The road to
Rep. Andria Tupola takes a stab at running for
Hawaii's top public seat
By Nicole Tam
Photo courtesy: Andria Tupola
Who is Andria Tupola?
Governor hopeful Andria Tupola meandered around the room in her long Mico Tahiti dress, ready to impress a crowd of potential supporters at the Outrigger Canoe Club in Honolulu, each paying at least $250 to be there.
A well-dressed man, in a navy blue suit, approached her and blurted: “I took Uber down here [to the event], and the driver did not know the name Andria Tupola. I’m just saying, we need to all use that. Because that’s our challenge.”
Tupola quickly remarked, “I can Uber everyday. ... I actually take Ubers and taxis every day, and that’s our whole conversation. Where they’re from, who they voted for in the past, if they ever heard of me."
The man laughed, acknowledging that in her exuberant response, this Republican showed the potential that gives her party hope in November.
Positive interactions, like that one, were the goal of the night: Gather maximum support for her race to be Hawaii’s next governor. She’s a long shot, and she knows it. She’s not even 40 years old yet (38), a music teacher by trade, not from a political background, a Polynesian, a Mormon and a woman. But she puts on a good face and can act the part. She also offers Republicans a different choice than they’re used to in Hawaii (or nationally). Serving as Minority Leader in the State House of Representatives, she’s the most powerful elected Republican in the state right now.
She said someone asked her at another recent fundraiser, “How tied are you to the national party?” She said her response was: “[Republicans on the national level right now] are not gonna help me. We’re a heavily blue state. The national Republican Party is not gonna send me one dollar. They already told me that. ... As far as me being allegiant to them, none.”
She also expressed her frustrations with the national stigma of the Republican party in Trump’s administration.
“Everyone thinks the Republican party is white and racist and old," she said in an email. "I’m running as a Republican to change that perspective. Everything that I stand for, the way I interact with people, it makes people actually hope."
Video courtesy: Andria Tupola
In her campaign video, Tupola emphasized the importance of the community working together and took advantage of being considered a fresh face, which can be beneficial to her.
"We keep having to choose from the same leaders, with the same talking points and little results,” she said in the video.
Her campaign manager, Ryan Naka, considers this a winning strategy and employs it throughout his outreach, even with table assignments at fundraising events. He said the goal is to have someone who knows Tupola well at each table to influence those who don’t know her yet.
After the dinner at the Outrigger Canoe Club, around 7 p.m., Tupola shared her accomplishments and insights on the government from her four years of serving as a state house representative. She emphasized the town halls she has hosted, saying politicians might have about one or two every six months, but she already has had her 40th.
“I have a town hall, so I can hear what people need," she said. "I share this with you because the start of all this of who I am, is so important when you consider supporting me for a larger race."
The night closed with a question-and-answer session. Tupola said one of the most common questions she gets is: Why are you running for governor, with so little experience?
Her quick response: “I might not have the most experience in the legislature, but nobody has ever asked how many years I have been there, but rather how I can make a difference to the community.”
The audience acknowledged the sentiment with nods around the room and transfixed attention. The mood was shifting to ponder: Could a Republican really win the governorship in Hawaii today? And, could this be the one to do it?
Photo courtesy: Crichton Uale
Above: Crichton, brother Justin and Andria in 1985.
Tupola spends some of her Saturday mornings at soccer games with her daughters, Talitha and Cumorah.
Photo by: Nicole Tam
Like many other local moms, this governor candidate spent a recent Saturday morning urging her kids to eat breakfast, as they all were getting ready for a soccer game.
Talitha, Tupola’s 10-year-old daughter, would be playing in her last game of the season.
“Please make sure to eat something. It’s 8:10, and you have half an hour,” Tupola yelled from her room.
Talitha, half-awake, slowly walks to the kitchen and poured herself a bowl of Cheerios. She noted, “Mom only yells at us when we don’t listen. Or when she asks us to clean, and we don’t clean.”
Originally from Hawaii Kai, Tupola explained that she and her husband picked their Maili home after moving back to Oahu from Utah, when they decided to settle down together. It was either her husband’s hometown, in Kahuku, or hers. Instead of picking between them, the couple decided to find something new. Location didn’t matter as much as having central air-conditioning in the home.
Beep. "What is that?"
Being a mom and a politician means juggling a lot of different things daily, which sometimes means no time for chores, Tupola acknowledged. Her husband, Tavo, works the graveyard shift with the Honolulu Police Department. She locates the beeping noise, which comes from a low-battery smoke detector in the hallway. She acknowledges that the detector has been beeping for a while.
“It’s super hard with the campaign, because I’m always gone from here,” she said.
Tupola stood on a dining room chair and changed out the battery.
Beep. It continued to make the noise.
“UGH,” she exclaimed.
Talitha finished her cereal and dropped the bowl on top of the pile of dishes in the sink.
“Dad was supposed to do the dishes,” she said.
With both of their schedules being chaotic, Tupola added, housekeeping can be challenging.
At 9:15 a.m., the family leaves for Talitha’s soccer game in Pearl City.
