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OHA candidate guide

Our analysis of the candidates for OHA appearing in the primary election ballot, based on their responses to a questionnaire created by Ka Wai Ola.

Will Caron

This is the first year that there will be a primary election for trustees of the Office of Hawaiian Affairs. Traditionally, OHA trustees have been elected in a winner-take-all special election held in conjunction with the General Election. In 2013, the Hawai‘i Legislature changed the law to provide for a primary election to narrow the field for the general election. This election guide was created based on answers the candidates provided to a questionnaire created by Ka Wai Ola and covers candidates for Office of Hawaiian Affairs Trustees whose names will appear on the Primary Election ballot.

In the race for the O‘ahu trustee, the top two candidates will advance to the General Election, where one candidate will be selected. In the race for At-Large trustees, the top six candidates will advance to the General Election, where three candidates will be elected to fill those seats. However, if any one of the candidates receives more than 50 percent of the total votes cast in the Primary, he or she will automatically be elected and will not have to run in the General Election. In the Mau‘i seat, only two candidates are running and therefore will both automatically advance to the General Election. As a result, Ka Wai Ola’s candidate survey did not include responses from the two candidates, Mahealani Wendt and Carmen Hulu Lindsey, as they will not appear on the Primary Ballot.

We’ve summarized the candidates backgrounds, priorities and stance on sovereignty and OHA’s role as a facilitator to the that process and given each candidate a letter grade based on their ability to articulate their positions and on our analysis of their positions as a progressive newspaper.

O‘ahu Seats (top two will advance to general election)

Peter Apo: Apo brings a great deal of experience having sat on various boards and commissions for 30 years and having served as a state legislator for 12. His policy priorities center on outreach and education and he sees a need to collaborate with third parties who can deliver more cost-effective services in order to maximize OHA’s resources. He believes that the current investment portfolio has yielded impressive returns and investment strategy should not be altered.

On the issue of sovereignty, Apo bears in mind that the Hawaiian Kingdom was multicultural, and that it is therefore important to include non-Hawaiians in the dialog of moving toward an independent Hawaiian nation, as that goal “cannot happen without their [non-Hawaiian’s] support. Apo believes that a consortium of established native Hawaiian institutions with community roots should take the lead in developing a plan and constitution for a new government and that OHA should work with this group to transfer control of authority over Native Hawaiian assets based on the constitution. OHA’s administrative structure would be absorbed by the new government.

While Apo gives reasonable answers that make a great deal of sense, his biggest problem will be that he has been a part of an OHA board that has become more and more unpopular with its own constituents.

Jackie Kahookele Burke: Burke believes her entrepreneurship skill and planning capacity will be useful in “a wide area of decision-making policies,” but does not list examples. Burke believes that OHA should have the same status and power as the state legislature and should wield that power to regain lost revenue from ceded lands and from federal government and military use as a top priority. She believes that culture should be the foundation of OHA’s worldview. She also believes that the old OHA trustees should be removed as they have not served the Hawaiian people well.

On the issue of sovereignty, Burke strongly believes that entitlements from the federal government and recognition as a “tribe” is the wrong path to take. She suggests registering Hawaiians into political parties, not in rolls like Kanaiolowalu (which she refers to as a “monster”), and to accomplish this recommends a door-to-door approach of education. After sovereignty, she sees OHA becoming the administrative wing and asset manager of the new government. She believes the bottom of the organization would carry on its duties without much change, while the top level leaders like herself would yield to an elected body of Hawaiian representatives.

Burke’s biggest problem will be that she comes off as rather radical in her thinking and was aggressive in her answers. Her lack of board experience could be either a strength or a drawback, depending on who you ask, as could her aggressiveness toward the current board.

Christopher K.J. Lum Lee: Lee is the only Oahu Seat candidate who has served as an OHA employee and has experience working with other state agencies and policymakers. He is very number-oriented and lists concrete ideas to save the agency money and eliminate inefficiencies within the agency. He believes it is important to partner with as many organizations as possible in order to pool resources. He believes in thorough planning, preferring that an initiative be delayed than “start immediately only to realize that the planning was poorly done.” He rightly states that the “use it or lose it” mindset in budgeting needs to be re-thought, as it results in splurge-spending. Agencies that are frugal are punished with smaller budgets rather than rewarded for frugality. As trustee, he would push to change this attitude.

