For the first time in eight years, Republicans are running a candidate against West Oahu’s longtime Democratic state House Rep. Sharon Har. 

She and her Republican challenger, Diamond Garcia, share more similarities than one might expect. 

Voters looking for a socially conservative candidate to represent them in House District 42 are in luck – both Har and Garcia fit the bill.

And each professes to be pro-business, averse to government regulations that they see as hurting both local companies and the communities these companies serve.

Sharon Har.
Democratic Rep. Sharon Har was first elected in 2006. So far, her pro-development stance has jibed well with her West Oahu constituents. Cory Lum/Civil Beat/2022

Where they differ most seems to be in their solutions for Hawaii’s costly housing, which each brings up as a dire issue. In a reversal of their political parties’ usual stances, Har leans toward using market incentives, while Garcia wants the government to step in with a heavier hand to control housing costs and supplies, specifically with regards to Hawaiian homelands.

The Second City

Prior to this year’s redistricting, District 42 vaguely resembled a capital letter “U” shape. The bottom part of the U contained Kapolei, while the left side – heading up the mountain – roughly took the western half of Makakilo. 

That’s changed now: the new District 42 has shifted east, encompassing everything from Ewa Villages to the University of Hawaii West Oahu and the East Kapolei, Kanehili and Kaupea Hawaiian homelands. 

“It’s this convergence of old and new,” said Har, referring to Ewa Villages’ plantation-era history. 

Development is a big topic across Oahu, but it’s perhaps most salient in Kapolei, where the City and County of Honolulu started encouraging residents to move in the 1990s in an initiative to make it the island’s “Second City.”

Har was among this group of residents.

“When I learned about the concept of the Second City, I got really excited,” she said. The promise of being part of something new drowned out her friends’ concerns that she’d be too far from urban Honolulu. 

But change didn’t come soon enough. 

Part of this promise included a new university to serve the Westside’s population, which, like in many of the island’s districts outside urban Honolulu, is often at the mercy of heavy traffic when it comes to reaching the area’s jobs and resources. 

For years, this project had lagged, and Har made it her No. 1 priority when she first ran for office in 2006, she said. 

The campus opened in 2012, and Har touts her involvement in its construction, which her capital improvement project funding requests helped finance. Har, whose private sector job is consulting on affordable housing, also believes that the key to developing a healthy stock of affordable housing is to not overburden new buildings with well-intentioned regulations about installing electric vehicle charging stations, for example.

These stances represent Har’s view of her job: her campaign website stresses her role in “building the Second City,” pushing it as an issue that she’s betting aligns with voters in her district. 

“One of the things I’m so blessed with is my constituents are not NIMBY,” she said, “they are not anti-development.” 

Diamond Garcia, the Republican nominee for House District 42, is running his third campaign for public office — this time against a vulnerable incumbent. David Croxford/Civil Beat/2022

Development can take many forms.

Hawaiian Homelands

District 42 contains multiple Hawaiian homelands, parcels of land designated for people with at least 50% Native Hawaiian blood in accordance with the federal-level Hawaiian Homes Commission Act of 1920. Now incorporated into the state constitution, the Department of Hawaiian Home Lands is tasked with getting Hawaiians into homes on this land — but decades into the program, the waitlist currently has over 28,000 people.

Many beneficiaries have died on the waitlist before receiving their land.

A new mall called Ka Makana Alii opened on Hawaiian homelands in the district in 2016 – supported by Har, who argues that it was necessary to provide a revenue stream for the cash-strapped DHHL. Garcia disagrees, saying the land should be reserved for housing, not businesses. 

“Anything that that department does needs to be building houses and giving leases out, period. No more building malls,” he said.

To combat the waitlist’s monstrous length, he also supports DHHL looking at denser multifamily lots, as opposed to focusing its efforts on single-family houses. 

Garcia grew up moving around different public housing projects on the Waianae coast, and credits religion with giving him the structure needed to provide himself with a stabler life. 

He was about 11 or 12 years old when he happened upon one of his grandmother’s books, called “The Great Controversy,” about the belief of a long-lasting battle between God and Satan, and about the second coming of Jesus Christ. It was written by one of the founders of the Seventh-day Adventist Church.

This inspired him to become active in church affairs and eventually travel the world in the ministry. 

“And then I was flying back from New Zealand in 2017,” he said, “and I got a call from some local Republicans here in Hawaii.”

They had heard his story and invited him to speak at a conference, where Garcia was persuaded to run for office. 

Most Republican candidates this cycle are first-timers, and many of them are hesitant about dipping their toes into today’s notoriously divisive partisan politics. 

Garcia, on the other hand, is vice chair of the Hawaii Republican Party. This cycle is his third time campaigning for public office, after unsuccessfully challenging Sen. Maile Shimabukuro in 2018 and then Rep. Stacelynn Eli in 2020.

Ewa Villages Plantation Historic Welcome Sign
Har is betting that her new constituents in Ewa Villages also yearn for increased development, now that West Oahu has become one of the state’s fastest-growing areas. Ku‘u Kauanoe/Civil Beat/2021

He brought up a children’s sexual education book called “Let’s Talk About It,” which he’d also mentioned at a pastors luncheon in April, criticizing its availability in Hawaii’s public libraries as “cartoon pornography for kids” as young as 6 years old. 

The book is marketed toward young adults.

“I see my role as being someone who’s pushing back against this liberal indoctrination – because quite honestly … most families in Hawaii have conservative values,” he said. 

These conservative values extend to recreational drug use too, and Garcia said his childhood growing up among drug abuse inspired his opposition to recreational marijuana, which he sees as a gateway drug. 

Har is also against recreational marijuana. While both candidates see value in the drug’s medicinal use, they oppose its recreational usage, citing the large number of families with young kids in their district.

Conservative Leanings

While Har is a Democrat – her political roots stretching back to watching C-SPAN as a kid and even enrolling as a Young Democrat – it’d be hard to mistake her for a progressive.

When same-sex marriage was a defining political issue in 2013, Har was one of the 23 legislators who voted against its implementation during a special legislative session. She had canvassed the district and found, according to her numbers at the time, that about 70% of her constituents opposed the measure. It passed anyway.

“At the end of the day, I think we do represent our constituents,” she said, emphasizing that it was a hard vote for her. “Our personal views may not always align.” 

Democrats have done well in Hawaii politics since statehood more than 60 years ago, but “this is one of the very few interesting legislative races,” said Colin Moore, director of the Public Policy Center at the University of Hawaii Manoa. 

While Har’s more conservative stances might serve her well among those who know her in West Oahu, redistricting ensures that many of her constituents are new. This isn’t ideal for name recognition, since her DUI charge from last year – which was dismissed – may have been the first exposure these people had to her, said Moore.

Har declined to comment on the DUI case.

Recent campaign filings show that each candidate had a little over $20,000 on hand at the start of the reporting period, though Har spent about $16,000 of that while Garcia spent about $7,000.

They also each raised about the same amount of money this stretch – a little over $7,000 – but Har has raised about $44,000 over the entire election cycle, double Garcia’s total.

Many of Har’s biggest donors were labor unions like the Carpenter’s Fund or the Painter’s Union, while Garcia’s were those within Republican circles. 

But even if things don’t go his way this election, Garcia’s familiar with playing the long game. More than twice as many candidates ran for office as Republicans this cycle than in 2020 under his and Chair Lynn Finnegan’s leadership. 

“I really believe if our party does a good job in letting folks know that ‘Hey, your values align much more with us,’” said Garcia, “in the next 2-4-6-8 years, we will be winning a lot more seats here.”

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