A couple of familiar faces are hoping to regain their former state House seats this year.
In House District 44, former Rep. Jo Jordan, who held the seat for six years, is challenging Rep. Cedric Gates, who defeated her by just 240 votes in the 2016 primary. The district encompasses Waianae, Makaha, Makua and Maili.
Former Rep. Rida Cabanilla is back to challenge two of her former constituents in a race for the House District 41 seat, which encompasses Ewa, Ewa Beach, Ewa Gentry, Ewa Villages, Hoakalei and Ocean Pointe. Cabanilla will face fellow Democrat Lynn Robinson-Onderko in the primary and the winner will go against Republican Chris Fidelibus.
He’s not a former legislator, but another familiar face is running to represent Manoa in the House. Dale Kobayashi, who narrowly lost to incumbent Rep. Isaac Choy in the last primary, will face four primary opponents to replace the retiring Choy.
Gates ran as a Green Party candidate for the District 44 seat in 2014 and shouldn’t have been allowed to run as a Democrat for another three years, according to party rules. But party officials later said they didn’t catch the error in time and allowed his 2016 candidacy to stand.
Gates, 24, says his accomplishments will secure him another victory, but Jordan says she’s got the experience and track record to do the job.
“Just because I didn’t win my election in 2016 doesn’t mean I went home,” she said.
Jordan, who was born on the mainland but has spent almost her entire life in Waianae, said she knows how the Capitol works. She said she read all her emails and answered the phone personally as a lawmaker.
She expressed concerns about infrastructure issues and overdevelopment of Waianae.
Jordan said she wanted to see more fiscal transparency and accountability in the state budget as a lawmaker. She introduced bills related to procurement and has a professional background in accounting and taxes.
Hawaii needs to diversify its economy, she said, adding the state shouldn’t rely so much on tourism and the military.
“How do we survive in an island state economy, so far away from another piece of land?” she said.
Jordan has spent $5,300, about $25,000 less than Gates has in the current election cycle.
Some of Gates’ campaign expenses appear to be for his office. Recent campaign finance reports show his campaign funds were spent on office cleaning supplies and drinking water, as well as airfare and housing for a National Conference of State Legislatures event. State law allows elected officials to use their campaign funds “for ordinary and necessary expenses” that they encounter as a result of their office.
Jordan, who has more than $20,000 in her account from when she was a lawmaker, said she will likely spend about $16,000 in the coming weeks.
“You run the same race over and over and … you don’t have to change your signs and stuff,” she said.
Gates, who was born and raised in Waianae, said the cost of living and traffic infrastructure are his top issues.
Gates said he helped secure funding to improve accessibility to Waianae, including $5 million to plan and conduct an environmental review to create a secondary access road that could eventually connect Waianae to Makakilo or Kunia.
He said he hoped to build on Waianae traffic mitigation programs and support similar initiatives in the future, and said he believed rooftop solar, as opposed to solar farms, could be a way to lower the cost of utilities while using available space.
“Being able to accomplish so much in my first term will send a clear message to the community that I am an effective legislator,” he said.
Gates has been fined by the Campaign Spending Commission four times this year for filing late reports and failing to report some contributions.
Many of his recent donors were lobbyists and political action committees. His donors over the past year include retired Speaker Emeritus Joe Souki, Majority Leader Della Au Belatti, House Speaker Scott Saiki and Jennifer Sabas, a well-connected lobbyist who served as the late U.S. Sen. Dan Inouye’s longtime chief of staff.
Cabanilla represented House District 41 for a decade and was majority floor leader when fellow Democrat Matt LoPresti ousted her by 860 votes in 2014. Now LoPresti is leaving the post to seek a Senate seat.
Months before that election, Cabanilla came under media scrutiny for submitting a $200,000 grant request for the Ewa Historical Society. Cabanilla sat on the society’s board of directors and her son was vice president of the organization.
She also was cited for Campaign Spending Commission violations.
Cabanilla now says that she submitted the grant because she received so many calls about the condition of the Old Ewa Cemetery.
She noted that the state Ethics Commission later determined that she and her son would not have personally received any money through the grant.
“I might have gone down because of it,” she said, but added, “at least somebody fixed the cemetery.”
Cabanilla, a native of the Philippines and a district resident since 1987, said she’s most concerned with homelessness. She supports tent cities with laundry machines and bathrooms, and said she still believes in a “return-to-home” program like the one she helped pass in 2013.
The state never moved forward with the program, which would have flown homeless people back to their families.
She said another of her priorities is to help young people get post-high school education to ensure they can make a living wage.
Why the return to politics?
