A wooden ladder leads to the top of the chiller where his daughter has made a nest for herself with a futon and boxes. After school, she’ll climb up to her loft in the little flower shop to do homework while her parents and auntie work into the evening.
First-time candidate Sam Kong’s campaign literature uses the phrase "family values" numerous times. The scene in Aiea Florist illustrates what that means to him.
"As long as we’re together, that’s what matters," he says.
He left his career as a computer technician to help his brother with the flower shop, and took over the business when his brother died. His sister Lyn, wife June, 11-year-old daughter Courtney and 18-year-old son Dustin help with the orders and the floral arrangements.
He does all the deliveries, driving to hospitals and funeral homes, homes and offices, waking at 4 every morning and working well into the night. He now has to fit in sign-waving and canvassing the 12,000 homes in House District 33, which stretches from Red Hill to Waimalu, but says, "Campaigning is actually really good fun."
He’s a naturally friendly guy, always smiling, slow to take offense.
In fact, he and his opponent, Rep. Blake Oshiro (D), might be running the most congenial race in the state. Though their political views are worlds apart, the candidates are old family friends. "His mom came in to the flower shop just the other week to say hello," Kong says. Oshiro has called his Republican opponent "the nicest guy."
Kong, 50, grew up in Kaimuki and graduated from Kalani High School. He served in the Air Force for 10 years as an electrical technician working on navigational aids. He came home to Hawaii in 1988 and worked for Servco and Software Plus before taking over Aiea Florist in 1992. He’s running as a Republican in a historically Democrat district because he has found himself disagreeing with how state government is run.
"I used to be a Democrat, but the older I got, the more conservative I got. I realized all of a sudden my views didn’t line up with the platform," Kong said. "I got married and had kids. That’s what happened."
His plan to revitalize Hawaii’s economy is to start the legislative session declaring no tax increases.
"That way, small businesses can start to plan for their year. They can hire, create new jobs. The way it is now, we have to wait until May or June to see what the Legislature is going to do."
The race for the House District 33 seat has attracted a great deal of attention because incumbent Oshiro was the author of the civil unions bill. People on both sides of the debate, regardless of whether they live in the district, have lined up behind the candidates. Kong has benefited from the attention.
His own stance on civil unions is somewhat oblique. He says he is a conservative Christian but says that teaches him he shouldn’t judge. He worries that the definition of a civil union is too broad and says that gay rights are a matter for the federal government.
He can’t recall ever doing floral arrangements for a same-sex marriage but said he would if asked. "Oh, sure," he said. "And I would give them a big hug and wish them well."
The door to his flower shop is decorated with hand-drawn posters his daughter made that say "vote for my dad." Regardless of the outcome on Nov. 2, Kong says he’d happily run again. He likes talking to people and sharing his ideas about how the state Legislature can help Hawaii families.
"Like last year, for opening day at the Legislature, they said no flowers because of the terrible economy. I usually send in 20 floral arrangements on opening day, so for me, that wasn’t helping the economy."