HONOLULU, July 22, 2012 – Forget everything you’ve ever learned about politics and candidates. Lauren Cheape is this year’s biggest game changer and the most promising candidate the Republican Party has seen yet.
Always upbeat, never without a brilliant smile on her face and full of eloquent and inspiring speech, the former Miss Hawaii 2011 Lauren Cheape is running for the office of state representative in Hawaii’s 45th district (Mililani, Schofield, Kunia) and is a symbol of America’s newest generation of capable, young leaders answering the call to service.
From a background that includes more than a century of family-owned business, service in government and prolific volunteerism, Cheape is truly the epitome of a legacy of all-American, hardworking, humble, down-to-earth values.
I had the opportunity to speak with Ms. Cheape to ask her about what it’s like running for office for the first time and the transition from pageantry to politics. Here now is a transcript, with light edits for length and clarity.
Danny de Gracia: What was it like growing up, getting into pageantry and what made you make the decision to run for state representative?
Lauren Cheape: My family has been in Hawaii since 1859 and I am the sixth generation to be born and raised in the islands. My great-grandfather started Peterson’s Upland Farm in 1910 and it just reached its hundred and second anniversary this year as a family-run business supplying fresh eggs for our communities. My grandmother Suzanne Peterson was the first woman to serve on the Board of Agriculture and later became the Director of Agriculture under Governor Waihee.
For the past twenty-two years, my father Michael has worked at Nanakuli High School as a Special Education Teacher. My mother Sharon works on the family farm, continues to promote local agriculture in the islands and served as the vice president of the Hawaii Egg Producers Association. My brother Matthew is attending University of Hawaii where he is a member of the UH Men’s Volleyball Team.
I was born and raised in Mililani, where I attended Mililani Waena Elementary, and was in the first class to attend Mililani Middle School and also graduated from Mililani High School. I graduated from University of Hawaii with a bachelor’s degree in film production with the Academy for Creative Media and minored in Business and Japanese.
My first experience with the legislature was with the documentary Farm Grown that helped pass the Feed Subsidy Bill. I was a four year Division I scholar-athlete at the University of Hawaii as a Wahine Water Polo player. I was also a member of the Student Athlete Advisory Committee and initiated the C.A.R.E. Collegiate Athletes Reaching Everyone program, which uses student-athletes to encourage youth to excel in academics and participate in athletics.
This past year, I won the title of Miss Hawaii 2011 and represented our state at the Miss America pageant in January. I am passionate about making a difference in our state. I was planted in Waialua, grew up in Mililani, and am rooted in both communities.
Growing up in Hawaii, I was blessed with an encouraging and loving childhood. Since my father was a teacher and my mother worked on our family farm, I was able to spend a lot of time with my family. When I was five years old two incidents – which seemed at the time insignificant – ended up having an instrumental impact on my life.
First my family’s television broke, and then our truck broke. We could only afford to fix one and of course the truck ended up winning out. In six months when we were able to afford another television my mother decided she didn’t want one. During those six months my brother and I were playing with puzzles, borrowing books from the library, and playing sports outside every day.
I ended up graduating from high school without owning a television. The second thing that happened is a jump rope team came to my school. I remember looking up at them thinking “Wow they are so cool! They can do criss-crosses and double unders! I want to be a jump roper too!” That day I went home and told my mom, “Mom, I want to be a jump roper.”
I joined a jump rope team the Hawaiian Island Skippers the next week and I have been jump roping for the past twenty years. Both growing up without a television and being involved in jump rope were factors in who I am today. I spent my time learning how to sew, getting involved in sports and participating in dance and music.
I walked on the University of Hawaii Wahine Water Polo team. As a five foot two athlete, I was the smallest girl on the team by far. I had to watch the film Rudy before every season to keep me going. Although I didn’t have a lot of playing time I learned what it was to not be the star of the team and how to have a supporting role.
My major in college was film production. The girl who grew up with no television decided to major in film, the irony! In one of my film classes we had to do a documentary on something in Hawaii. While my other classmates were choosing topics like hula or surfing I joked that I was going to do my film on the Miss Hawaii pageant. My roommate had just given up her Miss West Oahu crown the night before so the concept was fresh in my mind.
