My Turn: Running for office 101

Is it that time of year again? Names of candidates, both new and old, have started appearing out of nowhere in all forms of advertising: on lawn signs; in your mailbox on flyers; random people may have started knocking on your door to try to get your support; scrolling through social media and seeing a “Sponsored by the Friends of….” post. And why would that be? Well, Feb. 3 marked the start of campaign season.

Anytime between Feb. 3 and June 2 is when candidates will make their mark, a declaration that they will officially run for public office. For Hawaii Island residents seats include: President, Congressional 2, State Senate District 2, All State House of Representatives, OHA trustee at-large, OHA Resident of Hawaii, OHA Molokai, and OHA Kauai, Hawaii County Mayor, Prosecuting Attorney, and all County Council members.


This will be the first time in the history of Hawaii elections that all voting will be submitted by mail-in ballot only. Yep, that means no standing in line, no interacting with others, but voting from home, and taking the time to think about which of the candidates you believe will be best for office.

So you want to run for office? For one, thank you for thinking about running and serving. One take away is to stay true to yourself, your beliefs, and to stand up for the best interests of the people you represent. I can tell you that it’s a long stretch from Day 1 of your campaign to Election Day.

Do your homework — I can’t stress this enough. Often times candidates run for office not knowing the difference between municipal, state, or federal jurisdiction. Let’s put it this way, if you’re from the County of Hawaii and you are trying to increase teacher wages in schools, that jurisdiction belongs to the State of Hawaii. Take some time to do a Google search and check out the issues that you may think might come up during the campaign season, review all sides of the issue(s), and also be willing to compromise — the best type of representative is one who is willing to work for their constituents as a whole, not just for a selected few.

Funding, funding, funding. Like every campaign advertisement you see they always have a “donate here” button. Almost all campaigns need funding, unless you’re a Trump or a Bloomberg where you place your millions into your election. I recommend you continue to reach out to your local community. Also if you receive a $1,000 in donations you need to submit a report to the Campaign Spending Commission, keep all receipts of any or all purchases, and log all donations. Keep an eye on the due dates for the spending commission reports, they come up quick and if you miss it, you will be subject to a fine.

Events. If you have a full-time job while running for office, I can tell you it can be very difficult especially with public events you’ll need to attend. If you know someone that will be attending, ask them if they can wear your campaign shirt and maybe bring business cards in the case that someone asks for it — do not pass out freely, that’s just tacky. Sooner rather than later you have to work to create fundraisers or attend town hall meetings, but try not to overwhelm yourself. Take care of your health first or you will be unable to meet the needs of those you represent.

Canvassing — Hawaii still has an incredible reaction to canvassing. Knock on doors is a great way to get in contact with the older communities across Hawaii who just want to be heard and don’t like public forums. Just a reminder that the generation with the lowest voter turnouts, millennials and generation Z, have a hard time connecting to people who canvass and this is where social media plays a huge role in getting them involved #blessed.

Then-candidate for Gov. David Ige boasted about his time doing coffee hour in people’s garages while campaigning. This is such a good way to reach out to your community, and who doesn’t like a cup o’ joe?

While marketing yourself and creating banners and leaflets just remember an old marketing strategy: KISS or “keep it simple, stupid.” Most people like myself have a 3-5 second attention span when it comes to advertisements that come through the mail, consider the following at the moment I open my mailbox: name, office running for, face, and into the trash can. Sometimes not in that order.

I learned the hard lesson with campaign signs. Often, candidates like to purchase their signs from the mainland with easy accessibility like Vistaprint or Shutterfly, but consider local printing companies that are here and able to help. This provides them an extra boost to keep jobs staying in your local economy. Since we’re on the topic of campaign signs there are three things I learned, unfortunately the hard way: 1) Do not put signs on public property, 2) be sure you place the “Paid by Friends of Blah Blah” on them, and 3) accordance to County of Hawaii ordinance 04-142, sec 2 and Hawaii County Code Chapter 3, Article I, Section 3-4 – 3-12 designates dimensions for signs.

Last, but most importantly, please, please, please talk with your family and friends. For obvious reasons this is so important because they are your foundation! They keep you grounded, check in on you, and have your back even if things don’t end up going the way you had hoped. Don’t forget that!


To all candidates: best of luck and keep working for the best interests of your constituents. This is so important especially in a divisive time like we are in now. I won’t be seeing you folks on the campaign trail as a fellow candidate, but rather a voter in this next election. I’ll be cheering you on from the sidelines.

Bronsten Kossow is a resident of Kailua-Kona and a political commentator for the Hawaii Connection podcast. In 2018, he ran unsuccessfully for the Hawaii County Council District 7 seat.