LIHUE — “That girl’s got strong mana,” said Auntie Brenda Ortiz, watching gubernatorial candidate Andria Tupola as she spoke to a charmed audience Thursday night in Lihue.
It was 18 days before the election and there was standing room only at the Happiness Planting Center, where state Rep. Tupola held a two-hour town hall meeting to talk story with Kauai residents.
“Our people are being forced off their lands and our children can’t afford to live here,” Ortiz said. “We need change.”
And she wasn’t the only one asking about Tupola’s plans for affordable housing and supporting small business.
“We need to strengthen Hawaii’s economy,” said resident Steve Herr. “Our kids need jobs and housing to be able to stay here.”
“We” was the key word throughout the meeting, where Tupola encouraged people to first and foremost, “get out and vote.”
“We need your vote and we need you to join us,” the 37-year-old Republican told the audience of about 150. “Call your friends and family and tell them to vote, make a Facebook post.”
The representative of state District 43 (Maili, Nanakuli, Ko Olina, Honokai Hale, Kalaeloa, Ewa) was elected in her first run for office in 2014, and was reelected in 2016.
She became the first Samoan/Hawaiian woman to serve as the state House minority leader, a position she continues to serve in today.
She easily won the primary with 17, 297 votes, 53 percent, to John Carroll’s 10,974, 33.7 percent, and Ray L’Heureux’s 2,885, 8.8 percent.
She’ll face incumbent Democrat Gov. David Ige in the Nov. 6 general election.
In the midst of technical difficulties, Tupola left the stage and mingled with the crowd. She heard concerns about the future of the state and told the story of how she started campaigning in August 2017 for the governor’s seat.
“I’m going to take over this government,” she said. “But it’s not just me, it’s us. I’m the kind of leader that leads from the front and the sides and the middle and when I can’t lead, I inspire the people to lead.”
She told the story of starting out as a music teacher with a strong desire for change in Hawaii. She spoke about trying to talk “amazing people” into running for office and about how she ultimately took up the role.
The wife and mother of two highlighted the differences between herself and Ige, pointing out fiscal irresponsibility and the false missile alert in January as two examples where she says Ige failed.
“How many of you in this room would say the false missile alert was embarrassing for Hawaii?” she asked the crowd.
Nearly every hand in the room went up.
But the perceived failures of the past administration weren’t the main topic of the evening — the focus was on Tupola’s plans to target inefficiencies and make life better for the people of Hawaii.
“I say we need to eliminate taxes on food. That’s a necessity to life,” she said. “At the Legislature they say, ‘woah, where are we going to get money if we cut taxes?’”
Tupola continued: “I can find the money. There are people who don’t pay their lease and we pay out contracts that weren’t completely fulfilled all the time. There’s always money.”
The meeting was peppered with cheers as Tupola reminded attendees why she is campaigning, and several attendees took the time to thank her for entering the race.
Tupola has been campaigning on all the islands and also was on Kauai last month.
She spent Friday sign waving in Anahola, next to a line of supporters along Kuhio Highway.
“I’m the only woman running for governor, I’m the only mother running for governor,” she said. “If I didn’t believe in what I was doing, do you think I’d be doing it? No.”