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 John Waihee IV, 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, Brendon Lee and Leina’ala Ahu Isa.
1. Is OHA fulfilling its mandate to serve the Hawaiian people?
For the most part, yes. I think that the money OHA has distributed through our grants and low-interest loan programs has substantially contributed to improving the lives of Native Hawaiians. I believe that our advocacy efforts have been hugely effective in helping create laws that benefit the Hawaiian community, while deterring those that would be detrimental. And, I feel that we have been successful in achieving the strategic results established by our Strategic Plan.
2. What would you do to change how OHA is run?
I think that OHA needs to be more disciplined with our discretionary spending. The board needs to assert itself through policies and reviews by a legal counsel and budget analyst that answers solely to the board. Certain noncompetitive awards need to be more strictly managed or done away with.
3. What do you see as the most pressing issue facing Native Hawaiians? What will you do about it?
Housing. Unfortunately, there really is no silver bullet when it comes to this issue. OHA should advocate for more public housing in Hawaiian communities at the state level. OHA could also partner with other state agencies like DHHL using some of our own resources as an incentive. We should also make housing a top priority as part of our Strategic Plan and give out more grants to nonprofit agencies that help get people into homes. It’s going to need to be a group effort.
4. What are your views regarding Hawaiian independence?
In the past, my most obligatory reason for supporting federal recognition had been to protect the Native Hawaiian Trust Fund from any anti-Hawaiian-type lawsuits that would threaten our beneficiaries’ proprietary interest in it.
I believe that President Obama’s 2014 executive order recognizing Native Hawaiians as the aboriginal, indigenous people of the Hawaiian archipelago and our special political and trust relationship with the United States does a good job of doing that. That being the case, I now think that any kind of nationhood effort should come from the Hawaiian community and not OHA.
5. Is OHA getting its fair share of ceded-land revenues from the state?
Absolutely not. By law, OHA is entitled to 20 percent of all funds derived from the public land trust. The state’s own reports, using historically undisputed revenue streams, show that they generated an average of $158,077,656 annually in Public Land Trust revenues in the last three fiscal years, 20 percent of which is $31,615,531. That is more than double the $15.1 million that OHA is capped at receiving. At the very least, the state should remove the cap until the issue can be resolved by OHA and the state.
6. Why do you think Hawaiians are disproportionately represented in our prisons and jails? What can be done about it?
The fact that Native Hawaiians are sentenced to prison more often than people of other ethnicities (often for the same crimes) and that Native Hawaiian youth are disproportionately represented in the juvenile justice system in Hawaii, shows that there is a disparate treatment of Hawaiians in both the criminal justice and public education systems.
I think that for many Hawaiians, living in an environment that does not promote or celebrate a culture that they identify with has left them with a feeling of hopelessness. OHA should promote a system that builds on cultural pride and a positive self-identity. To do so would take a concerted effort.
OHA must support strategic results in its next Strategic Plan that target our community grants for culturally appropriate programs and services for at-risk youths and people in prisons that prepare them for returning to their community. OHA must also advocate for governmental support in addressing disparate treatment of Native Hawaiians.
7. Do you support the construction of the Thirty Meter Telescope atop Mauna Kea?
As a sitting trustee, it’s prudent for me to support the board’s current official position of being “neutral” on the subject of the TMT. I still believe, however, that OHA has an obligation to protect Mana Kea and its resources as a critical part of the public trust that the state is constitutionally bound to preserve for the future generations of Hawaii.
I also believe that Native Hawaiians should be part of the discussion on how the mountain is managed. To that end, I think that OHA’s current lawsuit against the state of Hawaii, University of Hawaii, and DLNR for neglecting to manage Mauna Kea properly is a good start.
8. What role should the Department of Hawaiian Home Lands play in reducing homelessness?
They should house homeless Native Hawaiians. It’s kind of their thing.
9. Do you support or oppose holding a state constitutional convention? Why or why not?
I oppose holding a state constitutional convention. With talk by certain community leaders about literally abolishing the Office of Hawaiian Affairs, the advent of a constitutional convention in the current political environment would threaten the existence of the Native Hawaiian Trust Fund and our beneficiaries’ proprietary interest in it. It would be very imprudent to support such an endeavor.
10. What other important issue would you like to discuss here?
Whether by chance or design we live in a system that has a way of playing divide and conquer with the Hawaiian community. While the recent audit of OHA brought many of the agency’s shortcomings to the forefront, it’s important to realize that it also had its share of misrepresentations. From listing some trustee allowance expenditures twice to pad their results, to labelling money provided to fellow government agencies as “unsolicited ‘grants'” (despite the fact that money moved between state agencies is exempt from procurement under the state’s own laws), it was clear that the auditors had an agenda to portray OHA in the worst possible light. Unfortunately, it caused many within the agency and our community to vilify and attack each other based on personal feelings.
The fact is, we will only be able to fix things at OHA by working together to identify and address them rationally through policies and our next Strategic Plan. As your trustee, I have always striven to administer in the best interest of my beneficiaries with logic and prudence and will continue to do so if re-elected.