Former state Rep. Matt LoPresti is attempting a comeback in his old Ewa House district, while nine-time Republican candidate Julia Allen is trying once again this year to finally claim the urban Honolulu House seat that was held for decades by former House Speaker Calvin Say.

LoPresti and Allen are among the candidates vying for a handful of House districts that have no incumbents, a situation that sometimes offers a rare opportunity for political activists to win and hold office.

For LoPresti, it offers a chance to reclaim the House seat representing the neighborhoods around Ewa Beach, Ewa Gentry, and Ocean Pointe. LoPresti was elected to the House in that district from 2014 to 2018, but gave up the seat to make an unsuccessful run for the state Senate in 2018.

This year Rep. Rida Cabanilla Arakawa is leaving LoPresti’s old District 41 House seat to run for the state Senate, and that set up a general election contest between LoPresti and Republican David Alcos III for the House seat.

LoPresti said his priorities are the same as ever — he intends to press for improvements in Hawaii’s educational system. He first ran for office pledging to get air conditioning for the overheated public school classrooms in the district, and during LoPresti’s time in office Gov. David Ige and state lawmakers finally approved a $100 million “cool-the-schools” initiative.

While the school air conditioning projects were in process but not yet completed, LoPresti organized “fan drives” to put hundreds of donated electric fans in the classrooms in the district. “I’m a man of action and a man of my word who will follow through,” he said.

Rep Matt Lopresti floor session1. 3 may 2016.
Matt LoPresti wants state lands along the rail line to be developed for workforce housing. Cory Lum/Civil Beat

LoPresti, who is an associate professor of philosophy at Hawaii Pacific University, also helped secure $27 million in 2018 for a new classroom building for the crowded Campbell High School, a project that is supposed to be completed this year. Looking ahead, the district urgently needs a new public high school to serve the growing Ewa plain communities, he said.

He also wants state-owned lands along the rail line developed into affordable housing, specifically including workforce housing for teachers, police officers and bus drivers who would otherwise struggle to find affordable housing.

“I think that we can help revitalize the economy by looking at that,” said LoPresti, 46.

During the 2018 primary election campaign, LoPresti was harshly criticized by some after he was caught on video removing a rival’s campaign materials from the door of a constituent. That incident made the evening news and went viral online, but LoPresti has said he had second thoughts and returned the campaign literature before the video ever became public.

LoPresti declined comment on that incident for this article, but he apologized publicly at the time.

Alcos, 52, is a building contractor and a third generation resident of Ewa Beach who is making his first run for public office. He co-founded the Hammerhead Football League and has coached football in the community for 20 years, and “I want to step up and serve this community on a higher level.”

Alcos is a friend and political ally of Sen. Kurt Fevella, the only Republican in the state Senate, and Alcos described himself as a problem solver who can work with Democrats and Republicans.

There are people in the neighborhood with drug problems, “and even though you give them help, they do want to just do their own thing and don’t want to be in a shelter and don’t want to go to a clean and sober house.” Many of those addicts are homeless, and are family or friends of people he knows in the community.

“I do want to find a community or some place to put them and give them a kitchen and bathroom or a shelter that they can stay out of sight, out of mind,” he said.

Alcos said he has been involved in elected politics for only three months, and “I am willing to learn and get more knowledge based upon all of the issues that we have in the state of Hawaii, so be free to reach out to me.”


Julia Allen has run as a Republican for the state House every two years since 2004. Julia Allen

Looking forward to some of the issues ahead, LoPresti said he disagrees with Gov. David Ige’s plan to use furloughs of most public employees to help the state cope with the budget crisis triggered by the pandemic. Ige has proposed furloughs for up to four years to reduce the pay of most public workers by 10%.

“I think the last thing we need to do is put our teachers and schools on furlough again. We all saw how poorly that worked out last time,” LoPresti said. He said teachers’ families still have not recovered from the last round of furloughs “and I don’t think that’s the solution.” Alcos said he needs to look into the issue of furloughs.

LoPresti said he supports an increase in the minimum wage to at least $15 an hour.

“The cost of living in Hawaii is so high that we need to see this issue as a moral issue,” he said. “People are working three jobs just to get by, and that’s not right.”

He added that he believes sick leave and family leave are “basic rights that should be afforded to anybody in the 21st Century,” although he supports a system where workers pay into a sick leave system.

Alcos said the minimum wage needs to increase as the cost of living increases, but declined to say what the new minimum should be, and said there needs to be a balance so that small businesses can survive. He supports increasing the current $10.10 hourly minimum wage, and said the minimum wage should be increased in small steps as the cost of housing, food and other living expenses increase.

As for the $15 minimum wage proposal, Alcos said he would support that for a “lifetime job,” or a career, but said the minimum should be lower for high school students or, for example, young people working their way through college.

