Chad Blair: Why Hawaii Voters Should Know Exactly Who They Are Voting For - Honolulu Civil Beat


About the Author

Chad Blair

Chad Blair is the politics and opinion editor for Civil Beat. You can reach him by email at cblair@civilbeat.org or follow him on Twitter at @chadblairCB.

Did you know that a candidate for elected office doesn’t have to use their legal name to run in Hawaii?

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It’s true. Hawaii Administrative Rules 3-177-403 allows the name of the candidate appearing on the ballot to be the name by which they are most commonly known — a nickname, for example. Think James R. “Duke” Aiona Jr.

But in this age of fake news and the big lie and partisan media and internet disinformation, I think it is a disservice to voters and simply dishonest to run under an alias that doesn’t reveal at least your true last name.

Remember Bu Laia, who ran twice for governor and once for the Office of Hawaiian Affairs? The “Bettah ‘den poi, bettah ‘den pig” candidate was in reality Waimanalo clownster Shawn Kaui Hill. We knew he wasn’t a serious candidate, and he provided comic relief.

But a more recent example of a candidate seeking office this year raises the question of whether the rules should be changed to require candidates use their legal last name.

Case in point: Jonathan Lee is a Democrat vying for the newly drawn House District 44 seat in West Oahu. He faces Democrat Darius Kila in the Aug. 13 primary and the winner will go up against Republican Kimberly Kopetseg in the Nov. 8 general election.

Jon Stremel portrait.
Jon Stremel was the subject of a 2021 Civil Beat story. He is now on the ballot as Jonathan Lee, a candidate for a state House seat. Cory Lum/Civil Beat/2021

Because of reapportionment, the incumbent for the seat that represented Waianae, Makaha, Makua and Maili — Rep. Cedric Gates, a Democrat — is now running in neighboring District 45 against four other candidates including former Rep. Jo Jordan.

That means the winner of the District 44 contest will be a new member of the state House of Representatives come 2023. Voters wanting to know more about Kopetseg — a family nurse practitioner — and Kila — the community liaison for state Rep. Stacelynn Eli of District 43 — will have little difficulty finding more about them in an online search.

While a search for “Jonathan Lee” does indeed turn up a campaign website — he’s a resident of Waianae and a retired military veteran — it says nothing about the fact that Lee’s real name is Jonathan Lee Stremel. Same goes for the candidate Q&A that Stremel submitted to Civil Beat under the name Lee.

Google “Jon Stremel,” however, and you will find two articles in Civil Beat from 2021 raising questions about a Navy sailor named Jon Stremel, his estranged civilian wife (now divorced) and allegations of domestic abuse and discrimination.

‘Feeling Sentimental’

Reached by phone Tuesday, Stremel said that he decided “a couple of years ago” to go by the name Jonathan Lee in order to honor his paternal grandfather, a military veteran like himself.

“I was feeling sentimental,” he recalled.

He’s not changed his name legally, however. He just uses Lee in some instances.

Kila is troubled by the name confusion.

“I feel he is not being transparent with voters,” he said. “Going under another name is alarming, and I would wonder, ‘What do you have to hide? Do you think voters will not do research?’”

Stremel does not think he is being dishonest with voters.

There appears to be some bad blood between Stremel and Kila. Stremel filed a state ethics complaint in June against Kila, Eli and state Sen. Maile Shimabukuro alleging inappropriate campaign activity at a Nanakuli High School parade. Kila declined to comment on the complaint.

The ethics complaint includes this line near the top: “I, JONATHAN LEE STREMEL (aka JONATHAN LEE), submit that the statements made infra are true, complete, and correct to the best of my knowledge and belief.”

Stremel’s nomination application identifies him as Jonathan L. Stremel. The paperwork, a notarized affidavit filed in April, shows that he also requested to have his name appear as Jonathan Lee on the ballot.

