New OHA legalBy Treena Shapiro
With the help of a Texas-based civil rights law firm, attorney H. William Burgess plans to take his complaint against the constitutionality of Office of Hawaiian Affairs elections as high as it will go.
On Friday, the Hawaii Supreme Court threw out a motion filed by Burgess on behalf of himself and 21 plaintiffs. Yesterday, Burgess and the law firm of Magenheim, Bateman & Helfand of Houston filed new complaints in U.S. District Court on the grounds that state laws regarding OHA elections are unconstitutional and discriminate in regard to race. The suit has been filed against the state, the governor, and the chief election officer.
While the current motion seeks a declaratory decision and an injunction against allowing only native Hawaiians to hold OHA office, Burgess' vision for the future is that "OHA would be a thing of the past. Everyone in Hawaii would be one race. We would all start out equal."
According to Burgess, the Feb. 23 Rice vs. Cayetano decision handed down from the U.S. Supreme Court would not only allow voters of all races to vote in the Office of Hawaiian Affairs elections, but would allow them to choose their candidates without racial restrictions.
Burgess said he hopes the court will issue an injunction in the next 10 days. The deadline to file nomination papers for the OHA election is Sept. 8.
Kenneth Conklin, one of the plaintiffs in the case, said he was denied nomination papers when he tried to file to run for the Oahu seat currently held by OHA trustee Haunani Apoliona.
Conklin, 57, formerly of Boston, is a retired university professor and high school teacher who moved to Kaneohe eight years ago. Since moving here, he said, he's been studying Hawaiian history and culture, and has gained conversational proficiency in the Hawaiian language.
"I am the anti-OHA candidate," Conklin said during a press conference. "However, I am not anti-Hawaiian."
His goal for OHA, besides eventually getting it abolished, is to redirect funds from public relations, administrative overhead and lawsuits, and put it back into the public schools.
"For the first 20 years of statehood, all revenues from ceded lands went to support public schools," he said. Now 20 percent goes to support OHA. The money would be better spent on public schools to benefit all Hawaii's children regardless of race. But he said, "I will not forget the native Hawaiians. They are one-fifth of the population and deserve more than one-fifth of my attention."
Rice vs. Cayetano arguments
Rice vs. Cayetano decision
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