Voters undecided about candidates in the Office of Hawaiian Affairs election may consider the few OHA endorsements made so far to help choose from among the 96 who want to be trustees.
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Endorsements are crucial in the OHA races since only a handful of candidates have disclosed that they have the money necessary for statewide campaigns that raise name recognition.
The three groups that have publicly endorsed OHA candidates so far are the Hawaii Coalition of Conservation Voters, Aloha For All and Na Kupuna, a group of Hawaii elders, or kupuna.
Coalition steering committee member Steven Lee Montgomery said the group -- a nonpartisan political voice for environmentalists and conservationists -- discussed OHA endorsements for months before it announced its selection this week. He said members whittled the 96 candidates to the nine they believe have the potential to perform the best all-around job. The group has made political endorsements since 1982.
"A trustee must always be cognizant of how the culture interacts with the environment, and how to operate within the OHA framework, while living malama aina and respecting all of mother nature's creations, our makua, aumakua and akua," said coalition member Clarence Ching of Kohala, Hawaii, a former OHA trustee.
The coalition endorsed Hannah Springer, Colette Machado, Haunani Apoliona, Vicky Holt Takamine, Denise DeCosta, Thomas Haia, Charles Rose, Oswald Stender and Mililani Trask.
At the other end of the OHA ballot, the Aloha for All group led by attorney H. William Burgess has run newspaper ads that endorsed non-Hawaiian OHA candidates Kenneth Conklin, Bud Ebel, Richard Lee, Michael Palcic and Roger Grantham.
Burgess, who represented plaintiffs in a recent U.S. District Court case that paved the way for non-Hawaiian OHA candidates, said the five were chosen for the potential they bring to the OHA board. He said they are not running together as a slate.
Candidates who are using the slate strategy are Haunani Apoliona, Don Cataluna, Arthur Hoke, Colette Machado and Charles Rose. The group's large newspaper ad yesterday touted their diverse background and professional experience as effective Hawaiian representatives. In 1996, Apoliona, Machado and Hannah Springer successfully ran for OHA under the "Na Lei Lokahi" slate.
Finally, a group of Hawaiian kupuna have made their own endorsements of Trask, DeCosta, Takamine, Kinau Boyd Kamalii, Eloise Tungpalan, Aileen Kuamo'o, Louis Hao, Sam Kealoha and Randy Rego.
The state's largest public worker union said it had considered endorsements for OHA candidates to help guide its 40,000 members, but decided not to after the Rice vs. Cayetano decision.
Randy Kusaka, spokesman for the Hawaii Government Employees' Association, said there was so much uncertainty regarding OHA after the Rice decision last Feb. 23 the union leadership decided to leave it to members to decide.
The OHA elections are the only races in which HGEA did not endorse candidates, he said.
"What they were looking at were all the races," Kusaka said. "And then when the OHA question came up, they decided not to."
Also staying away from OHA were the University of Hawaii Professional Assembly, the faculty union, and the Hawaii State Teachers Association. HSTA spokeswoman Danielle Lum said the HSTA board didn't even consider OHA races because they don't affect education. HSTA does not endorse county races for the same reason, she said.
Nevertheless, OHA and the state Department of Education reached a settlement last May over a 5-year-old lawsuit affecting Hawaiian language immersion programs affiliated with the public-school system. The DOE would spend between $800,000 and $1 million a year for the next five years on immersion education, while OHA would give between $400,000 and $500,000 annually for the same period.
Office of Hawaiian Affairs
State Office of Elections