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OHA optimistic
about agenda

But consolidating committees
is a point of contention
among incoming trustees

By Pat Omandam

Even before the new Office of Hawaiian Affairs board is sworn in Wednesday, all nine trustees know what's foremost on the agenda: restoration of ceded lands revenue and passage of the federal Akaka bill.

"We have these immediate challenges, and I would just say we don't have the luxury of time," said Haunani Apoliona, current board chairwoman. "So we must work diligently. We must work with vision, patience and we have to be tenacious."

Already, the pieces for success appear to be in place for OHA.

First, it has a much-heralded updated strategic plan that it can use to set budget priorities and prove to the state Legislature it has its act together. And both sitting and incoming trustees pledged more unity on the board.

Second, state legislators say Hawaiian issues will be tackled next session and not punted for another year. For example, Waianae state Sen. Colleen Hanabusa (D) heads the Senate's Judiciary and Hawaiian Affairs Committee, and she expects to make native issues a top priority.

State Reps. Ezra Kanoho (D, Lihue) and Sol Kahoohalahala (D, Lanai-Molokai), both of Hawaiian ancestry, lead the Hawaiian affairs panel in House.

Finally, there's a strong commitment to Hawaiian issues from Gov.-elect Linda Lingle and Lt. Gov.-elect James "Duke" Aiona. The two, the first Republicans to lead in Hawaii in 40 years, will be sworn in tomorrow.

"I hope also that the Legislature will work productively with the new administration," said trustee Rowena Akana. "I believe that the new administration coming in is sincere when they say they are going to try very hard to work with the Legislature to make things happen."

Lingle has said she intends to follow through on her commitment to Hawaiians, which include personally lobbying the Bush administration and Republican leadership in Congress on behalf of Hawaiian rights.

She recently tasked Randy Roth, a University of Hawaii law professor who has joined her Cabinet, to spearhead the federal effort. The Akaka bill, which sets out a process for Hawaiians to form a native government and have it recognized by the United States, has been stalled in the U.S. Senate for three years.

"We're reaching out to members of the Hawaiian community to help us to understand where they're coming and what their hopes and goals and expectations are," Roth said last week.

Apoliona said she has been in touch with both Lingle and Aiona's offices and expects a meeting sometime after their inauguration. She wants the new board, five of whom were elected this fall, to get right to work on the issues. OHA already has set a rally on opening day of the legislature to push their agenda.

A public investiture to install the board is set for 10 a.m. Wednesday at Kawaiahao Church. The board will then hold its first meeting that afternoon to pick its board and committee leadership.

But not all is rosy, and already there is conflict in the air. Akana said she is opposed to a proposed change to be voted on Wednesday that would consolidate OHA's various standing committees into two committees of the whole.

She believes that trustees out of favor with leadership will not be able to make any meaningful contribution.

"OHA will continue to be problematic when the distribution of power is not equal," Akana said.

But trustee Oz Stender, who has pushed for this change, said the two-committee plan would be an improvement. With nine trustees sitting on both committees, nobody is left out, he said.

"I think there's enough people to see the efficiency in it," Stender said.

Office of Hawaiian Affairs

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