May 25, 2024

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Hawaii Legislature: Matt LoPresti And Sharon Har Lose After Their DUI Arrests

Hawaii Legislature: Matt LoPresti And Sharon Har Lose After Their DUI Arrests

Two state lawmakers who were embroiled in controversy after being arrested for alleged drunken driving were bounced out of office and replaced by Republicans on Tuesday, according to updated election returns released Wednesday.

Incumbents in legislative races in Hawaii are usually very likely to win reelection, but the voters were in an unforgiving mood when it came to state Reps. Matt LoPresti and Sharon Har.

The results released Wednesday suggest the state House will receive a total of 16 new representatives, while six new members will join the Senate after Tuesday’s voting. However, the Democrats hold such commanding majorities in both the House and Senate that the turnover appears unlikely to have any great impact on the leadership or the political leanings of either body.

Those results represent the vast majority of the votes that have been cast in the general election, but elections officials said the totals may be updated later Wednesday.

Rep Matt LoPresti speaks about anti flotilla/drinking on the ocean bill leading up the the aid in death bill.
Voters removed Democratic Rep. Matt LoPresti from office and replaced him with Republican David Alcos on Tuesday. Cory Lum/Civil Beat/2018

LoPresti was arrested for alleged drunken driving on June 16, and pleaded not guilty in court. A blood test showed his blood-alcohol content was above the legal limit, but a judge dismissed the charge on Sept. 2 on the grounds that police had no probable cause to arrest him.

The prosecution filed a request asking the judge to reconsider, which has effectively drawn out the case and generated more publicity just weeks before the general election.

Republican David Alcos bested LoPresti with 56{6932ee47e64f4ce8eedbbd5224581f6531cba18a35225771c06e4f1b3f0d9667} of the vote to LoPresti’s 40{6932ee47e64f4ce8eedbbd5224581f6531cba18a35225771c06e4f1b3f0d9667} in updated returns released on Wednesday. LoPresti has represented the areas of Ewa and Ewa Beach in the House for six years.

Democratic state Rep. Sharon Har is another lawmaker who was arrested in a drunken driving case, and she also lost Tuesday.

Har was pulled over for driving in the wrong direction down one-way Beretania Street last year. Earlier this year she won both a dismissal and an acquittal in that case in an unusual pair of district court decisions that cleared her of the charge of driving under the influence of an intoxicant.

Har has long been at odds with the House leadership under Speaker Scott Saiki, and Saiki created a special committee last year to investigate her conduct in the case. That drew extra public attention to the embarrassing arrest, and the committee held hearings that generated news coverage about the case that extended into this election year.

Har, a socially conservative Democrat who has served in the House since 2007, had 45{6932ee47e64f4ce8eedbbd5224581f6531cba18a35225771c06e4f1b3f0d9667} of the vote in returns posted Wednesday, compared with 49{6932ee47e64f4ce8eedbbd5224581f6531cba18a35225771c06e4f1b3f0d9667} for Republican Diamond Garcia. Garcia, 24, is making his third run for public office, and is running to represent the district that includes Kapolei.

Rep Sharon Har speaks in opposition to the decrim marijuana bill.
Democratic state Rep. Sharon Har on the House floor during the 2019 legislative session. Har was  trailing Republican Diamond Garcia in one of the closest races of the evening Tuesday. Cory Lum/Civil Beat/2019

In another race to watch in the Senate, Democratic Sen. Gil Riviere was locked in a very close contest with former television news anchor Brenton Awa in the Senate district that extends from Kaneohe along the North Shore to Waialua.

Riviere trailed with 48{6932ee47e64f4ce8eedbbd5224581f6531cba18a35225771c06e4f1b3f0d9667} of the vote in returns released Wednesday, compared with 49{6932ee47e64f4ce8eedbbd5224581f6531cba18a35225771c06e4f1b3f0d9667} for Awa — just 145 votes separating them. That could change with a final batch of votes expected later Wednesday or Thursday.

Awa has been running a campaign focused on criticizing corruption among the state’s Democrats.

Meanwhile, Democratic state Rep. Stacelynn Eli lost to Republican Kanani Souza in the contest to represent Makakilo in the House. Eli recently moved into the district, and Souza led with 53{6932ee47e64f4ce8eedbbd5224581f6531cba18a35225771c06e4f1b3f0d9667} to Eli’s 43{6932ee47e64f4ce8eedbbd5224581f6531cba18a35225771c06e4f1b3f0d9667}.

And Republican Elijah Pierick defeated former Hawaii State Teachers Association President Corey Rosenlee in the race to represent the district that includes Royal Kunia, Waipahu and Honouliuli. Pierick had 52{6932ee47e64f4ce8eedbbd5224581f6531cba18a35225771c06e4f1b3f0d9667} of the vote, while Rosenlee had 43{6932ee47e64f4ce8eedbbd5224581f6531cba18a35225771c06e4f1b3f0d9667} in the updated returns released Wednesday morning. Rosenlee led the teachers union from 2015 to 2021.

Hawaii Republicans fielded far more candidates than usual for the legislative races, but that apparently won’t translate into significant partisan gains in the House or Senate.

Based on the Wednesday morning returns, the voters are sending 12 first-term Democrats and four new Republican members to the state House. That will boost the total Republican count in the 51-member House from four to six, but means the House GOP caucus remains a tiny minority there.

