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Ikaika Anderson withdraws nomination to lead Hawaiian Home Lands

ikaika anderson DHHL
Office of Gov. Josh Green
Ikaika Anderson speaks at a joint press conference at the Hawaiʻi State Capitol on Feb. 15, 2023, where he announced his nomination withdrawal.
Updated: February 15, 2023 at 4:15 PM HST
Ikaika Anderson withdrew his nomination to head the Department of Hawaiian Home Lands on Wednesday after the Senate Hawaiian Affairs Committee voted 4-1 against his nomination one day prior.

A key Senate committee rejected the nomination of former Honolulu City Councilmember Ikaika Anderson to lead the state Department of Hawaiian Home Lands. Anderson withdrew his nomination on Wednesday.

"After careful consideration after yesterday’s Senate Hawaiian Affairs Committee, Gov. Green, mahalo for the opportunity to serve my Native Hawaiian people whose heart I’ve always worn on my sleeve," Anderson said at a press conference. "I respectfully ask that you please withdraw my nomination effective immediately."

After more than five hours of testimony on Tuesday, the committee voted 4-1 against recommending Anderson to head the department.

"At this point, we’ve heard from senators feeling misled, commissioners feeling misrepresented and beneficiaries who have reached out to us feeling ignored," said Sen. Jarett Keohokalole of Oʻahu, who voted against the nomination.

Sen. Tim Richards of Hawaiʻi Island was the sole "yes" vote.

At the hearing, senators grilled Anderson on his plan — or lack thereof — for spending the $600 million lawmakers approved for DHHL last year.

Anderson caused confusion earlier this year when he announced that he would be deviating from a spending plan previously approved by the Hawaiian Homes Commission, and instead presented a new five-point plan.

"I wasn’t looking to deviate. Deviate is the wrong word. That’s on me. But at the same time, I don’t view my five-point plan as a departure from the existing plan because I’ve specifically stated the existing plan is going to be used as a foundation," Anderson said.

Anderson added that he plans to maximize the commission's plan to develop 2,700 homestead lots statewide.

Former DHHL Director Kali Watson, now head of Hawaiʻi Community Development, came to Anderson’s defense.

"It was very clear to me that he was very open to hearing how the funds could be leveraged, how other funding sources could be incorporated in order to build more than the 2,700 that they’re looking at," Watson said.

Anderson’s supporters were largely made up of political heavyweights including former governors and lawmakers, developer interests and homestead leaders.

Supporters praised his experience in Honolulu land use and zoning laws as well as his willingness to listen.

William Aila.JPG
Hawaiʻi State Senate
Former DHHL director William Ailā Jr. testifies against Ikaika Anderson on Feb. 14, 2023.

But those who opposed the nomination included former DHHL director William Ailā Jr., who questioned whether Anderson’s loyalties to Gov. Josh Green may conflict with his fiduciary duties.

"You can serve the governor, but you also have to serve the trust because the trust has to be here for beneficiaries today, tomorrow, 100 years from now," Ailā said. "And the actions that have been demonstrated so far clearly represent someone who doesn’t understand the fiduciary duties. It sometimes means you have to say 'no' to the governor."

Green had a stinging reaction to the committee's rejection of his nominee.

“Past governors, mayors and people from all across Hawai‘i came to testify in a large majority in favor of giving Ikaika Anderson a chance to help build houses for the Hawaiian community, but sadly the committee didn’t listen to them," he said in a statement.

“Instead, they chose to side with the last director that was unable to deliver housing and left the department with about 50% of its staff positions vacant. We need to change if we hope to get better results," Green continued. “The people elected us to take on problems like the housing shortage, affordability and homelessness, not to play politics. Today the people lost.”

Anderson will stay on as the acting director of the department until Green can find a suitable replacement.

HPR's Kuʻuwehi Hiraishi breaks down this story with Catherine Cruz
The Conversation - Feb. 16, 2023

Kuʻuwehi Hiraishi is a general assignment reporter at Hawaiʻi Public Radio. Her commitment to her Native Hawaiian community and her fluency in ʻōlelo Hawaiʻi has led her to build a de facto ʻōiwi beat at the news station. Send your story ideas to her at khiraishi@hawaiipublicradio.org.
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