William Aila, the acting director of the Department of Hawaiian Home Lands since May, secured a recommendation from a key senate panel Thursday to make his position permanent.

Members of the Senate Hawaiian Affairs Committee voted quickly, in stark contrast to the more than seven-hour hearing that Aila and his deputy, Tyler Gomes, faced last week. Gomes was also recommended to stay as deputy director. 

Sens. Kurt Fevella and Kai Kahele voted no, while Sens. Maile Shimabukuro, the chair of the Hawaiian Affairs Committee, Jarrett Keohokalole and Les Ihara voted yes.

DHHL William Aila during Senate Hawaiian Affairs Committee meeting.
A senate panel recommended DHHL Director William Aila stay in his positon. Cory Lum/Civil Beat

Aila and Gomes must still clear a vote by the full 25-member Senate to keep their jobs. Both would stay on until the end of Gov. David Ige’s term in 2022.

Neither Aila nor Gomes made any statements after the vote as the committee moved straight into a previously scheduled hearing.

Ige expressed his confidence that Aila would get the necessary votes to keep his position in a meeting earlier this week with the Civil Beat editorial board.

“He’s a homesteader,” Ige said. “I think he understands the challenges of the agency.”

Aila and Gomes are in charge of a department tasked with managing over 200,000 acres of trust lands set aside for homesteading by Native Hawaiians. However, there are still more than 28,000 on a waitlist for those lands.

The trust was first established by Congress almost 100 years ago through the Hawaiian Homes Commission Act, which was pushed forward by a delegation from the Republic of Hawaii led by Prince Jonah Kuhio Kalanianaole.

Only Ihara spoke prior to the vote, saying that time will tell if his vote was the correct one. He also called on advocates for beneficiaries to speak out if they feel DHHL is not listening to them.

“It’s my job to be as best a judge of someone as possible,” Ihara said of Aila. “That’s just the business.”

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