By Chris Takahashi | Staff Writer 

Maile Murphy, a 22-year-old culinary and patisserie student from Pacific Grove, Calif., speaks glowingly of her mentors in the culinary department.

“The teachers are really passionate, and you can tell that impacts how they teach,” she said.

Perhaps, though, some of her teachers are unaware of the high-charged passion that the first-year culinary student dedicates toward progressive politics here in Hawaiʻi.

Murphy is the current co-chair of the social justice committee in the student-led political organizing group, Young Progressives Demanding Action (YPDA). YPDA originally began as a “Students for Bernie Sanders” advocacy group in the beginning days of the 2016 presidential primary.

Though Hillary Clinton was named the Democratic Party’s nominee over Sanders, Murphy makes clear that, in the days following Donald Trump’s general election victory in November, she experienced a type of grieving that she never had expected. The grieving period has since ended, and Murphy now brims with optimism on the very tangible prospect of influencing progressive politics at the local and state level.

Though Murphy has only formally been involved with YPDA leadership after the Nov. 8 general election, it was this election that galvanized her to roll up her sleeves and become much more involved with the political process. She, along with fellow members of YPDA, have been busy tracking and testifying on behalf of a number of bills in the ongoing legislative session.

Notably, Murphy’s social justice committee has kept a close eye on bills pertaining to crisis-pregnancy centers and death with dignity.

Murphy acknowledged that understanding the legislative process is something that comes with a steep learning curve. She also gives credit where credit is due. Murphy remarked that Will Caron, a fellow member of the YPDA leadership team, is essentially like “Superman” when it comes to navigating the nuances of the legislative process.

Murphy testifies before the Hawai’i State Senate (photo courtesy of Maile Murphy)

On submitting legislation, noting full well that it’s difficult to have a personal story for each specific piece bill, Murphy’s approach is to use “statistics and facts, and I try to research what the financial impact will be … and then, as for personal stories, I try really hard to reach out to our (YPDA) membership to see if anyone has the time, or wherewithal, or desire to submit their personal story.”

She also gives a major nod of appreciation to UH Mānoa students Asami Kobayashi and Cameron Sato for their organizing prowess and ability to effectively grow the group from their nascent days advocating for Sanders into the progressive change-making organization it is today.

YPDA has given Murphy an outlet to flex her voice, and she’s made many friendships along they way. As the legislative session winds down in May, Murphy notes that the Hawaiʻi chapter of YPDA (it’s a nationally organized group) will likely be more involved with events in the national political conversation.

While keeping up with legislation is invariably a time-consuming activity, Murphy does find the time for her culinary education at KCC. She ultimately wishes to use her politically progressive voice to influence the largely male-dominated world that defines the culinary industry.

She aspires to shaking up the industry by helping to create more avenues for women and minorities in leadership positions. Specifically, she wants to see the gender wage gap erased in the culinary world as the industry has customarily favored men in the higher-paying positions.

For Murphy, her love of all things food related can be traced back to her Italian mother’s homemade cooking. Coupled with a variety of different culinary roles over the years, Murphy decided upon following her passion after graduating high school in 2011.

Only 16 years at the time of her graduation, she moved shortly thereafter to Oʻahu and has called the island home ever since. Her father and grandmother also reside here.

Back in Monterey County, Calif., as a child, Murphy did gymnastics with Clint Eastwood’s daughter. This was long before the conversation of politics entered her daily consciousness, but it was in California under former Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger (from 2003-10) that prompted her own political awakening.

She remembers the budget cuts to public education under the Schwarzenegger administration and how that ultimately impacted her own personal education.

“In a perfect world, we would be able to reform our current education system for K-8 and make it equal and accessible and good,” she said. “Which I know there’s so many debates about and I can’t pinpoint the answer to it (in terms of a specific policy solution) … that would be wonderful.”