Mauna Kea in Hawaii. A contemporarily-built altar overlooking several observatories. Mauna Kea is a deeply sacred place that is revered in Hawaiian traditions. It’s regarded as a shrine for worship, as a home to the gods, and as the piko of Hawai‘i Island. - Photo: Galyna Andrushko

The deadline to file as a candidate in the 2018 election is still a month away but candidates vying for governor have already hit the campaign trail. Seven made a stop at a Council for Native Hawaiian Advancement gubernatorial forum last month.

The candidates didn’t address each other directly at the April 6 event, instead appearing individually for 25 minutes each to answer a handful of questions from a pre-approved list of 36. The questions centered on issues important to the Hawaiian community, including some of particular interest to Department of Hawaiian Home Lands (DHHL) beneficiaries.

In addition to Gov. David Ige (D), who is seeking re-election, the candidates at the forum – listed by order of appearance – were state House Minority Leader Andria Tupola (R), Wendell Ka‘ehu‘ae‘a (D), former state Sen. Clayton Hee (D), Congresswoman Colleen Hanabusa (D), former state Sen. John Carroll (R) and Ernest Carvalho (D).

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The candidates were each asked about a different mix of issues, but all were asked if they and their cabinet members would accept an invitation to a post-election policy summit in February to discuss their priorities. All committed, although Hanabusa noted her cabinet members, who will need to be confirmed by the state Senate, might not be in place that quickly.

Hanabusa and Hee were each asked about building the Thirty Meter Telescope (TMT) on Maunakea and, like Ige, both voiced support for the project. Hanabusa mentioned that she’d recently visited the mauna to better understand the issue. Hee, meanwhile, said he understands the kaumaha, or sadness, surrounding the TMT. While he thinks the project should proceed, he would call on the TMT principals to cover tuition at any of the 10 University of Hawai‘i campuses for qualified Hawai‘i Island public school graduates, and for Native Hawaiian public school students statewide.

Tupola, Ige and Ka‘ehu‘ae‘a were each asked about how to remove barriers at DHHL to award thousands of leases to native Hawaiians on the waitlist for residential, farming and agricultural lots. Ige said it’s important to address the reasons that some on the waitlist have turned down lots, including location, lack of a down-payment and inability to qualify for financing. He said the state has ramped up efforts to create credit counseling and assistance programs, authorized subsistence agriculture on homesteads and is looking into increasing options for potential lessees, perhaps by building condominiums or awarding kuleana lots in areas with no infrastructure.

Tupola called for cutting through bureaucratic layers to realize the vision of the Hawaiian Homes Commission Act – or to stop promising people they’ll get off the waitlist if that’s not the case. Ka‘ehu‘ae‘a, meanwhile, spoke from experience when he proposed doing away with the financial applications that disqualify many DHHL applicants. He said he and nine other Panaewa homesteaders were “busted” themselves 30 years ago when they were awarded leases through then-DHHL Chair Billie Beamer’s support.

‘ōlelo Community Media’s live video of the forum is posted on Civil Beat’s Facebook page where you can see the candidates’ answers in full: