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Capitol View

By Richard Borreca

Wednesday, March 1, 2000

OHA logo

Rice decision has
broad implications

HEADS up! Last week's U.S. Supreme Court decision will be the Energizer Bunny that keeps on going and going.

For the moment, the Office of Hawaiian Affairs is caught up in Gov. Ben Cayetano's decision to replace all but one of the nine trustees, but that decision will continue to land punches much more serious than the political futures of OHA trustees like Clayton Hee and Mililani Trask.

The court ruled that the Constitution of the United States forbids barring non-Hawaiians from voting in Office of Hawaiian Affairs elections. In November all the voters in Hawaii will get to pick the next nine trustees.

Just that will hold massive changes for Hawaii. New voters will pick new trustees attuned to a whole different set of values.

While outspoken Hawaiian activists speaking to fellow Hawaiians have picked up much of the early press, there is another, probably larger group that looks at the decision completely differently.

"I'm going to vote, I have to vote," an old-time Democrat party regular said to me last week at the Capitol. He's Japanese, not Hawaiian, and represents much of the Democratic Party's 1954 values.

"I have to protect my property, what is mine. I worked hard for it and I won't let somebody take it away," he said.

The inference is clear.

While trustees to OHA are elected to "manage and administer the proceeds from the sale or disposition of formulate policy relating to affairs of native Hawaiians...and exercise control over land set aside to the board," the new board will be more sensitive to all citizens of Hawaii.

Even then, the new board will have to keep an eye on the Supreme Court. In the decision, Justices Breyer and Souter wrote their own affirming opinion hinting that the court doesn't think much of OHA as a trust for Hawaiians.

"OHA bears little resemblance to a trust," they said. The pair adds that the act admitting Hawaii into the Union mentions a trust, but it is for the 1.2 million acres granted to the state.

"The record makes it clear there is no trust for native Hawaiians here and the OHA electorate, as defined in statute, does not sufficiently resemble an Indian tribe," they said.

Finally, they add that the Admission Act specifies that the land be used for the development of homes and farms for public improvements and public use "by all of Hawaii's citizens..."

THE current trustees want OHA to sue or at least have a piece of the action if there is another challenge to the other state laws giving preferential treatment to Hawaiians.

For them to do so without considering some of the history of the U.S. Supreme Court and laws that separate Americans by race would be a huge mistake.

Forty-six years ago the court ruled that racial segregation in public schools is unconstitutional. But after the court issued the famous Brown vs. Board of Education ruling, it led to the abolition of state-sponsored segregation in other public facilities.

And that played out in 1958 when President Eisenhower sent in federal troops to open Central High School in Little Rock, Ark.

Could something like that happen here? Not likely, but then an island-only view of the U.S. Constitution and steadfastly ignoring the U.S. Supreme Court will not pay off.

Hawaiian leaders who can measure their passion with rational leadership will carry the day.

Bullet U.S. Public Law 103-150
Bullet OHA Ceded Lands Ruling
Bullet Rice vs. Cayetano
Bullet OHA elections unconstitutional
Bullet Office of Hawaiian Affairs

Legislature Directory
Hawaii Revised Statutes
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Richard Borreca reports on Hawaii's politics every Wednesday.
He can be reached by e-mail at

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