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Wednesday, October 11, 2000

OHA logo

First open
OHA election
may be a name-
recognition contest

With 97 candidates running for
the board, people with well-known
names are likely to have an edge

By Pat Omandam

Aside from a few mailers, a possible Web page and a heavy dose of sign-waving, there isn't much else to Vicky Holt Takamine's campaign for the Office of Hawaiian Affairs board.

"For somebody who doesn't have a war chest and hasn't fund-raised for this at all, for me to be three weeks out of the race yet to be fund-raising at this point, it's going to take a lot more than getting the message out," she said.

"So I'm hoping the people that know me will do whatever they can. Primarily, it will be word of mouth," she said.

For all 97 candidates running for the nine OHA board seats on Nov. 7, name recognition is crucial to success on Election Day. The field of former trustees, politicians, community leaders and political unknowns all face the same uncertainty now that the statewide OHA races are open to all Hawaii voters and all qualified candidates. Recent court decisions set aside the racial restrictions that had kept OHA elections closed to non-Hawaiians for the past 20 years.

In a nutshell, 97 candidates running for nine seats have to win votes from a pool of more than 600,000 registered voters, many of whom never had the opportunity to vote in an OHA election before and may not be familiar with the people, the agency or its mission.

"Obviously, name recognition is one of the most important things you can have," said political consultant Don Clegg, who compares these huge OHA contests to those for the Board of Education.

"If you look at name recognition, it's doubtful that anybody is going to read the resumes of 90-some-odd people and say aha, there's a guy that sort of fits with my lifestyle or I know that organization or something like that," Clegg said. "It's going to be a great deal of just 'do I recognize that name or not.' "

That's good news for candidates like John Waihee IV, son of the former governor; Oswald Stender, former Kamehameha Schools trustee, and others whose actions or experience have made them household names in the community. But it means an uphill battle for those with little or no name recognition.

Even seasoned politicians like Clayton Hee, interim board chairman, acknowledged this OHA election ventures into unchartered territory. With the stakes expanding from 100,000 Hawaiian voters to 630,000 registered voters, Hee said it's crucial to use campaign funds efficiently and effectively to get your name out.

Hee said it wouldn't surprise him if some OHA candidates spent $50,000 in this campaign.

"If one were to consider the number of voters eligible to vote for OHA are the same as those who can vote for governor, the governor spent about $5 million," Hee said

"So it seems like 1 percent of what the governor spent might be somewhere in the ballpark. But funds are hard to come by. And I think in the Office of Hawaiian Affairs, it's even more difficult to come by funds," he said.

Campaign consultants said a typical statewide race is built on a lot of money, time and manpower. In a grass-roots campaign, the consultants said, a candidate must spend most of his time personally getting his message across so voters care enough about the race to come out and vote.

If campaign funds allow it, TV commercials are the most effective way to reach the masses, while volunteers are best used waving signs along strategic roadways.

Lacking these advantages, many OHA candidates have resorted to an old-style campaign that includes walking the district door-to-door, shaking hands and waving signs themselves. Former OHA trustee Rowena Akana said she doesn't have enough campaign funds left from her re-election campaign two years ago to even send out mailers.

Akana said there are so many unpredictable issues to consider in OHA this election year that it's hard for her -- despite the experience of four OHA elections -- to know how things will shake out.

"You never know in OHA elections how well you'll do," Akana said.

"Now, you have an element that you've never gauged. This is the first time (non-Hawaiians can vote) and you don't know how much of a role they're going to play in terms of numbers and whether you get in or not."

To increase their name recognition, some candidates have formed a coalition to help each other during the campaign. Former trustee Haunani Apoliona said her group of five trustees formed an alliance at OHA in terms of philosophy, values, ethics and commitment that puts beneficiaries before politics.

Apoliona is counting on the core of supporters who elected her to office in 1996 to help her win re-election, but agrees there are so many unknown factors in the race that it really is a whole new ball game.

"I think the visibility, however you do it, whether by radio or some other media, appears to be important because you're trying to get your face and your message known to so many people," Apoliona said.

"But to me, the other side of the equation is the voters," she said. "They have to try to pay attention to the quality of the candidate."

Those voting for OHA candidates should note the OHA races will be divided on two ballots. State elections officials said the back side of the first ballot will contain the four OHA seats that are up for election this year and are for four-year terms.

The front side of the second ballot includes the five OHA special-election races that are for two-year terms.

Office of Hawaiian Affairs

State Office of Elections

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