Hawaii Office of Hawaiian Affairs Board of Trustees election, 2022
The Office of Hawaiian Affairs (OHA) is a semi-autonomous government agency in Hawaii that works to improve conditions for Native Hawaiians. OHA trustees are elected to represent their constituencies and advocate for Hawaiian issues. In 2022, six of the nine OHA trustee seats were up for election, making it an important opportunity to shape OHA’s leadership. This article will provide background on OHA, overview key candidates in the 2022 elections, examine voter engagement, and analyze the results and implications for OHA’s future direction.
Background on OHA
What is OHA?
The Office of Hawaiian Affairs was established by an amendment to the state constitution in 1978. OHA is mandated to work for the betterment of Native Hawaiians in areas like health, education, economic development, and land management. The agency manages a trust fund with assets over $600 million used for community programs and initiatives.
OHA’s role and responsibilities
OHA focuses on improving conditions and advocating for Hawaii’s indigenous population. Its priorities include affordable housing, healthcare access, education, preserving Hawaiian culture and language, managing natural resources, and securing land for beneficiaries. OHA promotes Native Hawaiian self-determination and helps fund community non-profits.
How OHA trustees are elected
OHA is overseen by a 9-member board of trustees, elected to staggered 4-year terms. Three trustees are elected at-large across the state. The other six represent their resident islands – Hawaii, Maui, Oahu, Kauai/Niihau, Molokai/Lanai. Trustees must be Hawaiian and at least 18 years old.
2022 OHA Elections
Seats up for election
In the 2022 elections, the three at-large seats were up along with the Oahu, Maui, and Hawaii Island resident trustee seats. This gave voters a chance to significantly reshape OHA leadership.
Several high-profile candidates were vying for OHA seats in 2022.
For the at-large seats, incumbent trustees Leina’ala Ahu Isa, John Waihee IV, and Brickwood Galuteria ran for re-election. They were challenged by former NFL player Chad Owens, former state legislator Sam King, and activist Keoni Souza.
Island resident seats
On Hawaii Island, incumbent Kalei Akaka faced candidates Laura Acasio, Trinette Furtado, and Pua Ahn. For Maui, longtime trustee Carmen Hulu Lindsey was termed out, leaving an open seat contested by Ke’eaumoku Kapu, Claire Kamalu Carroll, and Noelani Ahia. Oahu’s race included incumbent Esther Kia’aina against Brickwood Galuteria and Paul Mossman.
Primary election results
In the August primary, Ahu Isa, Waihee, and Galuteria won the Democratic Party nominations for the at-large seats, while Owens, King, and Souza took the nonpartisan nominations. For the island seats, Akaka, Kapu, and Galuteria moved on in their respective races.
Issues and debates during campaigns
Key issues that emerged during the trustee campaigns included OHA spending practices, affordable housing, land management, building an independent Native Hawaiian nation, expanding education programs, and reforming the agency. There were divides between candidates focused on Hawaiian sovereignty versus pragmatism. Debates also centered on ensuring OHA transparency and responsible use of trust funds.
Voter Turnout and Engagement
Efforts to increase turnout
Heading into the election, there was a push to increase historically low OHA voter participation. OHA and other groups held voter registration drives and outreach campaigns to motivate turnout, especially among younger Hawaiians. Social media engagement and educational materials aimed to inform voters about candidates and issues. Mail-in and easy voter registration options also expanded accessibility.
Barriers to voting
However, persistent obstacles contributed to low turnout. Some Native Hawaiians resist participating in U.S. government systems on principle. Others face burdens like work and family commitments or transportation barriers. Disillusionment with politics, lack of competitive races, and ineffective OHA leadership have also fostered voter apathy historically. Insufficient voter education about the election process and OHA’s role also play a part.
Results and Implications
Winners and losers
In the general election, Brickwood Galuteria and Leina’ala Ahu Isa retained their at-large seats, while challenger Keoni Souza unseated incumbent John Waihee IV. For the island seats, Kalei Akaka and Ke’eaumoku Kapu prevailed in their respective races.
Impact on OHA
The mixed results mean both continuity and change on the OHA board. Retaining some seasoned trustees provides stability, while the addition of Souza and Kapu shakes up the dynamics. Their presence could put more focus on reforming OHA policies and spending. However, significant shifts in OHA’s direction are unlikely given the split outcome.
What results mean for Hawaii
In general, the election reinforced OHA’s role as an advocate for Native Hawaiians. Voters chose trustees who campaigned on expanding social programs and land rights while perpetuating Hawaiian culture. Support for trustees focused on building a self-governing Native entity indicates growing self-determination sentiment. Overall, Hawaiians hope OHA will continue elevating Hawaiian interests and cementing their indigenous identity.
New trustees’ priorities
The incoming trustees will need to follow through on their campaign promises to constituents. Their agendas center on programs supporting health care access, homesteading, early childhood education, language immersion schools, and small business grants. They also vow to address criticisms about OHA spending and management.
Ongoing issues to address
Challenges remain in areas like finalizing a fair settlement for assets taken from the Hawaiian trust, securing land for beneficiaries, establishing framework for a Native governing entity, improving conditions in Hawaiian communities, and boosting performance of public charter schools for Hawaiians.
Possibilities for reform
There is potential to implement reforms like performance metrics for trustees, greater transparency around expenditures, and updating investment policies. Some also advocate expanding OHA’s mandate beyond just Native Hawaiians to unify all of Hawaii’s people, while others want to limit OHA’s authority.
The 2022 OHA elections presented an opportunity to reshape leadership and direction. While wholesale changes didn’t occur given split results, new trustees will bring fresh perspectives. The races also highlighted the need to boost voter participation and engagement. Overall, OHA remains a flawed but vital organization advocating for Native Hawaiian rights and wellbeing. The new board must strive for judicious use of trust resources, good governance, and fulfilling OHA’s mission of bettering Hawaiian lives.
What is OHA responsible for?
OHA works to improve conditions for Native Hawaiians in areas like health care, education, housing, land management, and economic development. It manages a trust fund used for community programs.
How many OHA seats were up for election in 2022?
Six of the nine OHA trustee seats were up for election, including 3 at-large seats and 3 island representative seats. This gave voters significant power to reshape the board.
What were the key voter demographics?
OHA trustees are elected by Hawaiian voters, so increasing Native Hawaiian turnout was a priority. Groups like younger and less engaged Hawaiians were targeted.
Who won the at-large trustee seats?
Incumbents Brickwood Galuteria and Leina’ala Ahu Isa retained their seats, while challenger Keoni Souza unseated incumbent John Waihee IV.
What are the implications of the election results?
The mixed results mean some change but also continuity for OHA, with seasoned trustees remaining but newcomers also joining the board. Significant shifts in OHA’s direction are unlikely.