Transportation and homelessness have been major concerns facing Leeward Coast residents, and addressing those issues are some of the top priorities in the Democratic primary for the House District 43 seat.
The primary race for the seat representing Kalaeloa to Maili pits Karen Awana against Stacelynn Eli, two candidates who had both vied for the same position in 2014. Awana, a former House majority floor leader, defeated Eli, a legislative aide, in the 2014 Democratic primary, but Awana was ousted in the general election by Andria Tupola, a Republican who is seeking re-election.
As the Waianae Coast grapples with how to help and support hundreds of homeless, Awana, 50, said prioritizing education, transportation and economic development go hand in hand, adding that “if you have all of those, you can be able to address the homeless issue.” Awana said her years of experience working with the community will help her better serve constituents.
“Sometimes if we say we have a homeless problem, we build a lot of homes and the people from the area aren’t able to afford the homes,” she said. “You really need to take a holistic approach on how you manage and handle every problem.”
A lifelong Waianae Coast resident who lives in Nanakuli, she said she wants to build momentum around several projects, such as a secondary road through the coast, illegal dumping and disaster preparedness. Awana, a former legislative aide and Navy reservist, served in the state House from 2006 to 2014. She said she worked to secure funds for the Nanakuli Public Library and road and school improvements.
She resigned in 2013 as majority floor leader after facing a fine for filing false or inaccurate disclosure reports, untimely deposits of campaign contributions and failure to keep campaign finance records, marking her fourth fine from 2011 to 2013. She said in 2013 that her father used to handle her campaign finances and that she had been unable to find a suitable replacement since his death.
Awana, a onetime Republican who became a Democrat in 2007, said she never used campaign money for personal purchases.
“Since that issue, we’ve taken care of that,” she said. “I think we should be running on the merit of the work we do in the seat that we’re running for.”
A graduate of St. Andrew’s Priory and the University of Hawaii at Manoa, Awana serves on the Nanakuli/Maili Neighborhood Board and as chairwoman of the board’s Hawaiian Affairs and Parks and Recreation committees.
Eli, 32, said she would focus on job creation, health and affordable housing as priorities if elected. A lifelong Waianae Coast resident and a former Nanakuli/Maili Neighborhood Board member, Eli said her deep roots in the community and her family’s background as builders have helped her better understand her constituents’ needs. The Nanakuli resident added that she wants to focus on “providing not just jobs, but career-driven jobs.”
Other concerns she hopes to address include homelessness and access to health care across the Leeward Coast. She said Waianae has shouldered much of the responsibility in caring for and housing the homeless, but added that the community needs help.
As for transportation, she said it is a quality-of-life issue and that government needs to look at all options — not just building new roads but analyzing how to get more cars off the roads. She said she spends several hours in traffic a day, adding that she wants to push for solutions so that residents can spend more time with their families.
“We still have a number of concerns that are not being addressed on our entire coast,” she said. “One day when I do have a family, that’s (Waianae Coast) where I want to raise my children. I just want to make sure that I’m contributing to … the community.”
Eli, a graduate of Nanakuli High and Intermediate School, is studying economics and political science at UH West Oahu and works at a home-improvement store. She also serves as a board member for the Nanakuli High and Intermediate Performing Arts Center and previously worked at a construction company.
The winner of the Democratic primary Aug. 13 will face Tupola in the November general election.