Ritte outraises incumbent DeCoite
His campaign is one of few to keep pace with a sitting lawmaker
House District 13 candidate and prominent Native Hawaiian activist Walter Ritte has amassed nearly $40,000 in donations since launching his campaign to unseat Rep. Lynn DeCoite, including contributions from the Hawaii State Teachers Association and controversial actress and comedian Roseanne Barr.
While incumbent candidates unsurprisingly led the field in total campaign funds, Ritte was one of the few challengers able to stay financially competitive with his opponent, with $23,127.60 in his campaign chest to DeCoite’s $29,872.95. During the six-month reporting period from Jan. 1 to June 30 (Ritte announced his candidacy in February) he had collected $39,076.83 in monetary and non-monetary donations to DeCoite’s $16,050.
“I know people know who I am, and that’s good and bad,” Ritte said Sunday. “But I didn’t expect people to be actually donating to my campaign because of the COVID situation where money is hard to come by. So I thought for sure my campaign contributions was going to be way under what Lynn was getting.”
Campaign spending reports for both state and county races were due Thursday and gave an indication of which candidates may be building momentum in the lead-up to the Aug. 8 primary.
Ritte and DeCoite are running as Democrats to represent their home island of Molokai as well as Lanai, East Maui, Kahoolawe and Molokini.
The winner of the primary will face off against Republican Robin Vanderpool and Aloha Aina candidate Theresa Kapaku.
DeCoite said she was “not concerned at all” about Ritte’s donations thus far. However, she had misgivings about some of the money coming from outside the state. While most of the 39 donors listed on Ritte’s reports are Hawaii residents, five were from the Mainland, including a combined $4,000 from Texas residents Susan and John Scarlett of biopharmaceutical company Geron Corp.
“I would think, he’s all about grassroots, why isn’t he getting his campaign funds in the state? . . . I’m kind of wondering who’s going to be driving his mission now,” DeCoite said.
Of DeCoite’s 25 listed donors, all had Hawaii addresses except for the Hawaii Operating Engineers Industry, which listed a California address and gave $1,000.
Her donors also include the campaigns of a number of state senators, including Friends of Gil Keith-Agaran, J. Kalani English Election Committee, Friends of Michelle Kidani and Friends of Donna Kim, who collectively have contributed $4,600 — including the maximum $2,000 donation from the campaign for English, who has publicly endorsed DeCoite.
“It shows that I can work across the aisle with my Senate counterparts,” DeCoite said, pointing to the recent efforts with English to get food and resources to the district during the pandemic. “We do have our disagreements but it just goes to show that they’re supportive of me running.”
Ritte wasn’t surprised by the lawmaker support and said he thinks “they’re a little bit nervous about having someone else come in once they’ve established their relationship with her.” He defended the donations from out-of-state residents, saying some were family members.
“These are not connected to any large corporations or politicians in the Mainland,” he said. “These are individual family members and people who support some of my issues.”
Ritte had 10 donors who gave the maximum $2,000, including state House candidate Kim Coco Iwamoto, the Hawaii State Teachers Association Political Action Committee and Barr. Ritte said when he first heard Barr was looking to donate to his campaign, he declined because “I don’t want to take money from people I haven’t met or don’t really know.” Barr, who starred on the sitcom “Roseanne” that was canceled in 2018 after she posted a racist tweet, has also faced backlash for incidents that include dressing up as Hitler for a satirical magazine.
“At first I did have concerns because she was like a lightning rod kind of a person,” Ritte said. “But then after she sort of like insisted or said a couple of times she really wanted to help, then I changed my mind.”
Barr, who purchased a 46-acre macadamia nut farm in Honokaa for $1.78 million in 2007, has publicly opposed genetically engineered crops, a fight that Ritte has been at the forefront of. However, he said she is not involved in the campaign.
“I don’t really know her. I don’t think she’s going to have that much influence on what we’re trying to accomplish,” he said. “It could turn off some people, but so can I. I’m not always politically correct.”
When asked if he thought the surge in donations indicated how the vote might go in August, Ritte said it’s hard to predict but “definitely that gives you a feel of what’s the trend.” He also pointed to the growing participation in sign-waving for his campaign as “another trend that gives us hope.”
Along with Ritte, incumbent Democratic Rep. Troy Hashimoto, who represents Central Maui’s District 8, had one of the top grossing campaigns. Hashimoto began the year with $20,468.50 in his campaign chest. He drew in $34,060 and spent $5,203.94, giving him $49,324.56 as of June 30 and making his campaign the highest funded among the primary election candidates.
Hashimoto is running against Kamehameha Schools educator Ka`apuni Aiwohi, who had $6,592.04, and retired Maui police lieutenant Robert “Bobby” Hill, who had $531. As Democrats and the only three candidates, theirs will be a “winner take all” race come August.
Another well-funded incumbent was Democratic Rep. Kyle Yamashita, who represents Upcountry’s District 12. At the start of the year, Yamashita had $24,210.17. He brought in $19,720 and spent $6,339.97, putting him at $37,590.20.
His opponent, farmer and landscaping contractor Simon Russell, had $6,873.31 on hand.
Incumbent Democratic Rep. Tina Wildberger of South Maui’s District 11 also had a sizable financial advantage over her opponent, with $17,555.93 to challenger Don Couch’s $690.67. Wildberger, who began the year with $7,957.97, pulled in $13,665.11 and spent $4,067.15.
The latest spending report for incumbent Democratic Rep. Angus McKelvey of West Maui’s District 10 was not available; a report filed as of April 25 showed the lawmaker had $170.57 after starting the year with $797.68, bringing in $2,000 and spending $2,627.11.
His opponent, Leonard “Junya” Nakoa, had $250 in total funds.
Meanwhile, among the primary election candidates vying for Maui County Council seats, incumbent Council Member Tasha Kama of Kahului led the pack with $11,804.24. Opponent Deb Kaiwi broke even with no funds on hand, while Carol Lee Kamekona had a deficit of $581.88.
Council Member Tamara Paltin of West Maui had the second most with $11,593.26. Opponent Sne Patel had $2,091.94 on hand, while no report was available for opponent Rick Nava.
Council Member Mike Molina of the Makawao-Paia-Haiku district had $8,105.20. His opponent Aja Eyre had $710.72, with no report available for Laurent Zahnd.
In the race for the open Lanai seat, Alberta de Jetley had the most funds with $3,200.10, followed closely by Gabe Johnson with $1,329.87 and Matthew Mano at $971.04. De Jetley, however, pulled away in terms of total contributions — $17,660 to Johnson’s $2,920 and Mano’s $2,421.16.
To view the full reports, visit csc.hawaii.gov/CFSPublic/ReportList.php.
* Colleen Uechi can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.