Adrian Tam was not worried for himself while out on the campaign trail in Hawaii, he said. Instead, he was concerned for the safety of his volunteers and supporters, wearing shirts and face masks bearing his name, because his opponent was Nick Ochs, the leader of a Hawaii chapter of the far-right paramilitary group the Proud Boys.
“Fortunately, nothing bad happened,” Tam, 28, told The Daily Beast. “We were met with happiness and joy by people.” Tam was ultimately victorious in his bid to represent District 22—covering Waikiki, Ala Moana, and Kakaako on Oahu—in the Hawaii House of Representatives. He won the seat with 63 percent of the vote, and is now the only out LGBTQ representative in the statehouse.
On Wednesday, Tam told The Daily Beast that he was happy there had been a record turnout in Hawaii. “As a first-time candidate, like many first-time candidates, there may have been a little anxiety going into it. I am just grateful that we won, the anxiety is lifted. Now the hard work begins today.” The major issues he is focusing on are around homelessness, public safety, condominiums, coronavirus, the economy, and diversifying the regional economy away from tourism.
The biggest challenge he faced was not Ochs, said Tam, but defeating longtime Democratic incumbent Tom Brower in the primary. “This was a ‘change election,’” said Tam. “A lot of new candidates are younger, and won races or open primaries.”
He is also the only out LGBTQ member of the legislature. “It feels great,” said Tam. “I always say representation matters. I am glad that I can bring that perspective to the legislature when it comes to making decisions. I always say a legislature should reflect what a state looks like. I am glad to be the only one, but I hope I am not the last one.”
LGBTQ issues did not come up with constituents, Tam said. “People were more concerned about the economy and their livelihoods. But I had a lot of people who are LGBTQ tell me that they were excited about our campaign. They really wanted us to win.”
Ochs’ campaign had “thrown a lot of insults and attacks” at him, Tam said, “but we stayed on message, with the plans and ideas we had to move Hawaii forward. I’m really glad our message got through, and the community voted resoundingly to send me to the legislature. I am grateful for this opportunity that was given to me by the voters, and I promise I am going to work hard for them.”
It concerns Tam that the Proud Boys have a presence in Hawaii. “But I am happy and very hopeful that members of the community realized they didn’t represent the values of Hawaii. Groups like these will always exist, but it’s up to us to not only tune them out, but to get our message out there and change minds so more people don’t join them.”
Tam muted Ochs on social media, although friends told him when his opponent attacked him online. In September, Facebook deleted Ochs’ campaign page for violating terms of service and community standards, a move Ochs condemned. (The Daily Beast reached out to Ochs for comment via Hawaii’s GOP, and received no response.)
Local ABC news station KITV reported that the Democratic Party of Hawaii had denounced Ochs “for a history of offensive posts on social media about the Black, Jewish, and LGBT communities, as well as a video showing Ochs urinating into active lava fissure at the Kilauea volcano.”
At his first presidential debate with Joe Biden, President Trump infamously asked the Proud Boys to “stand by.”
In a 2018 interview with Hawaii Public Radio, Ochs said of the Proud Boys: “We are a social club, a fraternity. Proud Boys are what you’d call the ‘new right’ or, to make it simpler to understand, the ‘alt lite.’ The only thing you have to do to become a Proud Boy is declare yourself to be a proud Western chauvinist. It’s just to say that we think Western culture is the best and we need make no apology for that.”
He said the Proud Boys believed America to be “the greatest country on Earth, Canada, Western Europe. Let’s not overcomplicate this. What’s today’s big controversy? The president is in trouble for, I know you have polite listeners, calling certain parts of the world crap holes, specifically, Haiti… and Africa, sure. Objectively these countries don’t have anywhere near the standard of living that countries in the West do. Everyone agrees that Haiti is a crap hole. I think speaking honestly is just speaking honestly, and the fact a controversy erupts from that is why we exist.”
Ochs, who was endorsed by Roger Stone, Donald Trump’s former informal campaign adviser and longtime ally, told KITV that he was not a racist or white supremacist. “I’m happy to talk to anyone. And again, I am either the world’s worst racist, or I’m not a racist. You have to acknowledge that a white supremacist does not marry a Black woman and have a mixed family, that is not what that word means and the people that are throwing it around are disingenuous.”
“It was the biggest leap I had ever made in my life.”
Tam was born and raised in Honolulu; his mother and father, he writes on his website, “were hard-working immigrant parents from Hong Kong and Taiwan who fled with their families from hardships in their home countries in search for a better life in the United States.”
His father was an assistant to a draftsman, and his mother was a saleswoman at Maui Divers. His family went on to open Central Pacific Properties Inc., a local small real estate firm.
Tam left Hawaii to attend Penn State University, where he studied history, thinking he might go to law school or do a master’s degree. He returned to Hawaii—aged 23—to work at his family’s real estate business. He felt he wasn’t making enough money, and left after a year to take on an administrative job at the state legislature, “where I immediately fell in love with public service,” he told The Daily Beast.
In 2016, Tam served as a legislative aide, and in 2017 he was appointed to manage the office of Sen. Stanley Chang. The Victory Fund, which supported a number of successful LGBTQ candidates in election races including Tam, said that during his tenure Tam “has been instrumental in the passage of Hawaii’s conversion therapy ban for minors, as well as working with stakeholders in passing a ban on gay panic defense.”
Tam told The Daily Beast that last year he decided he would run for public office himself. “I saw that our community and state were hurting, and needed new voices, new leadership, new ideas, and new innovations, and so I threw my hat into the ring. It was the biggest leap I had ever made in my life.”
Tam came out as gay while at college. He said he had “never faced many challenges in terms of employment. It’s never been an issue for me really, but I understand it’s important to have a seat at the table. As Elizabeth Warren once said, ‘If you don’t have a seat at the table, you’re probably on the menu.’”
His family—mom, dad, sister, and grandmother—“are my biggest supporters. They are ecstatic, over the moon, right now, and have been in this with me since the primary.” Tam is single. Right now, he is focused on his new job, “and whatever happens happens in that part of my life.”
Tam believes the victories of young, first-time candidates shows Hawaii was “definitely in the mood for change this election cycle. I am also happy that when we join the legislature, long-time legislators will also be there. I truly believe we have lot to learn as new candidates, and I want to learn from the more experienced ones. We’re not there to destroy everything and start from scratch. We want to build on what we have so far.”
Hawaii, said Tam, like the rest of America was extremely divided. He quoted Ruth Bader Ginsburg: “A great man once said that the true symbol of the United States is not the bald eagle. It is the pendulum. And when the pendulum swings too far in one direction it will go back.” Tam hopes this election will prove to be once such moment.
“I believe there have been heated exchanges between family members, friends, peers, and colleagues in Hawaii. There are definitely a lot of people who voted for Biden and others who voted for Trump who do not see eye to eye. But in Hawaii we respect each other. We have this thing called the ‘Aloha Spirit,’ which means that at the end of the day, no matter what our beliefs are, we remain friends and cordial and respectful. We have not had riots or unrest here. There have been protests, but it hasn’t escalated to what I’ve seen on the mainland.”
This reporter asked if Ochs had call Tam to concede, or if the the pair had spoken since Tam’s victory.
“We have not spoken,” Tam said. His tone suggested he didn’t much mind about that, this reporter said.
“I am fine either way, said Tam. “I know it is not easy being a candidate, so I understand.”