It’s the other election — the one that is sometimes overlooked by many voters.

Yet, the Office of Hawaiian Affairs is an important, quasi-state agency with a huge kuleana — protecting Hawaii’s native people and environmental resources and a growing financial portfolio.

OHA’s nine trustees have a great deal of autonomy. On Nov. 6, five of those seats are up for election.

Colette Machado of Molokai, OHA’s current chair, is running unopposed and so her name will not appear on the ballot. But the other four seats — representing Maui, Kauai, the Big Island and an at-large seat — are hotly contested.

As Civil Beat reported earlier this year, the race to replace Kauai Trustee Donald Cataluna involves 11 candidates, many of them in their first-ever political race.

As on Kauai, the other OHA races include candidates who want to continue OHA’s direction over the past decade, a direction that could mean settling past-due ceded-land claims and helping with a roll commission to enlist kanaki maoli in a future government. One of those candidates, Haunani Apoliona, is a longtime trustee and a former chair.

Others seek new leadership that will have a greater say in environmental issues. They include Walter Ritte, the longtime Molokai activist whose involvement stretches from the Kahoolawe protests of the 1970s to the battle against genetically modified organisms today.

OHA trustees saw their salaries increase 3.5 percent to $55,440 in fiscal year 2012. The chairperson’s salary also went up 3.5 percent to $63,204.

The OHA contests are run statewide, meaning that all voters can weigh in regardless of where they live. Civil Beat looks at the races.

Apoliona Seeks Fifth Term

In addition to Apoliona and Ritte, there are three other candidates in the at-large field, the best known of whom is Cal Lee, the former Saint Louis School and University of Hawaii football coach.

Apoliona has been an OHA trustee since 1996 and served as board chair during most of the last decade. A musician and former head of ALU LIKE, the private, non-profit that has assisted Native Hawaiians in efforts to achieve social and economic self-sufficiency, Apoliona also sits on numerous boards, councils and advisory committees.

The OHA of today — a board that generally works well together and has accomplished significant things like an adoption of a strategic plan, greater community outreach and, just this year, the $200 million settlement with the state over ceded-land revenue — is due in no small part to Apoliona and former CEO Clyde Namuo.

The most significant disappointment under her tenure, however, was the inability to win passage of federal recognition in the U.S. Senate.

Apoliona, who handily defeated three other candidates in her 2008 re-election, responded to Civil Beat’s inquiries via email. (The trustee’s full response can be read here.)

Asked about her priorities for OHA should she win re-election, she said, “It is important for the readers of Civil Beat to understand very clearly that OHA Board policies, positions and priorities are establish[ed] by vote of the Board. Any single Trustee member, including the OHA Board Chair, has no authority to arbitrarily declare an OHA position if no vote has been taken by the Board on that matter. Conversely, when an OHA Trustee makes a public statement, he or she should be careful to qualify that such a position is simply a personal opinion, until such time the Board of Trustees takes collective action.”

That said, Apoliona said she wants to continue implementation of OHA’s strategic plan, which includes moving Hawaiians toward greater economic self-sufficiency and eventual self-governance, maintaining a viable land base, strengthening and perpetuating Hawaiian culture and identity and improving the health and education of Hawaiians.

As well, she wants to increase OHA grant funding to community projects that further OHA’s goals and to manage OHA’s land assets “in a manner prudent and accountable, with minimal liability to but maximum benefit for the Native Hawaiian Trust, OHA and its beneficiaries,” she said.

Apoliona, who said she is not taking her re-election chances for granted, added, “I bring honest and credible leadership, decades of executive expertise that informs my policy making as a fiduciary of the OHA Trust and a strong community-based and business collaborative style to my kuleana as OHA Trustee At Large.”

Ritte, Lee Also Want At-Large Seat

Walter Ritte was among the first OHA trustees, serving from 1980 to 1984. He sought re-election in 1996, finishing third behind first-place finisher Machado in a fairly close race.

Ritte is running again because he is concerned about the direction of OHA and the state. A slate of bills at the Legislature last session that would have granted exemptions to environmental law is among his biggest gripes, as is the creation of the controversial Public Lands Development Corporation that has been the subject of heated community meetings, including on Molokai.

“They really press my buttons,” he said of the issues, warning that the anti-enviro bills will likely come up again next year and that the PLDC has too much power.

Ritte decided not to run against Machado, who he has been friends with for 30 years, and instead is seeking the at-large seat.

“It did not make any sense to run against Colette,” he said. “It would have been a pretty fierce battle, and I thought having two representatives from Molokai would be good for Molokai.”

