Representative Andria Tupola was the guest speaker at the October, 2018, meeting of the Hawaii Tourism Wholesalers Association (HTWA). The group’s interest in hearing the Republican candidate for Governor speak in person was to learn more about her positions on several issues particularly important to the tourism industry. These include her willingness to work towards amending the “ship-build” part of the Jones Act and, in this era of overtourism, repositioning the Hawaii Tourism Authority (HTA) from marketing to management. HTWA has been very involved in this sea change effort at HTA. Tupola has been tutored in the many ramifications of the Jones Act by HTWA member, Michael Hansen of the Hawaii Shippers Council.
Representative Tupola was elected in 2014 representing District 43 (Māʻili, Nanakuli, Ko Olina, Honokai Hale, Kalaeloa, Ewa). In 2015, she served as the minority floor leader and currently serves as the Minority Leader making her the first Samoan woman to serve in that position. Her father was the first Samoan judge in the United States and a third generation immigrant. Her mother is the daughter of the Grandmaster of Kenpo Karate, Ed Parker. The Parker family has deep roots in the Waimea and Kohala area because of the Parker Ranch on Hawaii Island.
Tupola is a 1998 graduate of Kamehameha Schools, she earned her bachelor’s degree in music education from Brigham Young University in 2005, served a year and a half mission for The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints in Venezuela, earned her MA in music education from the University of Hawaii, Manoa in 2011 and is currently pursuing a Ph.D in music education there.
In 2014, Tupola was unopposed for the Republican primary in District 43, winning with 771 votes. In the general election, she faced incumbent Democrat Karen Awana and won with 56% of the vote, unseating the only incumbent in the 2014 general election. In 2016, Tupola ran unopposed for the Republican primary in District 43. In the general election, she faced a former staff member of Karen Awana winning by an amazing 65%.
During her four years in the State Legislature, Representative Tupola has watched as the legislature continues to pass legislation that adds more taxes and regulatory burdens on business while only nibbling around the edges of many vital issues facing the state such as rising healthcare costs, affordable workers housing, Hawaii’s homeless crisis, and the burgeoning Hawaii pension debt. In 2017, state lawmakers were “in shock” to learn that Hawaii’s pension debt increased from $8 billion to $12 billion. According to the State Budget Solutions report, Hawaii’s unfunded liability is actually much higher, when calculated in an even more realistic manner. “By lowering the expected market rate of return from 7% to 2.3%, Hawaii’s unfunded liabilities soar to $35 billion.”
Many HTWA members and guests were impressed by Tupola’s candor during a 45-minute Q&A. Clearly, she has done her homework and has grown very close to her district’s residents because of her hands-on community-driven approach. She says that by working closely with her constituents and the various state and non-gov agencies and organizations involved, she has been able to “put the pieces together” in order to focus on job creation and the huge homeless problem in her district. She would bring these same techniques to the governor’s office.
Representative Tupola’s vision for Hawaii is “to build a Hawaii where more people can stay in this place they call home for generations to come” and she would accomplish this “by building strong communities through innovative solutions to:
(1) decrease the cost of living so that families are housed;
(2) create an atmosphere for local businesses to thrive, and
(3) improve the quality of life by being a champion for education and for underserved communities.”
Another question from the audience sparked more of her candid observations about Governor Ige’s term as Governor. When asked about AirBnBs and the failure of the current administration to collect the related Transient Accommodation Taxes, Tupola noted that this is another example of the current Governor’s failure to lead. She contends that the enforcement of existing state tax laws — which the Governor could do — would solve the problem but he has simply failed to act. A report earlier this year from the Hawaii Appleseed Center estimated that 1 in 24 homes in the islands is a vacation rental and more than half of the state’s 23,000 vacation rentals are owned by non-residents. This is no small problem.
Representative Topula believes that “in order to decrease the homelessness rate in Hawaii, the state must:
1) support local developers instead of the huge out-of-state developers;
2) focus more on creating local jobs, and
3) reduce construction permitting time to expedite construction.”
She is “generally against tax increases” including the Constitutional Amendment to let the state collect additional property taxes on certain real estate. She believes it would “increase the cost of living in one of the hardest states to make ends meet.” If elected governor, she would call for a full audit of the Department of Education and would support increasing the funding that goes directly to the schools, students and teachers “by cutting the inflated administrative overhead and by spending federal dollars more efficiently.”
Representative Tupola voted against the bill to raise more money from taxes to fund the Honolulu rail project.
She says, “In order for local businesses to thrive, we must create an atmosphere “so more people can stay in this place we call home for generations” and that “can be accomplished by decreasing corporate tax and unnecessary regulation, by increasing access to capital grants, by building local partnerships and by increasing vocational training for high schools and community colleges in order to connect more local families with available job opportunities.”
Can Andria Tupola win the Governor’s election? When asked that direct question, Tupola quoted the election results from Governor Ige’s previous primary and general elections which indicate the sitting governor’s support base has dropped considerably. Suffice to say, yes, Andria Tupola could win and this possibility has many insider Democrats very worried. Most remember Republican Governor Linda Lingle’s 2002 election against popular Democrat Mazie Hirono, now a US Senator. While current polls might say “no, she can’t win,” anything is possible in this new political world. In any event, it will be a very interesting election.