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Office of Hawaiian Affairs 2022 election: Here's what to expect

office of hawaiian affairs OHA 2022 election
Hawaiʻi Public Radio
Hawaiʻi Public Radio
FILE - Candidates for the Office of Hawaiian Affairs on the 2022 primary election ballot.

Six of the nine seats on the Office of Hawaiian Affairs Board of Trustees are up for election this year. This includes three at-large seats and one seat each for Oʻahu, Maui, and Hawaiʻi Island. Here’s a brief overview of what to expect.

OHA Board of Trustees

So, what is OHA anyway? The Office of Hawaiian Affairs grew out of organized efforts in the 1970s to right past wrongs suffered by Native Hawaiians. OHA’s mission is to improve the conditions of Native Hawaiians through a variety of programs and services related to education, health care, housing and more.

OHA is a semi-autonomous state agency funded by income from land taken during the overthrow of the Hawaiian Kingdom — land known as public trust lands. It is governed by a nine-member Board of Trustees elected by all Hawaiʻi residents, and not just Native Hawaiians.

Catherine Cruz/Hawaii Public Radio

Four of the nine positions are designated as at-large seats representing the state as a whole, while the other five trustees represent each of the following districts: Hawaiʻi Island, Maui, Molokaʻi and Lānaʻi, Oʻahu, and Kauaʻi and Niʻihau.

Trustees are elected to four-year terms, and there is no limit on the number of terms a trustee may serve.

The Board of Trustees is responsible for setting OHA policy and managing the agency’s endowment, including financial, commercial, and legacy land assets. The board meets regularly at the agency’s headquarters in Honolulu, and at least once annually on each of the major islands.

Voting for OHA

Prior to 2000, OHA trustees were elected solely by Native Hawaiian voters in the State of Hawai’i. The U.S. Supreme Court decision in the 2000 Rice v. Cayetano case ruled that restricting voting in these races to Native Hawaiians was unconstitutional.

While voting for OHA candidates may be a right, it’s not a custom. In the 2020 primary election, there were more blank votes cast in OHA races than actual votes. Blank votes and name recognition have been dominant factors in determining the winner.

On the 2022 primary election ballot, you will not see OHA races for Maui and Hawaiʻi Island. That’s because the OHA Trustee for Maui Island, Carmen Hulu Lindsey, is running unopposed and will be declared duly and legally elected without appearing on the primary or general election ballots. On Hawaiʻi Island, interim OHA trustee Mililani Trask and challenger Hope Cermelj are the only two candidates in the race and will go straight to the general election ballot.

All candidates run statewide elections. So no matter where in Hawaiʻi you reside, you can vote for candidates seeking to represent the other islands.

Candidates for OHA in 2022 Primary Election

There are 15 candidates running for four seats on the OHA Board of Trustees in the 2022 primary election. In the race to represent Oʻahu, OHA incumbent Kalei Akaka is being challenged by current OHA At-Large Trustee Brendon Kaleiʻāina Lee, Native Hawaiian artist and planner Jackie Kahoʻokele Burke, and Native Hawaiian music educator Robert Peters.

The top two candidates will go to the general election ballot unless one candidate receives 50% or more of the vote (if so, that candidate will be declared duly and legally elected.)

The four candidates running for OHA Trustee for Oʻahu are:

  • Kalei Akaka (incumbent)
  • Jackie Kahoʻokele Burke
  • Brendon Kaleiʻāina Lee
  • Robert Peters

In the OHA at-large race, we have 11 candidates vying for three seats. The top six candidates will go to the general election — unless one candidate receives 50% or more of the vote (if so, that candidate will be declared duly and legally elected and the number of available seats and general election candidates will be reduced accordingly.)

Here are the 11 candidates seeking the three at-large trustee seats:

  • Lei Ahu Isa (incumbent)
  • Zuri Kaapana Aki
  • Julian Ako
  • Brickwood Galuteria
  • Uʻi Kahue-Cabanting
  • Sam King
  • Kealiʻi Makekau
  • Chad Owens
  • William Paik
  • Keoni Souza
  • John D. Waiheʻe IV (incumbent)
In the weeks leading up to the primary election on Aug. 13, HPR will bring you candidate interviews and deep dives on the issues that matter to voters.