Seaula “Junior” Tupa‘i, the Hawaii Republican Party’s candidate for lieutenant governor, doesn’t think he and his running mate Duke Aiona have many differences.

His past statements on social media, in news interviews and other forums might indicate otherwise. Judging by those alone, Tupa‘i is a pro-life, pro-gun activist and election denier who disagrees with government mandates during the pandemic.

He still thinks the government mandates were too harsh. But since the Aug. 13 primary, Tupa‘i has tempered his public statements and now appears to align more with Aiona on many issues.

“Maybe it was messaging or packaging. But in the end, bottom line, we align,” Tupa‘i says.

Left, Lt. Governor candidate Junior Tupai and Gubernatorial candidate Duke Aiona called a press conference urging the Ige/Green administration to convene a legislature special session to address a criminal and public safety issue.
Lt. Gov. candidate Junior Tupa’i, left, believes he and Duke Aiona now “see eye to eye” on their talking points and messaging. Cory Lum/Civil Beat/2022

In a wide-ranging interview with Civil Beat, Tupa‘i, like Aiona, said policy decisions on abortion in Hawaii should be left up to the Legislature, and that he’d accept the outcome of future elections.

So far, Aiona and Tupa‘i haven’t diverged too far from each other. They appear together at press conferences, and Tupa‘i calls Aiona a “consummate mentor.”

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That contrasts with the race Andria Tupola and outspoken businesswoman Marissa Kerns ran in 2018. Kerns, Tupola’s LG running mate, publicly questioned Tupola’s voting record as a legislator and her conservatism. She also complained about her perceived treatment by Tupola and the GOP.

The two never really presented much of a united front, and went on to lose to Gov. David Ige and Lt. Gov. Josh Green 61% to 33%.

That’s an outcome Tupa‘i and Aiona hope to avoid.

Bridging Divides

Tupa‘i was born and raised in San Jose, California. His parents, who are from American Samoa, moved to Hawaii to work in a Kalihi church under the Rev. Eddie Laulu.

Tupa‘i worked as an instructor for the Youth Challenge program in Hilo as well as a football coach for Hilo High School until 2016. Working with children in both settings, including some who were flunking out of school, inspired him to work for his parents’ church.

“I realized the kids weren’t the problem,” Tupa‘i said. “It’s the environment they grew up in.”

Hilo High School sign fronting the school on the island of Hawaii reminds students to Wear A Mask, Wash your Hands and Social Distance during a surge in COVID-19 cases. September 24, 2020
Tupa‘i coached football in Hilo and is now a pastor in the area. Cory Lum/Civil Beat/2020

Tupa‘i is now a senior pastor at Overcoming Faith Center in Hilo, the same church his parents once ran. His sister Helen Tupa‘i, a candidate for state Senate, also works at the church.

He decided to run for office this year at the urging of churchgoers, who he said didn’t agree with the direction the state was headed. His reasons for running aren’t that much different from most candidates in the state: finding ways to lower the cost of living, build more housing and slow out-migration from the state.

Tupa‘i said he’d rather focus on issues affecting Hawaii rather than those grabbing national attention.

“If you keep it on local issues, I believe that divisiveness, those chasms, begin to fade away,” Tupa‘i said.

He’s glad Lt. Gov. Josh Green and Rep. Sylvia Luke, who are on the Democratic ticket for governor and lieutenant governor, both highlighted affordable housing as an issue they’d like to tackle if elected.

“I believe they want to serve. They want to help with housing, we do too,” Tupa‘i said. “There’s just certain ways we might go about doing it differently.”

Toning It Down

Tupa‘i has toned down his own views on many of those national issues.

Tupa‘i has described himself as pro-life and in a Civil Beat Candidate Forum essay wrote that he wants to connect women considering abortion with people who want to adopt in order to “save the lives they carry in their wombs.”

He still doesn’t believe abortion should be used as a form of contraception but said the executive branch should not push for any changes to Hawaii’s current abortion laws. Any changes should be left up to the Legislature, Tupa‘i said, echoing responses from Aiona on the same issue.

If voters want those laws to change, then they need to elect state lawmakers who would do so.

“All we do in the executive branch is we’re enforcing the laws that legislators pass,” Tupa‘i said. “If you want to see change, or if you want things to stay the same, then you need to put people in office that are going to resonate with what you want to see done.”

In June, he appeared on a panel hosted by Seth Keshel, a prominent election denier.

Tupa‘i appeared on a panel with other GOP candidates hosted by prominent election denier Seth Keshel. Screenshot/2022

During the panel, Tupa‘i said he would not have certified the election results and would work to bring back traditional polling places and move away from Hawaii’s all-mail voting system. Keshel endorsed Tupa‘i, saying he is a “home run on election integrity, opposing cultural Marxism, protecting life and supporting individual liberties.”

Election officials across the country and numerous courts, as well as those here in Hawaii, have not found any evidence of widespread voter fraud despite false claims by former President Donald Trump and his supporters that the 2020 election was stolen.

Aiona has also said there is no evidence to show the election was rigged.

Asked if the 2020 election was conducted fairly, Tupa‘i said that “there were a lot of discrepancies I saw. Different things that I saw.” He didn’t offer specific details on what those discrepancies were.

What about the most recent election?

“I think for the most part, yes,” Tupa‘i said, adding that if people have concerns with the election process they should “take the proper channels” to address those issues.

He said he still had concerns with the chain of custody for ballots, and ensuring that all ballots cast are counted. Tupa‘i said that he and Aiona would accept the results of the Nov. 8 general election even if they lose.

“We’ll stand by the rule of law,” he said.

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