“I got my 10 years, I got my pension,” Cabanilla said, adding she was ready to leave but was dismayed when she saw false information written about her online. “I think there’s a politician inside of me and there’s a desire to want to serve.”
Cabanilla will face fellow Democrat Lynn Robinson-Onderko in the primary.
Robinson-Onderko, a member of the local neighborhood board, is originally from Michigan but has resided in Ewa for 15 years. She’s been a community advocate and worked in former Sen. Will Espero’s office.
Her kids attend public schools, she said, and increasing funding for schools is her top priority. She pointed to problems with high teacher turnover and delays in campus maintenance.
It’s also important to diversify the economy, she said, adding she saw opportunity for Hawaii to grow tech, and media and film industries.
“I was out sign-waving this morning, we’ll be back sign-waving tomorrow,” Robinson-Onderko said. “We’re working, working, working.”
Robinson-Onderko has received donations from Belatti, lieutenant governor candidate Espero, and state Rep. Beth Fukumoto, who is running for Congress.
Cabanilla hasn’t reported any donations of more than $100. Gifts smaller than that don’t have to be reported.
The primary winner will face Republican Chris Fidelibus in the general election.
He’s lived in Ewa for 11 years and is a business owner.
Fidelibus, whose son goes to private school, said he would like to see better facilities for public schools, and create a friendlier business environment with fewer regulations and taxes.
“It’s not about Democrat, it’s not about Republican, it’s about what supports our district the best,” Fidelibus said.
Rep. Isaac Choy is not seeking another term in District 23, which includes Manoa, Punahou, University and Moiliili.
All five candidates for the seat are Democrats who say they want to support the University of Hawaii’s flagship campus, which lies in the district. Many district residents are UH faculty members.
Kobayashi, local neighborhood board chair, was raised in Manoa and lived on the mainland for more than 20 years after college.
He said he wants to ensure that UH Manoa is held accountable but also receives financial support. Kobayashi questioned whether people need investment properties and wants to look toward the existing housing stock to find affordable housing.
Kobayashi noted his involvement in community efforts such as protecting Paradise Park, an abandoned zoo, from redevelopment.
“There’s just a lot of changes here in the valley,” he said. “It’s just not what we’re used to. It’s been so quiet and safe here and now you have monster homes coming up, vacation rentals.”
Among his donors are state Sen. Donna Mercado Kim, who’s running for Congress, Councilwoman Kobayashi and Sabas.
Dylan Armstrong, a Portland native and seven-year resident in District 23, is an urban and environmental planner who once served on the neighborhood board. He said his platform is based on conversations with local residents.
He expressed interest in preparing infrastructure for climate change and ensuring fiscal efficiency by eliminating projects that aren’t benefiting anyone. Locals want to preserve the community and character of the valley, he said.
“Manoa is arguably one of the most well-connected, cohesive neighborhoods in all of Hawaii,” Armstrong said. “Even people who live here for decades say, ‘I’ve only lived here 40 years or I’ve only lived here for 25 years.’”
Choy donated $250 to Armstrong’s campaign.
Elton Fukumoto has lived in Manoa since 1961 after spending 15 years of his career on the mainland. He has worked as a legislative staffer and university educator, including a stint at UH Manoa.
He wants to see the university get more money to fix its facilities and retain top-notch staff. That could improve the economy and create conditions for startups to thrive, he said
Fukumoto, who lives with his parents, says he’s attuned to kupuna issues.
“I’m 65 years old and my parents are in their 90s and I’m having to confront all these issues,” he said.
Andrew Garrett was born in Tokyo and moved to Mililani as a child. He’s lived in Manoa for a decade.
Garrett, who comes from a health care background, wants to see a better kupuna care plan in anticipation of the silver tsunami that isn’t a “hodge podge system” of nursing homes, foster homes and other services.
He said he wanted to offer UH Manoa more autonomy and support, and felt Choy’s frequent criticism of the university harmed its reputation and didn’t foster a productive relationship.
“I think it’s just time to reset the relationship there between the representative at Manoa and the university’s faculty,” Garrett said.
Garrett received $2,000, the maximum amount for a state House candidate, from state Rep. Roy Takumi.
Benton Rodden is a Seattle native who’s lived in the area for four years. He also wants to see more resources invested in public education.
He said homelessness seems to be the top complaint he’s heard from voters. He’s opposed to sit-lie bans, such as those established in Honolulu. Partnerships with nonprofits and private groups could help the state execute projects to create safe zones and provide mental health resources to homeless people, he said.
Rodden, who has taught political science at UH Manoa, credited his “enthusiastic, but somewhat apathetic” students for motivating him to run.
“I think that we need to start demonstrating that voting is a way to solve problems,” he said.
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