Kalei Akaka outpaces Esther Kia‘aina for OHA seat; few vote for Rowena Akana
  • Saturday, June 15, 2019
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Kalei Akaka outpaces Esther Kia‘aina for OHA seat; few vote for Rowena Akana

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Kalei Akaka, the granddaughter of the late U.S. Sen. Daniel Akaka, cruised to victory in the race for the open Oahu seat on the Office of Hawaiian Affairs board of trustees, while embattled at-large incumbent Rowena Akana finished out of contention in her re-election bid.

Akaka, a Kamehameha Schools employee, finished well in front of Esther Kia‘aina, a veteran state and federal government official who worked for Daniel Akaka as a legislative assistant during the 1990s.

Incumbents John Waihee IV and Lei Ahu Isa were joined by ‘Aha Hawaiian constitutional convention chairman Brendon Kalei‘aina Lee as the top vote-getters for the three at-large seats.

Lee edged in front of former state Land Board Chairman William Aila, who was fourth, followed by Akana and former state Rep. Faye Hanohano of Hawaii island.

Incumbent Carmen Hulu Lindsey led Native Hawaiian activist Ke‘eaumoku Kapu for the Maui-resident seat.

The third printout included votes from 248 of 249 precincts, plus many walk-in and mail-in absentee ballots. There is one more printout to come tonight, followed by a final printout Wednesday morning.

Akana, the longest-serving OHA trustee at 28 years, is fighting to hang on to her seat while facing ethics charges ranging from accepting a $72,000 cash gift to help pay for legal fees to using her trustee allowance to buy home cable television services and an Apple iTunes gift card.

Akana, who has denied any wrongdoing, said the ethics charges were part of a campaign by her OHA rivals to boot her out of office. And the timing of the state Ethics Commission contested case hearing late last month, she said, was a deliberate attempt to keep her from campaigning for office and to muddy her reputation right before the election.

The winner of the race for the Oahu seat will replace veteran OHA trustee Peter Apo, who stepped down from the board. Akaka and Kia‘aina were the top two vote-getters among the seven hopefuls who competed in the August primary.

Akaka works at Kamehameha Schools in the Kapalama middle school staff administration. She has also worked at the state Legislature.

Kia‘aina, the executive director for the Pacific Basin Development Council, worked as assistant secretary of the interior for former President Barack Obama and was deputy director of the state Department of Land and Natural Resources under former Gov. Neil Abercrombie

Since there were only two candidates vying for the Maui-resident seat, this is the first time Lindsey and Kapu of West Maui are facing off against each other. Lindsey held a substantial lead tonight.

Apo declined re-election following a rough year in which he admitted to ethics violations and paid a $25,000 penalty. OHA also settled sexual harassment claim against Apo with a $50,000 payout.

The OHA board also came under negative scrutiny when it was criticized by the state auditor for allowing inappropriate spending. It is also reportedly the target of investigations by both the Federal Bureau of Investigation and the state Attorney General’s Office.

A February report by the auditor described out-of-control discretionary spending over a two-year period due to vague rules that are broadly interpreted, arbitrarily enforced and sometimes ignored.

The report prompted trustees to establish moratoriums on three OHA spending categories, including the $22,200 personal allowance provided to each trustee.

During the campaign, Akaka, Kia‘aina and other challengers campaigned on restoring trust at OHA. Akaka said the audit demanded an update of policies and practices, and Kia‘aina called for an overhaul of OHA’s spending habits and oversight.

For full Honolulu Star-Advertiser coverage of the 2018 General Election, go to 808ne.ws/SA2018VOTE.

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