The general election Tuesday appears to have done little to change the partisan makeup of the Hawaii Legislature, as the tiny Republican minority will hold its one seat in the Senate while losing one in the House.

But the 2020 election did launch a sizable cohort of young new candidates into public office, according to the latest round of results released Wednesday morning that showed nearly 70% voter turnout.

Three of the newcomers who were elected to the House are under 30 years old, while three other incoming freshmen are under age 40. All of those younger, incoming lawmakers are Democrats.

Stanley Chang, candidate for State Senate district 9 waves to cars with some of his supporters on the eve of election day Monday, November 2, 2020. (Ronen Zilberman photo Civil Beat)
Democrat Stanley Chang held a comfortable lead to keep his seat from Republican former state Sen. Sam Slom. Ronen Zilberman/Civil Beat/2020

Efforts to elect candidates this year from the newly formed Aloha Aina Party to the Legislature fizzled, and Hawaii Republicans struggled to hang on to the handful of seats they already have in contests with candidates from the dominant Democratic Party.

The GOP held its lone seat in the 25-member Senate but saw the party’s ranks shrink from five lawmakers to four in the 51-member House.

The Republicans had hoped to gain ground by seizing the Leeward Oahu seat held by Democratic Rep. Stacelynn Eli, but Eli won Tuesday in a close contest with Republican Diamond Garcia to represent District 43. That district extends from Ewa Villages to Nanakuli and Maili on the Leeward Coast, and Eli had 47.7% of the vote, while Garcia had 42.7%.

Sam Slom, candidate for State Senate district 9 waves in Hawaii Kai, Saturday October 31, 2020. (Photo: Ronen Zilberman/Civil Beat)
Sam Slom, candidate for Senate District 9, was trying to get his seat back to represent East Honolulu. Ronen Zilberman/Civil Beat/2020

On the other side, Democrat Patrick Branco won the Windward Oahu House District 50 seat that was held for decades by Republican Rep. Cynthia Thielen, who is retiring.

Branco won nearly 57.1% of the vote in early returns, while his Republican opponent Kanani Souza had 36%. That district includes much of Kailua and the Kaneohe Bay area.

In one of the closest races of the election in Mililani’s District 36, Republican Rep. Val Okimoto managed to fend off a strong challenge by Democrat Trish La Chica, who ran a well-funded campaign with the backing of public worker unions and campaign contributions from a dozen House and Senate Democrats.

Hawaii Republicans including former Gov. Linda Lingle donated generously to Okimoto’s re-election campaign, and that investment paid off. Okimoto had 50.2% of the vote while La Chica had 45.8%.

Rep. Sean Quinlan, meanwhile, easily deflected a challenge by GOP candidate Boyd Ready in the North Shore’s District 47, which includes the area from Haleiwa to Kaaawa. Quinlan took 55.4% of the vote to 41% for Ready.

In Ewa, Democratic former state Rep. Matt LoPresti won the closest legislative race to reclaim his old District 41 seat, which he vacated in 2018 to make an unsuccessful run for the state Senate.

LoPresti had 48.3% of the vote, while his Republican opponent David “Bradda” Alcos had 46.9%, a difference of only 201 votes. That district includes Ewa Gentry, Ewa Villages and Ocean Pointe.

In another setback for the Hawaii GOP, Kukana Kama-Toth lost by a substantial margin to Democrat Lisa Marten in the Windward race to replace Democratic Rep. Chris Lee, who vacated his District 51 House seat to run for the Senate.

Marten had 52.5% of the vote to Kama-Toth’s 38.9% in District 51, which includes Waimanalo and parts of Kailua.

Senator Kurt Fevella stopped by the H3 tunnels near where the press conference with Governor Ige was happening today. September 1, 2020
Sen. Kurt Fevella was the lone Republican in the 25-member chamber. Cory Lum/Civil Beat/2020

The bottom line is that Democrats claimed 47 seats in the 51-member House.

In the Senate, former Republican state Sen. Sam Slom’s comeback bid against freshman Democratic Sen. Stanley Chang stalled out in Senate District 9, which includes the East Honolulu area from Hawaii Kai to Kahala and Diamond Head.

