Machado Ousted In OHA Race, Pro-Transparency Candidate Elected
Office of Hawaiian Affairs trustee Colette Machado was voted out of office Tuesday, after more than 24 years on the job.
This could mean some big changes, not only for Moloka?i and L?na?i – the two islands she represents – but for the overall direction of the OHA Board of Trustees.
Hawai?i voters chose political newcomer and former beauty queen Luana Alapa to replace Machado. Alapa says she was ecstatic when she heard the news and she hasn’t been able to sleep since.
"Being a brand new candidate and going up against an incumbent and sitting chairwoman – that was huge. So we knew what we were up against but I think the theme for people was change," Alapa said.
She campaigned for greater transparency and accountability in OHA spending. A 2019 audit of OHA found as much as $7.8 million in potentially fraudulent, wasteful, or abusive spending.
"A lot of negative fallout has happened because things aren’t, you know, transparent. This is a public state agency, by the way, it’s not a Hawaiian entity. It’s a state agency that serves Hawaiian people. We have a right to understand where the monies are going."
Alapa defeated Machado by nearly 39,000 votes. Healani Sonoda-Pale, an analyst with political action committee Ka L?hui Hawai?, says she isn?t surprised.
"What it tells us is what’s more concerning for kanaka maoli this year is how well OHA manages the finances and because of the audit that have been scathing...it has affected this election. At a time when we are in an economic crunch, money matters," she said.
OHA began nearly 40 years ago with a mission of improving the condition of native Hawaiians.
The state agency is led by a nine-member board, which oversees a trust worth an estimated $600 million.
Sonoda-Pale says Alapa is somewhat of a political unknown but that could actually be an asset.
"Hopefully, kanaka maoli will feel comfortable approaching her with their issues because you don’t have someone so entrenched in the system," she said.
Joining Alapa will be OHA employee Keola Lindsey, who defeated Mauna Kea activist Lanakila Manguil for the Hawai?i Island trustee seat.
OHA incumbent Keli?i Akina, a strong advocate for fiscal oversight, held on to his seat as trustee-at-large in a close race with challenger Keoni Souza.
A key to success for.candidates in the OHA race was an ability to mobilize the non-Hawaiian vote, said K?hi? Lewis, president and CEO of the Council for Native Hawaiian Advancement.
"There are more people casting ballots in an OHA election than there are Hawaiians. Again, I think it’s encouraging that civic engagement was out the roof," Lewis said. "But for native communities who use the state process to also elect their leadership – it puts things into perspective that you
don’t really control the outcome of...elections that impact your trust, your Hawaiian agency."
OHA trustees are all publicly elected to serve four-year terms.
CORRECTION: A previous version of this story incorrectly spelled the first name of Colette Machado. HPR regrets the error.