Tuesday, March 23, 1999

OHA logo

‘One man’ might
be able to change
things after all

Race-based voting may
be voided and OHA
supporters are shocked

By Mary Adamski


Big Island rancher Harold "Freddy" Rice is elated that the U.S. Supreme Court will hear his claim that his constitutional voting rights are violated on the basis of race because he cannot vote in the Office of Hawaiian Affairs elections.

What's not so great, he says, is that the state is on the other side in the matter.

"Why didn't the state attorney general question this thing? Why are they fighting it?" said Rice. "They should have said, 'You know he's right. We have to change it.' "

"It is public funds that finance OHA so the trustees would have to answer to the public," said Rice, 64, of Waimea, a fifth-generation Caucasian kamaaina.

The high court said yesterday that it will hear his claim which was denied in 1997 by U.S. District Judge David Ezra, a ruling upheld last June by the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals.

Only people with Hawaiian blood -- about 20 percent of the state's population -- may vote for the nine OHA trustees. OHA was created in 1978 to improve the living conditions of native Hawaiians using revenues from the lands that once belonged to the Hawaiian monarchy, lands held by the federal government after annexation and ceded to the state in 1959.

Although the question before the court appears limited to the constitutional voting rights question, Hawaiians see it as a Hawaiian sovereignty issue foreshadowed by previous high court decisions upholding native American rights, said the chairwoman of the OHA board of trustees.

"I will do what I can to assist our attorney general to ensure that we never allow the clock to be turned back to a time when the rights of the minority, indigenous people, were trampled under the foot of the majority," Rowena Akana told reporters.

"For other ethnic groups and other people to be allowed to vote in OHA and thereby control our Hawaiian trust ... Hawaiians would eventually lose control of their trust assets," Akana said. "I think it would be chaos."

Attorney general's office spokeswoman Cynthia Quinn said the case is not a challenge to sovereignty.

"What was challenged was the voting process. (The lower courts) said it was just fine that the stakeholders are the ones who have the vote.

"We welcome the opportunity to have it heard on its merits and and settled once and for all," Quinn said.

OHA may file a friend-of-the-court brief, but it is the state attorney who argues the case since Rice filed suit against the governor and the state for conducting the election and not allowing him to participate.

Quinn said: "This is a statewide issue. It is of importance to taxpayers that our laws be upheld and one person cannot go in and change things."

She said briefs will be submitted to the U.S. Supreme Court by the end of summer. The court is expected to rule sometime in 2000.

Cayetano said: "It's hard to predict an outcome. The state's position in Rice vs. Cayetano is that this is not about affirmative action. We believe this case is about the federal government's historically rooted trust obligations to native Hawaiians."

U.S. Sen. Daniel Akaka said the federal appellate court determined that the voting restriction is not primarily racial, but legal and political.

"The Supreme Court should affirm that principle, he said. "Ultimately the relationship between native Hawaiians and the federal government must be settled through the legislative process, not the courts."

Rice said: "The case had to be tested for both sides' sake. If not, OHA could go on for years, and have (its decisions) found null and void after years."

OHA Ceded Lands Ruling

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