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This year marked the first time there was a primary contest for the Office of Hawaiian Affairs, the idea being to obtain a larger pool of candidates instead of the same trustees who seem to win election after election.
On Aug. 9, voters did send one trustee back to office: Incumbent Peter Apo won the Oahu seat by taking more than 50 percent of the vote.
But runoffs loom for the Maui post and three at-large seats, and there is certain to be at least one new trustee chosen Nov. 4 because of the retirement of Oswald Stender.
OHA seats are filled by voters statewide, not just Hawaiians. Name recognition and campaign fundraising often make the difference in getting elected.
Many of the candidates on the general election ballot have reported raising little money. That includes the two candidates vying for the Maui seat, incumbent Carmen Hulu Lindsey and challenger Mehealani Wendt.
Lindsey, a Realtor and entertainer, has not reported raising any money this year. Her last filing, for the period that ended Dec. 31, 2013, showed she had raised just $446.
Wendt is a former executive director of the Native Hawaiian Legal Corporation. She raised just $1,500, according to a filing last month with the state Campaign Spending Commission. The contributions came from 20 people, with no donation exceeding $100.
Lindsey told Civil Beat she is running for re-election because she believes she has been effective during her two and a half years on the board.
“Though relatively new to the board, I have advocated on issues ranging from advancing Hawaii’s energy independence to protecting the livelihood of people in vulnerable communities such as Niihau,” she said. “I have demonstrated my genuine commitment to serving the interests of OHA beneficiaries without losing sight of what is good for all of Hawaii in the long term.”
Read Lindsey’s full candidate Q&A here.
Wendt wants to be a trustee because she believes Native Hawaiians are at a crossroads with respect to political status and the establishment of self-government.
“I believe good leadership at this time in our history is critical,” she said. “The decisions made today by Hawaiian leaders will impact many generations to come. The very existence of the Office of Hawaiian Affairs is at issue, for it has been a long-held vision of our Hawaiian community that OHA will be replaced by the Native Hawaiian government.”
Wendt added, “I am running for an OHA Trustee seat because I want to make sure the transition to a Native Hawaiian government is orderly; that in the process we do not lose sight of the need to continue advocacy and assertions of rights to land, natural resources and customary and traditional practices, the exercise of which enable Hawaiians to be Hawaiian in their homeland.”
Read Wendt’s full candidate Q&A here.
There are six candidate still in contention for three at-large seats. They received the most votes in a primary contest that featured 16 candidates, and the top three vote-getters in November will be the winners.
Two at-large candidates are incumbents, John D. Waihee IV and Rowena Akana.
Waihee, son of the former governor, has raised $4,663 and spent nearly all of it. As of last month’s filing he had just $138 left in cash. Waihee also reported a loan of $22,000, which puts him $21,862 in the red. It’s not clear where the loan, which dates to 2007, came from.
The trustee’s recent contributions include $2,623 from himself and $1,000 from Huena Power, an alternative energy project connected to Patricia Brandt, who is the CEO of Innovations Development Group.
IDG seeks to develop geothermal, and it has donated to several OHA candidates this year. Brandt is a past chief of staff to OHA’s board chair.
Waihee has not responded to Civil Beat’s request to complete a candidate Q&A.
Another candidate receiving contributions from geothermal interests is attorney and community activist Mililani Trask, a former OHA trustee.
Honua Group, an LLC associated with Robbie Cabral — IDG’s senior advisor and director — gave $2,000. Cabral herself gave Trask $1,000 while IDG gave $1,500. Brandt gave Trask $5,000.
Trask reported having raised $37,212 and having spent $31,324, leaving her with $5,887 in cash on hand, a figure lowered to just $249 when a loan from the candidate of $5,638 is factored in.
Here’s why Trask is seeking her old job back:
“I am running for OHA because I believe my skills as an attorney and my experience in areas including affordable housing, sovereignty, renewable energy, human rights, and Hawaiian Homelands are badly needed by the office at this time. The recent state audit indicated that the current Trustees do no fully understand their fiduciary obligations as reflected in several program areas.”
Incumbent Rowena Akana’s contributions include one from Cabral ($250) and one from Huena Power ($1,000). Others came from notables such as attorney Bill McCorriston and former lawmaker and Kamehameha Schools trustee Henry Peters.
Akana has raised a total of $11,750 and still had several thousand dollars in cash as of July 25.
Here’s why Akana wants another term:
“As a veteran OHA Trustee with nearly 24 years of experience serving on the board, the institutional knowledge I bring to OHA allows me to provide the board with much-needed context regarding the many issues that we continue to face,” she said. “My decades of experience working with OHA’s many investment managers allows me to serve as a steadfast and knowledgeable steward of OHA’s Trust assets.”
Akana continued: “When I was first elected in 1990, OHA was struggling just to exist. OHA had very little money in the Native Hawaiian Trust Fund, no land assets, OHA Trustees received no salaries, and OHA was in the midst of contentious negotiations with the state on receiving its fair share of ceded land revenues.”
Another candidate, Harvey McInerny, has done far better on the fundraising front. He raised about $37,000 as of Aug. 9 and had almost $10,000 in cash on hand.
McInerny’s contributors include former OHA administrator Clyde Namuo, former Kamehameha Schools CEO Dee Jay Mailer and Kahu Curtis Kekuna of Kawaiahao Church. Oz Stender also helped McInerny with food and beverages for a fundraiser.
McInerny did not submit a candidate Q&A.
Lei Ahu Isa, a former state legislator and Board of Education member who is now principal broker for Hilton Grand Vacations and an adjunct professor, has not filed with the Campaign Spending Commission. But she did provide Civil Beat a Q&A.
“As a child growing up with by pure Hawaiian tutu, I watched how she and my half-Hawaiian grandpa lived in poverty after their land was taken from them because they did not have a ‘paper,’ a deed to prove it was in our family for years,” she said in answer to the question of why she’s running for OHA. “I felt their pain when we moved into the basement of a relative’s basement in Kalihi on Kalani Street … the smell of mold, centipedes living in the makeshift shower stall. And yet, I was taught to hold my head up high. …”
Kelii Akina, president and CEO of the Libertarian-leaning Grassroot Institute of Hawaii, has raised $48,890 and spent just over that amount. Thanks to cash on hand before the current election cycle — Akina ran unsuccessfully for OHA in 2012 — he had a mere $472 remaining as of Aug. 9.
Akina’s contributors included his predecessor at the institute, Dick Rowland, and attorney Bill Burgess.
Akina stands out from his opponents in at least one way: his view on nation-building.
“As a government agency, OHA should not be attempting to create a sovereign nation,” he told Civil Beat. “OHA’s efforts to do so are both unconstitutional and offensive to the Hawaiian value of inclusiveness, whereby citizenship, even in the Hawaiian Kingdom, was not based upon race.”
Akina adds, “Instead of serving real needs of Hawaiians and the public, OHA continues to waste millions of dollars on the unconstitutional pursuit of political sovereignty. This is dividing Hawaiians from non-Hawaiians and Hawaiians from each other.”