On the issue of sovereignty, Lee believes that federal recognition must come before complete independence, calling it a “walk before you can run” process. He is also concerned that, in the sovereignty discourse, the governing structure is given all the attention without much thought given to economic realities that an independent nation would have to deal with, such as importing and exporting goods.

Lee’s strength is that he is practical and efficient with a good eye for improving OHA’s assets. His stance on sovereignty may hurt him, however, as more and more Hawaiians seem to be against federal recognition.

C. Kamaleihaahaa Shigemasa: Shigemasa does not list any experience or skills other than to say that he brings fresh ideas and a new perspective. His priorities include assisting Hawaiians with housing needs, encouraging Hawaiian youth to attend college through outreach programs, developing in a way that is sustainable and giving all Hawaiians a voice in the sovereignty process. He says he would explore more ways to generate revenue, but does not list any.

On sovereignty, he believes that the process should be completely transparent and that all possibilities should be considered impartially. He believes OHA should have a neutral roll in the process but does not elaborate, and believes OHA should transfer all assets to the newly formed Hawaiian nation before being dissolved.

Shigemasa’s lack of solid examples of his ideas and failure to elaborate makes him seem unprepared for the job he is seeking. However, his promise to shake up the board with his new perspective may be appealing to some who are tired of the current direction of the board.

At Large Seats (top six advance to general election)

Leinaala Ahu Isa: Isa’s eight years of policy experience includes serving as a state representative and on the Board of Education (BOE); she also was a professor at Hawaii Pacific University. Her priority is quality education for Hawaiian children through public and charter schools. She cites her experiences living in public housing with her grandparents, who only spoke Hawaiian, and her experience as a single mother raising children while obtaining a Ph.D as important cornerstones to her perspective. She believes that OHA should be conservative in its investments and lists several interesting development ideas for ceded lands to generate additional revenue, including a “Pike’s Market” for local vendors and a “Hawaiian River Walk” to showcase culture and Hawaiian goods.

On sovereignty, she does not believe that Hawaiians are a “tribe” and says that the question of whether the Hawaiian Kingdom still exists must be answered. She believes OHA should be the entity to negotiate with the federal government and that once a Hawaiian government is established, OHA’s duties will have ended and may be dissolved.

Isa exudes a very personal approach and intimate style which may be appealing to some voters. Her sole focus on education may harm her chances but, as education is essential, a focused approach to achieving such an important goal could end up being a brilliant strategy. -

Rowena M.N. Akana: Akana is a veteran trustee with nearly 25 years worth of experience serving there. Her “priority” is a constant reevaluation of OHA priorities to ensure that they are still relevant. She says that her experience on the board will allow her to provide context and leadership within the organization and cites OHA’s growth while she has served as proof of her skill. She does not list specifics on how she would further OHA resources, but believes setting measurable goals with benchmarks is how such an increase in resources would be garnered. She believes that OHA’s land holdings should see limited development only.

On sovereignty, she believes that reestablishing a governing entity is essential and refers to the overthrow as a great calamity. An independent nation “would mean a brighter future for our young keiki,” she states. She advocates taking back ceded lands to strengthen an economic base in preparation for independence. She believes that being able to offer good jobs to native Hawaiians in order to prevent them from continuing the trend of diaspora is crucial to the success of such an independent nation. She believes that OHA’s role will be to pass on the assets and knowledge it has accumulated over the past 30 years to the new governing body.

Her presence on the board for so long could come off as a negative, but her experience could also be very valuable. Her stance on sovereignty and on ending Hawaiian diaspora will likely be very well received.

Kelii Akina: Akina says his priority would be ending OHA’s current “race-based, sovereign nation-building scheme,” as it is dividing Hawaiians from non-Hawaiians. He believes the native-Hawaiian roll must be exposed as a scheme to create an Indian-style tribe so that a small number of “tribal leaders will gain rights to immense landholdings.” He states that Hawaiians have shows their overwhelming rejection of the roll and that the roll wastes resources that should be used to create housing, jobs, education and health care for Hawaiians instead. He strongly believes that the first order of business should be reforming OHA to truly serve Hawaiians and all people in Hawaii. Akina emphasizes that he is both a proud Hawaiian and a proud citizen of the U.S. and says that race-based sovereignty is a mistake. He too cites the fact that citizens of the Hawaiian Kingdom could be of any race.