My teacher loved the idea. There was a pageant a week and a half later so I entered. They asked me if I had a talent and I said, “Well, I jump rope!” Looking back, I think they thought I was joking. So I entered my first pageant to make a film. I ended up winning the Miss Ala Moana pageant and was immediately entered into Miss Hawaii.
I was 21 years old and had never even seen Miss Hawaii or Miss America because I had grown up with no television. I didn’t win my first year of Miss Hawaii. It actually took me four years to win the title. What kept me coming back is the Miss Hawaii Organizations focus on service and making a difference in our community.
After four years of competing and a year of service as Miss Hawaii, I realized that I had to spend my time serving my community, advocating for issues, and making a difference in the lives of those around me. I know that this is what I want to do for the rest of my life and it felt like such a natural extension to serve in public office. This is why I decided to run for State House of Representatives.
DDG: What are the things that are closest to your heart, not just in politics, but in life in general?
Cheape: My family is the closest and most important aspect of my life. In Hawaii family – or as we say “ohana” – is the center of our communities. It’s not just our immediate family. All of our family friends are called Aunty or Uncle, everyone is considered family. I think that this lifestyle reflects how I would want to be as a legislator. Everyone in my community is my family, their needs and concerns are important, and by working together we can get through any problem we face.
DDG: Tell us about what running for office for the first time feels like.
Cheape: To be honest it feels a lot like my year as Miss Hawaii. I spend my time in the community talking with people about their needs and concerns, advocating for those issues, and really working hands on in the community.
The most interesting thing to me when I walk door to door to meet everyone in my community is the first question people ask me usually isn’t “What are your issues?” or “What do you stand for?” its “You’re so young! How old are you?” which I reply with a smile, “Old enough to run!”
I think it’s time that we get the next generation involved in policy making. We need to bridge the gap and learn from the wisdom of the older generations paired with the new ideas from my generation. I feel that this is the best way to move forward and bring fresh, positive change.
DDG: A lot of people look up to you as a role model and a national personality. I think that by you running for office, it presents a powerful opportunity to change the leadership paradigm. What would you say are the most important values or traits that a good legislator should have these days?
Cheape: I feel the most important values are integrity, humility, and the ability to truly listen, and be able to work effectively as a team. As we see in national polls time and time again, the American people are losing the trust of those in leadership position. Integrity is such an important trait as a legislator, to earn the respect of constituents.
Also humility is essential. I realize that I am not an expert on everything, and truthfully not on most things. I feel that as a legislator when you recognize and acknowledge this fact you spend more time listening to those in your community who are experts in a particular field. To me that is the most important job of a legislator: to be able to truly listen to the needs of your community, take advice from experts in the field, have the integrity to come up with solutions and be willing to work with people with differing ideals.
DDG: Even though you’re running for a state office, if you get elected, you’re going to have influence with national scope. How will that shape your policymaking style?
Cheape: One of the most pertinent issues facing the people of Hawaii is the rising cost of living. A policy needs to be looked at and revised is the Jones Act. Although I agree that the Jones Act protects national waters for environmental, labor and national security issues, Hawaii faces a unique situation since we are separated by 2,300 miles of ocean. We are almost fully dependent on ocean shipping for at least ninety percent of everything consumed in our state. We need to look at all of our options regarding the Jones Act in order to lower the cost of living for Hawaii.
DDG: Is there anything you’d like to tell our D.C. readership?
Cheape: Hawaii is such a unique and beautiful place to live. We are one of the top vacation destinations in the world. However Hawaii is also the epicenter of the Pacific Ocean and offer so much more to our country then just eight islands of paradise.
We are the national leader in renewable energy, we have the largest solar telescope in the world, we are home to the Pacific Command which is responsible for the security of about sixty percent of the world and also home to Pearl Harbor, the largest shipyard in the nation. Hawaii has a lot to offer the rest of our nation and I am proud to be born and raised in such a beautiful and influential place.
This article is the copyrighted property of the writer and Communities @ WashingtonTimes.com. Written permission must be obtained before reprint in online or print media. REPRINTING TWTC CONTENT WITHOUT PERMISSION AND/OR PAYMENT IS THEFT AND PUNISHABLE BY LAW.