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Hawaii’s Republican Party loses ground in state House

  • CINDY ELLEN RUSSELL / MAY 11
                                State House lawmakers seated in the public galley to maintain social distancing in the House of Representatives chamber while in session.

    CINDY ELLEN RUSSELL / MAY 11

    State House lawmakers seated in the public galley to maintain social distancing in the House of Representatives chamber while in session.

Hawaii’s Republican Party lost one of its five seats in the state House — already the fewest number of seats it held since statehood in 1959.

The party failed to pick up any new Republican representatives in Tuesday’s general election and also appeared to have lost the District 50 seat vacated by Republican Cynthia Thielen, 87, who decided not to seek reelection after three decades of service to Kailua and Kaneohe Bay constituents.

Her successor will be Democrat Patrick Pihana Branco, 33, who had a robust lead in the first ballot count with a 62% of votes over Republican Kanani Souza, 34, who had received just 38%.

Minority Leader Rep. Gene Ward and GOP Rep. Bob McDermott both appeared to have prevailed. The 77-year-old Ward (Hawaii Kai, Kalama Valley) seemed certain to keep his District 17 seat after garnering 65% of the vote against Democrat Keith Kogachi with just 35%.

Meanwhile, the 57-year-old McDermott (Ewa, Ewa Beach, Ewa Gentry, Iroquois Point), who represents District 40, got 58% of the vote for a win against Democrat Rose Martinez, 62, who had 42% of the vote.

It was a closer race for Republican incumbent Val Okimoto, 44, the District 36 House member who represents Mililani and Mililani Mauka. Okimoto won with 52% in the first vote tally versus 48% for Democrat Trish La Chica, 33.

Minority Floor Leader Lauren Matsumoto (Schofield, Mokuleia, Waialua, Kunia, Waipio Acres, Mililani), the 33-year-old incumbent who represents District 45, secured a victory with 66% of the vote compared to the 34% received by Democrat Michael Chapman, 24.

Republicans, who only had 28 candidates running in House races, were not expected to easily pick up any new seats in the General Election. Based on the first returns, it appeared all 25 incumbents whose seats were available will be returning.

Seven representatives didn’t seek reelection. Ten incumbent House Democrats were unopposed. Democratic incumbents Romy Cachola, 82, in District 30 and Tom Brower, 55, in District 22 were unseated in the primary.

Seven Democratic incumbents, including House Speaker Scott Saiki, who represents District 26, kept their seats after prevailing in primary races where only Democrats ran. Saiki, 56, advanced after a tight contest with his progressive challenger Kim Coco Iwamoto, 52.

The close primary call for Saiki, a centrist and one of the most powerful Democrats in the state, reflects the perception among some political analysts that younger progressives are gaining ground.

Progressive Democrat Jackson Sayama, 23, got 75% in the first vote tally for the District 20 seat to top against Republican candidate Julia Allen, 72, who collected a 25% share. The seat, which includes St. Louis Heights, Palolo and Kaimuki, was held by Calvin Say, 68, for more than four decades.

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Star-Advertiser reporter William Cole contributed to this story.

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