Halas takes a walk on the Dark Side
An Evening with Andria Tupola, Republican Candidate for Hawaii Governor
by Susan Halas
Wailuku, Maui: “Ah she’s back from the dark side,” said my mostly staunchly Democratic friends, when I showed up for coffee with a first hand report on Andria Tupola’s July 25 visit to Maui.
Tupola is this year’s most unlikely candidate, and one of the few with a certain inexplicable and instantaneously recognizable star quality. She’s one of a handful Republican reps in the otherwise all Democratic state house and she’s given up her seat as minority leader representing the state’s poorest districts (House 43 in Waianae/ Nanakuli on Oahu) to run for governor.
Half Samoan, part Hawaiian, a definite maverick and now in a long long long shot trajectory to be Hawaii’s next governor, she is a breath of fresh air in an otherwise dull and dreary slog to November.
On the Democratic side it’s a race between Tweedle Dum and Tweedle Dee; or to put it another way the Democrats have managed to field two entirely different and equally unappealing candidates for governor, so could the voting public be blamed if the idea of jumping ship entered the equation?
Tupola is by no means certain to win her own Republican primary, though recent polls do show her pulling ahead. Usually the Republican primary goes pretty much unnoticed because Hawaii hasn’t had many promising Republicans on their candidate roster for many long years.
For every voter who takes a GOP primary ballot there are four or more who pick the Democratic side where most (OK all) matters of importance have be decided for more than 50 years.
But strange as it may seem Tupola doesn’t seem to be worried by the odds. The implied message to her opponents both Republicans and Democrats is: “Bring it on.” She’s not beloved in her own party, but if she makes it through the GOP primary race, the sparks are certain to fly when she encounters the Democratic nominee, be it Ige or Hanabusa.
Driving up in the rain to her meet and greet in Makawao at Kalama School I had a sneaky feeling that the two of us, me and my one Republican woman friend, might be the only two to show up, but not so; a healthy 60 or so Mauians were there to greet the candidate, listen to her take on the state of the state and ask questions.
There is something just a little bit magical about her presentation. Think a mixture of your favorite camp counselor and a good ballet or gymnastic instructor, it all has a hint of flamboyance, in your face energy, and those long graceful fingers of hers fly and gesture in many directions as she speaks.
She has a characteristic, perhaps unconscious, body language which is like an overhand softball pitch but instead of going down, the hands with the ballet dancer fingers fly up and point ahead. That gesture says it all, “Company march.” Coming from her it’s all so much simpler and easier and more fun than any of the others make it look. You can almost hear the sound track to “76 Trombones” gearing up in the background. This is not about deep thought, this is about simple direct projects, community participation and forward motion for tangible measurable change.
In contrast to the Dems, her demeanor is the energetic enthusiastic leader, with just enough of a tita to give the whole campaign a “We mean business” edge.” The former music teacher is an excellent speaker, by turns lyric, a little over-the-top and sardonic.
I have not checked out any of the info that was presented at her talk, but I was interested to learn that she was the only person last session to speak up and say the Neighbor Islands shouldn’t have to pay for Oahu rail (Think of that!).
It was also her view that given Maui has so many major water concerns wouldn’t it be easier to put an office of the DLNR on the Valley Isle than make all the Mauians journey to Oahu to beg for equity at home.
As for Ige, she ticked off a long list of department heads who had bailed from his administration, and reiterated that a governor who was a leader and a communicator could have done a lot more in four years given the scope and powers of the office.
Letting the GOP crowd in on a secret she delivered the verdict that despite the state’s wall-to-wall Democratic majority, when you look a little more closely there are many factions and splinter groups and to tell the truth “a lot of them hate each other.”
If you’re a Democrat you probably already knew that, but how refreshing to say it out loud. A lot of them do hate each other and have for a long time.
If true, perhaps the most dramatic revelation of the evening was that following the false Korean missile crisis it was discovered that in the event of a similar critical situation there are no emergency supplies stockpiled on any island except Oahu!
If correct that’s a biggie.
But mostly it was an exhilarating look at how things seem to an outsider challenging the powers that be from the very outer ring of the possible and with the verve not seen since the days of the “Merry Pranksters.” Tupola, a two term legislator, mother of two is married to an Oahu police officer. She is tall, slim animated, and blessedly she is not boring. Not one bit.
Almost all of the examples at her event were taken from her own district - a district where, as she pointed out, much of what Hawaii considers “waste” is deposited - whether human or physical. So it was not surprising to hear practical and simple things that have done rapidly in her area to clean up, to recycle, to get a handle on homelessness, and to really communicate with the community. In her view politicians and bureaucrats may come and go “but the community goes on from one generation to the next.”
If she is successful in her Republican primary she may very well provide the yeast for what so far has been a dreary bumbling year full of people we know all too well. The closer you get the less appealing they seem.
It’s hard to tell how much is real and how much is the youthful optimism of an underdog going full speed on the offense - but watching those expressive hands and hearing that young feminine voice that rings with energy, it is not hard to remember that there was once a guy who brought down a giant with only a sling shot and three smooth stones.
I came away impressed. Underestimate her appeal at you peril, and if nothing else, should her side of the ticket make it to the general we may actually have some long overdue and pointed discussion before the November election.
She probably won’t be governor, but trust your old candidate watcher S. Halas, this is a new breed and it’s blooming in some very odd soil. Even though the Republicans are known to eat their young, Andria Tupola might just be Joan of Arc crossed with Monty Python, and despite all forecasts to the contrary she may yet come out ahead.
Keep an eye on this gal, win or lose she’s homegrown talent and it’s real.