Races to Watch: Ewa Voters Oust Veteran Lawmaker

‘Ewa must choose between a professor, a construction manager and former City Councilmember.

If you’re looking for an intriguing storyline this election season, look no further than the race for state House District 41, encompassing ‘Ewa and ‘Ewa Beach. Voters there face a choice between a Democrat who defeated long-time lawmaker Rida Cabanilla in the primary and a controversial Republican candidate who has come under fire from his own party; and a former City Councilmember running as a Libertarian.

Political watchers have traced Rida Cabanilla’s primary defeat to several factors, including her absence from the same-sex marriage vote and an inquiry by the state Ethics Commission into her potential conflict of interest in obtaining a $100,000 state grant for her own nonprofit organization. 

In the Democratic primary, Cabanilla faced Matthew Lopresti, a Hawai‘i Pacific University philosophy professor, who ran under the platform of restoring honesty and integrity to the Ewa House seat. On the Republican side, construction manager and New Hope Leeward minister Bryan Jeremiah fended off opposition of his own, but not in the traditional sense.  

And on the Libertarian ticket, former Honolulu City Councilmember Tom Berg is running. Berg served two years on the Council but lost a bid for re-election. He has been something of a lightning rod in local politics, known for his strong statements. Berg used to work for Cabanilla and twice unsuccessfully challenged her as a Republican. State Republicans strongly urged Jeremiah to resign after his extensive criminal record became public.

Dating back to 1982, Jeremiah has several criminal convictions including drug dealing, drunk driving and assault. The latest was 12 years ago. After state Republicans said they would not support his candidacy or even allow him to be a card-carrying party member, Jeremiah withdrew from the race. But he later re-entered as a Republican and won the primary, saying he has put his past transgressions behind him.

Tom Berg (L)

Age: 50

Occupation: Full-time unpaid volunteer for nonprofits, including community television producer for ‘Olelo.

Political experience: Former Honolulu city councilmember from 2011 to 2013; Ewa Neighborhood Board member 

Work experience: Former staffer for state Sen. Will Espero, state Rep. Rida Cabanilla, and former state Rep. Kymberly Pine.

Key issue facing your district: Lack of job opportunities and cost of living. “So many are having to leave the state to find work, and if they do manage to stay here, often wind up living on the streets as the working homeless (or never leave their parents' home),” Berg says. 

The solution: “Revitalize our over 100,000 acres of farm land sitting fallow and grow industrial hemp that needs very little water, uses no chemicals to thrive, and can flourish where the soils are polluted. Hemp makes houses, makes fuel, makes food, makes paper, makes fabrics and plastics. We could, as a state, by commercializing hemp, have absolutely no need to continue shipping in our essentials and finally have the means to become 100 percent completely self-sustaining. Want to end homelessness? Give them a job in the hemp industry,” he says.

Why should readers vote from you instead of your opponents: “Both the Democrats and Republicans are one in the same—they pretend to stand for different ideals, but in the end, work for the same PACs, the same special interests, the same side of Wall Street, and protect and preserve the status quo to shield their campaign donors from scrutiny,” Berg says.


Bryan Jeremiah (R)

Age: 52

Occupation: Construction project manager, Lend Lease.

Political Experience: None. “We need more politicians willing to put people before party politics.”

Work Experience: Men’s ministry director and associate pastor at New Hope Leeward.

Key issue facing your district: Aging infrastructure that is “overextended” by additional development; school overcrowding; traffic congestion in and out of the community. “The biggest issue we face is the lack of trust and values in our current legislators. In the community, they don’t feel like their voice is being heard, especially when (lawmakers) push through legislation that people are not in favor of.”

Why should voters consider you over your opponent: “We are polar opposites on many issues. The reason I think people should vote for me is my potential to best address the values they have.”


Matthew Lopresti (D)

Age: 40

Occupation: Associate professor of Philosophy and Humanities, Hawaii Pacific University. Chair of the Asian Pacific Studies Program, Hawaii Pacific University

Political Experience: Ewa Neighborhood Board; former candidate for state House; community and recycling advocate

Work experience: Co-founder of Kokua Renewable Energy; Vice Chair of Sierra Club Oahu.

Key issue facing your district: Secure a second high school to alleviate school overcrowding in Ewa. Traffic is “the number one quality-of-life issue in our area.” More quality jobs and affordable housing. Healthcare services for seniors to allow them to “age in place.” Protect the environment.

Why should voters consider you over your opponent: “Our kids suffer in up to 95-degree heat in cramped schools, and our transportation and energy infrastructure needs are not keeping up with growth,” Lopresti says. “I want our district’s voice to be heard, and I am prepared for the responsibility of representing my neighbors first.”