Chad Blair: Ed Case Draws A Challenger From The Left - Honolulu Civil Beat


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Chad Blair

Chad Blair is the politics and opinion editor for Civil Beat. You can reach him by email at cblair@civilbeat.org or follow him on Twitter at @chadblairCB.


If you are thinking about running for the U.S. Congress from Hawaii, here are some essential platform positions you might want to favor:

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A livable minimum wage. Pro-labor, pro-working class and pro-choice. Universal health care and universal pre-K.

A pathway to citizenship to keep families together. A planet that’s not destroyed by climate change.

Those are some of the issues that Sergio Alcubilla has outlined on his website, Sergio4Hawaii. “Husband, Father, Immigrant, Poverty Law Leader/Attorney, Community Organizer and Servant Leader,” reads a recent tweet.

Alcubilla — it’s pronounced al-coo-bill-ya — is a candidate for Hawaii’s 1st Congressional District, which encompasses the greater urban Oahu area. He possesses the kind of eager idealism often evinced in young-ish candidates (he is 42) in their first run for political office, before a couple of years on the job can sand down the edges.

But Alcubilla’s campaign faces two big challenges: Most people have never heard of him, making it difficult to raise money and get the word out. And the seat that he is running for is held by Rep. Ed Case, who says he is seeking reelection.

Sergio Alcubilla and family.
A recent tweet from Sergio Alcubilla. 

“We are just getting started, and I know it’s an uphill battle,” Alcubilla says. “I know my rival will get business money and probably outspend me. But this is about going door to door and fighting for values. This race will be not about money but about people who care. I think it’s worth it. We are going to outwork Rep. Case.”

In an email Friday, Case confirmed that he is a candidate for reelection to the House, and that he welcomes challengers.

“I take no vote for granted, and will work as hard as I can to again earn my constituents’ trust and support for my continued service to our Hawaii and country,” he writes. “I look forward to a full campaign with any opponents who believe they can do a better job.”

Congressman Elect Ed Case Dole Cannery Ballroom.
Congressman-elect Ed Case at the Dole Cannery Ballroom in 2018. Cory Lum/Civil Beat/2018

Most political observers I know feel that Case will easily win another term.

“I would call his seat safe,” says John Hart, a Hawaii Pacific University professor of communication. “I think he has obviously reached some sort of detente with those in the party who view him as a maverick — and I am not talking about the progressive end of the party but the administrative end. So I don’t think he will get a challenge from that direction.”

Hart continued: “But if the progressives managed to make waves, might the power structure reconsider? That would take a major shift. Case is an incumbent Democrat in the state of Hawaii, and history indicates that they do extremely well. While some paint him as being to the right of his constituency, I don’t see a grassroots level of unhappiness with him outside of the progressive end.”

Case, 69, was unopposed in the 2020 Democratic Primary and defeated his Republican opponent in a landslide.

But he has made some local progressives unhappy with him. Last month a group called Our Hawaii Action launched a six-figure media campaign to persuade the congressman to back President Biden’s $3.5 trillion Build Back Better plan.

Case is one of a handful of moderates “who have expressed misgivings about the size of the budget deal and some of its more ambitious provisions that are backed by the left wing of the party,” as my D.C. colleague Nick Grube recently wrote.

Biden’s Priorities

Case preferred that the House vote on the $1 trillion bipartisan infrastructure plan first, which has some Senate Republicans on board. He supports Build Back Better but has concerns about how it will be paid for.

Now, both plans are in limbo as Congress and the president try to hammer out a deal.

I am not sure how much of a campaign issue BBB will be, come next August when the primary rolls around. But Alcubilla says Biden’s plan “is at the very heart of my campaign for Congress.”

As he explains on his website, “It will lower costs for working families and seniors, reduce taxes for our families with children, invest in our teachers and schools, and create new jobs to combat climate change. By making the tax code fairer so the wealthiest and large corporations pay their fair share, we can finally take a step towards an economy that works for all of us, not just those at the top.”

Alcubilla also supports the George Floyd Justice in Policing Act (it’s stalled), the Green New Deal (ditto) and the Equality Act, which would amend the Civil Rights Act of 1964 to prohibit discrimination on the basis of sex, sexual orientation and gender identity in areas including public accommodations and facilities and education (ditto again).

Alcubilla, married and a father of two who lives in Pauoa, was previously an attorney and the director of external relations at the Legal Aid Society of Hawaii. He earned his law degree at the William S. Richardson School of Law at the University of Hawaii.

He is a board director of the Hawaii Filipino Lawyers Association, and is a board director of the Filipino Young Leaders Program. Of late, he is a volunteer member of the sponsoring committee for the Hawaii Workers Center, a nonprofit that advocates for the rights of low-wage workers.

Born in Iloilo City, the Philippines, Alcubilla immigrated to the United States when he was 7 years old after his father — according to the candidate’s website — a military police officer, was assassinated “by a communist hit-squad during the tumultuous times” of the People Power Revolution during the Marcos dictatorship. He eventually attended University of Florida where he pursued a double major in political science and economics following the 9/11 terrorist attack.

‘A Different Path’

His website says that Alcubilla was inspired to complete seminary school and receive a master’s degree in religious education with a focus on inter-faith and inter-religious peace building.

What he does not say is that it was at Unification Theological Seminary in New York City, which was founded by the Rev. Sun Myung Moon. Now deceased, Moon was a figure of some controversy, including in 1982 a conviction and prison time in the United States of filing false federal income tax returns and conspiracy.

Asked about UTS, Alcubilla describes it “as one of those things I did in my 20s. The idealization of youth.”

After toying with a run for Hawaii lieutenant governor in 2022, Alcubilla switched to the CD1 race. His supporters include Tim Vandeveer, the former chair of the Hawaii Democratic Party, and Gary Hooser, a former vice chair of the party and former state senator who himself ran unsuccessfully for Congress and the lieutenant governor’s office.

“He’s demonstrated through his work in his life and experience that he cares about and is committed to working people, the disadvantaged, families,” Hooser told me. “He could have chosen a different path to make money, gone to work for a big firm or company but he didn’t.

Hooser continued: “Congress, quite frankly, and all of politics is full of people who look at the world through a lens of privilege. And Sergio looks at the world through the authentic lens of who he is — a childhood immigrant, working families — and that is refreshing. You don’t get much more grassroots than Sergio.”


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About the Author

Chad Blair

Chad Blair is the politics and opinion editor for Civil Beat. You can reach him by email at cblair@civilbeat.org or follow him on Twitter at @chadblairCB.


Latest Comments (0)

I have known Sergio for several years and met him initially when he was still a law student.  Throughout the years that I have known him, he has always endeavored to serve his community and always advocated for vulnerable populations.  He chose a career in public interest law and advocacy because he truly believes in making a meaningful difference in people's lives.  He spends much of his spare time volunteering (e.g., legal clinics, citizenship drives, honoring Filipino WWII veterans).  I know that he is running for office for these same selfless reasons and not for his own ego or advancement.   Sergio is not your stereotypical politician.  He is a kind, thoughtful, high-character individual and has a strong and deep morality rooted in recognizing and valuing human dignity and uplifting the community.  I look forward to voting for him.    

phildureza · 2 weeks ago

The question Hawaiians need to ask an incumbent like Ed Case is this:How big is the gulf between his words and his deeds vis-a-vis representing the interests of the citizens of Hawaii?Wouldn't it be useful for Hawaii voters have an answer by research journalists before the primary and the general election? 

cyberguest2020 · 2 weeks ago

Re-elect Augie!

Ranger_MC · 2 weeks ago

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