Former state Sen. Brickwood Galuteria, incumbent John Waihee IV and real estate agent Keoni Souza won in the races for three at-large seats on the Office of Hawaiian Affairs board of trustees, according to the final results released Wednesday.

Mililani Trask, who currently holds the Hawaii island seat, also fended off a challenge from Hope Alohalani Cermelj. Trask, an attorney and prominent Native Hawaiian advocate, replaced former OHA trustee Keola Lindsey, who resigned earlier this year.

Galuteria led with 11.1% of the votes, Souza had 10.7% and Waihee IV had 10.4%, making them the top three vote-getters in the at-large race. Trailing behind was Vice Chair Lei Ahu Isa with 9.6%, former Canadian Football League player Chad Owens with 9.4% and Thirty Meter Telescope supporter Sam King with 8.2%.

Trask led with 42.9% of the votes, while Cermelj had 25.7%.

Mililani Trask nov 2016. 10 nov 2016
Incumbent Mililani Trask has secured her Hawaii Island seat on the Office of Hawaiian Affairs. Cory Lum/Civil Beat/2016

Ahu Isa has been a trustee since 2014 and previously served the state House of Representatives and the Board of Education.

“I’ve been in the House for eight years, the Board of Education for eight years, OHA for eight years, it’s time for me to retire and leave,” Ahu Isa said in a phone interview after the initial results were released on Tuesday, adding that this was her last run regardless of the final outcome.

Her loss means the nine-member panel has two new faces, Galuteria and Souza, since Brendon Kalei‘aina Lee had vacated his at-large seat in an unsuccessful bid for the Oahu seat. Incumbent Kalei Akaka won that seat outright in the Aug. 13 primary.

The vast majority of votes have been counted but totals may still be updated.

Jacob Aki, a member of the Kuini Pi‘olani Hawaiian Civic Club, said Galuteria and Waihee IV had been expected to secure their seats. He added that although Ahu Isa is an incumbent, Souza “worked really hard this campaign and built his name recognition from the 2020 election.”

“The most interesting thing about this race is that name recognization matters,” Aki said in a text message. “People don’t look at the issues and primarily vote on name recognition.”

The board of trustees has nine elected seats — including four at-large and one each representing Oahu, Hawaii island, Maui, Kauai and Niihau, and Molokai and Lanai. The trustees serve four-year terms. OHA Chair Carmen Hulu Lindsey ran unopposed for the Maui seat.

OHA Trustee Leinaala Ahu Isa.
Vice chair of OHA’s board of trustees Lei Ahu Isa says she’ll retire after this year’s election. Cory Lum/Civil Beat/2018

The elections come at a crucial time for the agency, which received an increase in its share of public land revenues. Board members will have to decide how the $21.5 million the office will collect from the state annually will be spent.

While the OHA race is nonpartisan, candidates have different views on issues like the construction of the $2.4 billion Thirty Meter Telescope, which has been the center of past protests led by Native Hawaiian groups at Mauna Kea. Although the board has a neutral stance, individual members may differ on whether the telescope should be built.

The competition for the at-large race narrowed to six from 11 candidates after the Aug. 13 primary election.

Waihee IV, the son of former Gov. John Waihee, has held his seat the longest on the board, serving over 20 years.

Souza, who unsuccessfully ran for an at-large seat in 2020, said he was happy about the results, noting that campaigning was difficult.

“It’s a name recognition thing and we know that,” Souza said in a phone interview, adding that the results from the primary election had motivated him to step up his campaign. “We did more TV commercials, radio ads and met with community leaders and visited all of the islands again because we realize this is statewide race.”

OHA, a semiautonomous state agency created in 1978, manages more than $600 million worth of assets on behalf of Native Hawaiians. The OHA elections are statewide, so anyone, including non-Native Hawaiians, can vote, after a 2000 U.S. Supreme Court ruling, Rice v. Cayetano, determined it was unconstitutional to limit OHA elections by ethnicity.

Something to consider...

Civil Beat is a small, independent newsroom that provides free content with no paywall. That means readership growth alone can’t sustain our journalism.

The truth is that less than 2% of our monthly readers are financial supporters. To remain a viable business model for local news, we need a higher percentage of readers-turned-donors.

Will you consider making a tax-deductible gift today?

About the Author