Colette Machado, who was first elected trustee for the Office of Hawaiian Affairs in 1996, has never spent campaign money on television commercials.

But this year, after finishing a distant second in the primary against Luana Alapa for the Molokai and Lanai trustee seat, Machado has bought television airtime to get the message out about her candidacy. The two candidates are in a runoff in Tuesday’s election.

“I started very late in the campaign and I wanted to pick up momentum,” she said. “I was behind the ball.”

Machado’s decision to purchase TV airtime illustrates a challenge for OHA candidates: They are in statewide races, not just island or county contests. All registered voters can vote in all OHA races, not just Native Hawaiians. But a whole lot of voters leave their ballot blank when it comes to the OHA section.

In her first TV spot, Machado explains how the OHA election works. Watch the ad:

“Uplifting our communities and protecting what makes Hawaii special, this is my life’s work,” Machado says in the 30-second spot.

It’s a straightforward and effective ad, produced by John Allen at Waianae High’s Searider Productions (the work was done during non-school hours and as an independent contractor). Same goes for the second spot. Watch the ad:

“OHA is not just about Hawaiians, it’s about all of Hawaii and this place we all call home,” Machado says in the ad as the screen shows Molokai’s breathtaking Halawa Valley. She stresses that, in this time of COVID-19, proven leaders are needed now more than ever.

Like the first ad, the second emphasizes the process of voting in OHA races. Both clips feature the same soft soundtrack and the same ending featuring the candidate speaking directly to the camera.

The ads may well help Machado, who trailed Alapa by 7,500 votes in the primary. Another 35,350 voters chose third-place finisher U‘i Kahue-Cabanting while more than 220,000 voters — 55% — left their ballot blank on the question of who should represent Molokai and Lanai. It’s typical of most every OHA election, where many voters just don’t appear comfortable getting involved.

To entice voters, Machado has spent about $15,000 to run ads on KGMB (local news) and KHON (“Wake Up 2day”).

But Alapa, a former Miss Hawaii and modeling instructor now working as an insurance agent, event planner, personal development coach and a professional emcee, is also running ads — about $9,000 worth this month — to air on KGMB (“The Price Is Right”), KHNL (the “Today” show), KFVE (“The Late Late Show”), KITV (“Good Morning America”) and KHON (“Wake Up 2day”).

“We went with the bare minimum,” said Alapa, who explained that she has raised less money than other OHA candidates, including her opponent. “But what the heck, at least we are getting our message out there. And I have been hearing a lot of wonderful responses from the people featured in the commercials. I think it is paying off.”

The first 30-second ad, titled “Remember Who We Are Serving,” introduces viewers to Alapa and her family. Watch the ad:

Alapa does not talk much about the OHA vote as Machado does, except to say that leaving a ballot blank results in an “uncertain future, especially for OHA.”

And it is a bit odd that she features footage of Oahu, given that she is running to represent Molokai and Lanai. But, as stated before, every voter statewide can vote in OHA.

The second ad, titled “Our Choice for OHA Molokai Trustee,” features testimonials, including from retired judge Walter Kirimitsu, who asks viewers to not leave their ballots blank. Watch the ad:

The ads were produced by ConnectWorks Group Hawaii. Alapa said she noticed a huge jump in traffic to her campaign website on the first day the ads ran.

One other OHA candidate is running TV ads this election season. It’s not the first time for Trustee Keli‘i Akina, who first ran for OHA in 2012 before getting elected four years later.

“I want to reach as broad a segment of our community as I can, and TV is a natural and great way to do that,” he said. “I believe OHA is something that everyone should care about.”

Here’s the first ad, slugged “Malama”:

“Remember, everyone can vote for OHA,” Akina says in the spot, which emphasizes malama — caring for one another. He ticks off the critical issues of housing, jobs, education and health care.

“I want Hawaiians and all people to thrive,” he says.

Akina briefly mentions that he serves as a watchdog on the trustee board. That is the focus of the second ad:

“The Office of Hawaiian Affairs can do so much more and improve upon its past,” he says. “That’s why I’ll keep fighting as your watchdog against fraud, waste and abuse.”

Akina has been in the news a lot trying to examine OHA’s finances, something that has put him at odds with Machado, the OHA board chair. Both ads do a good job of branding Akina as a watchdog.

Akina finished first in the primary for the OHA at-large seat and is now in a runoff against Keoni Souza, a real estate agent with labor union support. Five other candidates trailed behind and 45% of ballots — 183,000 — were left blank.

Souza is not running TV ads, although he has spent campaign money on social media, radio ads and mailers.

The other OHA race this fall — between Keola Lindsey and Joshua Lanakila Mangauil for the Hawaii Island trustee seat — has not involved TV ads. But both candidates have spent money on things like mailers, banners, signs and Facebook ads.

Read more about the candidates and campaigns for OHA, including links to candidate Q&As and news reports, in Civil Beat’s special OHA election section.

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