Chang won with 58.8% of the vote to Slom’s 36.2%.

Sen. Kurt Fevella, who is now the only Republican in the 25-member Senate, easily defeated Democratic Rep. Rida Cabanilla Arakawa in her bid to unseat him in Senate District 19.

Fevella had 56.4% of the vote in results in that district, which includes Ewa Beach and Iroquois Point, while Cabanilla Arakawa trailed with 40.2%.

Rep. Rida Cabanilla, center, was challenging Sen. Kurt Fevella to represent Ewa. Rep. John Mizuno, left, won another term but Rep. Tom Brower, right, lost in the primary. 

Lee, meanwhile, easily won his bid to move up from the House to the Senate’s Windward District 25 to replace his fellow Democrat Sen. Laura Thielen, who did not run for re-election.

Lee received 61.5% of the vote compared with 33.2% for Republican Kristina Kim-Marshall. That district extends from Kailua and Lanikai to Portlock and Hawaii Kai.

Another new face in the Senate will be state Rep. Joy San Buenaventura, who easily bested Aloha Aina Party candidate and retired musician Ron Ka-Ipo. San Buenaventura won 67.8% of the vote while Ka-Ipo secured 22.4%.

Meanwhile, Democratic Sen. Bennette Misalucha, who was appointed by Gov. David Ige to the Senate District 16 seat after the death of Sen. Breene Harimoto this year, won the race to fill out the rest of Harimoto’s term.

Misalucha had 48.4% of the vote, while Republican Kelly Kitashima had 43.4%. That district includes Pearl City, Pearlridge, Aiea and Newtown.

It appeared this year that the newly formed Aloha Aina Party might get a political boost from last year’s protests against the Thirty Meter Telescope on Hawaii island, but when it came down to the actual voting on Tuesday, that proved not to be the case.

The Aloha Aina Party fielded candidates for 14 seats in the House and Senate, but the energy of the thousands of participants at the 2019 protests did not translate into success at the polls this year.

The new party’s candidates lost all of the races they entered by substantial margins. Of the Aloha Aina members who ran for House and Senate seats, the highest performing were Ka-Ipo in his Senate race and Howard Greenberg in his bid for House District 11 representing Kihei and Wailea. Ka-Ipo and Greenberg each received about 22% of the vote.

Democrat Adrian Tam ousted Rep. Tom Brower in the primary and was easily fending off ultraconservative Nicholas Ochs in the general. 

The arrival of the new crop of younger Democratic newcomers to the Legislature probably won’t trigger any major upheaval in the House and Senate leadership this year, but may foretell some significant changes in the years ahead.

House incumbents generally have a relatively easy time winning re-election, which means the younger candidates who won office this year will probably have plenty of time to help reshape state policy if they choose to remain in the Legislature.

The Legislature has also often been a stepping-stone to bigger things. U.S. Sens. Brian Schatz and Mazie Hirono and U.S. Reps. Tulsi Gabbard and Ed Case all got their political start in the state House before making runs for higher office.

The younger candidates who were elected Tuesday included Adrian Tam, 27, who ousted state Rep. Tom Brower in the Democratic primary in District 22, which includes Waikiki and Ala Moana.

Tam trounced Nicholas Ochs, the founder of the Hawaii chapter of the Proud Boys, a right-wing organization that has been described by the Southern Poverty Law Center as a hate group. Tam won with 63% to Ochs’ 29.7%.

Another newcomer is former Hawaii County Councilman Greggor Ilagan, 34, a Democrat running in House District 4 in Puna who easily defeated Aloha Aina candidate Desmon Haumea and Republican Hope Cermelj.

Candidate Greggor Ilagan from Hawaii island. 15 july 2016
Democrat Greggor Ilagan, seen here during his unsuccessful 2016 bid to represent part of Hawaii island in the Senate, ran against Aloha Aina and Republican candidates this year. Cory Lum/Civil Beat

Ilagan won 65.8% of the vote, while Haumea had 11.7% and Cermelj had 16.4%.

