I stand as an example of how any law-abiding individual can be subjected to harassing lawsuits, gossip and innuendo.
For the record, I live on Lāna‘i. This place is the core of who I am. Lāna‘i is now and will forever be my home. I was born on Lāna‘i and grew up here. My family has seen seven generations on this island.
Over the course of a lifetime, I have explored every inch of this place; I know it intimately. As a young man, I worked on the plantation. After leaving to go to university, I came home to Lāna‘i.
My wife and I made a home on Lāna‘i and our children were born here. As social and economic change swept through our island, I became increasingly involved with community groups and organizations.
Ultimately, I decided to enter public service. Campaigning and holding public office meant spending many nights away from my family—something that was not easy. Such is the reality shared by legislators and council members from outer islands and rural areas; we must leave our homes to serve our districts, to convene, and to campaign.
Through two terms on the Maui County Council and two terms in the State Legislature, I represented Lāna‘i, as well as the surrounding “canoe district” of Moloka‘i, parts of Maui, Kaho‘olawe and Kalaupapa. I later accepted a position with the Kaho‘olawe Island Reserve Commission (KIRC) and moved to Maui to work in KIRC’s Wailuku office.
In 2008, with critical economic challenges facing our islands, and at the urging of several friends and family members, I decided to run for the Lāna‘i seat on the Maui County Council. Before officially entering the race, I openly discussed my voter status with the County Clerk. I explained that during my entire life, I had lived and voted on Lāna‘i, but that I had changed my residence and voter registration to Lahaina for three years while working at KIRC. I informed the clerk that I would be moving back to our family home on Lāna‘i—the same home where my family had lived for decades. After consulting the County Charter and the State Constitution, the clerk accepted my new voter registration and assured me that I met all of the legal residency requirements for candidates.
In October of 2008, after it was clear that I had won the primary election, an unhappy group of complainants contacted the County Clerk, challenging my residency and demanding that my name be removed from the ballot. Among the group were two of my opponents, along with a handful of their supporters and a campaign manager.
Ironically, also among the group pointing the finger and questioning my residency were newcomers to the island, as well as part-time residents. With accusations that have traveled up to the Hawai‘i Supreme Court, the group has filed several legal assaults aimed at depriving me of my residency status in order to remove me from office.
As a Native Hawaiian, and more specifically, a native Lanaian, my world view is closely aligned with my ancestral home and culture.
It has been profoundly painful to my family and me to have the very foundations of my identity attacked in such a callous manner—and all for political vindictiveness. That a group would attempt to dispossess me, or any person, of one’s innate cultural foundation is deeply distressing, and the implications are infinitely more disturbing than the outcome of a political contest. Try to imagine what it would feel like to be stripped of your ancestral heritage and home for purely political purposes.