political career, she’d knocked on almost every door in the district.
This campaign, she said she’s been walking the district, sign waving, meeting with constituents and sending out mailers.
Recently, someone she met while walking complained about residents from a nearby housing project parking on their street. Kim said she organized a town meeting to address the issue.
Kim said she thinks she’s served her district well over the years by being “willing to stand up against business as usual.”
“I do think (Campagna winning) is a long-shot,” she said. “But again, I never take anything for granted and I continue to be responsive to my district and continue campaigning.”
Campagna is in no danger of outspending his opponent.
He raised about $4,500 in the first six months of this year and spent about $5,400, records show.
Campagna lives in Alewa Heights, which became part of District 14 following a 2010 reapportionment. The area is home to many ethnicities and socio-economic levels, Campagna said.
He currently serves as chair of the Energy and Climate Subcommittee for the Environmental Caucus of Hawaii’s Democratic Party. Formerly, he served on the party’s Labor, LGBT and Hawaiian Affairs Caucuses, where he said he learned to understand new issues.
He and his wife, Sherry Campagna, own Kamaka Green, a renewable energy project consulting company.
While this is his first run for office, he’s been part of legislative working groups for keiki, kupuna, environmental, housing and homeless issues, he said. Last year, he worked on a bill that created a farm-to-school coordinator position, and he served as Rep. Romy Cachola’s aide.
He said he’s never seen Kim in any of the legislative working group meetings he’s attended since 2012.
“It really became apparent to me that we really needed someone that would stand up … and really be an advocate for the issues,” he said.
Energy and sovereignty issues need to be better understood, he said. He wants to ensure Native Hawaiian communities have the opportunity for self-government.
While walking around the district, he said residents have told him that education, homelessness and the cost of living are their biggest concerns. Many people have pledged their vote to him, Campagna said, because they said they’d never had a politician visit them at home.
The Campagnas have four children and have been licensed foster parents for about four years now, he said. They’ve adopted one child and are working on their second adoption.
He has a child each in public, private and charter schools, so Campagna said he’s seen firsthand how the quality of a private school experience surpasses public schools. Education is Campagna’s top priority and he hopes to see more technology in schools and alleviate deferred maintenance and infrastructural issues.
Since becoming foster parents, the Campagnas founded Olomea, a group to provide resources for foster children growing too old to remain in the system.
He said it’s hard to get statistics, but many homeless individuals were once foster children. The state needs more programs to prevent homelessness, he said.
Campagna is banking on social media outreach, emails, mailers and three months’ worth of door knocking and sign waving to help him overcome Kim’s name recognition.
If he doesn’t win this time around, he said he’ll run again — and his 2020 Senate District 14 campaign “begins the next week.”
“I know she’s got a lot of money, but I don’t think that matters,” Campagna said.
A photo posted by Carl Campagna (@carlcampagna) on