Espero Seeks Hanabusa’s Seat

State Sen. Will Espero | Photo from Will Espero

State Sen. Will Espero has his enthusiasms. Currently leading the list is the announcement of October as Hawaii Fashion Month.

“Hawaii has designers, manufacturers, and legendary local companies like Hilo Hattie’s and Iolani Sportswear,” says Espero. “It’s a $750 million industry. The Hawaii brand supports tourism, so we passed an appropriation of $150,000 to support fashion shows, trade shows and other events in October.

“The University of Hawaii has a huge collection of 20,000 pieces of historic and ethnic apparel. Currently, it doesn’t have a home. In October, the Hawaii State Art Museum will mount an exhibit of part of the collection.”

Ideas, Espero argues, are a reason why voters in the 1st Congressional District should choose him to fill the seat being vacated by Colleen Hanabusa.

“I listen well, and I have a lot of visions for the future,” he says.

They include supporting film, fashion, dance and music sufficiently to make Hawaii “an international destination for culture and the arts.” He cites his support for legislation that allowed a tattoo expo at the Blaisdell to draw 15,000 people in its first year.

He also talks of establishing a space exploration and research park on the Big Island to prepare for exploration of the moon and Mars: “It would result in both business development and job-creation, and there’d be spillover to Oahu.”

Espero’s dream journey to Washington as a congressman has run from the Philippines to Japan to Washington, California, Virginia, Georgia, Italy and, finally, Hawaii.

“I was a Navy brat,” Espero explains. In 1956, the United States Navy selected Espero’s father, Victor, a native of Ilocos Sur in the Philippines, for training as a cook. Victor and wife Paulina would have two boys. Will, the younger child, was born in Japan, where his father was then stationed.

“My dad became a very good cook,” says Espero. “He was usually assigned to cook for the top officers.

My parents live with us now, and Dad still does the cooking.”

Espero received a degree in business administration from Seattle University. A 26-year-old Espero made his first attempt at public office as a Republican, running unsuccessfully for a Kalihi House seat in 1986. Four years later he tried again, this time for a Senate seat, with the same result.

He left the GOP, worked for Mayor Frank Fasi as executive director of the neighborhood boards, and in 1999 applied for an Ewa House seat vacated by the resignation of Democrat Paul Oshiro. Gov. Ben Cayetano gave him the job. Three years later, reapportionment created a new Leeward Senate district. Espero won it easily.

In the Senate, Espero gained his share of press coverage as chairman of the public safety committee. Prisoners walking off their work detail, guards calling in sick on Super Bowl weekends, deaths of unattended prisoners – all draw TV cameras and reporters’ notebooks to the public safety committee’s chair.

Espero wishes they’d come to talk about the 79 bills he’s passed, his work on the Oahu Metropolitan Planning Organization, or his efforts to reform the state’s justice system. But in the contest for an open congressional seat, a candidate must be grateful for whatever attention he can garner.

Currently, Espero, fellow Sen. Mark Takai and Honolulu City Councilmen Stanley Chang and Ikaika Anderson have announced their CD1 candidacies.