Ka Wai Ola

Peter Apo, Trustee, O‘ahu

OHA Constitutional Intent

The Office of Hawaiians Affairs (OHA), as intended by delegates of the 1978 State Constitutional Convention, functions somewhat as a sovereign body politic independent of the State Legislature and Governor’s office. OHA’s fiduciary duty is to manage a set of Native Hawaiian Trust assets for the “betterment of conditions of Native Hawaiians.” All Native Hawaiians are beneficiaries of the Trust.

Voting Eligibility, Trustee Districts, and Terms of Office

OHA is governed by nine elected Trustees. It was originally intended that trustee elections be a Native Hawaiians-only affair. The objective was to provide a full measure of self-determination by allowing Native Hawaiians to elect their own leaders. That provision was ruled illegal as a violation of federal election law. The result is that all registered voters of Hawai‘i have a constitutional right to vote for OHA trustees. Further, OHA candidates are not required to be Native Hawaiian.

It is worth noting that all OHA candidates are subject to the vote of all registered voters of the State of Hawai‘i. This subjects OHA candidates to the considerably higher level of statewide campaigning challenges as that of Governor and Lieutenant Governor. No other candidates for state or congressional office are subject to the same higher standard of statewide voter approval.

The nine trustees are elected to office for four-year terms. Four of the seats are designated At-Large. The remaining 5 seats are specific to the islands of O‘ahu, Hawai‘i, Maui, Kaua‘i-Ni‘ihau and Moloka‘i-Lāna‘i. Island-specific candidates must reside in their island districts. But, they are subject to the vote of the entire statewide electorate. The reality of this bizarre electoral condition puts the island-specific candidates at the mercy of the significantly larger O‘ahu vote.

Why You Should Vote for OHA Trustees

It’s an unfortunate norm that the Hawai‘i electorate has a poor record of showing up at the ballot box. It is more unfortunate that Hawaiians tend to dominate the list of no-shows. Add the fact that many non-Hawaiian voters who do vote on other races refrain from voting for OHA because they either don’t believe OHA is relevant to their lives – or – they believe Hawaiians should be left alone to elect their own leaders. If you are any one of these I beg you to reconsider.

OHA is one of the top five most important Hawaiian economic institutions that collectively generates millions of trust fund dollars. While these institutions provide services specifically to Hawaiians, in the course of doing business, the money flows everywhere in the way of job creation, supplies, equipment, contract services, construction, real estate and tourism (much of Waikīkī is Hawaiian owned land). Hawaiians have also had a profound impact on state public policy that includes public access to beaches and mountain trails, water rights, preservation of historic sites, environmental sustainability, and developer related planning and permitting processes. Hawaiians absolutely are having a profound impact on Hawai‘i’s economic growth. If you care about where the ship is headed, you should care about who’s in the wheelhouse. OHA is important to everyone. Everyone should vote in the OHA election.