Former Rep. Jo Jordan and Rep. Cedric Gates are facing off against each other for the fifth election in a row, vying to represent Waianae, Makaha and Makua in West Oahu.

Their rivalry has a history.

Filing as a Democrat in 2016 for what was then District 44, Gates, 29, was eventually deemed ineligible to run for the party’s nomination because he had run as a Green Party candidate two years previously. But it was too late. He remained on the ballot and beat then-incumbent Jordan by about 10 percentage points, translating to less than 300 votes in that election. 

His share of the vote has only increased since then, more than doubling Jordan’s in 2020. 

Jordan, 60, still isn’t over it, questioning Gates’ Democratic credentials since his Green Party candidacy was supposed to render him ineligible to run as a Democrat until 2017. 

“Yes, you were elected as a Democrat, but you’re not a Democrat,” she said of Gates. 

Jo Jordan and Cedric Gates
Jo Jordan and Cedric Gates have both lived in Waianae for almost their entire lives, and have both served as chair of the neighborhood board. Cory Lum/Civil Beat/2018

The dispute reflects the Democratic Party’s strong grasp on Hawaii, powerful enough to make candidates spar over who’s a real Democrat and who’s not. Gates realized it after his 2014 loss as a Green Party candidate, he said. With a slim chance of winning public office, he had substantially less access to state resources that could benefit Waianae.

“Being a Democrat – I believe – is how I can help my community the most,” Gates said.

Whoever wins the Aug. 13 primary will then compete against the Republican candidate in the Nov. 8 general election. Maysana A. Aldeguer, Cherie Kuualoha, and Tiana Wilbur are squaring off for the GOP nomination.

An Isolated District

District 45 sits far from Downtown Honolulu. Following recent redistricting, it includes Waianae, Makaha and Makua.

Temperatures are a little warmer here, where coastal arid hills jutting into the sky and a backdrop of green valleys make for dramatic scenery.

Farrington Highway – with only two lanes running each direction – connects this region to the rest of the island.

Without traffic, the commute downtown takes a little less than an hour. Rush hour and lane closures, including one last week due to a fire, add to this. 

“We have times where people have missed weddings and missed airplane flights because they weren’t able to get through the traffic in time,” said Gates. 

Each candidate has pitched legislation allowing the use of an additional lane on H1 during rush hour traffic; Gates’ most recent suggestion has been trying to add a secondary access route so Waianae residents aren’t solely dependent on Farrington Highway. 

Jordan’s approach more closely mirrors the Hawaii Department of Transportation’s. She appreciated the organization’s bluntness when it came to the infeasibility of building more roads due to the limited availability of land.

“We don’t have enough space to create more roads,” she said.

Instead, she said, smarter phone systems facilitated by city and state transportation agencies can alert residents to heavy traffic and suggest bus routes.

Waianae’s location also seeps into how residents feel they are perceived. 

Out of sight from the rest of Oahu, residents have often felt overlooked; nearby Makua valley, for example, was for decades used by the U.S. military for weapons testing, a legacy it’s still grappling with today

Waianae High School embodies the region’s mix of successes and difficulties. Its famous Searider Productions multimedia program has won nationwide acclaim, though the school’s percentage of seniors applying for federal college aid is the lowest in the state.

This dynamic adds extra weight to the job of effectively representing District 45. 

Aerial drone view of Waianae, with Farrington Highway extending out
Farrington Highway serves as residents’ sole route in or out of the region. Kuʻu Kauanoe/Civil Beat/2021

Securing Resources

Jordan and Gates tussled even before 2016’s electoral showdown. 

Waianae has a large homeless population as evidenced by the tents propped up along the beach next to Farrington Highway. 

Jordan, a supporter of shelters and wraparound services, has little patience for those who refuse these resources.

“I was talking about homeless issues before people were talking about homeless issues,” she said, referring to her experience on the neighborhood board, where she advocated for a 10 p.m. park closure to discourage people from spending the night there. 

“There’s people out there, (who say) ‘I choose this. I have every right to do this,’” she said. 

“‘Well,” she said, “I have every right as a taxpayer to be able to use that space as my picnic for my child’s birthday party. Why are you depriving me of that? Why are we subjected to having to look at that every single day?”

