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Rumors at the Capitol spread quickly. The fate of legislation. Leadership struggles. Lately, the question of residency has been on the minds of many, with the whispers rising to such a level that they sometimes make news.
Calvin Say, the House Speaker Emeritus, and Brickwood Galuteria, Senate Majority Caucus Leader, have each survived repeated legal challenges claiming they don’t actually live in the Oahu districts that elected them.
Residency questions have surfaced about Kai Kahele, the son of the late Sen. Gil Kahele, who was appointed to fill his Hilo seat just last month.
Now consider the case of Sen. Josh Green, who has served in the Legislature since 2004 and currently represents District 3, the Kona-Kau area of the Big Island.
There is a lot of talk at the Capitol that Green does not spend a whole lot of time on the Big Island and might actually reside here on Oahu. Some complain that he ignores the needs of constituents and that he’s interested in higher office — something he has said publicly — and he has a lot of campaign money should he decide to make the jump.
Green insists that he does live in his district. He gives me a street address in Holualoa and a post office box in Kona to back it up.
But then he tells me that he actually spends about half of his time on Oahu, where one of his two medical jobs is located. In fact, he says he is better able to represent his constituents by being on Oahu because that’s where the people are who make decisions that are important to Kona, like money for state projects in his district.
Still, you have to wonder how plugged in he is to a remote area of Hawaii island when he spends much of his time in Honolulu and owns at least two condos that he considers to be personal property, not investments.
And then there’s a real question about where his kids go to school, a question he refuses to answer.
I decided to try to cut through the rumors and figure it out. Here’s what I found.
Green owns two condominiums in downtown Honolulu, including a three-bedroom unit at Capitol Place where he stays when he is in town. His wife is listed as a co-tenant on the property, which was purchased in 2013. It is the second property Green has owned in the building.
Interestingly, Green has never reported those properties on financial disclosure forms with the Hawaii State Ethics Commission, though the form requirements suggest that all investment properties except those used as “personal residence” should be disclosed.
Says Green: “My reading is that you are supposed to put investment properties, and those have not been investment properties. That was for personal use, but my primary residence is my rental on the Big Island — and if I have to get a clarification, I’d be happy to.”
He adds, “I don’t have any investments in businesses or townhouses or condos, any rental buildings or anything like that.”
For a time, Green rented out the other downtown property, a one-bedroom unit, to a Massachusetts medical company needing office space on Oahu. He received from $10,000 to $25,000 a year for the rental.
Meanwhile, Green has three primary employers: the Legislature, which pays him $59,000 annually; Kohala Hospital, which pays him between $100,000 and $150,000 a year, according to the same financial disclosure forms; and the Hawaii Independent Physicians Association, with yearly income that ranges from $150,000 to $250,000.
Legislative sessions are in Honolulu, of course. So is the physicians association, which is in the Pan Am Building near Ala Moana Center.
But the hospital is in Kapaau on the Big Island, which used to be in District 3 before reapportionment in 2011. He tells me that when he leaves Honolulu for Kona on the weekends, he is usually on call at the hospital. Then he hops an early Monday morning flight back to Honolulu.
Green has used a number of mailboxes since moving from the mainland to Kau in 2000 as a young doctor trying to pay off his student loans: in Naalehu, Keahou and Kailua-Kona, which are in his district, but also a Kapaau mailbox, which is near Hawi and not part of his district. His campaign website still lists the Kapaau address, and he says the mailbox he keeps in Kapaau is strictly for convenience.
And then there are the rentals.
Green has never owned property during his 16 years in Hawaii County, where he resides and is registered to vote. His candidate filings with the Hawaii Campaign Spending Commission show a Captain Cook street address in 2012 and an Alii Drive address in 2014. The current address is on Old Mamalahoa Highway. That’s three separate rentals in six years.
I asked him if he thought it was strange that he’s had so many PO boxes and rentals. Green says it is not and attributes it to the giant size of Kona-Kau. Before reapportionment, his district was essentially the entire west side of Hawaii County.
