UPDATE : Hilo Gets a New Representative

Gov. Ige appoints Chris Todd to state House

News Editor Nick Carrion

Photo courtesy of the Office of Rep. Chris Todd

Chris Todd

“The biggest need at the state level is creativity.” - State Representative Chris Todd

Following the death of state Representative Clift Tsuji last November, Hawai‘i governor David Ige has appointed UH Hilo alumnus Chris Todd to represent District 2 in the Hawai‘i House of Representatives. District 2 covers the bulk of Hilo town and extends as far south as Hilo Municipal Golf Course.

Tsuji had served as District 3 representative from 2005 to 2013, and as District 2 representative from 2013 until his death on Nov. 15 at the age of 75.

In the event of a vacancy in the Hawai‘i State Legislature, the incumbent political party provides a list of potential candidates to the governor, who then has the ultimate decision to name a replacement. Democrat Chris Todd will serve the rest of Tsuji’s term, which will expire after the next general election on Nov. 6, 2018.

The other two finalists on the list were Moana Keli‘i, current union agent for the Hawai‘i Government Employees Association, and former Hawai‘i County Council Member Stacy Higa.

Born and raised in Hilo, Todd attended Hilo High School and eventually UH Hilo, where he majored in economics and political science. In addition, Todd served on the Board of Student Publications (BOSP) during his time at UH Hilo. (His now-wife, Britney, once worked for Ke Kalahea around the same time.) At the time of his appointment, Todd worked as the distribution manager for Hawaii Paper Products, and coached football at Hilo High School.

His new job, however, marks his first direct foray into the political arena. Todd says his experience with BOSP helped prepare him for his new position:

“It’s a microcosm for how government works at a higher level later on. A lot of how we operate is engrained in our culture. You come in to student government, or BOSP, or Ke Kalahea, and those systems are already in place.”

On representing his boyhood home of Hilo, he adds, “I feel like I have a very good handle on what it means to live here.”

Labeled a “political newcomer,” Todd admits he doesn’t know why he was chosen for this appointment over other, more experienced candidates. “I can’t say for sure. I’m sure there were a lot of different factors.” A spokesperson for Governor Ige was unavailable for comment on the matter.

In any event, Todd’s status makes him feel more open to articulating his views in a candid manner. “I don’t want to speak like a politician. I want to go in and be as open-minded and genuine as possible. I think that resonated with the governor and the people of Hilo.”

The son of Bobby Jean Leithead Todd, Hawai‘i County’s environmental management director, Chris Todd attributes both growing up in a political family and the current state of American politics as spurring him to seek this appointment.

“The recent presidential election got to me on a personal level. I wanted to do everything I can locally.”

When asked about his plans as a member of the state House, Todd says, “It’s mostly about building relationships. I want to do more to support local families, do more at the community level to help young people reach higher, and to raise the tide at the lower level.”

Todd hopes that by taking an outsider’s approach to politics, he can bring a new perspective to legislative business. For Todd, the timing is fortuitous, as the current session of the legislature began only a few weeks ago. “The biggest need at the state level is creativity,” he says. “Because we’ve always done something a certain way, that has settled in.”

Specifically, Todd intends to “find creative ways to deal with income inequality. We need a tax code that takes most of the burden away from the middle class.”