Joe Simonson, DCNF
HONOLULU — The Los Angeles Times declared the Republican Party “almost extinct in Hawaii” in November 2017.
Less than a year later, that claim isn’t holding up.
In fact, the Hawaii GOP could be a blueprint for other state parties back on the mainland.
Shortly after the LA Times’ declaration, locals in Hawaii realized they needed to step up if they wanted to steer their state away from insolvency and economic collapse. For years, the Hawaii GOP suffered from neglect and a stranglehold of aging party officials who stubbornly refused to change the party’s direction.
However, that didn’t stop Shirlene DelaCruz Santiago Ostrov, an Asian-American from Oahu, from stepping up and taking control of the party in the spring of 2017 after being fed up by the state of the island’s politics.
Many probably aren’t aware that Santiago Ostrov is the only minority leader of a state Republican chapter — and while the media likes to pretend that minorities, especially women, are turned off by President Donald Trump’s rhetoric and policies, she isn’t afraid to voice her support.
“I’ve met President Trump and I support President Trump. Hawaii is no place to be a fair-weather Republican,” Santiago Ostrov told The Daily Caller News Foundation.
But supporting the president isn’t enough. Santiago Ostrov needed to rebuild the party with a coherent agenda and strategy for electing candidates at a time when Republicans exert virtually no influence in the state legislator or governor’s office.
Santiago Ostrov also has the unfortunate distinction of being the only Republican state party in the country without an elected member of a state senate.
Although it’s not receiving the same kind of national attention as others, Hawaii has an important midterm election in the fall that will give Santiago Ostrov an opportunity to wrestle away some power from state Democrats who have embraced one of the most radical agendas in the entire country.
“Our new Republican Party is a party that’s raised money, paid off our debt and headquarters — something many state parties on the mainland can’t say they’ve accomplished, recruited candidates and come up with a plan,” said Santiago Ostrov. “After the primary we will unveil our Contract with Hawaii, which is based on Newt Gingrich’s 1994-style Contract with America. Admittedly, it’s not easy but we are doing what it takes to win in November.”
Despite being a state with the highest cost of living in the country, the highest proportional homeless population, one of the highest tax rates and consistently rated the worst state to start a business, fielding candidates who can articulate an alternative vision to Hawaiian voters can prove difficult.
As a state without a racial majority, the Hawaii GOP looks to field candidates who can connect with the island’s diverse population while also staying committed to the party’s principles.
Val Okimoto, a Japanese and Filipino mother who formerly worked as a special education teacher, is running for a state House seat in suburban Honolulu — and helping shatter Republican stereotypes at a time where her party is constantly labeled as racist and heartless.
“I feel that I represent what the heart of Mililani is: family, work ethic, education and service,” Okimoto told TheDCNF.
“Being a member of the minority party, I would help increase the visibility of the minority party’s positions and ideas as solutions to the significant problems caused by 60 years of one-party rule on top of representing my community and giving voice to its issues,” she added.
Another sign of life for the party: money.
Thanks to the party’s finance chairman Mark Blackburn, donors on the island are starting to believe change is possible and are willing to start contributing to make it happen.
Blackburn, who proudly displays Trump 2020 and Melania Trump bumper stickers on his car — not a typical sight in Honolulu — is also helping fund training programs for candidates who, like Okimoto and Santiago Ostrov (and the president), are outsiders.
Leading that training program are state House minority floor leader Gene Ward and former state legislator and Waikiki hotelier Jane Tatibouet.
“The Democrats have everything in their favor,” said Tatibouet. “They’ve drawn the lines in redistricting for decades so there are so many seats in which a Republican can’t win no matter how great the candidate is or how much money have in the bank account. Then the Democrats benefit from the unions, which have the lists and resources that Republicans have historically lacked to identify and mobilize voters.”
But they have hope.
“Yes, the winds are against us — we know it’s an uphill fight — but we have a fantastic slate of recruited and trained candidates,” said Blackburn.
Regardless of the results in November, the new Hawaii GOP is proving there’s nothing inconsistent about demanding fiscal sanity, a secure border and public order while contributing to a new multicultural America.
“Hawaii is the most diverse state in the country. Our party embraces our state’s rich diversity, which is actually reflected in our membership, our leaders and our candidates. We’re black, yellow, brown and white,” Santiago Ostrov told TheDCNF.
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