Editor’s note: For Hawaii’s Aug. 9 primary, Civil Beat asked candidates to answer some questions.

The following came from Christopher K.J. Lum Lee a candidate for the Oahu seat on the Office of Hawaiian Affairs Board of Trustees. Also running are Jackie Burke, Peter Apo and Kamaleihaahaa Shigemasa.

Go to Civil Beat’s Elections Guide for general information, and check out other candidates on the Primary Election Ballot.

Christopher K.J. Lum Lee

Christopher K.J. Lum Lee

Name: Christopher K.J. Lum Lee

Office: OHA – Oahu trustee

Profession: Program Improvement Specialist – Office of Hawaiian Affairs

Education: Damien Memorial School; Associate’s in Administration of Justice, Honolulu Community College; Bachelor’s in Public Administration, University of Hawai’i; Master’s in Business Administration, Chaminade University; Emergency Management Training, Federal Emergency Management Agency’s Emergency Management Institute.

Age: 28

Community Organizations: Current Manoa Lions Club member, past Hawai’i Public Health Association Board of Directors member, past Pearl City Neighborhood Board member.

1. Why are you running for the Office of Hawaiian Affairs?

The OHA Board of Trustees has the responsibility to set policies for OHA and to manage the Native Hawaiian Trust Fund. The policies set can impact any of OHA’s operational areas including grant funding, investment management, or land holdings, just to name a few. In my experience working with other state agencies, I’ve seen policymakers make decisions without fully understanding how those decisions impact the agency — and because of this I’ve seen a lot of inefficiency and a lot of monetary waste.

My reason for running is a bit personal: I enjoy being at OHA because of the work and the people. While I certainly enjoy my time here, I acknowledge that no one person is bigger than the organization, myself included. While critics have expressed the need for OHA to be dissolved, I don’t see that as necessary. I do believe that OHA will always have a place because there is a need for the service that it provides. Therefore, while I am capable, I would like to be an OHA Trustee because I believe that my experiences — which I will discuss further — will provide a legitimate perspective that will help the OHA Board make better decisions and in turn help OHA best provide for OHA’s beneficiaries.

In my campaign for OHA Trustee, I understand that I may only be in the position for one term — four years. Therefore, I have already identified action items that I would like to accomplish within the first year of the term.

I want to see audits comparing the results of OHA-funded programs and expenditures to determine how the impact of funding can be better maximized to either serve more program participants or to expand the services provided.

Initiate a legislative proposal for an amendment to ACT 178, which would give OHA its entitled ceded land revenue from the Legislature with an annual accounting of how the revenue value is determined and distributed.

Immediately explore potential partnerships with trade unions, colleges and universities to provide specialized job training to unemployed or underemployed Native Hawaiians.

Continue to promote the Malama Loan Program which can be used to start or expand a business, home improvements, education, and debt consolidation.

Continue supporting OHA in obtaining legislative exemptions to allow for the option of residential development of Kakaako Makai.

2. What is your view regarding OHA’s efforts to build a Hawaiian nation?

The nation-building efforts have come under scrutiny and caused a lot of controversy among the Native Hawaiian community. There are groups of people who only seek federal recognition as the end goal, and other groups who want full sovereignty. I view the nation-building process as long overdue, first and foremost, but I also view the spectrum ranging from federal recognition to sovereignty as a progression of events. First, I believe federal recognition is a must because it would call for the creation of a governing structure that will have less federal interference but still maintaining certain monetary benefits. If sovereignty is indeed the end goal and will of the people, we must first establish that a governing entity can stand alone and be economically, politically, and legally stable before asking to be left to be on our own. It does no good to become a sovereign nation if we can’t even stand alone with the federal government watching us.

3. What is your view on the U.S. Department of the Interior’s proposed rule-making on a government-to-government relationship?

I feel that the government-to-government relationship in theory is a good idea because it would ensure that Native Hawaiians will benefit from continued programs and services. The fact is that this proposed “government-to-government” relationship is just that, a relationship and therefore I view this as an act of good faith by the U.S. government to extend communications and create a partnership that would ultimately result in certain privileges that we could struggle to gain otherwise. The Native Hawaiian community stands to benefit from a government-to-government relationship. Some label this as “federal recognition” while others have labeled this as “with strings attached.” In any case, being federally recognized means that the Native Hawaiian community will be able to receive federal funding to provide education and health care services, among others. The assumption is that federal recognition results in Native Hawaiians being relegated to being comparable to an Indian tribe — that is not necessarily true.

4. OHA has focused on developing land holdings in order to raise revenue to help beneficiaries. Is this an appropriate avenue for OHA to pursue?

OHA’s investment portfolio may be enough to fund the programs and services for OHA’s beneficiaries for now. Given the continuing concern that the global equity and fixed income markets will suffer a downturn at some point in the future, I know that we will be caught in a bear market and OHA’s investment portfolio will suffer. In business and in life, we should always be on the lookout for ways to minimize risk while maintaining as much upside as possible and diversify our income streams.

Therefore, I believe that OHA should continue to pursue the development of land holdings because of the various possible uses for those lands. One idea that is frequently discussed is to build residential units in Kakaʻako Makai. Another is to not build residential, but to build commercial units. Whatever the final outcome is, land on Oahu does come at a premium, and therefore while the land assets are in OHA’s possession, we should continue to look for ways to make our assets work for us, not we work for our assets.