Akina lists his 30 years of experience as a trustee and as a director of local, regional and national nonprofit boards as a major plus and states that he has a profound ability to understand relationships between different groups of people and to help bring different groups together as a result, “something that is essential for OHA to chart a course for Hawaiians.” His education centered on ethics, which he believes should be a strong cornerstone for all OHA trustees. He believes that trustees should have a smaller role in actual asset management, and should return to policy setting; asset managing decisions should not be subject to political considerations.

Akina’s experience, strong stance on sovereignty, clear articulation of his goals and priorities, and emphasis on ethics, transparency and reform of the OHA board will be widely appealing to many voters. His statement that actual asset management should be handled by the professionals hired by the board is fairly unparalleled among the candidates who generally feel that the board should have more oversight in these managements.

Laura Lahilahi Desoto-Mccollough: Mccollough has worked as a councilor for native Hawaiians and has experience addressing many of the disparities Hawaiians face, including in education, health, socio-economics, the judicial system and in family issues. She believes to be successful, OHA needs to the input of the Hawaiian people. She would prioritize the implementation of programs that address these disparities and would hire young, talented Hawaiians to ensure the success of these programs. She also believes that a return to cultural practices such as sustainable agriculture. She says better planning is required in asset management.

On sovereignty she does not provide a clear stance of her own, but says she will support whatever the majority of Hawaiians want. She again emphasizes listening to the voice of the people.

Her experience on the ground dealing with disparities faced by Native Hawaiians could yield an important and currently lacking perspective among the board of trustees, but her failure to articulate a stance on sovereignty could hurt her chances.

Jeremy Kama Hopkins: Cites his experience as a former Hawaiian Homes Commissioner as important in making prudent decisions as a policymaker with regards to managing land assets. He believes that OHA’s current long-term focus should be balanced out with more short-term priorities that will help Hawaiians in the immediate future with regards to education, health care and housing. He would also prioritize finding new ways of increasing OHA’s asset wealth.

On sovereignty, he believes that whichever path (independence or federal recognition) will provide the best opportunities for health, education, housing security and economic prosperity should be followed,  but does not state which he believes to be better. He believes OHA should remain neutral as it is a state-created agency.

His emphasis on providing measurable gains for OHA’s beneficiaries will be attractive to voters, but his lack of real stance on sovereignty may hurt him. His experience as a Hawaiian Homes Commissioner may be a benefit or a drawback, depending on who you talk to.

Leona Mapuana Kalima: Kalima has worked for OHA for more than 19 years and claims to know its
“pros and cons.” She cites her compassion for the elderly, the homeless, the downtrodden and widows and orphans, along with her strong faith in “the one true God” as strengths. She also claims to “be in the know” by “living on a limited income and doing more with less.” Her priorities would include a possible 10 percent reduction in OHA expenditures to fund Work Ready and other training programs for trade professions. She would staunchly oppose cuts to programs that directly benefit Hawaiians. She would put a stop to “frivolous spending” and would seek partnerships with entrepreneurs like Larry Ellison, Bill Gates and Oprah to create strategies for new revenue sources. She provides significant analysis of past OHA successes and failures as well as deals such as Kakaako Makai.

On sovereignty, she believes it is “120 years overdue” and says that infighting and manipulation have held the Hawaiian nation in captive bondage. Kalima believes that OHA must invite national and international experts to discuss options in accordance with the wishes of the Hawaiian community; “an informed, educated and passionate people are our nation’s assets.” She believes OHA will have a changing but lasting role in a new nation.

Though not as a board member, her experience working for OHA is well-demonstrated in her analysis of OHA since its inception and her critique of Kakaako development. Her stance on sovereignty will likely be popular. Her emphasis on religion will be popular with some and unpopular with others.

T. Keikialoha Kekipi: Founder of a nonprofit and a public charter school, Kekipi says these initiatives took a deep understanding of how to work with others collaboratively. His priorities would include the perpetuation of Hawaiian values, community-based education and proper management of cultural resources. He cites his understanding of the value of Laulima—working together—as a major strength in seeking partnerships that would strengthen OHA’s resources.

On the issue of sovereignty, he firmly believes that full restoration of the Hawaiian Kingdom is in order, but believes the process is a lengthy one that requires rational examination of every step along the way. He asks how we will feed ourselves once independent and how we will be prosperous while sustainable, for example. OHA’s role will be as a servant to the people, facilitating its needs.