Photo by: Nicole Tam
Part of mom duty includes driving and cheering on her girls at weekend soccer games. Sometimes the games are in Mililani, Pearl City and Kapolei. Wherever it is, though, Tupola or Tavo will be there, Tupola said.
This game is at Waiau District Park in Pearl City. Tavo left his graveyard shift and came straight to the field.
He said he wasn’t shocked when Tupola told him she wanted to run for governor.
“I had a hard time when she ran for office, house rep," he said. "It’s many reasons, but because of how she served as a state house rep, and she said she was gonna run for governor last year, so I said I was fine.”
At 9:45 a.m., the game begins.
“Li, come to your side!” Tupola yells.
Talitha kicks the ball into the goal, and the parents cheer.
Tupola used to be the team mom for Talitha and her younger daughter Cumorah’s soccer teams, by organizing different team events and communicating with parents.
Yet with the campaign now in full swing, those activities have to be put on hold.
The Road Ahead
In a March Honolulu Star-Advertiser poll, 40 percent of likely Republican voters said they would vote for John Carroll if the election were held that day, while 28 percent said they would vote for Tupola.
John Hart, chair and professor in the department of communication at Hawaii Pacific University, though, said it’s still too early to determine who will win in the primary election between Republicans in August.
“She has a chance in winning the primary," Hart said. "People don’t know her, so she has potential as a candidate. A lot of his [Carroll's] lead might be because people don’t know who she is.”
Hart said the road to Washington Place for Tupola has a couple significant obstacles ahead of her: first, she has to beat her party opponent. But then, she has to face a Democratic candidate in a highly Democratic state.
“Is the [Republican] party willing to say it is ready for a new face? It seems to be not," Hart said. "Hardcore Republicans that are left think John Carroll reflects their views more than she does.”
If she doesn’t win this race, though, Hart said the gubernatorial run is a good way to get name recognition. It also gives her a better chance to run for something else in the future.
Image and video courtesy: John Carroll
John Carroll is running for governor of Hawaii for the third time, and he's feeling optimistic this time around.
The 88-year-old was born in Kansas, grew up in California and lived in different countries, including Japan, Korea and the Philippines before he turned 21.
His main goals, if elected, are to restructure the education system. After serving in the state House of Representatives and Senate in the 1980s, he said he has the experience and a strong vision of what needs to be done.
Seeing the latest poll results, he said he thinks he has a good chance at winning because his opponent lacks experience.
“[Tupola is] a bright and attractive lady, but she’s way ahead of herself," he said. "I have 88 years of preparation to run for office.
Carroll said he agrees with Trump on most issues, including tax reduction. But he said he’s also a bit upset the president never responded to a letter he sent to him.
Tupola's Opponent: John Carroll
After the legislative session wraps up, Tupola said she will be hustling around the state to interact with different communities before August, to meet her goal of garnering 80,000 votes.
She explained that there’s a system on the backend of her campaign website that tracks how many people follow her on social media, and that system cross-references information with whether or not they’re registered voters, and if they’re committed to voting for her.
There are between 12,000 to 20,000 in the database right now, she said, and she hopes visiting neighbor islands and fundraising on the mainland can bring those numbers up.
“If we hit the 80,000 in August, then I’d feel more comfortable reaching a higher goal in November,” Tupola said.
She explained that these projected numbers are based upon the average votes for the winning candidate in the last five gubernatorial races. That average was between 170,000 to 190,000.
She says her biggest challenge is committing time to campaigning, because the legislative session is still ongoing. In June, she will be heading to New York, Washington D.C., Los Angeles, Utah and Texas to meet potential campaign donors.
With Hawaii being such a "blue" or Democratic state, switching political parties to appeal to the masses has not been uncommon. Charles Djou and Beth Fukumoto, for examples, are recent politicians to make the switch from R to D.
Fukumoto said she had to “grow up” during her time in office, after being pressured to conform with the Trump agenda.
“I had no idea what I was up against, and there was gonna be this national pressure, and then it was gonna trickle down to Hawaii,” Fukumoto said.
She doesn’t think Tupola will face the same issues over time, even though are roughly the same age. Fukumoto is 35. Tupola is 38.
“I took oaths that I was sorry to take," Fukumoto said. "They [Tupola and Rep. Lauren Matsumoto] haven’t had to hide their values to try to stay safe, and that’s what I had to confront."
Fukumoto also said that it’ll be tough for Tupola to win.
“Andria having to run against (likely Democrat contender) Colleen (Hanabusa), considering what Hawaii’s values are, and considering she has not stood up to the Trump administration or the Republican Party, it’s going to be really hard to make that pitch to Hawaii voters that she has their best interest in mind,” Fukumoto said.
Tupola said switching parties, though, is like giving up and not an option, because she believes in Republican values.
“I just have to stick to who I am, because if I switch parties then I say, 'Oh it’s so hard and just give up.' What happens when something else gets hard? Am I just going to give up again? My thing is if you give up once, you’re a quitter," she said, adding, "I don’t wanna be like that.”
Written By: Nicole Tam
Published: May 14, 2018