Editor’s note: For Hawaii’s Nov. 8 General Election, Civil Beat asked candidates to answer some questions about where they stand on various issues and what their priorities will be if elected.
The following came from John Waihe‘e IV, candidate for Office of Hawaiian Affairs at-large trustee. The other candidates for three seats include Brickwood Galuteria, Lei Ahu Isa, Sam Kalanikupua King, Chad Owens, and Keoni Souza.
1. What do you see as the most pressing problem facing Native Hawaiians, and what will you do about it?
Housing. Unfortunately, there really is no silver bullet when it comes to this issue. OHA should advocate for more public housing in Hawaiian communities at the state level. OHA could also partner with other state agencies like DHHL using some of our own resources as an incentive.
We should also give out more grants to nonprofit agencies that help get people into homes. It’s going to need to be a group effort.
2. What would you do to bridge the gaps within the Native Hawaiian community over issues like construction of the Thirty Meter Telescope or development of energy projects?
I think we need to understand that issues like the Thirty Meter Telescope are not transactional ones where there is a quid pro quo solution. They are matters of understanding and trust. OHA’s board needs to be consistent in our messaging and approach when dealing with such issues.
I don’t believe that it is prudent to take positions that are purely philosophical, although when violations of environmental, cultural or historical preservation laws occur we should be quick and consistent to act against them. We need to define the roles of advocates and activists and organize them in a manner that produces the most successful outcome.
3. Do you support the construction of the TMT atop Mauna Kea? Why or why not? Could a new management structure help to resolve long-standing disputes?
As a sitting trustee, it’s prudent for me to support the board’s current position of being “neutral” on the issue of the TMT. I still believe, however, that we have an obligation to protect Mauna Kea and its resources as a critical part of the public trust that the state is constitutionally bound to preserve for the future generations of Hawaii. For this reason, I supported our lawsuit against the state of Hawaii, University of Hawaii and DLNR for neglecting to manage Mauna Kea properly.
I would also support bringing additional lawsuits against activity on Mauna Kea that violates laws dealing with environmental, cultural or historic preservation. That would include the construction of the TMT if it were found to violate such laws. And, yes, I definitely think a new management structure for Mauna Kea that gives Hawaiians seats at the table is necessary and overdue.
4. What role should the Department of Hawaiian Home Lands play in reducing homelessness?
They should house homeless Native Hawaiians. It’s kind of their thing.
5. Why do you think Hawaiians are disproportionately represented in our prisons and jails? What can be done about it?
The fact that Native Hawaiians are sentenced to prison more often than people of other ethnicities (often for the same crimes) and that Native Hawaiian youth are disproportionately represented in the juvenile justice system in Hawaii, shows that there is a disparate treatment of Hawaiians in both the criminal justice and public education systems.
I think that for many Hawaiians, living in an environment that does not promote or celebrate a culture that they identify with has left them with a feeling of hopelessness. OHA should promote a system that builds on cultural pride and a positive self-identity. To do so would take a concerted effort.
OHA must target our community grants for culturally appropriate programs and services for at-risk youths and people in prisons that prepare them for returning to their community. OHA must also advocate for governmental support in addressing disparate treatment of Native Hawaiians.
6. What are your views regarding Hawaiian self-determination?
In the past, my most obligatory reason for supporting federal recognition had been to protect the Native Hawaiian Trust Fund from any anti-Hawaiian-type lawsuits that would threaten our beneficiaries’ proprietary interest in it.
I believe that President Obama’s 2014 executive order recognizing Native Hawaiians as the aboriginal, indigenous people of the Hawaiian archipelago and our special political and trust relationship with the United States does a good job of doing that. That being the case, I now think that any kind of nationhood effort should come from the Hawaiian community and not OHA.
7. Is OHA getting its fair share of ceded-land revenues from the state?
We are not, although I do think that increasing our annual interim amount by $6.4 million and appropriating an additional $64 million as a portion of income and proceeds from the public land trust was a step in the right direction. By law, OHA is entitled to 20% of all funds derived from the public land trust. The state’s own reports, using historically undisputed revenue streams, show that they generated an average of $158,077,656 annually in public land trust revenues in the last three fiscal years, 20% of which is $31,615,531.
The state’s establishment of a working group to determine the pro rata share of income and proceeds from the public land trust due annually to the Office of Hawaiian affairs gives me some hope that we can get there eventually.
8. Is OHA fulfilling its mandate to serve the Hawaiian people?
For the most part, yes. I think that the money OHA has distributed through our grants and low-interest loan programs has substantially contributed to improving the lives of Native Hawaiians.
I believe that our advocacy efforts have been hugely effective in helping create laws that benefit the Hawaiian community, while deterring those that would be detrimental. And I feel that we have consistently been successful in achieving the strategic results established by our Strategic Plans.
9. Is Hawaii managing its tourism industry properly? What should be handled differently?
I don’t feel that I can accurately evaluate the state’s management of tourism up until this point, since any results of their efforts haven’t been obvious to me. Then again, maybe that can be considered a criticism considering how much has been spent on it.
At any rate, the marketing of Hawaii should always be culturally and environmentally sensitive, and with great regard to what our natural resources can handle. The Hawaii Tourism Authority’s latest strategic plan seems to be mindful of those issues, so we should definitely keep an eye on how it’s implemented.
10. The coronavirus pandemic has exposed numerous flaws in Hawaii’s structure and systems, from outdated technology to economic disparity. If you could take this moment to reinvent Hawaii, to build on what we’ve learned and create a better state, a better way of doing things, what would you do? Please share One Big Idea you have for Hawaii. Be innovative, but be specific.
I would create a place where people could live and work, where social distancing could be easily implemented without causing much inconvenience. There would be pedestrian and cycle paths connecting green spaces and buildings that leverage the outdoors and maximize clean energy usage.
This also happens to be OHA’s plan for our properties in Kakaako Makai that could be a reality if the state would simply give us a few entitlements to make it happen.
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