His emphasis on culturally appropriate practices will be popular, and his experience with managing a charter school could prove very useful, but his lack of concrete answers on the role of OHA and on his priorities make it hard to tell how effective he would be.

Kealii Makekau: Makekau lobbied for Act 287, the law that has resulted in this, the first OHA primary election, and advocates OHA’s independence from legislative interference. Though he possess no actual board experience, he claims to be known as “the 10th trustee” for his persistence in attending OHA meetings and for his participation in OHA matters as a member of the public. His priorities would be to withdraw OHA from a pro-federal recognition stance to a neutral one as the roll has been “a financial nightmare,” increased oversight of OHA’s real estate management, greater enforcement of ethics standards for trustees and the creation of term limits for trustees.

On sovereignty, he believes in the reinstatement of the rightful Hawaiian government and views Hawaii as being wrongfully occupied. He seeks the formation of a constitutional government with complete independence and believes OHA should facilitate open elections where Hawaiians will elect representatives to a new governing body.

His lobbying for the OHA primary election was admirable, but his lack of actual real-world experience and belief that attending meetings regularly “is the kind of skill set and quality [he] brings,” as well as his exclusion of non-Hawaiians from any sort of electoral process for an independent Hawaiian nation will be unpopular with many, despite being pro-sovereignty.

Harvey McInerny: Currently a trustee for the King William Charles Lunalilo Trust and has worked as a financial adviser for 27 years. His priorities would be increasing returns on OHA’s investments to increase the value of the 5 percent of the portfolio that is mandated to be spent on social programs.

On sovereignty, he believes in finding common ground between all stakeholders and advocates for a government-to-government relationship via federal recognition, but believes this recognition will not jeopardize international recognition as a sovereign nation. He believes that after a new nation is formed, in conjunction with federal recognition, OHA—as a state agency—will have to hand over its power and assets but could still exist in an advisory role.

McInerny’s experience as an asset manager of a trust that has seen growth in the past eight years could be very useful. But his narrow focus on the numbers and increasing OHA’s investment portfolio, coupled with his belief in federal recognition will likely be unpopular with voters who will likely associate his stances with the current, unpopular board of trustees.

Landen D.K.K. Paikai: Paikai cites his experiences and growth from hard times (including “homelessness, diabetes, incarceration, drug use, death and obesity”) as great teachers and motivators. He has worked in various industries and claims to have a broad understanding of the needs of workers. His priorities would be to “familiarize himself” with current OHA policies; maintaining those that work and eliminating those that do not. He says he would ensure that money is not spent frivolously and that accountability and transparency are maximized.

On sovereignty, he believes that any steps toward it must be taken by the people, and not OHA, which he says is merely an asset trustee.

While his honesty and different life experience from that of any trustee is admirable and could indeed provide the board with a useful perspective, his seeming lack of knowledge of OHA’s current policy and operating budget, his lack of experience as either an administrator or a board member, his lack of higher education and his failure to state his stance on sovereignty will be difficult obstacles for him to overcome. He is a true underdog in this race.

Alona N. Quartero: No responses given.

Lorraine Pualani Shin-Penn: Penn has a background in business management and was a prior state director of U.S. Department of Agriculture Rural Development, bringing in $1 billion over seven years to develop housing, medical centers, community facilities, rural utilities and business guarantee loans in Hawaii, American Samoa and the Western Pacific. She would revue OHA’s financials, evaluate their assets and collaborate with outside experts to strategize increased revenue for OHA. She cites previous developments she helped create that increased community income.

On sovereignty, Penn states she is registered for both Kau Inoa and Kanaiolowalu and even asked to be appointed to the Special Committee for Kanaiolowalu. She notes that many appear against this process “of establishing a Hawaiian nation” and therefore believes “we are at a standstill as a Hawaiian Nation.”

Penn’s emphasis on development and portfolio returns will likely be unpopular as it seems in-line with current unpopular board policies. On top of this, her seeming belief that the roles are the only option for establishing a sovereign nation and failure to recognize other options as valid appears narrow-minded and will likely be unpopular with voters.

Mililani B. Trask: A trained attorney, Trask believes that OHA “needs an attorney on its board” to help keep the agency in line with its fiduciary obligations. She cites the frequent use of executive sessions to conduct public business as an example of OHA’s bad legal practices and lack of transparency. She says that there have been instances where the OHA board has been misled or manipulated by their legal council as well. Her priorities would be amending policies to ensure the best investment advisers will be hired to review portfolio investments and guide the agency in making good choices, citing the Kakaako Settlement (which she calls a “fiasco”) as an example of a bad investment that occurred because trustees signed off without actually reviewing the relevant documents.