State House candidate Joelle Seashell's campaign sign located near the 11th Avenue onramp.
State House candidate Joelle Seashell’s campaign sign located near the 11th Avenue on-ramp. Unlike Jonathan Lee, Seashell’s legal name is on the 2022 ballot. Cory Lum/Civil Beat/2022

The name Jonathan L. Stremel initially showed up on the public list of candidates that same month, something that Stremel blames on the State Elections Office but which the office said was due to Stremel filing online. The listing was quickly changed to Jonathan Lee, which is how it will appear on the primary ballot.

Of note: Stremel’s cell phone says his name is Jonathan Stremel, according to my cellphone, while his voicemail says he is Jonathan Lee Stremel.

Chief Elections Officer Scott Nago did not return a call seeking information about why the state allows voters to choose any name they want or how voters are supposed to know the candidates’ real names.

The office did provide the rule that it says allows candidates to use a phony name. Here’s what the administrative rule says:

“(a) A candidate’s name, including the Hawaiian or English equivalent or nickname, shall be limited to twenty-seven characters; provided that the twenty-seven characters shall include punctuation and blank spaces, and shall be set on one line.

“(b) The name of the candidate appearing on the ballot may be the candidate’s legal name or the name by which the candidate seeks to have a name other than the candidate’s legal name by which the candidate is most commonly known. If a candidate seeks to have a name other than the candidate’s legal name, its commonly recognized equivalent, or a prior legal name, such as a maiden name, appear on the ballot, the candidate, at the time of filing nomination papers shall also file a declaration in which the candidate attests to the fact that the name to appear on the ballot is the name by which the candidate is most commonly known throughout the district from which the candidate seeks election. Notwithstanding anything to the contrary, the election officials may require the candidate to file a declaration, if there are questions as to whether a proposed name is in fact the commonly recognized equivalent of the candidate’s legal name or if a proposed name was in fact the candidate’s prior legal name.”

‘Santa Claus’ For Congress

This problem of ballot names is not a new one. Dylan Lynch of the National Conference of State Legislatures writes, “With seemingly so much importance riding on a name, it may not come as a surprise that many states have decided to codify what can or cannot be included as part of a candidate’s name on a ballot.”

Lynch points out that Alaska, for example, allows “any nickname or familiar form of a proper name of the candidate” to be included on the ballot,” while North Carolina allows for the presentation of any “legitimate nicknames in ways that do not mislead the voter or unduly advertise the candidacy.”

There was also a Florida candidate who ran under the name VoteForEddie.Com, while another in Idaho chose the name Pro Life.

What’s key here is that there is an important distinction between a legal name and legitimate nickname, and names that could “mislead” the voter.

This summer a man named Santa Claus ran in the primary to succeed the late Don Young in Congress. Claus, who hailed from the city of North Pole — Google it — legally changed his name in 2005.

Here at home Joelle Seashell is running for the House District 21 seat that includes Palolo, St. Louis Heights and Wilhelmina Rise. She’s a Republican and a real estate agent.

“People ask me from time to time about that but it is my real name,” she told me, explaining that she legally changed her name after a divorce when she was 27. “I changed it is as a birthday gift when I turned 35.”

I’m fine with name changes, but I do think people should not run under deceptive alias or nicknames.

“I had forgotten about that rule, although I don’t think it comes up very often,” said Karl Rhoads, an attorney who chairs the state Senate Judiciary Committee. “I think you should run under your real name, and if you don’t like your name, there is a legal process to change it.”

Rhoads added that a candidate that changes their name could still “obfuscate” their past.

“But at least there is some legal record at that point,” he said.

Reporter Blaze Lovell contributed research to this article.


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About the Author

Chad Blair

Chad Blair is the politics and opinion editor for Civil Beat. You can reach him by email at cblair@civilbeat.org or follow him on Twitter at @chadblairCB.


Latest Comments (0)

Good point. Kai Kahele could have used "Hawaii Not For Sale" or anotheranother candidate could have disclosed "Office for Sale".

ChoonJamesHI · 3 weeks ago

"Jello Biafra" got so many votes in a San Francisco mayoral race that they tightened up the rules afterward.

bernie · 3 weeks ago

That is fraudulent. Candidates should use their legal name

pitcaith · 3 weeks ago

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