Three incumbents running for re-election to the Office of Hawaiian Affairs Board of Trustees fared well in Tuesday’s election.
According to results from the state Office of Elections, Trustee Rowena Akana and Trustee John D. Waihee IV were among the frontrunners for three at-large seats.
Waihee had 12 percent and Akana had 11 percent.
Lei Ahu Isa was in third with 10 percent.
The closest runners-up were for the three at-large seats were Mililani Trask (9 percent), Kelii Akina (8 percent) and Harvey McInerny (7 percent).
Meanwhile, for the Maui seat, Trustee Carmen Hulu Lindsey defeated challenger Mahealani Wendt 35 percent to 24 percent.
OHA seats are voted on by all qualified residents statewide, not just Native Hawaiians. Name recognition and campaign fundraising can make the difference in getting elected — and re-elected.
This year marked the first time there was a primary contest for the Office of Hawaiian Affairs. The move was intended to obtain a larger pool of candidates instead of the same trustees who seem to win election after election.
On Aug. 9, voters sent one trustee back to office: Incumbent Peter Apo won the Oahu seat by taking more than 50 percent of the vote.
But, with the retirement of Trustee Oswald Stender, there will be at least one new board member.
OHA is a quasi-governmental state agency tasked with protecting the islands’ indigenous population and resources. Its broad mandate is to provide for a better life and future for all Hawaiians.
This year, OHA lobbied unsuccessfully to build residential units on part of its land in Kakaako Makai. It also weathered a personnel and political crisis when its chief executive officer sought a federal legal opinion on whether the Hawaiian Kingdom still exists.
Meanwhile, OHA’s work with the Native Hawaiian Roll Commission in signing up Kanaka Maoli for a future government has drawn fire, with some questioning whether the process was conducted appropriately. OHA also testified in support of federal recognition of Native Hawaiians at a series of public hearings this summer conducted by the U.S. Department of the Interior.
The meetings were often rowdy, with vocal opponents of recognition insisting that Hawaii is still an independent nation that was illegally annexed by America and therefore federal recognition is not necessary. Supporters, however, argued that recognition is an essential step in self-governance and protecting Hawaiian assets and programs.
In spite of trustees often being in the media spotlight, OHA races this year attracted many candidates from a variety of backgrounds.
Of those still in the running as of Tuesday, Lindsey of Maui is a Realtor and entertainer while Wendt is a former executive director of the Native Hawaiian Legal Corporation.
In the at-large race, Waihee is the son of the former governor while Akana has served as a trustee for nearly a quarter century. Ahu Isa is a former legislator and Board of Education member and Trask is a former OHA trustee currently active in the geothermal industry.
Akina leads the Libertarian-leaning Grassroot Institute and McInerny is a licensed securities broker and former OHA employee.