Trish La Chica has spent more than a decade fighting for affordable health care.

As the policy and advocacy director for the Hawaii Public Health Institute, she couldn’t just set aside her work as she runs this year for a seat in the state House of Representatives.

So La Chica, a Democrat seeking to represent District 36 (Mililani Mauka, Mililani), has emailed out COVID-19 resources, FAQs and a list of what’s open in Mililani during the stay-at-home edict for the state.

She has helped mobilize glove-and-mask wearing community members to assemble PPEs for frontline workers.

House candidate Trish La Chica is using hand sanitizer as a political campaign prop. Submitted/2020

And La Chica has also mixed 70% solution isopropyl alcohol with aloe vera into 7-ounce spray bottles to distribute as hand sanitizer. The bottles display links to her campaign.

“This is second nature for me,” said La Chica, referring to her background in health care. “We are in a crisis mode and there is work to be done, and as fast as possible. Hugs and kisses are like weapons, and not visiting is how we keep each other safe.”

The coronavirus has descended on Hawaii at the very time that the election season normally would begin to shift into gear. But these are not normal times, and that means canvassing door to door and holding in-person fundraisers are no longer part of a candidate’s plan.

For unknown and first-time candidates who don’t have the benefit of name recognition and established war chests, getting the word out is more difficult than ever.

But for some of these candidates, the solution is to focus on social media, old-school methods of campaigning like phone banks and mailers, and stressing health and public safety over political ambition.

“We’ve been able to adjust really quickly,” La Chica said in a phone call from her home where 4-month-old Ricki and 3-year-old Foggy could be heard in the background.

Peer-To-Peer Texting

This is La Chica’s second bid for the Mililani seat, which was held for many years by Democrat Marilyn Lee, and then Republican Beth Fukumoto. Such swing districts are rare in blue Hawaii, and Lee has pulled papers to run again.

So has Rep. Val Okimoto, the GOP incumbent who defeated Lee two years ago in the general election. La Chica lost to Lee in the primary.

Trish La Chica at the Capitol. Submitted

The three candidates are among the nearly 250 people who have so far pulled papers to run for office this year, including some who already filed.

They include candidates for Hawaii’s two House seats in Congress, eight of the 25 state Senate seats, all 51 state House of Representative seats, mayoral seats for the City and County of Honolulu and Hawaii County, prosecutors for Honolulu, Hawaii and Kauai counties, multiple council seats for all four counties and four of the nine seats on the Office of Hawaiian Affairs Board of Trustees.

The June 2 deadline to file paperwork with the state Office of Elections is fast approaching. The primary is Aug. 8 and the general election Nov. 3.

Jacob Aki, who wants to succeed term-limited Councilman Joey Manahan on the Honolulu City Council, is a first-time candidate, although he has helped others running for the state Senate and for OHA.

Aki declared his intentions early — a year ago — and has been actively walking District 7 (it includes Kalihi, lwilei, Mapunapuna, Salt Lake, Aliamanu, Foster Village and Sand Island).

Jacob Aki at Honolulu Hale. Submitted

“As a first-time candidate, it’s the hardest thing to get your name out,” said Aki, a Kamehameha Schools graduate who currently serves as chief of staff to Senate Majority Leader J. Kalani English. “That’s why it was so critical to start early.”

That start involved knocking on about 4,000 doors from River Street to Aloha Stadium. Off-limits, however, are 53 condominiums in Salt Lake because of security restrictions.

But Aki is finding other ways to reach voters under the current stay-at-home conditions. Particularly useful has been peer-to-peer texting, or P2P, as it is called. His campaign uses a platform that sends out 300 texts at once.

Sure, some people are upset that Aki has managed to get a hold of their phone numbers. But he says that many express gratitude for him reaching out.

Like La Chica, Aki is informing his potential future constituents, many of them kupuna, of what they need to know to deal with the virus.

