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Keep OHA incumbents

LAST UPDATED: 5:49 p.m. HST, Oct 28, 2010

The primary issue facing trustees of the Office of Hawaiian Affairs is, ironically, a piece of legislation that ultimately would lead to OHA's dissolution.

It's the Native Hawaiian Government Reorganization Act, better known for the past 10 years of its existence, in various forms, as the Akaka Bill. Its namesake, Hawaii's U.S. Sen. Daniel Akaka, said in a recent address at the Council for Native Hawaiian Advancement convention that he's got support for getting it on the calendar for a final vote by the U.S. Senate sometime during the lame-duck session that will follow the Nov. 2 election.

Whether Akaka's rosy outlook will be borne out in the closing weeks of Congress is uncertain at best. But the fact remains that the bill, which already has passed the House, is better positioned for enactment now than it's ever been or is likely to be again in the foreseeable future. There is limited bipartisan support for it now but it enjoys far more enthusiastic backing from a Democratic majority in both chambers that is certainly at risk of being thinned or overturned. And this White House is on record as supportive, as long as it clears that last Capitol Hill hurdle.


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If it does, the labyrinthine process enabled by the bill — the creation of a new governmental entity that will take over OHA's custody of the native Hawaiian trust money and lands — will be helped by continuity on OHA's governing board of trustees. OHA's competence can serve the broader electorate as well: If the trust helps bolster the health of the Hawaiian community, that will take some strain off the social safety net that taxpayers support.

Three at-large seats and one representing the island of Oahu will be filled this year, and the Star-Advertiser believes the interests of the trust beneficiaries will be best fulfilled with the election of the incumbent candidates.

They are, in the at-large race:

» Rowena Akana has brought an occasionally contentious but valuable viewpoint to discussions about management of OHA assets since her first election in 1990. On the federal-recognition issue, she rightly advocates that OHA stay focused on finances and not on the politics of convening the permanent governmental body that will replace OHA.

» Oswald "Oz" Stender is another veteran of OHA and formerly of the Campbell Estate who survived the rocky end times of the Bishop Estate before its reformation. His skills would be very helpful if the Akaka Bill pass, and his recent work on behalf of native Hawaiian scholarships further underscores why his re-election would further OHA's mission.

» John Waihee IV seems to have bounced back from disturbing lapses in his last term that culminated a fine for a driving-under-the-influence charge. He was part of a move to refocus grant funds on projects with the most broad-based social impact. This strategic plan makes sense, given the battering the trust fund received in the financial collapse of 2008.

In the Oahu race the standout candidates include former lawmaker and OHA trustee Peter Apo, who also would serve the board well if he emerges on top of the balloting. However, the Star-Advertiser's endorsement goes to the one currently on the board, Walter Heen, the retired judge who also sat in the Legislature and the Honolulu City Council. His judicial and legal background should continue to be useful to the board, especially now.

One fair critique of OHA is that its service to native Hawaiian trust beneficiaries could have been improved over the years with a greater turnover on the trustee board, injecting broader professional expertise into the conduct of its business. But at this juncture there very well could be monumental changes on the horizon, and a wholesale changing of the guard would not be the best Election Day result for OHA or the people it serves.

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