The first encounter Lauren Matsumoto had with the Hawaii Legislature was as a film student in college. Matsumoto produced a documentary about the financial hardships facing Hawaii farmers. The film Farm Grown began as a way for Matsumoto to document her family’s livelihood -- they’ve owned their egg farm for more than a century -- but it eventually helped convince lawmakers in 2010 to subsidize animal feed for local farmers.
The next year, Matsumoto captured the public’s attention by winning the Miss Hawaii contest. She used her position to promote an initiative she helped start to bring University of Hawaii athletes -- considered minor celebrities in a state without professional sports teams -- to lead schoolchildren in physical activities. (Matsumoto herself was a college athlete, playing four years of Division I water polo.) The day after Matsumoto’s reign as Miss Hawaii ended, she threw her hat in the ring for state representative. As a 24-year-old beauty queen and a Republican in a state dominated by Democrats, she barely squeaked out a win in 2012 but was re-elected by a comfortable margin in 2014. “What I loved most about Miss Hawaii was serving my community and advocating issues,” she says. “To me, it was a natural extension to continue in some sort of public service.”