Republicans hold steady with 5 seats in Hawaii state House

November 8, 2018
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People vote at the Castle High School polling place in Kaneohe, Hawaii. (Dennis Oda/Honolulu Star-Advertiser via AP)

HONOLULU (AP) — Party control of the Hawaii State Legislature was never in question in this year’s midterm election as Republicans weren’t contesting enough seats and a majority of Democrats were re-elected in the primary.

The unknown was how many seats the Republican Party would manage to win to fulfill their role as the opposition.

Republicans did manage to hold their ground in the state House, keeping steady with five out of 51 seats. And they may have managed to take one Senate seat, returning to a chamber that has only had Democrats since Republican veteran legislator Sam Slom lost his senate seat in 2016.

Rep. Cynthia Thielen, who was re-elected to represent Kailua, said she was encouraged by the outcome. She said it was difficult because Republicans had to fight the impression many voters had that the election was over after the August primary, when the Democratic Party held heated contests for their governor and U.S. House candidates.

She said the Republican Party’s goal was to encourage voters to cast ballots in the general election so Hawaii will have a vocal minority opposition in the Legislature.

“Otherwise everything is decided behind closed doors in Democratic caucuses. We know that. As Republicans, our responsibility has been to open up the government process so the public is aware of what is actually going on at the Capitol,” Thielen said.

Republican Kurt Fevella was leading Democrat Matt LoPresti Wednesday for an open Senate seat representing Ewa Beach in west Oahu by a razor thin, too-close-to-call margin of 117 votes. Fevella had 6,204 votes to LoPresti’s 6,087.

LoPresti didn’t immediately return phone and email messages seeking comment on whether he would concede. Under Hawaii law, a candidate, qualified political party or 30 voters in a district have until Nov. 26 to request a recount.

His campaign may have been hurt by a video from a home security system that captured him stealing his primary election opponent’s campaign literature from a resident’s door. The video surfaced just days before the primary election, when early voting was already well underway.

Fevella has served as chairman of the Ewa Beach Neighborhood Board and co-founded a Lions Club. He said he hadn’t heard from LoPresti but that it wasn’t customary for candidates in state legislative races to call their opponents to concede.

LoPresti is a Hawaii Pacific University professor who has represented Ewa Beach in the state House. The two were competing for a seat that opened up when Sen. Will Espero mounted an unsuccessful campaign for the Democratic nomination for lieutenant governor.

Fevella said his priorities would be to secure funding for the cafeteria at Illima Intermediate School in his district. He also wants to get money to pay for girls’ locker rooms at James Campbell High School. Girls’ sports teams at the school don’t have locker rooms.

In the House, Republican incumbents held on to four seats while political novice Val Okimoto defeated Marilyn Lee, a veteran former lawmaker, to represent Mililani.

House Minority Leader Andria Tupola didn’t run for re-election because she was challenging Gov. David Ige for the state’s highest office. The party’s candidate to replace Tupola in a seat representing Nanakuli and Kalaeloa was disqualified because she wasn’t an American citizen.

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