Trask strongly believes in reestablishing a Hawaiian nation and in resisting any state or federal effort to imose an “American Indian model” via rolls and federal recognition. She cites grass-roots nation building, educational programs and the drafting of a constitution as self-determining alternatives to the American process and believes OHA should act as a facilitator in the creation of an elected body of Hawaiians to steer the process. OHA should help fund this process, should the Hawaiian people vote for independence via plebiscite.

Trask’s perspective as a lawyer would be an asset to a board which often mires itself in controversy as a result of poor legal decisions. Her pro-sovereignty stance is rooted in international law. Her one drawback is a seeming lack of inclusion of non-Hawaiians in this process, which may be unpopular with voters.

John D. Waihee: Waihee has been a trustee for the past 13 years and chaired the Committee on Beneficiary Advocacy and Empowerment and cites this experience as putting him in a position to effectively advocate for Hawaiians. His priorities would be to create guidelines to balance OHA’s real estate portfolio and investment policy. He would monitor and evaluate policies to ensure they are efficient and effective, but does not specify. He also believes that usage of land and water in Hawaii must be considerate and that development must be appropriate but, again does not cite specific ideas.

On sovereignty, Waihee believes OHA should facilitate the organization of a the Native Hawaiian Roll and “allow the assembly that emerges from it to take on” the task of reestablishing a Hawaiian nation.

Waihee’s lack of specific ideas and focus on a general enhancement of OHA’s portfolio through non-specific development and investment opportunities seems in-line with the current, unpopular board position, which makes his 13 years on the board a potential drawback for him. His support of the roll initiatives will likewise be unpopular.

Hina Wong-Kalu: Kalu has served as cultural and spiritual director for a public charter school, is the current chair of the Oahu Island Burial Council and has “navigate[d] both school [and] council, as well as the larger body of the Hawaiian community through very contentious waters.” Her priority would include the forging of policy instituting a comprehensive educational campaign to empower both Native Hawaiians and non-Hawaiian community members on all the possible paths toward sovereignty, rather than just federal recognition: “Kanaka and non-Hawaiians all deserve the opportunity to determine through sound educational forums the potential for Hawaii’s political future.” Kalu believes that the ability to work with all stakeholders, particularly the Alii Trusts, is key to OHA’s success in providing benefits for Hawaiians.

Kalu believes that engaging both proponents of the roll initiatives and full independence is crucial to facilitating conversations that will move the entire Hawaii community, together, toward sovereignty. She believes in an education-based analysis of the pros and cons of both primary paths and believes OHA can and should be a key player in this effort.

Kalu’s emphasis on educating and on inclusion will likely be very popular with voters despite her non-commitment to either the roll initiatives or full independence. She is the only candidate who was able to successfully articulate a middle ground that includes both without sounding like she was avoiding the question. Her belief that she would serve primarily as a cultural liaison and not as an asset manager may be a drawback, however, for voters who gravitate more toward number-oriented candidates.

Wes Kaiwi Nui Yoon: Yoon has a background in architecture, with a focus on environmentally friendly design. He states that the environment will play an increasing role in shaping decisions and governance. He has “augmented [his] architecture, development and construction background” with “historic preservation, land conservation and renewable energy” allowing him to balance commerce with culture; capital with conservation; and “money [with] mana.” His priorities would be creating policies to better manage land holdings, implementation of a defined sustainability within policy, increasing business vehicles that build on OHA competencies within energy, government contracting and construction sectors and a re-examination of trustee service terms to increase trustee compliance with fiduciary duties.

On sovereignty, Yoon believes that “economic sovereignty” will need to come hand-in-hand with whatever form of political sovereignty the people choose and that OHA should be developing models of economic sovereignty. OHA should continue efforts to seek “political clarity” and realize strategic partnerships to gain added insight and experience in nation-building.

Yoon’s background in sustainable development and focus on economic growth for Hawaii could be very useful to OHA and his specific analysis of OHA’s land holdings demonstrate a working knowledge of these issues. However, his failure to actually address his stance on sovereignty and his tendency to use wonkish industry terminology in explaining his point may leave voters confused as to what he actually stands for, both in sovereignty and in development. He does not mention social programs for Hawaiians either, but zeros in on portfolio management.