Incumbent Kalei Akaka won outright Saturday in the primary race to represent Oahu on the Office of Hawaiian Affairs board of trustees, getting 56.3% of the votes cast to handily defeat challenger Brendon Kalei‘aina Lee.

Lee had 18.7%, according to the latest tally released Sunday by the state Office of Elections.

“I’m incredibly thankful,” Akaka said in an interview. “When we’re able to further uplift our Hawaiian community, this benefits all of Hawaii.”

Lee said he had hoped for a different result but stressed he will keep working hard.

For the three seats up for election in the at-large race, the top six vote-getters were former state Sen. Brickwood Galuteria, John Waihee IV, Lei Ahu Isa, retired Canadian Football League player Chad Owens, Keoni Souza and Sam King.

With the majority of the vote counted, Galuteria led with 9.1%, Waihee IV had 7.9%, Isa had 6.9%, Owens had 6.6%, Souza had 6.2% and King had 5.5%. If the initial results stand, they will all advance to the Nov. 8 general election since none received more than 50% of the vote that was required to win outright.

OHA Office of Hawaiian Affairs.
The Office of Hawaiian Affairs board of trustees play a key role in making sure the more than $600 million trust is managed well. Cory Lum/Civil Beat/2022

All registered voters are eligible to vote for the Office of Hawaiian Affairs, which is tasked with improving the well-being of Native Hawaiians and making sure a more than $600 million trust fund is properly managed.

The Board of Trustees includes nine seats made up of elected officials who serve four-year terms. There are four at-large seats and one seat each representing Oahu, Hawaii island, Maui, Kauai and Niihau, and Molokai and Lanai.

The OHA race is nonpartisan, but candidates have varied views on divisive issues like the construction of the $2.4 billion Thirty Meter Telescope, which has been the hub of past protests led by Native Hawaiian groups at Mauna Kea. The board has a neutral stance, but members may differ on whether the world’s largest optical telescope should be built.

The stakes are high as OHA – for the first time in six years – received an increase in its share of public land revenues. The office is now expected to collect $21.5 million from the state annually. Those who win their seats will decide how to spend the money.

The competition for the at-large race was the most crowded field, with 11 people running for the three seats.

OHA Trustee Brendon Lee during board meeting.
OHA trustee Brendon Lee vacated his at-large seat to run for the Oahu race. Cory Lum/Civil Beat/2019

Incumbents Waihee IV and Isa were seeking reelection. But the nine-member panel will have a new face because incumbent Lee vacated his seat to run in the Oahu race.

Waihee IV, the son of former Gov. John Waihee, has served as an at-large trustee for more than 20 years. Isa, the vice chair of the board, previously served the state House of Representatives and the Board of Education.

Isa, who has been a trustee since 2014, said this will be her last election regardless of the results.

“I’m just doing good things for OHA and for our beneficiaries,” she said in an interview.

Both Owens and King said they will continue to work hard as they advance to the November general.

Galuteria, Waihee IV and Souza couldn’t be reached for comment.

Candidates who previously ran for OHA and other political offices are real estate agent Souza, Thirty Meter Telescope supporter King, former OHA public policy advocate Zuri Aki, business owner and Native Hawaiian cultural practitioner U‘i Kahue-Cabanting and Kealii Makekau, who works in building management and transportation.

Other candidates included retired school administrator Julian Ako and retired Grace Pacific Chief Operating Officer William Paik.

OHA Trustee Kaleihikina Akaka during board meeting.
OHA trustee Kalei Akaka won outright. Cory Lum/Civil Beat/2019

Akaka was first elected as a trustee in 2018 and is the granddaughter of Hawaii’s late Sen. Daniel Akaka.

Lee, who was elected as an at-large trustee in 2018, has said that he switched races because he “did not feel that the aina (land) of Oahu has been adequately represented for the last four years.”

The other candidates, Jackie Kahookele Burke, an artist, designer and planning consultant who unsuccessfully ran for an at-large seat in 2020, got 15%, and Robert Peters, a former school music and drama director, got 9%.

Since there are only two contenders for the Hawaii island seat, incumbent Mililani Trask and her challenger Hope Alohalani Cermelj will face off in the Nov. 8 general election.

OHA Chair Carmen Hulu Lindsey was running unopposed for the Maui seat.

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