Hawaii Republican Party chair Lynn Finnegan was excited to see her candidates doing well on election night. Ronen Zilberman/Civil Beat/2022

All 25 members of the Senate had to stand for reelection this year, but there will be fewer changes there. Early returns suggest the Senate will have only five new members and one returning Senate veteran. All of them are Democrats except for Republican Awa.

Honolulu City Councilwoman Carol Fukunaga, who served in the House from 1986 to 1992 and in the Senate from 2002 to 2012, was easily winning election to the Senate once again on Tuesday.

Fukunaga was term limited at the City Council, and opted to return to the Legislature. Early returns showed her with a comfortable lead of 71{6932ee47e64f4ce8eedbbd5224581f6531cba18a35225771c06e4f1b3f0d9667} to 23{6932ee47e64f4ce8eedbbd5224581f6531cba18a35225771c06e4f1b3f0d9667} over Republican Benjamin Sakai to represent the district that includes Manoa and Makiki Heights.

Also joining the Senate will be Honolulu City Councilman Brandon Elefante, who was easily winning in the seat representing Aiea, Pacific Palisades and Pearl City. Elefante held 71{6932ee47e64f4ce8eedbbd5224581f6531cba18a35225771c06e4f1b3f0d9667} of the vote for that seat over Republican Patricia Beekman’s 24{6932ee47e64f4ce8eedbbd5224581f6531cba18a35225771c06e4f1b3f0d9667}.

On Maui, Rep. Angus McKelvey appeared poised to defeat Republican Sheila Walker and Green Party candidate Melissah Shishido in the race for the Senate seat left vacant with the retirement of Sen. Roz Baker. That district includes Makena, Wailea, Kihei and Lahaina, and McKelvey led with a hefty 60{6932ee47e64f4ce8eedbbd5224581f6531cba18a35225771c06e4f1b3f0d9667} of the vote. Walker had 29{6932ee47e64f4ce8eedbbd5224581f6531cba18a35225771c06e4f1b3f0d9667}, and Shishido had 6{6932ee47e64f4ce8eedbbd5224581f6531cba18a35225771c06e4f1b3f0d9667}.

On the Big Island, Democrat Tim Richards easily defeated Republican Nicholas Tancheff to claim a Senate seat in west Hawaii, and state Rep. Henry Aquino also clinched a Senate seat representing parts of Waipahu in the primary election this year. Aquino, another Democrat, faced no opposition in Tuesday’s general election.

Senator Gil Riviere on AirBnb.
State Sen. Gil Riviere was trailing former television news anchor Brenton Awa by just one percentage point in returns released Wednesday. Cory Lum/Civil Beat/2019

Those changes in the Senate leave the partisan balance of power there only slightly altered by Tuesday’s election, with 23 Democrats and two Republicans. Sen. Kurt Fevella is currently the only Republican in the Senate.

The House experienced considerably more election-day churn than the Senate, with 16 newcomers apparently on track to win election to that body Tuesday night.

The likely newcomers include former Maui County Councilwoman Elle Cochran, who is running to represent West Maui. Cochran was leading with 52{6932ee47e64f4ce8eedbbd5224581f6531cba18a35225771c06e4f1b3f0d9667} in early returns over Republican Kelly Armstrong, with 29{6932ee47e64f4ce8eedbbd5224581f6531cba18a35225771c06e4f1b3f0d9667}. Aloha Aina candidate Leonard Nakoa had 14{6932ee47e64f4ce8eedbbd5224581f6531cba18a35225771c06e4f1b3f0d9667}.

In Mililani, Republican Rep. Lauren Cheape Matsumoto appeared to be easily fending off another challenge from former Rep. Marilyn Lee, who represented parts of Mililani for 16 years. Matsumoto had 65{6932ee47e64f4ce8eedbbd5224581f6531cba18a35225771c06e4f1b3f0d9667} to Lee’s 32{6932ee47e64f4ce8eedbbd5224581f6531cba18a35225771c06e4f1b3f0d9667}.

But the Ewa Beach and Iroquois Point district recently vacated by Republican state Rep. Bob McDermott may represent a loss for the GOP. Democrat Rose Martinez led in that race with 50{6932ee47e64f4ce8eedbbd5224581f6531cba18a35225771c06e4f1b3f0d9667} to Janie Gueso’s 46{6932ee47e64f4ce8eedbbd5224581f6531cba18a35225771c06e4f1b3f0d9667}.

In Leeward Oahu, Democrat Darius Kila appeared to be easily defeating Republican Kimberly Kopetseg in the race to represent Nanakuli, Maili and Ko Olina in the House. Kila had 60{6932ee47e64f4ce8eedbbd5224581f6531cba18a35225771c06e4f1b3f0d9667} of the voter in early returns compared to 35{6932ee47e64f4ce8eedbbd5224581f6531cba18a35225771c06e4f1b3f0d9667} for Kopetseg.

On the Windward side, Democrat Natalia Hussey-Burdick defeated Republican Kathy Thurston in the race to replace Patrick Branco, who made an unsuccessful run for Congress this year. Hussey-Burdick had 60{6932ee47e64f4ce8eedbbd5224581f6531cba18a35225771c06e4f1b3f0d9667} in the Wednesday returns, while Thurston had 35{6932ee47e64f4ce8eedbbd5224581f6531cba18a35225771c06e4f1b3f0d9667}.

Election officials are expected to release more results later Wednesday.

A recount is required if a race is closer than 100 votes.