Micah Kane


POSTED: Friday, August 14, 2009

Micah Kane leaves the Department of Hawaiian Home Lands grateful to have avoided the political crossfire that hobbled so many past directors, and eager to reach more native Hawaiian students in his new job as a trustee of Kamehameha Schools.

He joins the five-member board as the trust continues to expand its scope beyond the few thousand native Hawaiian students at its campuses to joint programs with charter and public schools that serve the majority of such children statewide.

Included in that philosophy is a major educational and housing complex planned for the Leeward Coast in partnership with the DHHL, to be built on Makaha land donated by a developer Jeff Stone and a nonprofit foundation.

Helping to seal that deal is among Kane's achievements in his nearly seven years at DHHL, the agency charged with distributing homestead lands to eligible Hawaiians.

Kane, 40, was chairman of the Hawaii Republican Party when Gov. Linda Lingle tapped him for the job. The duo had worked closely for years, with Lingle winning him over to the GOP during his tenure as a government liaison for the Building Industry Association, a period during which Kane also worked with many Democrats in government.

The 1987 Kamehameha Schools graduate was a two-sport athlete at California's Menlo College and earned a master's in business administration from the University of Hawaii. He and his wife, Joelle, an attorney, have three elementary school-age daughters.

QUESTION: Will the Kamehameha Schools' trustee position be your only job?

ANSWER: Yes, at least at the beginning. I want to take the time to understand the trust more intimately and make sure that I am able to give to my colleagues my very best. Q: Are you satisfied with your accomplishments at DHHL? How would you grade your tenure?

A: I'll never be satisfied with the outcomes, but I'm happy and proud about everything we've accomplished as a team here. But I see so much potential that the trust has, not just for our beneficiaries, but for the state overall ... We did expose to the state of Hawaii the true value of what our Hawaiian community can do, with DHHL being an economic engine and leading in the affordable housing arena for the whole state and proving to our beneficiaries that we can perform at a high level and give people confidence in the trust ...

Q: Is that your proudest accomplishment?

A: That's something I take a lot of pride in ... showing the beneficiaries and also the nonnative population that if native entities perform at a high level, everybody benefits.

Q: Did you accomplish everything you wanted to?

A: No. We weren't able to accomplish everything, but we also set new goals once we got going. ... We realized that it wasn't just about producing homes ... it's about building that personal capacity to be homeowner ... and getting people to realize that we as native Hawaiians can compete with anybody, anywhere, at any time ... It's not just about building homes, it's about building people.

Q: Why do you think you were selected as a Kamehameha Schools trustee?

A: There's a lot of similarities between the trusts, a lot of the challenges are the same, and we've worked very well together during my tenure at DHHL ... I think there's an alignment of the goals and visions ... I am definitely honored and humbled to give back to a trust that has given me so much.

Q: Can you be more specific about the aligned goals?

A: Education is a very strong component of what we do at DHHL. It gets back to the idea that it's not just about building a home, it's about building a community ... The home is the launch point, not the end point. ... We've put resources into education, such as the expansion of the West Oahu campus ... and we've made a very strong effort to provide charter school opportunities. A lot of charter schools that are really thriving are on homestead land, or near homestead communities ... My passion for education as the solution for our people wasn't something I needed to be convinced about. I believe it in my heart.

Q: What do you hope to accomplish as a Kamehameha Schools trustee?

A: I'm very supportive of the leadership that is there now. I think (CEO) Dee Jay Mailer has done an outstanding job ... and their desire to reach more native Hawaiian kids is something that I feel very strongly about ... as well as assuring the financial prosperity of the trust, not just sustainability, but prosperity ... Another area that I think is important is that you have essentially five strong native trusts that I think need to come together ... Clearly the Leeward Coast project is going to benefit the entire community, and that's the kind of the thing we can accomplish when we work together.

Q: Let's talk a little bit about the Makaha project. What was your role in bringing that about?

A: Jeff Stone sat on our advisory board. When I came on board (DHHL) in 2003, I set up an advisory board of real estate developers which Jeff was part of ... I kept that relationship with Jeff over time ... Dee Jay, along with the leadership of Kamehameha Schools, was expressing a desire to play a bigger role on the Leeward Coast. There wasn't a call one day saying 'let's go do this.' ... We both had to prove ourselves to each other ... Things of this magnitude don't just happen overnight. It takes a lot of trust and a lot of commitment from all parties, over a period of time.

Q: What's your goal for move-in dates on the Makaha housing?

A: It's a little premature to give a date. Our desire is to surround the education complex, so that comes first. Kamehameha will set the vision and DHHL will complement that vision ... with an emphasis on kupuna (housing) and sustainable types of living. We have a few pilot projects to make sure that we get it right.

Q: Like what?

A: One of the areas we've excelled at here (at DHHL) is in helping our state wean off foreign fossil fuels ... the irony of that effort is that it took us back to the traditional Hawaiian ways ... the Hawaiians managed these lands without a Matson container coming in every day. ... We're starting to incorporate some of those cultural practices back into modern living ... It's going to be a showcase for other builders. ... We have pilot projects in aquaponics, aquaculture ...

Q: Let's talk about the Akaka Bill (which Kane supports). Do you think it's going to pass?

A: I think we've got our best shot right now.

Q: If it passes, what happens next?

A: The bill lays out a process for federal recognition to occur ... it's a very inclusive process, a long process ... One thing that would happen right away is that (passage) provides a legal barrier for somebody to gain standing to file a lawsuit against DHHL.

Q: What happens to the claims of DHHL beneficiaries if the Akaka Bill is approved?

A: Preservation of rights of existing beneficiaries would be my highest priority if I was still at DHHL and I'm sure that will be the case (with the new leadership).

Q: Did being a Republican ever make your job harder?

A: What I've realized is that most people don't care what label you wear, they just want results. ... It's the same as with the state and county, nobody wonders if it is a state or county road, they just want the potholes to be filled ... The general population is not partisan ... and even in (the political realm) I have gotten tremendous support from all sides. The governor was unstoppable in her support, but also many Democrats, like Sen. (Colleen) Hanabusa, are very supportive. Everybody wanted to see this trust perform ... I think for the first time in the history of this trust, we didn't get caught in the political crossfire.