County Council candidate Ron Gonzales says he is qualified to run in District 9, despite a persistent buzz on the coconut wireless that he doesn’t live in his district.
“I’d like to set the record straight,” Gonzales said in a telephone interview Wednesday. “I knew at some point this would come up.”
Gonzales is running against incumbent Kohala Councilwoman Margaret Wille and fellow challenger Oliver “Sonny” Shimaoka, both of Waimea. District 9 covers North Kohala, Waikoloa Village and most of Waimea.
The county charter requires a candidate to have been a resident and registered voter of the district for the office being sought for at least 90 days immediately preceding the primary election. A 3rd Circuit judge in 2010 subsequently struck the voter registration deadline requirement, as long as residency is established, but it hasn’t been changed in the charter.
Gonzales raised eyebrows when he resigned May 1 from the Windward Planning Commission, where he represented the Hamakua/North Hilo judicial district, and became a candidate for the Kohala County Council district. He was named to the commission in March 2012.
“After the meeting, I walked across the street and switched my residency to District 9,” he said. “Everything has been legal and transparent.”
Gonzales said he changed his voter registration and his driver’s license to a Waikoloa Village address, making the 90-day deadline before the Aug. 9 primary. His elections filing and filing with the state Campaign Spending Commission show a Honokaa Post Office box as his address.
The family lived in the district for many years before moving to Honokaa after their Paniolo Estates home was foreclosed in 2009, according to records filed with the state Bureau of Conveyances.
Gonzales, manager of Sansei Seafood, Steak and Sushi Bar at the Queens’ Marketplace in Waikoloa, said he has rented a room in Waikoloa Village for the past three years, although, until May 1, he was using the family’s Honokaa home as his legal address. He rented the room to avoid the long commute, he said.
Gonzales said the foreclosure issue “is private,” and said he, his wife, Hilda, and their children moved to Honokaa so his two daughters could attend Honokaa High School, where he attended as a youth. He said a small community high school was preferable to having the children have to be driven long distances to school.
“I’m really trying to run a clean campaign,” he said. “It would never occur to me to dig up dirt. I’m running on the issues.”
Shimaoka and Wille said Wednesday that they’re busy running their own campaigns, and haven’t made Gonzales’ residence a campaign issue.
“I’ve never asked him or challenged him or made it an issue,” Wille said. “My focus is getting out my message that I work really hard for you, and not look at what everybody else is doing.”
Still, Wille added, “He appears to live in District 1, work in District 8 and run for District 9.”
Shimaoka said he relied on the county Elections Division to ensure everyone running is qualified.
“I don’t have any concerns,” Shimaoka said. “I’m under the impression the Elections Office scrutinizes all this.”
Elections Administrator Pat Nakamoto said her office does require candidates to file a physical address, which is checked against their voter registration.
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