The urban House district that includes the older Honolulu neighborhoods of Kaimuki, Palolo, St. Louis Heights and Wilhelmina Rise is also up for grabs this year, with no incumbent.

Longtime lawmaker Calvin Say represented those neighborhoods in the House from 1976 until this year, and over the years held some of the most powerful positions in the Legislature including speaker and House Finance Committee chairman.

Allen, a St. Louis Heights resident, first filed to run against Say in 2004 because no one else would do it, and she felt it was wrong that in one election cycle after another she couldn’t vote for anyone but Say.

Allen, 72, ran for the House seat every two years since then, but never did defeat Say, who finally left the House this year to make a successful run for the Honolulu City Council. Allen likes to say that while she hasn’t yet been elected, “I didn’t lose because I never quit.”

She is the former owner of Hula Coffee Co. and the MacMouse Club computer company, and worked as staff in the Capitol offices of Republican Rep. Corinne Ching and GOP Sen. Sam Slom. She is concerned that state government hampers Hawaii’s business community through regulation and taxation, and said the state must be more disciplined in its budgeting and spending.

Allen said it is important that the cost of living be controlled so older residents are not priced out of their own homes. She sees taxes as a major contributor to increases in the cost of living.

Her neighbors in House District 20 are concerned about crime, including car break-ins, a severe lack of parking and the development of  enormous “monster homes” in residential districts, while Palolo suffers from the impact of illegal fireworks, Allen said.

On the shutdown of Hawaii tourism and the state’s efforts to limit the spread of COVID-19, Allen faults Gov. David Ige for failing to intervene to ensure the state Department of Health did an adequate job of contact tracing people who have become infected.

Allen has raised a bit more than $14,000 for the campaign and spent less than $8,000, while her Democratic opponent Jackson Sayama raised more than $55,000, and spent more than $45,000. Sayama committed all but $2,500 of the money he spent to the contested Democratic primary in August.

Sayama, 23, graduated from New York University Shanghai with a degree in global China studies and worked briefly as a research analyst for Island Holdings, Inc., but he said his run for office this year is “really my first step in my career.” He has also volunteered for about a year with the non-profit Hui Aloha doing outreach to the homeless on Oahu.

Sayama grew up in St. Louis Heights, and said he decided to run for office after watching too many friends and family members leave Hawaii for good because it was too expensive here, and offered too few employment opportunities. “I wanted to have Hawaii be a place where our families, local kids can just grow up and continue to call Hawaii their home,” he said.

Jackson Sayama, who is running as a Democrat for House District 20, wants to focus on narrowing the gap between public and private education. 

His first priorities will be ensuring Hawaii has a robust contact tracing system and testing program for locals and visitors, and finding ways to provide financial relief during the pandemic for renters, businesses and schools. For the longer term, homelessness and public education are his top issues, he said.

In particular, he said the discrepancy between the quality of public school and private school education is “unjustifiable,” and said he wants to work with Hawaii education officials and the community to prepare young people for the next generation of local jobs.

Sayama attended Punahou School, and said he learned something about the educational divide by tutoring at a large local middle school. “I’ve seen first-hand what opportunities and equipment are available to the students there, as well as to the teachers.”

On the issue of public worker furloughs, Sayama said he does not believe Ige has much choice, and the state needs to move ahead with the furlough plan. “There is a financial reality that we need to address, and if a 10% furlough is something that the governor feels is necessary, I suspect that decision was thought through well before,” he said.

Allen said Ige was guilty of “double-talk” for approving public worker raises totaling more than $200 million earlier this year, and then proposing furloughs on most public workers in an effort to reduce state spending to save about $300 million to help the state cope with the budget shortfall. But given the dire fiscal situation the state is in, Ige needs to move forward with furloughs, she said.

Allen said she is against raising the minimum wage above the current $10.10 per hour because “what we need is to make it more business friendly” in Hawaii.

Sayama said he believes the counties should be authorized to set the minimum wage on each island because the cost of living and employment conditions vary from one island to the next. “I don’t expect that we will see an increase in the minimum wage in the foreseeable years given the economic situation,” he said, but added he hopes there can be an increase after the recovery to a level that is equal to a “living wage.”

Other open seats this year include the Windward Oahu House District 51, which is being vacated by Democratic Rep. Chris Lee and includes portions of Kailua and Waimanalo. Lee is making a run for the state Senate, and Democrat Lisa Marten and Republican Kukana Kama-Toth are competing for Lee’s House seat.

Nearby District 50 that includes Kailua and Kaneohe Bay-area neighborhoods is also an open seat now that longtime Republican Rep. Cynthia Thielen is retiring. Republican Kanani Souza and Democrat Patrick Branco are vying to represent that House district.

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