Democrat Jackson Sayama, 23, also won easily in House District 20, the Honolulu district that includes Palolo, St. Louis Heights and Kaimuki. Sayama had 70.6% of the vote in early returns, which gave him a commanding win over Republican Julia Allen, who had 24%.

Allen, 72, has run in that House district against former Rep. Calvin Say every two years since 2004, but never won. Say vacated the seat this year to move to the Honolulu City Council.

Another member of the under-30 set who is entering the Legislature is Jeanne Kapela, 25, who will replace outgoing state Rep. Richard Creagan in the District 5 House seat that includes Naalehu, Ocean View and parts of Kailua-Kona.

Kapela won 68.4% of the vote, according the latest results, while Aloha Aina candidate Citlalli Johanna Decker had 6.9%, and Libertarian Michael Last had 13.4%.

The newcomers also include Ernesto “Sonny” Ganaden, 39, who defeated longtime state Rep. Romy Cachola in the Democratic primary this year in House District 30. That district includes Kalihi, Pearl Harbor and parts of Halawa.

Ganaden won his race with 64.4% of the vote, while his Republican opponent Tess Quilingking secured only 30.3%.

The leadership of the Legislature appears unlikely to undergo any sudden, major shifts after the election this year in large part because so many veteran Democratic lawmakers were unopposed, and will return to office.

When there is little turnover among the representatives and senators, that tends to stabilize existing political alliances and power sharing arrangements at the Capitol.

In the Senate the unopposed Democrats include Senate President Ron Kouchi in Senate District 8, which includes Kauai and Niihau; Sen. Brian Taniguchi in District 11, which includes Manoa, Makiki and the Punchbowl area; Sen. Donna Mercado Kim in District 14, which includes Kapalama, Kalihi and Moanalua; and Sen. Glenn Wakai in District 15, which includes Mapunapuna, Salt Lake, Foster Village and Pearl Harbor.

In the House, the Democratic lawmakers who were unopposed this year included House Finance Chairwoman Rep. Sylvia Luke in District 25, which includes Makiki, Nuuanu and Pauoa; House Labor and Public Employment Chairman Aaron Johanson in District 31, which includes Moanalua, Red Hill, Aiea and Aliamanu; House Transportation Chairman Henry Aquino in District 38 in Waipahu; Rep. Nicole Lowen in District 6, which extends from Kailua-Kona to Honokohau; Rep. David Tarnas in District 7, including North Kona and North and South Kohala; Rep. Scott Nishimoto in District 21, which extends from Kapahulu to McCully and Moiliili; Rep. Dale Kobayashi in District 23, including Manoa, Punahou and Moiliili; Rep. Takashi Ohno in District 27, including Nuuanu, Liliha and Alewa Heights; Rep. John Mizuno in District 28, including Kalihi and Kamehameha Heights; and Rep. Linda Ichiyama in District 32, including Moanalua Valley, Salt Lake and Aliamanu.

A significant number of other Democratic lawmakers effectively won their offices at the time of the Aug. 8 primary this year because the GOP, Aloha Aina Party and other parties failed to field any candidates in those districts.

The Democratic lawmakers who were elected outright in the primary include Sen. Les Ihara in District 10, including Kaimuki, Kapahulu, Palolo and Moiliili; Senate Judiciary Chairman Karl Rhoads in District 13, including Nuuanu, Punchbowl, Liliha, Iwilei and Chinatown; Rep. Troy Hashimoto in House District 8, including Waihee and Wailuku; Rep. Kyle Yamashita in House District 12, which includes Spreckelsville, Pukalani and Kahului; House Speaker Scott Saiki in District 26, including McCully, Kakaako and downtown Honolulu; Rep. Daniel Holt in District 29, including Kalihi, Iwilei and Chinatown; Rep. Sharon Har in District 42, including Kapolei and Makakilo; Rep. Amy Perruso in District 46, including Wahiawa and Whitmore Village; and Rep. Lisa Kitagawa in District 48, which extends from Kaneohe to Waiahole.

This is a developing story. Check back for updates as more results come in.

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