The race for the Office of Hawaiian Affairs Hawaii island seat is a contest between two sharply different candidates: educator and activist Joshua Lanakila Mangauil and OHA advocacy director Benjamin Keola Lindsey.
The two are most clearly divided on their stance on the question of whether to build the Thirty Meter Telescope on Mauna Kea. Mangauil has for years helped lead the resistance to construction, spending long cold nights camped out on the mountain and coordinating civil disobedience among supporters of the cause.
Lindsey said he is neutral on Mauna Kea. He believes OHA’s role is to facilitate conversations on the highly contentious issue and said taking a side would prevent him from doing so.
“If I had chosen one path or the other it would force me to cut off that dialogue with the other,” Lindsey said.
His neutral stance prompted skepticism from Mangauil. “At this time, to be sitting in the middle, I don’t know how you can do that,” he said.
The two are running to represent Hawaii island on OHA’s Board of Trustees. But all voters in the state are allowed to vote, making it tough to campaign and possible that the person who wins won’t actually be the one who is preferred by Hawaii island voters.
Mangauil is the more outspoken candidate with clear positions on many highly controversial issues. Lindsey is much more careful and circumspect, and much less critical of OHA than Mangauil.
Lindsey also comes from a political family. State campaign data shows Lindsey’s campaign has largely been funded by his uncle, Robert “Bob” Lindsey, the outgoing OHA trustee. Carmen Hulu Lindsey is another current OHA trustee.
Mangauil has spent more than four times as much money so far compared with Lindsey. Lindsey had only spent $4,700 as of Sept. 26, and still had nearly $2,000 in reserves. Mangauil by contrast had just $53 left after spending more than $23,000.
Lindsey’s uncle, current trustee Bob Lindsey, gave him $4,000, which Lindsey has largely spent on buying campaign signs and other advertising.
Mangauil’s supporters include Kim Coco Iwamoto, a progressive candidate who narrowly lost to House Speaker Scott Saiki this year in the race for his state House seat. She donated $2,000 to his campaign. Like Lindsey, Mangauil has spent much of his money on advertising.
Part of what makes running for OHA tough is the fact that even the island representative seats are statewide campaigns, similar to the gubernatorial race.
During the August primary, Lindsey led Mangauil by more than 3,500 votes. The two beat nine other contenders to advance to the Nov. 3 general election. But with more than 220,000 total votes cast in the election, there are still many votes that could sway the general in either direction.
Hawaii island voters preferred Mangauil to Lindsey in the primary — Mangauil garnered nearly 9,000 Big Island votes compared with Lindsey’s 7,570. But on Oahu, where the bulk of voters are, Lindsey was by far the favorite, receiving over 24,000 votes, nearly 5,000 more than Mangauil.
That could reflect their policy positions. A Civil Beat poll last year found there’s a lot more support for building the Thirty Meter Telescope among Oahu residents than Hawaii island residents.
Oahu voters could also be drawn to Lindsey because he has a long history of working on Oahu and on statewide issues. Lindsey has worked at OHA in various roles for more than a decade. In 2012, he worked with state and federal agencies to co-manage Papahanaumokuakea, the national marine monument protecting the Northwestern Hawaiian Islands. He’s now OHA’s advocacy director, pushing for the agency’s legislative agenda at the Capitol.
Still, he says OHA can improve, particularly regarding its community outreach and public communications. He says if elected, increasing OHA’s revenue would be a key goal, particularly public trust revenue.
“I’m committed to ensuring that the Native Hawaiian people receive every penny that the law and justice says we’re entitled to,” he said, referring to the state constitutional requirement that OHA receive 20% of revenues from former crown lands.
Lindsey said his parents were farmers and sent him to Hawaii Preparatory Academy on Hawaii island. He also graduated from the University of Hawaii and has a master’s degree in public administration.
But Lindsey’s longtime work on Oahu has already brought him under fire. A group of Hawaii island residents filed a lawsuit in late August saying Lindsey isn’t eligible to represent Hawaii island because he doesn’t live there. Lindsey has a house in Kailua, his wife works on Oahu for Hawaiian Airlines and his children are enrolled in Oahu public schools, the complaint said.
Lindsey said he moved to Hawaii island in early summer and that his children and wife plan to follow him. He said he and his family are in the process of renting out their Kailua home.
“I’ve never denied to anyone I have a life on Oahu, family responsibilities here, a job here, but I’ve maintained a residence on Hawaii island, I’ve come back and forth for the last 13 years,” he said.
Mangauil believes that he would better represent Hawaii island in part because he has been living and working there full time. Mangauil is the founder and director of the Hawaiian Cultural Center of Hamakua and also taught Hawaiian studies for many years. He attended a Native Hawaiian public charter school and describes himself as the product of the Hawaiian cultural renaissance.
While Lindsey has been working within OHA, Mangauil has loudly criticized it. He led a march five years ago to persuade them to rescind their support for the TMT. He says they’ve strayed from their mission.
“They’re supposed to be the main advocates and supporters for our people,” he said. “And in many ways I think they’ve been more subservient and fall to the whims of the state.”
He emphasized that OHA has a trust with assets and investments worth an estimated $600 million.
“We only have about 300,000 Hawaiians alive in the Hawaiian Islands right now. How are we not being serviced?” he asked. He feels similarly about the alii trusts that have assets worth billions.
“And we still have Native Hawaiian children struggling to get a good education?” he asked incredulously. “It’s embarrassing. There’s no excuse. It is shameful.”
Another issue that separates Mangauil and Lindsey is the question of military training on Pohakuloa on Hawaii island. Lindsey said there is a question of whether the military needs the land for training but that he can’t say whether or not they do until an analysis is conducted. He said the question of how the military will restore the environment after training is an important one.
Mangauil is far more strident, clearly opposing the ongoing military training there. He also wants OHA and the Department of Hawaiian Home Lands to work together better, saying that the blood quantum requirement in order for Hawaiians to obtain homestead land is “horrendous.”
“Most Hawaiians of my generation and younger won’t qualify for Hawaiian homes. Why are we counting that?” he said. “Conversations need to be had for how OHA helps Hawaiians who are not on homelands.”
Both Mangauil and Lindsey say the COVID-19 pandemic has underscored longstanding challenges facing the Hawaiian community and they want to work to find solutions.
“I think the communities have the knowledge and obviously know the most about what their needs are and I think communities have become frustrated because they feel government overall has stopped or has maybe even never listened,” said Lindsey. “I feel that one of my strongest qualities — maybe too much — is listening, and maybe really thinking about the solution.”
Mangauil says he is also willing to listen to everyone, even though he has expressed stronger views than Lindsey.
“This is a day and age where we need actions and OHA’s notorious history of being pretty mediocre on everything is not really helping our situation,” Mangauil said.
Sign up for our FREE morning newsletter and face each day more informed.
Not a subscription
Civil Beat is a small nonprofit newsroom, and we’re committed to a paywall-free website and subscription-free content because we believe in journalism as a public service.
That’s why donations from readers like you are essential to our continued existence.
Help keep our journalism free for all readers by becoming a monthly member of Civil Beat today.