Editor’s note: For Hawaii’s Nov. 6 General Election, Civil Beat asked candidates to answer some questions about where they stand on various issues and what their priorities will be if elected.
The following came from Brendon Lee, a candidate for an at-large position on the Office of Hawaiian Affairs Board of Trustees. There are five other candidates, including William Aila, Rowena Akana, Faye Hanohano, Leina’ala Ahu Isa and John Waihee IV.
1. Is OHA fulfilling its mandate to serve the Hawaiian people?
Yes, however more needs to be done. OHA spent just over an average of $1 million a year on economic development, yet in 2013 reported the mean average income was $72,762, up 1.8 percent over a two-year period and in 2016 $74,511 up 2.3 percent over a three-year period, which shows a slowing in growth. OHA also spent $3.4 million on housing, yet a U.S. Housing and Urban Development report showed Native Hawaiian homelessness nearly quadrupled in a one-year period. This same report shows high housing costs affected nearly half of Native Hawaiians. Whereas those on Department of Hawaiian Home land reported only 21 percent, it also shows that most Native Hawaiians awaiting their awards want their own lot, with a new house; but over half were willing to take a townhouse, duplex or something similar if it meant getting housing immediately.
Over the last seven years, OHA has spent, on average $3.5 million per year on education, yet Kamehameha Schools tells us Native Hawaiians are on the lower spectrum of college acceptance and graduates.
2. What would you do to change how OHA is run?
As a trained parliamentarian my comprehensive knowledge of Robert’s Rules of Order will help to bring civility back to the board room. With trustees fighting with one another, filing law suits against one another, the CEO is getting little and conflicting direction from the board. Following the process set up in the bylaws will allow for lively debate rather than shouting matches. Putting an end to the dysfunctional in -fighting will allow the board to produce a new strategic plan for the CEO to implement for a better future for Native Hawaiians and all of Hawaii.
3. What do you see as the most pressing issue facing Native Hawaiians? What will you do about it?
Housing, the same HUD study offers insight into what types of housing Native Hawaiians need. Large households (those with five or more members) accounted for 27 percent of Native Hawaiian households statewide, nearly 40 percent of households on the DHHL waiting list, and, similarly, 40 percent of households already living on the Hawaiian home lands included five or more members; only 14 percent of non-Native Hawaiian households were large.
Native Hawaiian households were more likely to be working and to include children than were non-Native Hawaiian households. Overcrowding affected nearly 40 percent of waiting list households, a rate more than twice as high as the 15 percent of Native Hawaiian households statewide and five times higher than the 8 percent overcrowding rate among non-Native Hawaiian households, and twice as high as the 19 percent rate on the home lands. Based on these findings OHA needs to partner with DHHL to develop new, creative ideas to develop DHHL properties in the urban core of Honolulu with revenue-generating businesses on the ground level and a combination of affordable housing and DHHL leases. This same model should be utilized on OHA lands within Honolulu.
4. What are your views regarding Hawaiian independence?
I am not sure this question is worded correctly. I am in favor of self-determination. If you are talking about an independent Hawaii, that already exists. The Kingdom of Hawaii never ceased, rather is being occupied by the U.S. One did not have to be Native Hawaiian to be a subject of the crown. If you are speaking only of Kanaka Maoli, that would be federal recognition and a government-to-government relationship with a Native Hawaiian governing entity. This would give Kanaka access to billions of dollars for education, housing, economic development, and health care.
5. Is OHA getting its fair share of ceded-land revenues from the state?
Absolutely not. OHA did an inventory of all ceded-lands and the State of Hawaii has not lived up to its obligation. For the governor and Legislature to state they get to decide what lands get to be considered and what the definition of 20 percent is, is an injustice. While the state has not provided accurate accounting for revenues from the Public Land Trust it did report on average of nearly $160 million in annual revenue. This would equate to double what the state pays OHA annually.
6. Why do you think Hawaiians are disproportionately represented in our prisons and jails? What can be done about it?
We see this pattern across America with native peoples. After generations of being displaced from our land, culture and sense of self-worth, Native Hawaiians struggle with drugs, homelessness, and domestic violence. Having affordable housing, better education and a sustainable economic model is a start. Until Native Hawaiians no longer feel disenfranchised in their own land, it will be difficult to break the cycle.
7. Do you support the construction of the Thirty Meter Telescope atop Mauna Kea?
Yes, what I do not support is UH’s mismanagement of our resources.
8. What role should the Department of Hawaiian Home Lands play in reducing homelessness?
I believe that OHA and DHHL can be more creative in partnering to develop low-income assistance housing.
9. Do you support or oppose holding a state constitutional convention? Why or why not?
Not currently. Powerful special interest groups currently control the political landscape and those groups seek to eliminate Native Hawaiian, LGBTG, water, land, and environmental rights to name a few.
10. What other important issue would you like to discuss here?
Given that OHA’s strategic plan expires this year, this election is that much more critical. These elected trustees will make up half of the individuals that will work on, adopt, and implement a new strategic plan. Voters need to choose carefully the board that will have not just Kanaka Maoli, but all of Hawaii’s best interests.