Incumbent Bennette Misalucha isn’t even half way through her first term as a state senator, but she’s already facing what could be her second tough election.

Misalucha, a Democrat, was first appointed to the Senate District 16 seat in July 2020 after Breene Harimoto died. She then beat Republican Kelly Kitashima by about 1,100 votes in a special election to hold onto the seat.

Now she will face experienced politician Brandon Elefante, who terms out of his Honolulu City Council seat after serving eight years, in the Aug. 13 primary election. The winner will compete against Republican Patricia Beekman in the Nov. 8 general election.

Both Democratic candidates vying to represent Central Oahu – Halawa Heights, Aiea, Waimalu, Kalauao, Waiau, Pacific Palisades and portions of Pearl City – promised to tackle concerns about public safety, housing and homelessness.

“This is one of these races where I’m sure there are issue disagreements, but it’s a name ID race,” said Colin Moore, director of the Public Policy Center at the University of Hawaii Manoa. “It’s interesting because you have an incumbent who hasn’t been there for that long being challenged by a well-known member of the council.”

Bennette Misalucha.
Sen. Bennette Misalucha is seeking reelection for Senate District 16. Cory Lum/Civil Beat/2022

Longtime Friends

Misalucha, a former banking and marketing executive, and Elefante said they’ve been friends for nearly a decade. Despite being opponents, neither spoke ill of the other, except Misalucha said Elefante now calls her Ms. Misalucha instead of Auntie Bennette.

“I’m just being professional,” he said when asked about the race. “That’s what makes it difficult. We’re friends, and at the end of the day, no matter what happens, I know the community is going to be in good hands.”

Misalucha said the biggest issue facing the district is preparing the younger generation for lucrative jobs. She said “40% of Aiea High School graduates reportedly are not college-bound.”

“I see providing good, well-paying jobs as a priority in our district,” she said. “We need to invest in initiatives that would enable our graduates to learn new skills and connect with good jobs so they can comfortably raise their families.”

Misalucha suggested piloting a workforce development initiative at two high schools in the district. She’s talking with a company in the private sector to set up an academic or certification model to prepare students for jobs. She said the plans are underway.

Elefante said he has knocked on more than 8,000 doors and found that residents’ No. 1 concern was public safety, specifically concerning crime levels.

“With burglaries or things that are happening in some of these quiet neighborhoods that normally don’t experience this over the years,” he said. “We’re talking long-time homeowners who’ve been there for many generations.”

He pointed to the Honolulu Police Department’s problems with recruitment and overtime.

HPD is short some 350 sworn officers and hundreds more civilians to answer emergency calls, manage computer databases, process evidence and pursue parking violations.

To address the issue, Elefante wants to advocate for community policing and community engagement.

“Each district has a team of police officers with a sergeant, they work with the community, they go out, they work with lawmakers and stakeholders, and they basically build relationships with homeowners,” Elefante said. “ Of course there’s education but also to enforce the law.”

Brandon Elefante.
Honolulu City Council member Brandon Elefante is running for Senate District 16. Cory Lum/Civil Beat/2022

Tackling Homelessness

Both candidates also want to address homelessness in their district.

According to the latest state Point-In-Time Count, homelessness decreased nearly 11% but went up slightly with regard to people living on the streets.

Misalucha points to several homeless encampments in Aiea, Pacific Palisades and along the Pearl Harbor bike path. She said funding more mental health initiatives would help.

Specifically, she wants a collaborative, community-based approach. She suggested creating a task force composed of community leaders, stakeholders and faith-based organizations.

Misalucha said she’s asking the city to establish the Homeless Outreach and Navigation for Unsheltered Persons, or HONU, in her district. The program, funded by Ohana Zones and operated by HPD, would provide a 24/7 short-term shelter that transitions homeless people to long-term shelters and other housing options.

Misalucha also said she wants a permanent homeless shelter in the district.

