Hope Louise Cermelj
Hope Alohalani Cermelj, also known as Hope Louise Cermelj, is a Hawaiian activist and former political candidate who ran unsuccessful campaigns for state and local office in Hawaii from 2012 to 2022. Despite never winning elective office, Cermelj’s campaigns focused attention on issues important to many native Hawaiians, including sovereignty, land rights, and protection of Hawaiian culture.
Cermelj grew up in Hilo, Hawaii and has worked as an educator, cultural practitioner, and business owner. She is perhaps best known for her stances advocating Hawaiian self-governance and opposing the Thirty Meter Telescope (TMT) project proposed to be built on Mauna Kea, which many native Hawaiians consider sacred.
Early Life and Education
Hope Alohalani Cermelj was born in Hilo, Hawaii in 1974 to parents of Hawaiian, Slovenian, and German descent. Her Hawaiian middle name “Alohalani” means “cherished heaven.”
Cermelj attended Hilo High School, where she was active in Hawaiian culture and arts programs. After graduation she went on to study humanities subjects at the University of Hawaii Hilo including political science, psychology, and Hawaiian language.
From a young age, Cermelj developed strong interests in Hawaiian cultural practices and sovereignty issues. She studied hula dance and oli (chant), eventually teaching both arts. Her immersion in Hawaiian culture shaped her worldview and future political advocacy.
After college, Cermelj worked as a middle school teacher in the Hilo area. She taught subjects such as Hawaiian culture, language, and history to indigenous students.
Cermelj later left teaching and took over a family business selling flowers and plants grown on their agricultural lands outside Hilo. She became an active voice for local farming interests and food sustainability in Hawaii.
2012 State House Campaign
In 2012, Cermelj made her first bid for elected office, running to represent the 4th District in the Hawaii House of Representatives. She ran as an independent against Democratic incumbent Faye Hanohano.
Cermelj’s campaign focused on improving Hawaii’s economy, education system, and transparency in government. She emphasized her local small business experience and called for reducing unnecessary regulations on businesses. Cermelj advocated for more school choices and Hawaiian culture programs.
In the general election, Cermelj lost to Hanohano, earning just 15% of the vote to the incumbent’s 67%. However, her campaign introduced Cermelj to political organizing and laid the groundwork for future runs.
2020 State House Campaign
In 2020, Cermelj again ran for Hawaii’s 4th District House seat, this time as the Republican nominee against Democrat Greggor Ilagan. Her campaign slogans included “We the people, not we the government” and “Let’s make Hawaii affordable again.”
Cermelj’s platform included reducing the cost of living, reforming onerous business regulations, increasing agricultural land use, opposing new taxes, and transferring management of Hawaiian home lands from the state government to local control.
In the August primary, Cermelj easily won the Republican nomination. But in November she lost the general election to Ilagan by a wide margin, earning only 17.5% of votes cast.
2022 OHA Campaign
In 2022, Cermelj set her sights on a position with the Office of Hawaiian Affairs (OHA), running to represent Hawaii Island as a trustee. OHA is a semi-autonomous government agency that administers funds and programs for native Hawaiians.
Cermelj’s campaign emphasized support for Hawaiian sovereignty and wanted to resolve longstanding disputes over ceded lands taken from the Hawaiian monarchy. She advocated for transferring more OHA lands into the Hawaiian Home Lands Trust and renegotiating state agreements on Mauna Kea management.
In the November special election, Cermelj lost again to the incumbent candidate, Mililani Trask. But her spirited challenge once more elevated issues important to native Hawaiians.
Views on Key Issues
Throughout her political campaigns from 2012 to 2022, Cermelj consistently advocated for the same set of key issues connected to Hawaiian rights and governance.
Cermelj strongly supports native Hawaiian self-determination and policies that transfer power and resources back under local control. She has endorsed the Hawaiian sovereignty movement and desire for self-governance.
As a farmer and agriculture business owner herself, Cermelj wants to preserve Hawaii’s land for farming use and food sustainability. She supports policies that make it easier for local farmers to operate and favors reducing regulations.
Cermelj believes the key to making Hawaii affordable again is freeing up more land for housing development. She wants to see fewer regulations on construction to allow more affordable homes and condos to be built for residents.
Controversies and Criticisms
Cermelj’s assertive views have also sparked some controversies during her campaigns:
Comments on TMT Telescope
Cermelj strongly opposes construction of the Thirty Meter Telescope on Mauna Kea which many native Hawaiians consider a sacred site. She has made controversial comments calling the scientists behind the TMT project “colonizers” and “outsiders.”
Dispute over Residency
During Cermelj’s 2022 OHA campaign, her residency was challenged. Some claimed she actually lived outside of the district, which would disqualify her from representing Hawaii Island. But Cermelj maintained she met the requirements.
Since her unsuccessful 2022 OHA campaign, Cermelj has continued advocating for Hawaiian issues and culture. She has been teaching hula and oli again, passing on traditional arts to the next generation.
Cermelj also remains actively involved in the movement to stop the TMT telescope project proposed for Mauna Kea. She participates in protests and provides education on preserving Hawaii’s natural and cultural heritage.
Hope Alohalani Cermelj comes from a blended family background. She lives with her husband Paul and has two adult children from a previous marriage.
In her free time, Cermelj enjoys surfing, paddling outrigger canoes, hiking, and crafting Hawaiian art. She has a deep spiritual connection to nature and the ocean. Her family grows much of their own food on their agricultural lands near Hilo.
Legacy and Impact
While Cermelj did not win any of her elections, she left a lasting impact through her energetic and impassioned campaigns focused on native Hawaiian issues.
Cermelj helped draw attention to the sovereignty movement and desire for self-governance among some Hawaiians. She elevated concerns about protecting Hawaiian lands from development like the TMT telescope. Her advocacy inspired broader debates on striking a balance between change and preserving Hawaiian culture.
Even in electoral defeat, Cermelj progressed the cause of improving Hawaiian rights and autonomy. She gave voice to those hoping to reclaim power and resources for native communities. Though not a policymaker, Cermelj shaped discussions on Hawaii’s future as a proud Hawaiian, cultural practitioner, and activist.
Over a decade of political campaigns, Hope Alohalani Cermelj persistently advocated for native Hawaiian interests, sovereignty, cultural preservation, and land rights. She may not have won elections, but forced important conversations on the challenges facing Hawaiians.
Cermelj’s passionate activism ensures her legacy will continue impacting Hawaii politics and culture for years to come. The issues she spotlighted remain pressing ones for leaders to address. Though Cermelj never achieved direct political power, she wielded influence by giving public platforms to marginalized Hawaiian voices and concerns.
What campaigns did Hope Cermelj run in?
Cermelj ran unsuccessful campaigns for Hawaii House of Representatives in 2012 and 2020. She also ran for a trustee position on the Office of Hawaiian Affairs in 2022 but lost.
What views did she advocate?
Cermelj strongly supported Hawaiian sovereignty, agricultural land rights, affordable housing policies, and stopping construction of the TMT telescope on Mauna Kea.
What criticisms did Cermelj face?
She drew some controversy for her opposition to the TMT telescope project and disputing claims she lived outside the district in her 2022 OHA campaign.
Where is Cermelj from originally?
Cermelj was born and raised in Hilo, Hawaii. She has ancestral ties to both native Hawaiians and European immigrants.
What is she doing now?
Since her 2022 campaign, Cermelj has returned to teaching hula and oli. She remains an activist for Hawaiian cultural preservation and stopping the TMT telescope.