This came to a head in 2015, when Jordan was the region’s state representative and Gates was neighborhood board chair.

Jordan wanted to clear the parks with law enforcement; Gates disagreed, arguing that the homeless community now known as Pu’uhonua o Waianae shouldn’t have been forced out of its location on public land. 

“I’ve seen what happens when we do these large enforcements,” said Gates. “We’re just kicking the can down the road … I’d be in favor of enforcement if we had a plan. But not even then – because the plan shouldn’t be an enforcement, it should be a transition.”

Jordan introduced a Homeless Bill of Rights in 2013, which would’ve instituted anti-discrimination measures, voting rights, and privacy rights, among others, but the bill didn’t make it further than the House Judiciary Committee.

Community Legacies

Both candidates are essentially lifelong residents of the district, and both served as Waianae Coast’s neighborhood board chair directly before entering state office.

Jordan was appointed her district’s state representative in 2011, filling a vacancy left when Maile Shimabukuro moved to fill a different vacancy left in the state Senate. She ran her own tax accounting business until then, and joined the neighborhood board in the early 2000s after a client suggested it to her, she said. 

“I really had no interest in running for public office,” she said of her mindset before then.

Gates, who said his interest in civic life had been most catalyzed by a fitness nonprofit he started called Active Hawaii, was only 23 years old when he was first elected state representative.

“I wanted to be very active in the community,” he said, especially when it came to “getting appropriate resources invested into our community at our parks and our beaches and programs our kids could utilize.” 

Jordan emerged victorious in their first electoral contest in 2014. But Gates returned in 2016, switching his affiliation to the Democratic Party and beating Jordan in the primary that year. 

Gates said he originally registered as a Democrat in early 2014 to run in the party’s primary, but was told that candidates need to have been registered Democrats at least six months before officially running — a threshold he missed by only about a week.

“So I said, ‘If I can’t run as a Democrat, what’s the closest to the Democratic Party?’ And that’s the Green Party,” he said.

The Democratic party’s bylaws say that members who voluntarily resign their registration to file as another party’s candidate are barred from reenrolling for at least three years. But Gates reenrolled less than three years later, an error the party failed to address before ballots went out in 2016.

Running as a Democrat wasn’t just about getting elected, said Gates — while he doesn’t agree with all of the party’s stances, he does share a lot of its values. And once in the Legislature, he added, it’s far easier to provide for your constituents as a Democrat than as a Republican. 

Beyond infrastructure and homelessness, Jordan and Gates also emphasized other priorities for improving their district.

Waimanalo Gulch Sanitary Landfill Makai Ko Olina
The Waimanalo Gulch Sanitary Landfill, which sits inland on the Waianae Coast, has long been a point of contention in the community. Ku‘u Kauanoe/Civil Beat/2021

Candidate Priorities

Both stressed the importance of investing in Hawaii’s agriculture industry; Gates also mentioned bringing in money for local schools and opposing Thirty Meter Telescope. Jordan, referring to her experience on the neighborhood board, said that some of the area’s main issues have been the same for decades: the nearby landfill at Waimanalo Gulch, as well as Makua Valley’s historical use by the military.

Each candidate flaunted their respective legislative records as proving their value to the community, with Gates specifically mentioning his 2017 bill that established safe zones for homeless people and evolved into the Ohana Zones program.

When Jordan was in office, she used her accounting background to legislate appropriations related to social security, and passed legislation that aimed to improve the process of awarding public works construction contracts.

She also made national headlines in 2013 by becoming the first openly gay candidate to vote against same-sex marriage, stressing that she agreed with its sentiment but not with its implementation that she believed wasn’t as bulletproof as it could’ve been. The measure passed anyway. 

She was able to weather the criticism over that decision and was reelected the next year. So far, she hasn’t been able to replicate that win.

Running unsuccessfully each cycle wears you down, she said, adding that she almost declined to run this year before some supporters urged her to try again.

The 2016 debacle left a sour taste in her mouth. Combined with the scorn she received in 2013, she’s felt unsupported by the Democratic Party. 

Jordan won’t run as a Republican. But those aren’t the only two options – right?

“Well, no,” she said. “There’s Libertarian. There’s Green Party. Independent.” 

She paused, then said, “I’ve never seen any one of those guys get elected in the state of Hawaii.”

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