Last year, the state auditor expressed concerns that OHA did not have a standing land policy, citing an unbalanced real estate portfolio where expenses exceeded income. A comprehensive land policy that would be based on a financial plan with an entry and exit strategy would be a major milestone and a tool for OHA in projecting a probable return on investment. Points to be addressed in this land policy would include how to make commercial properties more profitable to ensure that expenses from legacy and programmatic lands are at least balanced, what types of exemptions would be required from the Legislature for the different land uses, and at what point would OHA consider selling the lands and taking a profit, if at all.

For this to work, however, OHA will need complete autonomy and control over the land holdings without the interference of the state Legislature or the Hawaii Community Development Authority (HCDA). My experience working in the state executive branch has taught me that there are many hurdles to go through in implementing strategies as complex as this, and it therefore becomes excessively costly and inefficient. There is a high frustration that there are too many layers of bureaucracy and regulation to go through to get anything done. If OHA can gain exemptions from any regulation the state executive branch has to endure, and the staff of OHA as subject matter experts in these areas are allowed to do their work, I believe that the land holdings can be made profitable and that we would find the best uses of the land holdings.

5. OHA’s stated purpose is to provide “opportunity for a better life and future” for all Native Hawaiians. Is it doing that? And if not, what would you do about that?

I believe OHA is providing those opportunities. Being an employee of OHA, I can say with confidence that OHA is dedicated to proactively identifying the issues that are affecting the Native Hawaiian community. In OHA’s 2010-2018 Strategic Plan, OHA has established the following strategic priorities:

• Moʻomeheu (Culture). To strengthen identity, Native Hawaiians will preserve, practice and perpetuate their culture.

• ʻĀina (Land & Water). To maintain the connection to the past and a viable land base, Native Hawaiians will participate in and benefit from responsible stewardship of Ka Pae ʻāina O Hawaiʻi.

• Ea (Governance). To restore pono and ea, Native Hawaiians will achieve self-governance, after which the assets of OHA will be transferred to the new governing entity.

• Hoʻokahua Waiwai (Economic Self-Sufficiency). To have choices and a sustainable future, Native Hawaiians will progress towards greater economic self-sufficiency.

• Hoʻonaʻauao (Education). To maximize choices of life and work, Native Hawaiians will gain knowledge and excel in educational opportunities at all levels.

• Mauli Ola (Health). To improve the quality and longevity of life, Native Hawaiians will enjoy healthy lifestyles and experience reduce onset of chronic diseases. These priorities are being addressed primarily by the various programs being funded. To OHA’s credit, I see OHA proactively looking for ways to address the individual issues attached to each of these priority areas even further. While I believe that OHA is working with the available resources to address these priority areas, as Trustee, I will continue to work with the staff and the administration to identify trends across the various priority areas to determine what other types of programs would be beneficial to the community to address more issues encompassed in these priority areas. As Trustee, one action item on my agenda is that I would like to explore partnerships with trade unions and colleges and universities to provide job training for unemployed or underemployed Native Hawaiians in both blue- and white-collar professions so that we can create a competitive workforce locally so they can either gain local employment or become entrepreneurs. I see this as having a micro and macro economic multiplier effect for Hawaiʻi because more people are able to enter the workforce and collectively increase the labor participation rate locally. I would also like to see programs that address the long-term financial planning for Native Hawaiians to include retirement planning, investing basics, and preparing for impact of long-term care for themselves or their families.

6. Is OHA doing enough to protect the environment, improve the health of Native Hawaiians and perpetuate the culture? What ideas would you bring to OHA?

While OHA has no regulatory or enforcement powers, I believe that OHA is doing what it can to protect the environment, improve the health of Native Hawaiians and perpetuate the culture by funding programs and services which address these specific areas and maintaining partnerships with other enforcement agencies. In specific regards to protecting the environment, I would like to maintain frequent contact with the Legislature, Department of Land and Natural Resources, Department of Agriculture, and Department of Health to ensure that OHA has a role in the discussions in any policy measure that is either tied up in the legislative process or is about to be introduced into the process so that the interests of the Native Hawaiian community are factored into those discussions. OHA is the subject matter expert in these areas with regards to the impact on the Native Hawaiian community, and I believe that it’s important now more than ever that OHA be included in these discussions.

7. Are you satisfied with the way OHA has negotiated with the state over ceded-land revenues?

Not at all. The way the land negotiations was done results in OHA being severely short-changed. Part of this is attributed to land values constantly changing and that an accounting of how the revenues were tabulated and distributed is not clearly visible. Regretfully, it will take an act of legislation for OHA to receive the revenue that it is rightfully owed. Therefore, one of the actions items on my agenda as Trustee would be to initiate a legislative proposal for an amendment to Act 178, which would give OHA its entitled ceded land revenue from the Legislature with an annual accounting of how the revenue value is determined to ensure a fair distribution of funds.

8. What other important issue would you like to discuss here?

This year there are three OHA races: at-Large, Oʻahu, and Maui. There are many candidates across the three races, each with unique backgrounds, experiences, and plans of action. As you consider who you will support in the primary election and in the general election, I would like to offer what I call the “four pillars” of what makes a good Trustee: (1) education, (2) experience, (3) community service, and (4) a plan of what they want to accomplish. OHA is at a critical crossroad now. There are several questions that I want voters to think about. Which direction do we want to go in? What kind(s) of experience do we want on the Board? Has the candidate demonstrated a competence in any area that the Board is responsible for? OHA has a future, and that future will be a direct result of this year’s elections. The direction of OHA is not solely in the hands of the Trustees. As the electorate, the direction of OHA is ultimately in the hands of you, the voters. I urge all voters to take the time to learn about the candidates in not only the Oʻahu race, but for Maui and the At-Large races, make an informed decision, and exercise your right to vote. Mahalo.