Two years after Democrat Matt LoPresti eked out a victory against his Republican challenger David Alcos, they’re returning for a rematch. 

Their arena is House District 41, one of a cluster of competitive districts around Ewa where a fast-increasing population has been straining existing infrastructure.

“They don’t put in enough roads, they don’t put in enough schools,” said LoPresti, who first entered office in 2014. “When the people move in, there’s not enough infrastructure.” 

And move in they do – from 2010 to 2020, the area’s population increased by about 25%, a rate far more aggressive than Honolulu County’s 6.6% increase over the same time period.

Ewa Villages and Ewa Gentry housing with a current view of the HART rail project along Kualakai Parkway and surrounding housing subdivisions. 2022.
The Ewa area in House District 41 has grown rapidly over the decades, from sugarcane fields to housing tracts. Cory Lum/Civil Beat/2022

All this new development is underscoring the District 41 election, not only when it comes to policy – which Alcos and LoPresti generally agree upon – but also when it comes to the different sides of Ewa Beach that each candidate represents.

From Sugarcane To Hoakalei

Sugarcane’s been in Hawaii since its first human inhabitants brought it over more than a thousand years ago.

Throughout the 1800s, sugarcane grew as an economic enterprise in the islands. When the American Civil War disrupted production in Louisiana, demand for Hawaii’s supply quickly increased, spurring the development of plantations in Ewa Plain and elsewhere.

But by the early 1980s, the once-thriving Ewa Plantation Co. had been bought out and its lease had expired, paving the way for the City and County of Honolulu to purchase Ewa Villages and plan for a population shift to the west side of Oahu.

This was a seismic change. 

“I grew up on a plantation sugarcane camp,” said Alcos, who attended James Campbell High School long before it became Hawaii’s most populous school. 

Alcos entered construction after graduating and eventually started his own firm, D.A. Builders, which allowed him to purchase a large house on the beach close to Ewa’s main artery, Fort Weaver Road. 

This grants him a status that he believes extends to neither LoPresti nor the politicians who came before him.

“They weren’t really from Ewa. They (weren’t) implanted here and raised and grown up here, and understand the culture of living and life here, and really deeply rooted and involved in the community,” said Alcos. 

David Alcos candidate House District 41.
David Alcos, the Republican nominee for House District 41, lost the same race in 2020 by fewer than 2 percentage points. Cory Lum/Civil Beat/2022

Alcos is running because he feels they haven’t put in the effort that he would, he said.

He stressed some of his community involvement bona fides: as a member of the Lions Club, as a football coach at James Campbell High School, and as a member of the neighborhood board. 

“I feel I’m deeply involved,” he said.

LoPresti has his own bona fides: as former member of the neighborhood board, as a member of the Sierra Club, and as a volunteer with the Limu Community project, among others.

Born in Pittsburgh and raised around Cleveland, he pursued philosophy in college and enrolled at the University of Hawaii Manoa to earn advanced degrees, eventually becoming a professor at Hawaii Pacific University. 

He’s adamant that this background doesn’t detract from his candidacy.

“Yeah, there’s newer houses, but it’s the same community,” said LoPresti. His wife’s family has been here for generations and his kids have grown up here. 

There is, he said, “this false idea that there’s two Ewas. There’s not. There’s one community.” 

Alcos feels the same. Though the two sides are separated geographically, he said, “we are one community.” 

Schools And Roads

It’s a community that’s constantly growing. 

Lower-than-average home prices have been luring young families out to this bedroom community, where residents’ commutes to job centers like Waikiki can take an hour each direction during rush hour traffic. 

Both candidates have ideas for how to combat this — and they’re pretty much the same.

Because so much of the traffic comes from residents commuting east to Honolulu, one part of the solution could be promoting more jobs on the west side, they said.

Kapolei has more business zoning, and Alcos said he’d like some of that closer to Ewa too, though “we like country to be country,” he said.

Alcos also hopes that rail finishes construction sooner rather than later.

LoPresti referenced a bill he sponsored in 2018 to implement tax credits for up to 20 businesses each year in the Kapolei area, though that stalled and hasn’t been picked up since. He also mentioned unused government land in the area that could be an additional location for west Oahu state workers.

Promoting work from home is another idea that each pitched.

After the pandemic showed its feasibility, said LoPresti, “I think we need to find ways to incentivize businesses to allow workers to work from home a couple days a week.”

Candidate Matt LoPresti.
Matt LoPresti, the incumbent and Democratic nominee for House District 41, pointed to his record of scoring state funds to improve local schools. Cory Lum/Civil Beat/2022

Even younger residents have felt the crowds.

James Campbell High School hosts more than 3,000 students, and its facilities — or lack thereof — have received criticism in recent years.

Classrooms had been hot, prompting LoPresti to campaign on bringing air conditioning to schools back in 2014. A few years later, a statewide program to do just that — with James Campbell on the “high priority” list — experienced delays, but ultimately, progress was made.

And no girls locker room exists, though that’s slated to be fixed soon. A new school for the region, East Kapolei High, is currently in the works, and each candidate is hopeful it’ll diffuse the crowded roads.

Each also takes some credit for these advancements.

LoPresti has said that large projects like these are the result of his and other legislators’ work.

Sure, LoPresti was in office at the time, Alcos said — but these projects were going to happen without his help anyway.

“I advocated for a new school here. I advocated for a park. I advocated for our beach parks here, I advocated for education here,” said Alcos.

Anyone’s Race

Financially, LoPresti’s campaign has about $9,100 on hand while Alcos’s has about $2,300 on hand, though Alcos outspent LoPresti by a few thousand dollars according to the most recent reports. The next reports are due Monday.

Each candidate brings legal baggage, with LoPresti being arrested on suspicion of driving while intoxicated this past summer, though that case was dismissed in early September. He referred to the court’s decision and declined to comment further.

Alcos’s construction business was sued for failing to pay its workers for a job, though he said that another contractor had agreed to pitch in for that before abandoning the project.

Civil Beat Elections Guide

In most other areas around the state, LoPresti’s status as a Democrat might be enough to buoy him to victory. But Ewa is more balanced — after a few years of serving in the Legislature, for example, LoPresti ran for state Senate in 2018 and lost to Kurt Fevella, who’s now the chamber’s sole Republican.

He regained his old House district seat in 2020, but it was a close race: the 642 voters who cast blank ballots would’ve flipped the seat if they’d instead voted for Alcos.

Each candidate said they could’ve campaigned harder in that race.

“Last time it was the pandemic, and I wanted to be very respectful to everybody,” said LoPresti. 

He kept a slim campaign team of himself and his daughter, he said, though his other daughter and his wife did some sign-waving too. This time he’s staging a larger operation.

Alcos employed a sizable campaign two years ago, but evidently it wasn’t enough.

“I think I’m working three to four times harder than I did last time,” he said. 

Mistakes were made then that won’t be made now – most notably, he said, his community involvement lulled him into a false sense of security that voters knew him and would vote for him. 

After all, he’d lived here for decades. 

“But with the new development coming in, and some people moving in and out,” he said, “I don’t know much of the people here.”

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