All West Hawaii incumbent council members face opposition

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Meet the challengers.

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Meet the challengers.

More needs to be done, they say, about ethics. About the cost of government. About listening to the public.

All four races for County Council seats representing West Hawaii districts will be decided in the Aug. 13 primary, as each incumbent faces a single challenger.

It’s a first for Council Chairman Dru Kanuha, who has never had a campaign before. He became a council member with no opposition in 2012 and was re-elected without opposition in 2014. Representing Kona District 7, Kanuha, 32, is being challenged by political newcomer Nestorio Domingo.

Domingo, 63, is a retired engineer for the U.S. Air Force who also negotiated million-dollar flight test contracts with large defense contractors. He says his engineering background would help the county understand the myriad projects and technical issues it faces.

Domingo, whose most recent campaign spending report showed just $200 compared to Kanuha’s $7,700, sees a conflict of interest in accepting money from those who might come before the council.

“If you receive money, then you have to deliver,” Domingo said. “I don’t want to be tied. I’m running a clean campaign.”

There’s a long-standing ethics complaint against Kanuha for accepting $536 in airfare from the Honolulu-based Coalition for a Tobacco-Free Hawaii in 2014 prior to sponsoring its legislation.

Kanuha prefers to focus on his achievements.

“As chair of the County Council, I am proud of how well we work together to get things done,” Kanuha said. “I apply common sense principles in all of my decision-making, and I work diligently and cooperatively with my colleagues to find common ground that serves the best interests of Hawaii Island and all of its residents.”

District 8 incumbent Councilwoman Karen Eoff, 68, is facing a challenge from Jeff Citron, 70, a Kona coffee processor and real estate agent.

Citron said he decided to run because he sees problems ignored until they get much worse and more expensive to fix. One example is the Kealakehe sewage plant that he says has ballooned from $12 million to $23 million because the county was slow to begin repairs.

The county’s increasing bond debt also is a concern, he said. He questioned why Eoff and Kanuha came to a Leeward Planning Commission meeting but didn’t speak up when Bolton Inc. sought a special use permit to conduct a gravel-crushing operation off Hualalai Road above Queen Kaahumanu Highway.

“They don’t have any guts,” Citron said about the council members. “Kona needs a true voice. Someone who’s going to fight for their interests.”

Eoff said the gravel operation is going through the process and it’s up to the Leeward Planning Commission at this point. The project was recently postponed indefinitely in the face of community opposition.

Eoff defends her record, especially on environmental issues such as her 30 years of work in Kohanaiki, which resulted in a public shoreline park dedicated to the county and managed by a partnership between the community, the landowners and the county.

She said her persistence with the administration persuaded it to get a state revolving loan to improve the Kealakehe sewer plant.

“It’s frustrating and it is too slow and it’s a serious issue,” Eoff said. “My support and my advocacy have helped convince the administration to get this project funded.”

Eoff said she’s also pushing for the third phase of Ane Keohokalole Highway. Legislation she’s particularly proud of includes transparency measures in planned unit developments and plat maps, and using council contingency funds to build a POW-MIA memorial at the veteran’s cemetery.

“I have good listening skills, I believe in public participation and open transparent government,” Eoff said. “I prefer to build bridges and find solutions.”

South Kona/Ka‘u Councilwoman District 6 incumbent Maile David, 63, faces political newcomer Raina Whiting, 28, who’s riding the Bernie Sanders wave.

Whiting, an elected delegate to the Democratic National Convention, is a kindergarten teacher and former legislative aide to state Sen. Russell Ruderman. She jumped into the race because she thinks the rural Ka‘u district gets neglected in favor of Hilo and Kona.

“I’m running because there needs to be more representation throughout our district. She hasn’t done nearly enough,” Whiting said about David. “There are pretty simple things that are needed in the district.”

Basic infrastructure such as sewer and transfer stations top the list for the sprawling rural district, Whiting said.

David lists a second well for Ocean View, a new Honaunau rodeo arena, playgrounds in Naalehu and Pahala and a completed Volcano transfer station among her accomplishments. She said a new site is being coordinated for an Ocean View transfer station as well.

“Some of the issues facing District 6 have been ongoing and others newly created,” David said in campaign materials. “Addressing these issues were at times challenging, but very rewarding when solutions were realized.”

Kohala District 9 Councilwoman Margaret Wille, 68, also defends her accomplishments, noting she’s sponsored more substantive legislation than anyone else on the council. She said she also works hard in the community, trying to solve problems.

Granted, some of her initiatives are controversial, she said, adding they’re also important. She characterizes her opponent Tim Richards as “the establishment candidate.” Richards is a veterinarian and a member of the Agriculture Advisory Commission.

“He’s very good at saying what the problems are,” Wille said. “I try to be a problem solver.”

Among Wille’s more controversial measures was a partial ban on genetically engineered crops, a ban on polystyrene food containers, property tax reform and ethics reform.

Richards says he’s running to give people a choice. There are many problems facing people in the district as far as good jobs, housing and making agriculture more sustainable.

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“I am a collaborator; I work well with people,” he said. “I listen more than I speak. I know I don’t know everything, but I try to surround myself with people that are well versed and smarter than me.”

Email Nancy Cook Lauer at ncook-lauer@westhawaiitoday.com.