By TOM CALLIS
Tribune-Herald staff writer
Politics — and Hawaii County politics for that matter — is nothing new for Chelsea Yagong.
While growing up, she had her share of dinner table discussions on Big Island issues with her father, County Council Chairman Dominic Yagong, who liked playing the role of devil’s advocate and provided the occasional civic lesson for his four children.
But getting into politics, other than a run on student councils that lasted from third to 12th grade, was not something the Ahualoa resident saw herself doing.
That changed on Thursday when Chelsea Yagong, who turns 26 on Saturday, filed for the seat being vacated by her father, who is running for mayor.
Chelsea Yagong, a deli manager at Foodland in Waimea, said she decided to seek the District 1 seat because she thinks it’s time for her to take a more active role in community affairs.
“I look at my life, and I think it’s time I step up to the plate and starting taking responsibility for my community,” she said.
The district includes Hamakua, North Hilo, and a part of South Hilo.
As of Thursday, Valerie T. Poindexter and Larry M. Gering had also filed for the District 1 seat. The filing deadline is Tuesday.
Though in her mid-20s, Chelsea Yagong speaks with a healthy level of confidence about her qualifications and what she can expect in her first campaign.
She said she thinks candidates need “certain qualifications — integrity, honor, sincerity. You need to care about the community you grew up in and the community you are surrounded by. … And I believe I am born with that.”
Chelsea Yagong said she wants to set a good example for her 4-year-old daughter, but also called her father an inspiration.
“I want to be able to effect change and positively change people’s lives,” she said. “I want to be a lot like my father in that effect.”
Dominic Yagong, who filed to run for mayor a few minutes after his daughter filed for office, said he was “quite proud” about her decision, but wasn’t surprised because of his family’s exposure to politics.
“They are in the public eye and they speak publicly,” he said.
Chelsea Yagong said she started thinking seriously about running after her father decided to run for mayor. She made her final decision a couple weeks ago.
In separate interviews, both said the decisions were not coordinated.
“It’s her decision,” Dominic Yagong said. “She made her decision just like any other candidate.”
They also acknowledged the possibility of both of them being elected and serving separate positions known to be at odds.
The mayor is the county’s chief executive, while the council acts as the legislative body and a check on the mayor’s power.
Chelsea Yagong said, while she looks up to her father, she would not be there to push his or anyone else’s agenda.
“Independence is very important to me,” she said.
“I’m a single mother. I’m ridiculously independent.”
That’s nothing new to her father.
Asked if both of them serving would cause a conflict of interest, Dominic Yagong said, “Not in Chelsea’s case simply because she is an extremely independent woman.
“Chelsea has always been able to make up her own mind…”
Dominic Yagong also said he thinks they would be able to leave politics at the office when spending time together as a family.
“When we do spend time as a family, we would keep it to family and I’m sure politics wold not be part of the discussion,” he said.
Chelsea Yagong said she would be willing to vote against proposals brought by her father if they are both elected.
Asked if they differ on any issues, she said she couldn’t think of any at the moment.
Chelsea Yagong said she sees parks, affordable housing, agriculture and economic development in general as important issues for the district.
She said it also needs to balance new development with maintaining the area’s character.
“If development is going to help our community, we need to consider it,” she added.
Dominic Yagong said he won’t be directly involved in his daughter’s campaign but left no doubt that she has his support.
“Quite frankly, I’d vote for her every day of the week and twice on Sunday,” he said with a smile.
Email Tom Callis at email@example.com.