Creagan withdraws candidacy: Bondera selected as heir apparent in Democratic contest for House District 5

  • Richard Creagan

State Rep. Richard Creagan dropped out of the House District 5 race after hiring a handpicked, last-minute candidate to manage his legislative office in Honolulu.

Creagan withdrew from the race Wednesday, the last day to do so without a doctor’s note. Meanwhile, Colehour Bondera, who began working in Creagan’s office in the Capitol about a month ago, filed for the seat on Tuesday, the last day of candidate qualifying.

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Creagan, 74, said he sought out a replacement candidate after he decided at the 11th hour not to run because he doesn’t think the state yet has the coronavirus pandemic under control. Frequent flights between Honolulu and the Big Island is a health risk for him because of an underlying condition, he said.

Creagan is a former emergency room physician who also served a stint as an epidemiologist for the state Department of Health. He has 100-acre farm near Naalehu.

He said he first sought out Bondera’s wife, Melanie, to run for the seat, but said the couple, both of whom have degrees in agriculture, will work together to advance the needs of the sprawling district that runs from Kailua-Kona to Naalehu.

“I waited until the third to make sure he was really filed,” Creagan said of his late withdrawal. “He’s a great candidate; I’m really happy he’s doing it. … That’s why I feel comfortable leaving. I’m trying to replace myself with someone better.”

Colehour Bondera, 53, said his late entry in the race came about when Creagan told him Monday he’d decided not to run. Bondera said he’s been contemplating political office, and he’d begun working for Creagan to prepare for Creagan’s eventual retirement. It just came sooner than he thought.

“I wasn’t going to run against him (but) I wish he had given me at least a week,” he said.

Bondera, who with his wife run an organic farm near Honaunau, wants to concentrate on agricultural issues.

“I personally think the voice of agriculture isn’t well heard or listened to in the Legislature and I want to really make sure agriculture is heard,” Bondera said. “For me, it’s representing the community and especially listening to the community.”

Creagan’s decision pits two familiar Kona coffee representatives against each other in the Democratic primary: Bondera, who is president of the Kona Coffee Farmers Association, and Jeanne Kapela, executive director of the scholarship competition for the Kona Coffee Cultural Festival and a former Miss Kona Coffee and Miss Hawaii beauty pageant winner. Kapela said she and Colehour previously served together on the board of the Kona Coffee Farmers Association.

She said the substitution of Bondera for Creagan doesn’t change how she’ll campaign. In 2018, Creagan had prevailed with 2,359 votes to Kapela’s 1,872.

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“For me, it doesn’t change anything. My commitment is to the people of the community and it hasn’t wavered since I first ran in 2017,” Kapela, 25, of Captain Cook, said Friday. “People deserve leadership with aloha that’s consistent. … Candidates jumping in late just shows there’s no care for our people, for our community and for our needs.”

The winner in the primary faces Libertarian Michael Last and Aloha Aina candidate Citlalli Johanna Decker in the general election.

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