When Kurt Fevella found out he’d been elected to the state Senate to represent Ewa Beach, he cheered and cried along with friends and family in a neighborhood garage.
His phone lit up; local news outlets wanted to find his campaign headquarters. Fevella had to give them a street address instead of a ballroom.
But really, the neighborhood is his headquarters. Fevella, who was born and raised in Ewa Beach and was working as a school custodian at the time of his election, wants to keep his political career focused on his community.
“If you don’t keep doing community work, real community involvement, I think you can lose yourself in this building,” Fevella said during a recent interview with Civil Beat in his new office at the State Capitol, where he’ll be the only Republican in the 25-member Senate — assuming he keeps his seat.
Democrat Matt LoPresti, who lost to Fevella by 116 votes in the general election, filed a complaint with the state Supreme Court on Monday asking for a recount. LoPresti alleges ballots at the Ilima Intermediate School Polling place were tampered with.
The court has not yet ruled on the complaint.
Going into the legislative session in January, Fevella and state Rep. Bob McDermott, also of Ewa Beach and a fellow Republican, say they will push for more funding for Campbell High School, Fevella’s alma mater and the state’s most populous public high school.
McDermott said Fevella has been advocating for improvements at the high school for years as a neighborhood board member. They’ve pushed for air conditioning in classrooms, and come January, they said getting funding for a girls locker room will be a major goal.
McDermott’s been guiding Fevella on the ins and outs of the Capitol. He describes the new senator as a blue-collar, hardworking type who wasn’t an overnight success — he lost four previous legislative races.
“I cried like a baby when he won,” McDermott said. “Not because he’s a Republican, but because he’s a good person that ran for the right reasons.”
As the state’s lone Republican in the Senate, Fevella will be in control of a minority caucus of which he’s the only member.
That means he’ll be able to sit on every committee in the Senate and have access to a staff that could produce opposition research or minority bills opposing packages introduced by Senate Democrats.
The last man to be in the lone Republican slot in the senate was Sam Slom, who often challenged bills introduced by the Democrats and just as often lost.
But lofty goals of taking on the establishment aren’t necessarily in Fevella’s plans. For him, it all goes back to his community.
“It doesn’t matter what party you come from,” he said. “The bottom line is, we live on one island. This is not the mainland.”
Transportation and education are two of the biggest issues Fevella said he wants to focus on while in office. Morning traffic coming out of Ewa is one problem he wants to address, possibly with a new highway out of Iroquois Point.
But it’s the smaller things too, like improving streets, or making the area more friendly to youth and the elderly. It’s about making Ewa Beach a better place to live, he said.
Some of his proposals include better sidewalks and a multipurpose sports complex in the Ewa area.
When he was in high school, Fevella said he had a teacher at Campbell High who set him on the path to politics.
“If I would act up in school, she’d come to my house and tell my mom,” he said. “She was a tough woman.”
She told him one day he’d grow up to be either a comedian or a politician.
“I took hold of the comedian part. I never thought I would be a politician,” Fevella said. “I don’t think of myself as a politician. I think of myself as a community person.”
Now, Fevella wants to avoid losing that sense of community, that mom and pop feeling, as he calls it.
He sweats the small stuff, like the closing of a crosswalk that hurt a small convenience store on the corner of Fort Weaver and Makule Roads in Ewa Beach.
Students from Ilima Intermediate and the elderly used to use the crosswalk to get to the Ewa Mart, but now need to walk farther along Fort Weaver Road and then back again if they want to get to the store. It’s hurt the musubi sales, Fevella said, and one of the shopkeepers said that people still try to cross the now unmarked intersection.
Fevella said he filled gas there recently, and the store owners, after congratulating him on his win, asked about the crosswalk.
“I told them I gave you my word. I’m going to do the best I can to see if we can replace it and enhance it,” he said.
Replacing a crosswalk and lights would be a city decision, but Fevella said it’s an example of an issue he would try to influence.
On a Sunday in the early 1990s, Fevella was crying in the pews of the Ekalesia Foundation of Jesus Christ church and he didn’t know why.
Members from the band Tropical Knights invited him to the service. Fevella heard them at a club one night playing the song “Going Home.”
“I used to think it was going home from a long college trip, or going home from the mainland,” Fevella said. “Later on I learned it’s going home to Heaven.”
Patrick “Solo” Pamatigan, one of the band members, said that Tropical Knights used to close their sets with that song. He said Fevella introduced himself to the band after one of their sets, and they invited him to church.
The band and church helped him quit drinking, he said. And it also got him into community service. Fevella even helped the band set up stage and sound equipment, Pamatigan said.
“Outside of playing music, he was part of the band for sure,” he said.
Faith and volunteer work still help to keep him grounded, Fevella said. And he pulls inspiration for continuing his community work from his mother, Abigail, who died in 2013.
She was an active volunteer with Our Lady of Perpetual Help, going to community prayer meetings, and was also an at-home nurse, Fevella said.
“It’s not something you learn,” Fevella said about community work. “It’s something you’ve got to have in your blood.”
He recalled a time he came home from high school and saw a stranger standing in his living room.
“I thought who’s this white dude in my house,” Fevella said, adding his mother told him to “meet your new brother.’”
The man had previously been living near a bus stop before Fevella’s family took him in. He eventually got into the military and even came to Fevella’s mother’s funeral.
In recent years, Fevella has served on the Ewa Neighborhood Board and is also the president of the Ewa Lions Club.
Much of his volunteer work focuses on beach and park cleanups in Ewa neighborhoods.
Fevella has previously made three unsuccessful runs for the state House and lost a 2016 senatorial bid against Will Espero, who vacated his seat this year to make an unsuccessful run for lieutenant governor.
“My mom wasn’t a quitter. My dad, to this day, he’s a fighter, not a quitter,” Fevella said. “It’s not in my genes or my DNA to quit.”
He’s had the support of his family along the way, and they’re still supporting him. His wife, Donnalee, has been helping him get settled into his new office while he builds his staff.
He said the other senators, including the chamber’s leaders, have also been helping him to get settled.
“The reception was from day one,” Fevella said. “When I got here, it had nothing to do with what party I belong with. They all treated me just like any other colleague.”
His new office and job are both vastly different from his former post as a custodian at Ewa Makai Middle School, where he resigned after winning the election. It was the best job he had so far, he said. In fact, he had just gotten hired full time there, but said that he left to put his focus on his new job as a senator.
The office is also a far drive from his house in Ewa Beach, which means he now needs to wake up early and slog through at least an hour’s worth of traffic, just like many of his constituents who make the daily round trip.
But the drive doesn’t bother him, he says, because he keeps in mind why he does it.
“I’m coming here for my community. Not for myself,” he said. “When you’re driving in traffic, you’ve just got to remember why you here in the car: to serve the community.”
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