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OHA officeholders in driver's seat

Primary voters whittle down the candidate list for the first time

By Rob Perez

LAST UPDATED: 10:26 a.m. HST, Aug 10, 2014

Voters Saturday narrowed the candidate choices for five seats on the Office of Hawaiian Affairs board of trustees -- an election that comes at a critical juncture as Native Hawaiians step up their pursuit of political self-determination.

One of the incumbents, Peter Apo, was elected outright by getting more than 50 percent of the votes cast -- excluding blank ballots -- for the Oahu seat.

Two other incumbents who faced primary challengers also are headed to the general election, according to nearly complete returns, while a third one advanced automatically.

Carmen Hulu Lindsey, the Maui incumbent, received a pass Saturday because she faced only one challenger, Mahealani Wendt, a community volunteer.

Because the top two vote-getters for that seat move on to the November ballot, neither Lindsey nor Wendt had to run in the primary.

Apo soundly beat a field of three other candidates to win the Oahu seat outright, according to tallies from all 245 precincts.

The six top vote-getters among the 16 vying for the three at-large slots advanced to the general.

The trustee seats up for grabs in November are for four-year terms.

Incumbents John D. Waihee and Rowena Akana tallied enough votes to move on to the general election, according to near-complete returns.

The two candidates are trying to retain two of the three at-large slots in the mix.

Waihee and Akana were the top two at-large vote-getters, while Lei "Leina'ala" Ahu Isa, a principal broker at Hilton Grand Vacations Club Hawaii; Mililani Trask, principal at Indigenous Consultants LLC; Keli'i Akina, Grassroot Institute of Hawaii president; and Harvey H. McInerny, a Lunalilo Trust trustee, rounded out the top six.

It was the first time OHA used the primary election to narrow the field of candidates.

Previously, the top vote-getting candidates in the November election won their seats outright.

But the Legislature changed the law last year to bring the primary election into the process.

Apo, the top finisher of all the candidates with about 85,000 votes, said he believed his message of "one people, one Hawaii" resonated with voters.

The election comes as the question of Native Hawaiian sovereignty has generated controversy and headlines in recent months.

Two separate efforts are underway: an OHA-backed nation-building process and the Obama administration's exploration of an administrative process for recognizing a future Native Hawaiian government.

Some in the Hawaiian community strongly oppose both efforts.

Akina, the Grassroot Institute president, said he believed his message of unifying Hawaii rather than creating a race-based nation appealed to voters.

OHA in July approved a six-month extension to its nation-building effort, delaying the election of delegates until January, a convention until April and a referendum to July 2015.

In June the U.S. Department of Interior held a series of raucous public meetings in Hawaii to get feedback on the possibility of pursuing recognition through an administrative route.

The vast majority of people who testified at the 15 meetings bitterly opposed any Interior Department involvement in Hawaiian affairs.

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