Longtime Office of Hawaiian Affairs trustee Rowena Akana will be out of office for the first time in nearly 30 years.

Akana, who has served on the OHA Board of Trustees since 1990, is among six candidates for three at-large seats on the board of OHA, a state agency dedicated to the benefit of Native Hawaiians.

She has been under fire for alleged misspending and trailed four other candidates as the final election results were released early Wednesday. She did not respond to a message seeking comment Tuesday evening.

OHA Trustee Rowena Akana OHA candidate forum held at Windward Community College.
OHA Trustee Rowena Akana speaks at an OHA candidate forum held at Windward Community College. She’s been under fire this year from the State Ethics Commission but is fighting back. Cory Lum/Civil Beat

The OHA election this year includes three at-large seats, one Oahu seat and one Maui seat, a majority of the nine-member board.

Incumbents John Waihee IV and former Rep. Lei Ahu Isa were leading the at-large race, with 12.3 percent and 9.7 percent of the vote respectively.

Brendan Kalei’aina Lee had 8.9 percent of the vote while William Aila Jr., the deputy director of the Department of Hawaiian Home Lands, had 8.7 percent. Lee and Aila were separated by 2,411 votes as of the fourth round of election results in the race for the third at-large seat.

Akana lagged with 8.5 percent of the vote and former Rep. Faye Hanohano had 7.7 percent.

Kalei Akaka Esther Kia’aina in the race for the Oahu seat on the OHA board. Election results show Akaka has 37.1 percent of the vote compared to Kia’aina’s 30 percent. The seat is currently held by Peter Apo, who is not on the ballot this year.

Akaka watched the election results at her family’s home in Hawaii Kai. She said in a phone interview that she feels very honored to follow in the footsteps of her late grandfather, U.S. Sen. Daniel Akaka.

“I’m feeling good about the results so far and I’m looking forward to serving the people of Hawaii,” she said.

OHA Candidate Kalei Akaka speaks during a forum held at Windward Community College.
OHA candidate Kalei Akaka speaks during a forum held at Windward Community College. Her motto this year was, “Shaka for Akaka.” Cory Lum/Civil Beat

Kia’aina is a longtime public servant who previously worked at the U.S. Department of Interior and the state Department of Land and Natural Resources. Akaka works in the administrative office of Kamehameha Schools Bishop Estate.

OHA Trustee Carmen Hulu Lindsey was leading the race for the Maui seat. She had 30.7 percent of the vote as of the fourth wave of results compared with Ke’eaumoku Kapu’s 24.7 percent. Lindsey is a real estate broker and singer, while Kapu is a cultural practitioner who has been heavily involved in grassroots activism.

The election comes at a crucial time for the agency, which has been under scrutiny for its lax policies regarding spending. The agency said in May that it was under investigation by the state Attorney General.

The Office of Hawaiian Affairs governs about $600 million in assets for the benefit of the Native Hawaiian people. Cory Lum/Civil Beat

Akana, in particular, is fighting a State Ethics Commission charge alleging she wrongly spent her allowance money and improperly accepted $72,000 from Princess Abigail Kawananakoa. Akana maintains that the commission has no jurisdiction over OHA and its trust funds.

The composition of the board could also have implications for the future of the agency’s current chief executive officer, Kamanaʻopono Crabbe. A minority of the existing board wants to oust him.

The Office of Hawaiian Affairs manages more than $600 million worth of assets on behalf of the Native Hawaiian people. The agency was born out of the 1978 constitutional convention as a way to address the historical wrongs against Hawaii’s native people.

Voting was restricted to people of Native Hawaiian descent until a 1996 Supreme Court decision ruled that unconstitutional. Since then, all eligible Hawaii voters can cast ballots for OHA races, and every seat is a statewide competition.

The contests traditionally attract relatively low voter turnout and Tuesday was no different. Thirty-three percent of the votes for the OHA Oahu race were blank, and about 44 percent of the votes for the Maui and at-large seats were similarly blank as of the fourth round of results.

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