Election Could Bring New Leadership to OHA

Walter Ritte's Facebook page.

It's the other election — the one that is sometimes overlooked by many voters.

Yet, the Office of Hawaiian Affairs is an important, quasi-state agency with a huge kuleana — protecting Hawaii's native people and environmental resources and a growing financial portfolio.

OHA's nine trustees have a great deal of autonomy. On Nov. 6, five of those seats are up for election.

Colette Machado of Molokai, OHA's current chair, is running unopposed and so her name will not appear on the ballot. But the other four seats — representing Maui, Kauai, the Big Island and an at-large seat — are hotly contested.

As Civil Beat reported earlier this year, the race to replace Kauai Trustee Donald Cataluna involves 11 candidates, many of them in their first-ever political race.

As on Kauai, the other OHA races include candidates who want to continue OHA's direction over the past decade, a direction that could mean settling past-due ceded-land claims and helping with a roll commission to enlist kanaki maoli in a future government. One of those candidates, Haunani Apoliona, is a longtime trustee and a former chair.

Others seek new leadership that will have a greater say in environmental issues. They include Walter Ritte, the longtime Molokai activist whose involvement stretches from the Kahoolawe protests of the 1970s to the battle against genetically modified organisms today.

OHA trustees saw their salaries increase 3.5 percent to $55,440 in fiscal year 2012. The chairperson's salary also went up 3.5 percent to $63,204.

The OHA contests are run statewide, meaning that all voters can weigh in regardless of where they live. Civil Beat looks at the races.

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