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Four complaints over Hokama’s eligibility to run for office denied

Residents questioned whether he lives on Lanai as he eyes a return to council

Then-Maui County Council Member Riki Hokama speaks during a meeting in 2019 during the last term he served on the council before stepping down due to term limits. Four complaints questioning Hokama’s residency on Lanai were denied earlier this week by the Maui County Clerk’s Office as Hokama prepares to challenge incumbent Gabe Johnson for the Lanai residency seat on the council in this year’s general election. The Maui News / MATTHEW THAYER photo

The Maui County clerk has denied four complaints challenging the residency of former Maui County Council Member Riki Hokama, who is running for his old Lanai seat in the general election.

The three complaints from Maui residents and one complaint from a Lanai resident all allege that Hokama does not live on Lanai and therefore his voter registration is not valid.

The complaints were filed separately on June 14 by Lanai resident Maximino Renigado Jr., Kihei resident John “Sean” Lester, Wailuku resident Ann Pitcaithley and Haiku resident Nadine “Nai’a” Newlight.

Lester, Renigado Jr. and Newlight also objected to Hokama’s nomination papers on the grounds that he is not compliant with the County Charter’s residency requirements for council members.

“Personally I have seen Riki on Lanai two times since 2002,” said Renigado Jr. in his complaint. “He is hardly here and I have never seen him at his house on 5th street. I never seen him there doing yard work, laundry or home maintenance.”

“Please stop him from running for the Lanai seat — we need someone that actually lives on Lanai on the Maui County Council,” said Renigado Jr., who is also the vice president of the Democratic Party for the East Maui, Molokai and Lanai District.

Newlight, the chairwoman of the Haiku precinct for many years, said in her complaint to the county clerk, “I am sure we both want only the highest outcomes for all citizens of Maui, and, as you are aware, these statutes have taken on an even greater importance, in light of national events. Therefore, I am filing this complaint, and asking you to please proceed with a thorough inquiry into the allegedly false credentials of this candidate.”

Newlight is also a Democratic Party Precinct chairwoman and a district vice chairwoman on Maui.

Pitcaithley described herself as a registered Maui County voter and “a concerned citizen.”

“I do not believe that Riki Hokama has resided in Lanai over the past year and question the validity of his voter registration status as a resident of Lanai,” she wrote in her complaint. “It is imperative that there must be a burden of proof.”

County Clerk Kathy Kaohu’s ruling on the matter Tuesday said Hokama submitted additional documents on Tuesday in support of his claims for residency on Lanai, which included letters from nine Lanai residents attesting to his residency; various utility bills sent to Hokama at an address in Lanai City, including County of Maui solid waste service and water service; a summons for jury service for Hokama sent to an address in Lanai City; an account statement from Lanai Federal Credit Union sent to Hokama at an address in Lanai City, along with real property tax records showing a home exemption for property located at 438 5th St., Lanai City.

The ruling said that since Hokama owns multiple properties, and because the only one receiving a homeowner’s property tax exemption is the property located at 438 5th St. in Lanai City, “there is a presumption that that location is his place of residence.”

“Based on the evidence as presented, the Clerk finds that the challengers have failed to overcome the presumption that Riki Hokama is resident of the island of Lanai for the purposes of running for the County Council and is a properly registered Lanai voter,” according to the ruling, which was addressed to Hokama and signed by Kaohu.

“I appreciate the county clerk being very diligent and timely in her review and decision regarding the challenges to my qualifications,” Hokama said Wednesday afternoon. “I would like to thank my fellow Lanaians for their continued support to provide service to our community and our county.”

“I look forward to a campaign that would provide people a choice.”

Hokama is running against incumbent Council Member Gabe Johnson in the upcoming general election. Johnson won the seat in 2020 after Hokama stepped down due to term limits.

In response to his complaint being denied, Lester said on Wednesday afternoon that he didn’t expect the county clerk would have enough time to follow through and do a deeper look into the claims.

“I have no faith in the County Clerk’s Office or in the Victorino administration to do things correctly,” Lester said.

He added that he has filed a formal complaint with the Maui County Real Property Assessment Division over Hokama’s claim of owner-occupant for his Lanai home.

Lester said that to claim owner-occupant status, the person needs to live in the home for more than 270 days per calendar year, according to county documents.

In his complaint, Lester asked for a “full accounting” of Hokama’s claim of Lanai residency, including his utility bills on Lanai, how much time Hokama spends at a home on Lanai and how much time he spends at another home on Maui, along with receipts of gas, meals and other expenses spent on Lanai to prove habitation.

Lester said he has “no ill will against Riki” and has known him for years. But he said “it’s time for someone else to take over.”

In a letter dated Tuesday to Lester (and sent to him via email and certified mail), Kaohu notified him of the decision and said Lester has 10 days from the date of service of the ruling to appeal to the Maui Board of Registration if he chooses.

Lester indicated Wednesday afternoon that he will proceed with the next step and appeal.

In an email Wednesday afternoon, Newlight said, “Our objections were dismissed outright with no investigation! Next step, investigating the investigation (or lack thereof)!”

Johnson also brought up Hokama’s residency in an interview with The Maui News earlier this month, saying he has not seen Hokama on island because he is working on Maui.

Hokama had responded at the time that he is retired and admitted that he’s “not there all the time,” noting that not all of the things he wants to do now are on Lanai.

Hokama said he was asked to run again by Lanai residents.

* Melissa Tanji can be reached at mtanji@mauinews.com.

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