Aki has already filed his paperwork to run for the District 7 seat. Radiant Cordero, Constante Domingo and Ryan Mandado have pulled papers and, like Aki, each has a website in their name — yet another way to advertise a candidacy without meeting voters in person.

‘Kupuna Kits’

Patrick Branco spent seven years serving as a U.S. diplomat. His last foreign post was as the cultural affairs attache for the Venezuela affairs unit at the U.S. embassy in Bogota, Colombia.

But when state Rep. Cynthia Thielen announced she was retiring after a long and storied career in the House, Branco decided to come home.

Campaign signs and banners for Branco can already be seen in District 50 (Kailua, Kaneohe Bay). Since the COVID-19 outbreak, the first-time candidate has emailed out virus-related updates and helped to sew face masks and construct clear plastic face shields.

Patrick Branco making face masks at home. Courtesy: Patrick Branco

And then there are all the “kupuna kits” that Branco and his family have assembled: Ziplock bags containing a roll of toilet paper, a bottle of water, chicken noodle soup, a pair of disposable gloves, a bag of tea, a bar of soap, apple sauce and a small card listing relevant state and county contacts for coronavirus information.

“We’ve distributed over 340 of them,” said Branco. “People have been so kind and so grateful. The message that people are sending me is really uplifting during this time.”

Branco is careful not to cross the line into campaign solicitation unless someone asks what they can do for him.

“That’s really important to me,” he said. “This is a time for us as candidates to step up for our community and to be leaders of action. Showing aloha and saying mahalo to each other — that is really what will get us through this catastrophic time.”

At least two other Democrats and three Republicans are considering running against Branco for Thielen’s open seat.

Under Quarantine

It’s tough enough to enter a political race when people are terrified of getting sick. Imagine having to compete while ordered to stay indoors.

That’s the case for Michelle Rose Tippens, who has been under a two-week quarantine order in Waikiki after she traveled from her home on the Big Island to Oahu. Tippens was aware of Gov. David Ige’s clampdown on interisland passengers, but she’s been in the midst of moving her belongings on Oahu to her Puna home.

Tippens is a Libertarian running for the 2nd Congressional Seat that Rep. Tulsi Gabbard is vacating.

“This is not my first time to run,” she said. “It might be my fourth — definitely my third.”

Tippens’ previous unsuccessful races were against Ed Case in 2018 for the 1st Congressional seat and state Rep. Della Au Belatti’s Makiki-area House seat.

Michelle Rose Tippens in a green house. Submitted

Because Tippens served five years in the U.S. Army, her professional interest now is helping veterans suffering from PTSD or contemplating suicide.

She is with the Hawaii Veterans Cannabis Alliance, whose founders believe “a holistic approach to healing that includes cannabis, camaraderie and community outreach” is an effective treatment.

“This plant has really helped me, and I have seen how it has helped others over and over again,” she said.

Tippens is in a crowded field. Twelve candidates have so far indicated their interest in CD2, and one of them — state Sen. Kai Kahele, a Democrat from Hilo — has name recognition, high-level endorsements and a ton of campaign donations to spend.

Tippens is not discouraged, however, as she believes her work on behalf of veterans and pakalolo has given her a public profile.

“This is something that I value very much about democracy,” she said. “Even George Washington ran in a race with other candidates. That is something beautiful — people can pick the person who matches their voice.”

Want more information on COVID-19 in Hawaii? You can read all of Civil Beat’s coronavirus coverage, find answers to frequently asked questions or sign up for email newsletter updates — all for free.

Help power our public service journalism

As a local newsroom, Civil Beat has a unique public service role in times of crisis.

That’s why we’re committed to a paywall-free website and subscription-free content, so we can get vital information out to everyone, from all communities.

We are deploying a significant amount of our resources to covering the Maui fires, and your support ensures that we can pivot when these types of emergencies arise.

Make a gift to Civil Beat today and help power our nonprofit newsroom.

About the Author