KAILUA-KONA — Challenger David Tarnas on Saturday unseated incumbent Cindy Evans in the Democratic primary for one of Hawaii’s longest-occupied seats in the state House of Representatives.
Evans held West Hawaii’s 7th District, which encompasses North Kohala, South Kohala and portions of North Kona, in a vice grip for 16 years. Over that time, she won eight elections, including a narrow victory over Tarnas two years ago by fewer than 200 votes.
More voters turned out in 2018, helping Tarnas claim the primary by a tally of 2,866 votes to Evans’ 2,466 votes. It was a victory for which Tarnas, who served in the House from 1994-98, said he never stopped working.
That work took on the form of community service and continued relationship building while he waited two long years for another crack at the nomination.
“I’m very grateful for this result, I’m grateful for this support,” Tarnas said. “I never broke a stride after the close loss two years ago, I just continued to campaign. So this has been a three-year campaign. It’s not surprising it took three years to unseat a long-term incumbent, someone who has worked in many leadership roles in the House.”
Evans served as House Majority Leader from 2015-17 and chaired the House Committee on Economic Development and Business. She was disappointed in Saturday’s outcome, but said it won’t stand in the way of her advocating for issues important to her former constituency and the rest of West Hawaii.
“I believe I did a good job, and I believe there is an awful lot that needs to be done for the community,” Evans said. “I felt I was in the right place at the right time to get things done. But I believe in the people and the people voted. It’s their choice.”
Evans said she’ll use her connections across the island and on Oahu to advocate for issues of domestic violence, sexual assault and homelessness from a grassroots, community level. As to what her future holds, be it another run for office or otherwise, Evans was uncertain but optimistic.
“Something great is going to happen,” she said. “I don’t know what, but I think doors will open because I bring a lot of knowledge and experience.”
A business owner and community planner for two decades in the district he hopes to represent, Tarnas credited his victory in the primary to shared experiences with his constituents, which he believes made him relatable and inspired necessary trust.
“It’s a dynamic political time, and I think what I offer was well received,” Tarnas said. “I’m a candidate running for a job, this is an interview, and I think people are ready for change in the status quo.”
He added he received a congratulatory call from House Speaker Scott Saiki who was first elected to the House in 1994, the same year as Tarnas, and who Tarnas described as a good friend. “I want to build on that strong relationship I have with the speaker and offer my skill set,” he said.
Tarnas worked in ocean resource management, renewable energy and education in his previous tenure in the House, and said he’d be excited to reprise any and all of those roles come next session if elected.