Complaints that some elected officials don't live in the districts they claim to represent aren't anything new - and they aren't unique to Maui County.
But where others only grumbled, Phoenix Dupree and 16 other Lanai residents decided to take action. Since 2008, Dupree has mounted two formal challenges on Maui County Council Member Sol Kaho'ohalahala's claim of Lanai residency, and he was part of a group that has been suing to have Kaho'ohalahala forced out of office, although that matter soon will be moot with the end of his term. (Kaho'ohalahala decided not to seek re-election this year to the council's Lanai residency seat, making an unsuccessful bid for mayor instead.)
Lawyers have said the cases could have a far-reaching effect on how residency is decided in Hawaii.
And however the lawsuit is decided, the case appears to have emboldened other voters to speak up when they doubt whether candidates really live where they say they do.
While such cases were once unusual, three Maui County candidates faced residency challenges in 2010. Those were Riki Hokama for the Lanai council seat he eventually won; and Alan Fukuyama and Zeke Kalua for the West Maui council seat won by Elle Cochran. The Maui County Clerk dismissed all three challenges, but the challenge to Hokama's residency has been appealed.
Dupree said he filed his first challenge two years ago, after watching Kaho'ohalahala finish first in the primary election race for the Lanai residency seat on the Maui County Council. He said he rarely saw Kaho'ohalahala on Lanai and did not believe he still lived there.
Dupree said he was frustrated that Kaho'ohalahala - who finished in fourth place among Lanai voters - garnered enough votes on Maui to beat three other candidates he judged were legitimate Lanai residents.
"He denied their opportunity to be able to represent us," Dupree said. "It was all about representation."
Ultimately, the Hawaii Supreme Court ruled in Dupree's favor and declared that Kaho'ohalahala was actually a resident of Lahaina - not Lanai.
Last month, the state Board of Registration ruled on a second challenge by Dupree, finding again that Kaho'ohalahala was a Lahaina resident.
In a separate case, 17 Lanai residents, including Dupree, sued, seeking an order to remove Kaho'ohalahala from office.
While Kaho'ohalahala has refused to comment on the cases, he said in court that he moved his belongings back to Lanai in 2008 and that he considered the island where he was born and raised to be his home.
He also has said publicly that the challenges and lawsuit have been among the most difficult ordeals he has had to endure.
Second Circuit Judge Joseph Cardoza has not yet handed down a decision in the suit, which went to trial in August.
Dupree said the cases "helped to bring a better focus on what residency is here in Hawaii."
He noted that disputes over candidate residency have occurred across the state and nationwide.
"It isn't just Hawaii," he said. "It's really about people saying we have to hold our politicians accountable for where they say they live. That's what representation means."
* Ilima Loomis can be reached at email@example.com.