CABANILLA: House Majority Floor Leader Rida Cabanilla with Gov. Neil Abercrombie
By Malia Zimmerman Watchdog.org
HONOLULU — This should get interesting.
Among the candidates to represent District 41 in the state House are a convicted criminal who found God and two outspoken contenders who bring their own brand of controversy.
Such as House Majority floor leader Rida Cabanilla, a Democrat who represents the Ewa area on Oahu.
Cabanilla secured a $100,000 grant from her peers at the Hawaii Legislature for her charity, Ewa Historical Society Inc., which was out of compliance with the IRS when she got the grant.
Cabanilla told Watchdog.org she wanted the money to hire six people to “weed whack” the grass at the Ewa historic cemetery in her district, but constituents critical of her plan said the cemetery already is under a city maintenance contract that includes yard maintenance.
The state Department of Land and Natural Resources, which also has jurisdiction over the historic site, must approve the grant.
The state Campaign Spending Commission fined Cabanilla $500 for filing “false or inaccurate” campaign spending reports and another $50 for filing the reports late.
Republican strategists believed Cabanilla could lose because of negative publicity over the nonprofit grant, the campaign spending violations and her proposal earlier in the legislative session to legalize the exportation of marijuana from Hawaii.
But that was before news surfaced about Republican candidate Brian Jeremiah.
People who know Jeremiah say he “turned his life around” and found God, but Republican leaders believe his criminal past is “not survivable” in an election, and they don’t want him to run.
Jeremiah has nine convictions in Hawaii between 1982 and 2002 after charges of drug dealing, drunk driving and robbery, contempt of court and assault, court records show. He served three prison sentences.
Jeremiah said in an email to Watchdog.org the records are inaccurate. He said he has five felony convictions and served four years in prison, the latest charge some 12 years ago.
Jeremiah is now a church leader at New Hope Christian Fellowship, where he speaks about his troubled past. He withdrew from the race after Republican leaders asked him to, but he refiled Wednesday.
Jeremiah said in a statement to Watchdog.org: “I thank God that you can learn from your mistakes even if it takes a while to get it right. That one day you hope you can move forward. I made many mistakes as a young man and regret every one. I make no excuses for what I have done and I was very transparent about that. … I really wanted to make a difference in our community and decided to run knowing there was a chance that my past would be brought up, but the idea of doing nothing was worse.”
“My hope was that a changed man would find acceptance among his peers and opponents and be afforded an opportunity to represent his community with no other intention than the desire to make a difference. …I thank the many who stood behind me and believed in me despite the past, those who know who I am today and not the man from the past,” Jeremiah said.
An announcement to run from former Honolulu City Council member Tom Berg adds to the drama.
Berg is proud of scenes he has made at the Honolulu City Council, neighborhood board meetings and at the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation Conference, many of which led to calls to police and his removal from the meetings.
Berg says he has many important issues to address, including government contracts for lobbyists, true sustainability, the growing homelessness problem and Hawaii’s energy monopoly.
Willes Lee, the former GOP chairman who now is the national committeeman for the Hawaii Republican Assembly, said District 41’s race “will be a fun one to watch.”
Political analyst Neal Milner said it’s tough for incumbents in Hawaii to lose, especially Democrats. But, Milner said, Jeremiah’s criminal past does not automatically disqualify him as a contender, especially in Ewa, which has a strong evangelical Christian community that might respond positively to Jeremiah’s message of redemption.
Berg won’t likely have enough support from the community to win, Milner predicted, because he doesn’t believe constituents take him seriously.
Reach Malia Zimmerman at Malia@hawaiireporter.com