OHA candidates answer panel
By Catherine E. Toth
Advertiser Staff Writer
Instead of allowing candidates for the Office of Hawaiian Affairs to engage in self-promotion, the O'ahu Council of Hawaiian Civic Clubs forum at the State Capitol last night kept the focus on the candidates' ability to serve the Hawaiian community as trustees.
A three-member panel asked pointed questions that challenged the candidates' knowledge of OHA, its role in the community and the future of the agency. Questions ranged from concerns regarding the agency's financial issues to the candidates' negotiating experience.
About two dozen people attended the open forum, which featured 12 of the 23 candidates.
In attendance were O'ahu candidates Dante Carpenter, Leona Kalima, Charles Rose and Marion Shim; Maui candidates Boyd Mossman and George Kaimiola; and at-large candidates Darrow Aiona, Roy Benham, Adrian Kamali'i, Charles Nakoa, Oswald "Oz" Stender and John Waihe'e IV.
This was the third forum conducted by the O'ahu Council of Hawaiian Civic Clubs. It held forums with the candidates for governor and lieutenant governor before the primary elections last month.
The more experienced candidates running for the five seats one on O'ahu, one on Maui and three at-large outshined their younger competitors, who appeared to lack the managerial experience and legislative or legal know-how the panel felt the Hawaiian community needs in OHA trustees.
"What bothers me most is that voters aren't educated," said panelist and O'ahu Council government affairs chair Kina'u Boyd Kamali'i, prior to the forum. "I want to know these candidates know what the job of a trustee is ... They're policy-makers, not administrators. I want to know what they see in the future."
The other panelists were former UH regent Wayne Kaho'onei Panoke and Linda Delaney, former president of the Prince Kuhio Hawaiian Civic Club.
All the candidates in attendance agreed that the role of the trustee is to facilitate ways to improve the well-being of Hawaiians, as outlined in OHA's mission statement, and to work together for that common goal.
"The Hawaiian culture is in survival mode," said Maui candidate Mossman, state circuit court judge and president of the Central Maui Hawaiian Civic Club. "If we don't fight back, we'll lose our culture ... and our state."
The turmoil caused by internal conflict at OHA in recent years has raised concerns by the Hawaiian community about the role of trustees and the agency itself.
"We can no longer be a laughingstock," said at-large candidate Aiona, retired Leeward Community College professor and former Board of Education member. "We need the support and respect of the community ... But we cannot be all things to all people."
Community members have called for new leadership, and the candidates all felt change is necessary in moving forward.
"A change is desperately needed," said O'ahu candidate Shim, who criticized what she called irresponsible decision-making, arrogant misuse of power and manipulation of information with trustees.
Panelists questioned the candidates' experience in areas where OHA could benefit, in particular knowledge about the agency itself, money management, and legislative and legal processes.
Some candidates proved knowledgeable: Nakoa, retired executive director of the Queen Lili'uokalani Children's Center, and Stender, boardmember with Bishop Estate and Campbell Estate, have extensive experience in overseeing budgets and strategic plans. Carpenter, former Big Island mayor, and Mossman are both well-acquainted with legislative and legal processes.
In addition to trustees Waihe'e and Stender, Shim, Kalima and Benham each has had experience with the agency: Shim is a former trustee aide, Kalima is the agency's housing and community development specialist and Benham is a former trustee.
Rose, a retired police captain, has 32 years of community service experience. Kaimiola, a lecturer on Hawaiian history and culture, is a staunch advocate for cultural perpetuation and education, with an emphasis on practical programs that directly affect the Hawaiian community.
Despite different backgrounds and experiences, the candidates all felt OHA needs to work more directly with the Hawaiian community to serve its short- and long-term needs.
"I'm tired of our people seeing themselves as victims," Kaimiola said. "It's ridiculous. We need to take care of each other ... All I want to do is get the benefits to the beneficiaries."
Reach Catherine E. Toth at 535-8103 or firstname.lastname@example.org.