If elected to Senate District 16, Elefante said he wants to continue funding the state’s Ohana Zones and the city’s Crisis, Outreach, Response and Engagement program.

“It’s a very critical piece,” Elefante said.

Aloha Stadium aerial Aiea HART Rail aerial.
Candidates weigh in on the New Aloha Stadium Entertainment District. Cory Lum/Civil Beat/2018

He said that he wants to funnel more money to providers of mental health services, transitional housing and shelter space.

Elefante said he had opposed the sit-lie ban, an ordinance that targeted homeless people by making it illegal to sit or lie in some city streets.

Critics complain that the ordinance simply forced homeless people to move to different neighborhoods rather than providing services.

Both candidates also expressed views on what type of housing should be built at the Aloha Stadium site, which is intended to be a mixed-used development with space for hotels, retail and housing

Misalucha said the developer should determine what type of housing should be built at the New Aloha Stadium Entertainment District.

“There has to be some community input, but we should let the developers present their ideas,” Misalucha said.

Meanwhile, Elefante said that he would like to see mixed housing that includes rentals and for-sale units.

“There has to be a balance,” Elefante said. “I think we want to see something that’s a revitalized area.”

“There’s also traffic concerns from nearby residents in Aiea and Halawa. The stadium will get traffic on special events, graduations, 50th State Fair, whatever it may be,” he added. “But when you add a housing component, you’ll have people living there so people are going to and from daily.”

Money Race

Elefante has raised about $38,200 more in campaign contributions than Misalucha from Jan. 1 to June 30, despite starting the year with less cash on hand than her.

Elefante reported raising $89,543 in those six months for a total of about $91,434 since beginning the campaign. He started the year with $20,182 on hand and still has $56,765 after spending $52,961 so far this year, according to the latest Campaign Spending Commission report.

Misalucha has more cash on hand with $71,776, after spending $29,913. She started this year with $50,367 and raised $51,322 in the most recent reporting period for a total of nearly $87,172 since the election campaign began.

 

Developers and realtors were among Elefante's biggest contributors, including Brett MacNaughton ($3,089), Kohala Properties Realtor Charles Hew-Len ($2,060), Oahu eXP Realty Realtor Caron Ling ($1,500), Stanford Carr ($1,000) and President and CEO of the Hawaii Community Development Board Kali Watson ($1,000).

Engineering firm R.M. Towill Corp.'s President Greg Hiyakumoto gave $1,000 while the company's vice president and department manager David Tanoue gave $2,000.

Nathan Okubo, an attorney with Cades Schutte, also gave about $3,743, while the campaigns of City Council Chair Tommy Waters and council member Calvin Say, each gave $2,000. He got $1,030 from the city's Department of Emergency and Medical Services Director James Ireland and $200 from Department of Transportation Services Deputy Director Jon Nouchi.

Elefante also got support from several unions and political action committees including Iron Workers for Better Government ($1,000), Service Corporation International Political Action Committee ($300), Tapers Local Union 1944 PAC ($250), Painters Union Local 1791 ($250) and CLSTU 1926 PAC ($250).

Misalucha got the maximum contribution allowed, at $4,000 each, from the Plumbers and Pipefitters Political Action Committee, the Ironworkers for Better Government Local 625, Charter Communications Inc., ILWU Local 142 Hawaii Political Action Committee and the campaign of Rep. Glenn Wakai.

Other large donors included Pasty T. Mink PAC ($3,000), Hawaii Concerts ($2,125), Island Insurance PAC ($1,500) and Masons Local 630 PAC ($1,500).

An Important Note

If you consider nonprofit, independent news to be an essential service that helps keep our community informed, please include Civil Beat among your year-end contributions.

And for those who can, consider supporting us with a monthly gift, which helps keep our content free for those who need it most.

This year, we are making it our goal to raise $225,000 in reader support by December 31, to support our news coverage statewide and throughout the Pacific. Are you ready to help us continue this work?

About the Author