Office of Hawaiian Affairs Board Chair Bob Lindsey Jr. beat back a challenge from Mililani Trask in the race for the Hawaii Island seat Tuesday night.

Lindsey took 44.4 percent of the vote to Trask’s 32.6 percent.

But Trustee Haunani Apoliona lost her seat to challenger Kelii Akina in the contest for the OHA at-large seat.

Apoliona had 35.7 percent to Akina’s 37.4 percent.

OHA Office of Hawaiian Affairs office reception area with King Kamehameha I thru Queen Liliuokalani's portraits in reception area. 5 sept 2016
The Office of Hawaiian Affairs office reception area with portraits from King Kamehameha I through Queen Liliuokalani on the wall. Cory Lum/Civil Beat

OHA races usually do not attract many voters. Although non-Hawaiians are allowed to vote and run for the seats, many voters often leave the OHA portion of their ballots blank.

But this year’s race attracted a lot of attention because it pitted two status quo incumbents (Lindsey and Apoliona) and two challengers (Trask and Akina) who want to change the way OHA operates.

OHA is a quasi-state agency charged with helping the state’s indigenous people through improving education, economic subsistence and health, among other areas. It is funded by the state from ceded-land revenues.

OHA has made headlines over the past decade through its efforts to obtain federal recognition for Kanaka Maoli from the U.S. government, its use of land assets to grow revenue, its initial support (later withdrawn) for a giant telescope on top of Mauna Kea and its financial assistance to fund a group that seeks self-governance for Hawaiians.

Lindsey and Apoliona believe OHA, under their leadership, has chartered a course that benefits Hawaiians.

Trask, a former OHA trustee, argues that OHA has mismanaged its finances and lacks transparency, while Akina, whose politics lean libertarian-conservative, opposes nation-building and wants more accountability from the agency.

All four candidates have spent thousands of dollars to advertise and promote their campaigns.

In a statement issued Wednesday, Lindsey said, “I am extremely honored and grateful for the privilege to continue representing Hawaii Island on the OHA Board of Trustees. Mahalo to the voters of Hawaii for instilling their faith in me. I look forward to making meaningful contributions to strengthen the future of Native Hawaiians as well as ensure that OHA is well managed and its financial situation remains sound.”

For his part, Akina released a statement after the election saying he will work to “shut off OHA’s wasteful spending on race-based, federal recognition schemes that most Hawaiians do not want, focus on meeting the real needs of Hawaiians for housing, jobs, education, and health-care; and bring truth and transparency to the OHA board.”

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