Hawai‘i Races to Watch: Mark Takai’s State House Seat Up for Grabs

Candidates in the House District 33 race in ‘Aiea hope to address rapid redevelopment in the community. Voters will pick between the long-time owner of ‘Aiea Florist and an athletic director.


Published:

With state Rep. Mark Takai vying to replace U.S. Rep. Colleen Hanabusa in Congress, his state House seat will go to a political newcomer.

In state House District 33, which encompasses ‘Aiea and portions of Waimalu and Pearl City, Democrat Samuel Kong, the former long-time owner of ‘Aiea Florist, is running against Republican Robert Helsham, athletic director at ‘Aiea District Gym. Neither candidate has held public office before.

‘Aiea, like many communities on O‘ahu, is facing rapid redevelopment with the Live Work Play ‘Aiea project planned for the Pearlridge community. Because of it, both candidates say that the community is concerned with how development will affect ‘Aiea ’s traffic and its small-town character.

Another interesting tidbit on this race: Kong had, up until this year, previously run for office as a Republican. He was wooed by Democrats, and after “much prayer” he decided to join the party, he says. Kong, who won the Democratic primary by a slim margin over Tracy Arakaki, decided not to accept any campaign donations or endorsements so that he won’t be “beholden to any special interests” once he enters office.

 

Sam Kong (D)

Age:

54

Occupation:

Owner of Sam’s Cab; former owner of ‘Aiea Florist

Political experience:

Member of the ‘Aiea Community Association; member of the Webling Elementary School community council; member of the American Legion Verteran’s Organization.

Work experience:

Veteran of the U.S. Air Force

Key issue facing your district:

Kong says the community is concerned with property development especially with the redevelopment of older sites such as the ‘Aiea  Sugar Mill and the former Kam Drive-In. “People want to make sure that whatever is built there is what the community wants. The development in the old Kam Drive-In location, the Live Work Play ‘Aiea, because that is coming up, people are concerned about traffic and whatever else may come with it. We don’t have a lot of development in ‘Aiea—it’s an old town—but with these things happening, that’s what people seem concerned about most.”

Why should voters consider you over your opponent:

“My opponent is one fine gentleman. I really like him. Is there a reason to vote for me as opposed to him? I’d say, my involvement in the community has been for so long that I am very in touch with what is happening in the community.”

 

Robert Helsham (R)

Age:

49

Occupation:

Athletic director at Christian Academy in Red Hill

Political experience:

No previous political experience. “I’m just a concerned citizen,” Helsham says.

Work experience:

Former case worker with the state Department of Human Services

Key issue facing your district:

“‘Aiea is a gateway community to the west side, so traffic is a big concern for people I talk with,” Helsham says. Because of increased traffic development in ‘Aiea, Helsham is also concerned about pedestrian safety, especially for ‘Aiea’s kupuna. “A lot of them like to walk the neighborhoods, and there are some places where there are no sidewalks or a way for them to walk safely.” Younger families are concerned with longer commute times in and out of ‘Aiea as they community continues to grow. And like Kong, Helsham says the community is concerned about traffic and obstructed views that may be caused by the Live Work Play ‘Aiea  project.

Why should voter consider you over your opponent:

“Sam is a great individual, and we share similar values and care about our community in the same way,” Helsham says. Helsham says he can be the “ear of the community,” and has been “more active” in the community this election season than his opponent.

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Honolulu Magazine November 2018
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