Name Recognition, Blank Votes Dominate OHA Races

Aug 13, 2018

Nearly two dozen candidates for the Office of Hawaiian Affairs' races appear on the ballot this Primary Election.
Credit Ku'uwehi Hiraishi

Blank votes and name recognition were the themes of the Office of Hawaiian Affairs races this Primary Election. Ten candidates are still in the running for five seats on the OHA Board of Trustees. HPR Reporter Kuʻuwehi Hiraishi has this story.

If there was a race Hawaiʻi voters did not vote in this Primary Election, it would be that of the Office of Hawaiian Affairs. More than half a million blank votes were tallied in OHA races this past Saturday – more than any other race on the ballot.

More than a half a million blank votes were cast in the OHA races this Primary Election.
Credit Ku'uwehi Hiraishi

For those who did vote, it was all about familiar names. Annelle Amaral is President of the Association of Hawaiian Civil Clubs.

“You know the top vote getters are still incumbents,” says Amaral, “So there will still be continuity but maybe we’ll get some young blood in there too. That’ll be good.”

Much of the campaign rhetoric this season revolved around restoring trust to the state agency, whose mission is to provide for the betterment of the conditions of native Hawaiians. That’s why Amaral says she was shocked to see OHA Trustees John Waiheʻe IV, Lei Ahu Isa, and Rowena Akana with the most votes in the race for OHA’s three At-Large seats.

Office of Hawaiian Affairs Trustees. From left to right: Dan Ahuna (Kaua'i & Ni'ihau), Lei Ahu Isa (At-Large), Bob Lindsey (Hawai'i), Rowena Akana (At-Large), Keli'i Akina (At-Large), and Carmen Hulu Lindsey (Maui & Lana'i). Missing are Moloka'i Trustee Colette Machado, O'ahu Trustee Peter Apo, and At-Large Trustee John Waihe'e IV.
Credit Kai Markell

“I was surprised and everyone else that we talked to was surprised,” says William Ailā, Jr.

Ailā, deputy director of the Department of Hawaiian Home Lands, a recognizable political figure himself came in fourth in the At-Large race.

“What it shows is you know all of us candidates need to do a better job of getting the message out,” says Ailā.

William Aila, Jr., Esther Kia'aina, and supporters sign wave in downtown Honolulu.
Credit Ku'uwehi Hiraishi

The top six vote getters in the At-Large race go on to the General. That includes Ailā, former state legislator Faye Hanohano, Hawaiian Civil Club leader Brendon Kaleiʻāina Lee and the three incumbents.

In the Oʻahu Trustee race, Kalei Akaka, granddaugther of the late Senator Daniel Akaka, suprised everyone by finishing on top with 15.7 percent of the votes.

Kalei Akaka came out on top in the O'ahu Trustee race after Primary Election night. Akaka is the granddaughter of the late Senator Daniel Akaka. She will face veteran government official Esther Kia'aina in the General Election.
Credit Facebook

“Because of the name recognition and legacy of Senator Akaka, I was not surprised,” says veteran government official Esther Kiaʻāina.

Kiaʻāina finised second, trailing Akaka by a little more than 5,000 votes.

“Name recognition is important but I think the fact that we fared well in the Primary Election reveals to me that our message of change for OHA has been received,” says Kiaʻāina.

Kiaʻāina and Akaka will face off in the General Election. Also on the ballot in November will be taro farmer and community leader Keʻeaumoku Kapu who looks to unseat Maui trustee Carmen Hulu Lindsey.