By Lindsey Millerd
Eric Sarrafian is a 22-year-old Leeward Community College student who is running for a spot in the Hawaii House of Representatives. He is campaigning as a Democrat to represent District 37 which includes Waipio and some parts of Mililani.
Sarrafian is originally from Pennsylvania, he moved to Hawaii with his family about three years ago. He has been attending Leeward CC for a year and is majoring in political science. He is also involved with Student Life and is the treasurer for our student government. We sat down with this young community leader to learn about his background, motivation, and hopes for the future.
Q: What got you interested in politics?
A: When I was a kid I always had dreams of becoming the president, but that was like a dream job. I’ve been interested in civics and serving my community from a pretty young age. I was in the Boy Scouts, eventually grew out of it, but that stuck with me for a long time.
But what got me motivated to run as a candidate, was really just the state of the island. I’m a student senator, and when I talk to some of the students here, a lot of them say that they’re planning to leave the island as soon as possible or as soon as they're done with their degree, because no one our age can afford to live here.
Q: In addition to affordable housing, what other local issues motivated you to run for office?
A: It’s a lot of things. The corruption, mismanagement of funds, completely ignoring what the people want a lot of the time. There’s so many issues and it’s mind-boggling to me how any of this actually happened.
Q: You have mentioned an interest in creating term limits, can you elaborate on that?
A: This is something I’ve definitely thought more and more about as I’ve been running. I think it should be a decent amount of time, somewhere between 10 and 20 years. The main reason why I think that it's important to have term limits is because I’ve realized that the main way you get into office is because of nepotism. If you are getting all of the donations from unions and political groups, even if you’re terrible, you have the money for advertising. You even get free advertising from the government in the form of legislative newsletters that get sent out, which is incredibly unethical.
Essentially they build up a war chest over all these elections and it’s more or less impossible to overcome. I go out door-to-door and I talk to people, and very few people are civically engaged and pay attention to state and local politics. It just breaks my heart because a lot of these politicians are doing terrible things, but because no one is paying attention, everyone just feels apathy, nothing's going to change. If people cared, then we would be living in a much better place. Things would constantly be changing. We’d have new ideas, new solutions, instead of sticking to the old ideas that sometimes work, but sometimes don’t, and are hurting people.
Q: What ideas do you have to address nepotism?
A: The campaign spending commission tracks the donations for all of our current incumbents, and I have the idea of sending out a newsletter to everyone, like the legislative newsletters that get sent out, to tell people who is donating and who is funding your candidates’ campaigns, who is in charge of essentially lobbying them. I think that would be a good way to inform people why some decisions are made by some candidates. If you think that it’s corruption or they made a bad choice and are influenced by money and politics, then it’s easier to see the lines and how corporations are more represented in our legislature than the people. That information is there on the campaign spending commission’s website but it’s a little difficult to get to.
Q: How can other people get more educated in local politics?
A: Personally, I’ve been going to some of the neighborhood board meetings, trying to listen to issues going around in our community. I think it’s a very good entry point to learn more about the issues and contacts for people, because that’s how you get everything done, knowing the right people.
Q: What are the top things that you stand for?
A: Representing the people of my community. Too much of our legislature is represented by corporate influences. First and foremost, before anything, I want to know that I am representing the will of the people and no one else. I have not taken any contributions from any corporations or special interest groups as of now. I’m mostly self-funded, with help from family and friends.
From what I’ve been told, the cost of living is probably the most important thing to a lot of people. Many can’t afford basic necessities right now. It ties into why I think we should also improve our agricultural industry, so we’re not so reliant on imports and prices can go down. For housing, the only solution I can think of right now, if anyone reading has a better idea, feel free to tell me, is to build high-density housing. The problem is that no one wants that. There’s basically no property zoned for that, but everyone having a single family house is not feasible. We need to make a decision on whether we want Hawaii to be a place where people live, or a place where only millionaires live. We can’t have it both ways, it's just unrealistic.
One of the other things I’m passionate about is implementing ranked choice voting for our elections. Let’s say there’s 5 candidates, you would vote in order of your preference, so if your first choice doesn’t win, your vote doesn’t disappear, it goes to your second choice and so on. Instead of “throwing away” your vote when voting for a third party, you can still vote for them. I think that would go a long way to improving the quality of our democracy, we need more diversity in our representation.
Q: What kinds of experiences or traits would help you in this position?
A: I don’t know how many people can relate to this, but my family is very political. There are certain members of my family who are far left, far right, and everything in between. I think the most important thing a leader can have is empathy and understanding. I was always smack-dab in the middle of trying to understand where everyone’s coming from, not taking sides, and trying to figure out more or less the truth of an issue. We talk about a lot of issues, like LGBTQ rights, gun violence, homelessness, our prison systems... It’s sad to me that a lot of people never talk about them, because these are issues that, if they’re not talked about, there’s not going to be any solutions.
Q: Any final recommendations for young people to get involved with their communities?
A: A really good way to get started is to look up your local Lions Club or Rotary Club. Those are two amazing groups I’m a part of. They get out and directly help a lot of people. With the rotary club I’ve cleaned up graffiti and picked up trash and needles on some beaches. Just get out and find some volunteer group and go out once a month to do something. That’s it, just be an active part in your community.
I’d also recommend checking out the Young Democrat’s website, and getting in contact with them. They’re very good for helping out youth voices.
And finally, vote for change. If you vote in the same people, you’re not going to get change.
Sarrafian extends a welcome to anyone who would like to contact him about any school or community issues.
Facebook: Eric Sarrafian
Website: Eric Sarrafian for District 37
As a reminder, mail-in ballots for Hawaii’s primary election must be received by 7 p.m. on Aug. 13. Local mail typically takes 2-3 days to be delivered, so make sure to mail your’s out before Aug. 10. In-person voting, same day voter registration, and ballot collection will be available at Voter Service Centers through Aug. 13. More information can be found on the Office of Elections website.