Editor’s Note: Miliani Trask is a candidate for the Office of Hawaiian Affairs Board of Trustees.

The ads are running, the debates are happening, the media is questioning and, like other fellow candidates, I am sign-waving and holding talk story sessions from the mountains to the sea.

We all nurse the hope that through these activities, Hawaii will pay a little more attention to who goes to Washington, who sits in our state legislature and county councils and who oversees the management of the assets and the mission entrusted to the Office of Hawaiian Affairs.


“Bad officials are elected by good citizens who do not vote”- George Jean Nathan

Theresa Thompson via Flickr

As a candidate running for OHA, some questions keep coming up no matter where I go.

I thought it would be useful to respond to a couple of these frequently asked questions to help dispel some misconceptions about the value of voting. I offer my views wearing several hats: as a long time voice for the community, as a lawyer and policy adviser, and as an advocate for Native Hawaiian rights.

Some Native Hawaiians tell me they do not vote because they do not wish to legitimize old wrongs by participating in the politics of our times.

I understand the pain of the past but unless we have the gift of time travel we need to get pragmatic about recognizing that was then and this is now. Simply lamenting the past will not fix the present. We must never forget our history. But we cannot stay imprisoned in it. We can fix the problems and address the challenges we are facing today only if we step into the civic square and claim our place at the table to shape public policy and the decisions that are being made today.

That’s what the great civil rights leader and architect of the March on Washington, Bayard Rustin, called “moving from protest to politics.”

Make no mistake: with or without our participation, the wheels of government will continue to turn, decisions will be made on every front, from education to energy to the environment and more.

To refuse to vote is to let ourselves be run over. By refusing to vote we are really saying we are willing to forfeit our right to have a voice in the decisions that are made for and about Hawaii.

The other option is to get in there and help navigate. When we vote we are helping to navigate by putting our faith in leaders we can trust to speak for us.

A frequent question from non-Hawaiians is: “Why should I vote for an OHA candidate? It does not affect me.”

My response to that is: of course it does. Native Hawaiians are not contained and separate from the rest of the community. When Native Hawaiians suffer from a lack of education or failing schools, when they are disproportionately represented in our prisons but not in places of power, when obesity, high blood pressure, heart disease and addiction curtail our opportunities and shorten our lives, the entire community suffers.

Ensuring that OHA trustees have the will and the ability to fix what is broken, frees us all to focus on creating an environment where everyone thrives and we begin to close the great divide in the quality of life of those who have and those who are hurting.

Ensuring that OHA has trustees who will faithfully execute their mission of working for the economic betterment of Native Hawaiian beneficiaries means you can contribute to advancing the quality of life not just for them, but for the entire community.

Instead of electing leaders who keep building more prisons, your vote can help ensure that we have the kind of leaders you trust to build a better, healthier community.

Whether you identify with or fully understand the native Hawaiian yearning for sovereignty or not, your vote could move that issue a step closer to resolution. And that would be progress.

As a lawyer, I know that simply pitting one adversary against another — the hallmark of the American justice system — is no recipe for a healthy society. No wonder we have more crowded prisons and more lawsuits than any other country in the world.

We need a better way. We need to bring different constituencies together — whether it is to resolve questions of sovereignty or energy, education or the protection of the environment, health or economic opportunities for all. And it all starts with your vote.

So listen to the candidates. Watch the debates. Talk to a neighbor. Help a friend register to vote. Hey, we might even surprise the nation — and ourselves — by yielding our first-place position for the lowest voter turnout to some other state. And by demonstrating why we have the kind of caring community few other places have produced.

Every campaign season we get tons of emails and commentary from people supporting or opposing particular candidates. Campaign Corner is a forum for healthy — and civil — discussion of candidates and their issues. Endorsements and criticisms are part of a voter’s decision-making process. Here are the ground rules: The column must be written by an identifiable person and accompanied by a current head shot and brief bio. The commentary must be original and not published elsewhere. No campaign email blasts. No letter-writing campaigns. Send columns and questions to news@civilbeat.org. The opinions and information expressed in Campaign Corner are solely those of the authors and not Civil Beat.

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