“I wouldn’t presume to brag, but I have never lost a precinct in my life.”—Sen. Josh Green
Green also says he is so popular that he never really has to campaign much. Indeed, his races have never been close.
“I wouldn’t presume to brag, but I have never lost a precinct in my life,” he exclaims.
And yet, Green pays Allen McCune, a former employee in his Senate office, $2,000 a month for campaign consulting.
When it comes to political representation, Hawaii is a funny state.
There are people who have served in the 1st Congressional District while living in the 2nd, and vice versa. There’s no law to prevent that.
For the Hawaii Legislature, the requirements for eligibility in the Senate are being a resident of Hawaii for at least three years as well as being a qualified voter in the district. There is also jargony language defining how one determines “that place in which the person’s habitation is fixed, and to which, whenever the person is absent, the person has the intention to return.”
The challenge for Hawaii is that we are a diverse group of islands. A senator in, say, Oakland, can drive or catch the train to the Capitol in Sacramento. Island-hopping is a different matter.
Neighbor island senators and representatives are provided airfare and per diem expenses to attend the 60-day legislative session on Oahu each year, but it really amounts to almost four months of work or more. During special sessions and other occasions, neighbor island legislators also fly to and from Honolulu, often catching the last flight on a Friday and returning on the first flight on Monday.
Legislative leaders travel more. Green says most of his Senate work, which included several terms as chair of the Health Committee, is on Oahu.
Green flies a lot each year, and the state picks up the tab. His total per diem from 2010 through early January 2016 was $109,450 while his airfare for that same period was more than $51,000. In 2015, he took 45 interisland flights, most of them round-trip between Honolulu and Kona.
“The responsibility is here, and if someone asked me if I feel I missed out on time and people, the answer is kind of an emphatic ‘no,’” he said. “When I go back to the district, I pretty much represent all of West Hawaii.”
Green estimates that he divides his time equally between the two islands and said that he can best represent his Big Island district by spending as much time as he can at the Capitol. He occupies the spacious fourth-floor office formerly held by former Sen. Clayton Hee.
“In a way, I’d like to spend more time in Kona, but I’ll be very frank — it’s almost impossible if you are a neighbor island legislator to not be in Honolulu a great deal of the time,” he said.
“During the Legislature session, you have to be here. If you are not, you’re not doing your job.”— Sen. Josh Green
The reasons for that, says Green, are because the Hawaii Legislature does not have a budget for district offices and staff. To help stay in touch, he freely gives out his email and cell phone to his constituents, encouraging them to contact him “24/7.”
“I am not trying to be glib, but pretty much all the meetings are over here, the administration is over here, and they are not going to fly over to the district to meet with you, really, because it would cost them extra money.”
Green continues: “And during the Legislature (session), of course, you have to be here. If you are not, you’re not doing your job.”
One indication of where Green calls home would seem to be where his family lives. Many neighbor island lawmakers come to Oahu solo for the legislative session, flying home on weekends and recesses. Some of them even rent apartments together while they’re here.
But Green won’t talk about where his family lives or if he feels like one way to be connected to his district is through the schools, like most parents who get actively involved with their children’s educations.
I asked Green who lives with him in his three-bedroom condo downtown. I’d heard his two young children go to school on Oahu. I pointed to a Honolulu school website that has a photograph that appears to include Green’s young son.
He declines to say, citing privacy concerns and explaining that he has received death threats over the years.
Green says he did not intend to make Oahu his home, although he says his wife is from the island.
“I would probably still work in the ER on the Big Island because I like it, but honest to goodness I have no idea,” he explains. “We could live in Timbuktu at that point when the kids get big.”
Green says he understands why there might be questions about his residency.
“I appreciate people asking questions,” he said. “I respect that. But I will be very clear: I live in my base and I take care of my family but I don’t talk about them.”
Nick Grube contributed to this report.