County Council competitors emerging

HILO — The chances of the majority of sitting County Council members facing opposition this election year is increasing, with new potential challengers pulling nomination papers last week.

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HILO — The chances of the majority of sitting County Council members facing opposition this election year is increasing, with new potential challengers pulling nomination papers last week.

Currently, only Hamakua Councilwoman Valerie Poindexter, North Kona Councilwoman Karen Eoff and South Kona/Ka‘u Councilwoman Maile David haven’t garnered prospective opposition, according to the weekly summary provided Friday by the state Office of Elections.

Two other districts on the nine-member County Council won’t have incumbents, because Hilo Councilman Dennis “Fresh” Onishi is term-limited, and Puna Councilman Greggor Ilagan is seeking a seat on the state Senate.

The candidate filing period runs through June 7. Polls open for early voting Aug. 1, with primary Election Day on Aug. 13.

Kohala Councilwoman Margaret Wille, an attorney seeking her third two-year term, now faces a potential opponent. Herbert M. Richards III, a Waimea veterinarian and fourth-generation rancher at Kahua Ranch, pulled nomination papers Feb. 10. Known as Tim, Richards is on the mayor’s Agricultural Advisory Commission.

Richards, who’s never run for public office before, said he’s definitely running. After a half-dozen years on the Agricultural Advisory Commission, which has worked on solid ideas to improve agriculture in the county, it’s time to help put those ideas into action, he said.

“It’s time for the most logical next step and the next step is the County Council,” Richards said. “I’m keenly interested in agriculture in our county and have a passion for the Kohala area.”

He said agriculture, and its affiliated issues of water, energy and transportation, would take center stage.

Wille said having competition doesn’t worry her. In fact, she said, it’s healthy for the county.

“In a way, it helps me have somebody to contrast,” Wille said. “I think it makes it where people get more interested and involved in the whole process. I’m just going to keep doing what I’m doing and let the voters decide.”

The outspoken Wille — one of the most prolific, if not the most prolific, sponsor of substantive bills on the council — is a lightning rod for strong support and opposition. In 2014, her race became the costliest council race in county history with the infusion of more than $100,000 by a Honolulu super political action committee.

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That year, she was the leader in a three-way primary contest and ended up winning with 59.5 percent over the well-financed Ron Gonzales in the general election. The super PAC Forward Progress, a Honolulu pro-construction group, contributed more than $100,000 supporting Gonzales or opposing Wille. Wille’s supporters, meanwhile, challenged Gonzales’ residency, forcing him to use valuable campaign time defending himself before the county clerk and the Board of Registration.

To qualify for the ballot, candidates must come up with verified signatures of registered voters living within the district — 15 for local races and 25 for statewide races. In addition, candidates must pay filing fees ranging from $75 to $750, depending on the race. Fees drop to as low as $25 for candidates who agree to limit their campaign spending.

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