A panel of five Hawaii lawmakers Tuesday narrowly voted to support William Aila’s nomination for another term as deputy director of the Department of Hawaiian Home Lands.

The vote came after a four-hour hearing in the basement of the Capitol. Dozens of people crowded into the hearing room with some wearing red shirts saying, “ʻAʻole Aila,” to express their opposition.

Hawaiian Affairs Committee Chairwoman Maile Shimabukuro voted “yes,” along with Sen. Jarrett Keohokalole. Sen. Les Ihara voted “yes” with reservations. Sen. Kurt Fevella, the only Republican in the Senate, voted “no.”

“I don’t think you have the capability of completing these things that haven’t been completed in years,” Fevella said bluntly while questioning Aila about getting Hawaiians off the agency’s long wait list for homes.

The DHHL’s leadership is in disarray after Gov. David Ige decided to pull back his renomination of Director Jobie Masagatani for another term. The move came in the face of looming Senate opposition.

William Aila and DeMont Connor posed for photos after the hearing. Connor made shirts saying “‘A’ole Aila” and testified against Aila, but still gave him one of the shirts.

Anita Hofschneider/Civil Beat

Sen. Kai Kahele left just before the vote, explaining that he couldn’t vote having missed most of the public testimony while presiding over another hearing.

Aila’s nomination goes next to the full Senate. One senator who plans to vote “no” on the floor is Michelle Kidani, who came down for the hearing even though she’s not on the committee to question Aila and share critical emails she received about his nomination.

“Even though the Hawaiian in me is very small, I have two brothers living on homesteads in Waianae,” Kidani said. “It’s kind of dismaying that there are so many people who are not satisfied with your performance.”

Kidani said one of her concerns is that Aila would likely serve as interim director until the governor replaces Masagatani, its current director.

Prior to voting, lawmakers grilled Aila and heard public testimony for more than three hours.

Most testifiers backed Aila. Masagatani spoke in support, saying that the opposition to his appointment shows that he’s doing his job by making tough decisions.

Other supporters included affordable housing developer Craig Watase, former DHHL director Kali Watson and former Office of Hawaiian Affairs Trustee Haunani Apoliona.

But several others testified in opposition. Kepa Kaeo flew over from Hawaii Island to urge the committee to reject Aila on behalf of beneficiaries languishing on the homestead wait list. He also criticized the deputy director’s support of the proposed Thirty Meter Telescope on Mauna Kea.

Marvel Mahuka from Nanakuli said she was disappointed that Aila couldn’t work with her family to help them stay in their home after an estranged relative returned the leasehold to DHHL.

“It hurts to talk against another Hawaiian but that Hawaiian will have a job where I won’t have a home,” she said.

Aila’s critics emphasized they had nothing against him personally. After the hearing, DeMont Connor of Nanakuli who testified against Aila, gave him one of the “ʻAʻole Aila” shirts and posed for pictures with him.

“Even if we disagree, we’re still Hawaiians,” Connor said.

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