Ritte continued: “Haunani has been there for 16 years, and what the public tells me is that it’s time for a change. And why is Cal Lee running? Nobody has an answer.”

Lee, who did not return Civil Beat’s call, lists on his website support for geothermal energy development and food sustainability. He is supportive of the Akaka bill on federal recognition but is critical of OHA’s lobbying efforts and argues that local hearings are necessary to build more community support for the controversial legislation.

Ritte and Apoliona do not report having raised any money for their races, while Lee was $100 in the red, which mostly paid for a domain name. In contrast, a fourth candidate in the race, Kealii Makekau, has spent $3,500 on his campaign and had $2,100 in cash as of June 30.

Makekau, who did not return Civil Beat’s call, appears to have spent some of that money on green-and-white campaign signs that have cropped up around the state. On his Facebook page, which is dominated by a banner that reads “LOYAL2DASOIL,” he explains that he is conservative.

In the “Issues” section of his Facebook page, Makekau writes, “The long‐term sustainability of Native Hawaiian Assets that provide for all of OHA’s efforts, like education, land management, fiscal resilience, economic sustainability and youth awareness.”

The other candidate for the at-large seat is Kelii Akina, whose background includes teaching and 31 years working for Youth for Christ.

“Keli‘i is fiercely committed to improving the condition of the Hawaiian people and believes that education is the key,” Akina says on his website.

The Maui Seat

The resignation of former Maui Trustee Boyd Mossman last year — who left OHA to take a three-year position as president of the Kona Hawaii Temple of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints — meant the OHA board had to find a replacement to finish his term. But trustees could not reach agreement and the decision went to Gov. Neil Abercrombie.

The governor selected Carmen “Hulu” Lindsey, one of the four candidates OHA considered — the others were Rose Marie Duey, Kaniela Ing and Mercer “Chubby” Vicens — but stipulated that Lindsey agree not to run as a candidate for the seat in November.

Last month, Lindsey announced that she would run for the seat anyway, encouraged by fellow trustees Rowena Akana, John Waihee IV, Donald Cataluna and Robert Lindsey Jr. (a distant relative). The governor relented, stating that OHA representation was up to Maui voters.

Lindsey, owner of Lindsey Realty and a former executive with Maui Land & Pineapple and Maui County, said she wants to continue her work on OHA that has included workshops on kuleana lands, parcels of land awarded to native tenants. The workshops are intended to inform the tenants of exemptions from property taxes.

“I had one experience on Maui where a Hawaiian family’s property taxes had risen to $38,000 a year,” she explained. “They were so desperate they thought of selling. So, one member applied to OHA — this was before I was appointed — and found that they qualified for kuleana exemptions. Their property taxes dropped to $150 a year.”

Lindsey faces seven other candidates, including Rose Marie Duey. Only Duey has filed a campaign finance report, which shows her with $577 in cash on hand as of July 27. Civil Beat was unsuccessful in reaching Duey.

“I think they are all nice people, and I guess it all depends on how hard we work,” said Lindsey of her opponents. “I just want to say that I am not finished with the work I started.”

The Big Isle Seat

This seat seems incumbent Robert Lindsey Jr.’s to lose.

As of Aug. 11, Lindsey had spent nearly $3,000 on his re-election and had $4,000 in cash. That’s allowed him to advertise for his campaign, keep up a website and have a stock of campaign signs.

Lindsey’s opponents, Willy Meyers and Ed Miranda, have yet to report raising any money. Lindsey defeated Meyers by 60,000 votes in his 2008 re-election.

Lindsey, who spent 24 years with Kamehameha Schools including as director of its land assets division, was unanimously appointed by the OHA board in 2007 to fill the seat of the late trustee Linda Dela Cruz.

He told Civil Beat that he’d like one more term to “wrap up a bunch of projects” that he is working on involving OHA. The projects focus on education (especially through Hawaiian charter schools), health (like the addition of Kaheleaulani, a Native Hawaiian health clinic for North Hawaii Community Hospital) and housing (for example, with the help of Habitat for Humanity, 12 new homes for the Kailapa Hawaiian Homesteads in Kawaihae).

Asked about his re-election chances, Lindsey said, “There’s just the three of us. Ed and Willy, they’re from the East Side and I’m from the other side. They are both good guys, so if I lost I would not feel badly. … Because it’s a statewide race, it’s really difficult to get a sense of how well you are doing or not. But I believe I am going to be re-elected.”

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